Heinrich Himmler

By Lucas Mauro

Himmler's Personal and Family History

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born in Munich, Germany on 7 October 1900 into a conservative middle-class Roman Catholic family. His father was Gebhard, a teacher, and his mother was Anna a devout Roman Catholic. Heinrich had two brothers, Gebhard and Ernst.

He attended a grammar school in Landshut, where his father was deputy principal. While he did well in his schoolwork, he struggled in athletics. He had poor health, suffering from lifelong stomach complaints and other ailments. Other boys at the school later remembered him as studious and awkward in social situations. Himmler's diary, which he kept intermittently from the age of ten, shows that he took a keen interest in current events, dueling, and ‘the serious discussion of religion and sex’.

Himmler met his future wife, Margarete Boden, in 1927. Seven years his senior, she was a nurse who shared his interest in herbal medicine and homoeopathy, and was part owner of a small private clinic. They were married in July 1928, and their only child, Gudrun, was born on 8 August 1929. The couple were also foster parents to a boy.

Hedwig Potthast, Himmler's young secretary starting in 1936, became his mistress by 1939. He arranged accommodations for her, first in Mecklenburg and later at Berchtesgaden. He fathered two children with her: a son, Helge and a daughter, Nanette. Margarete, by then living in Gmund with her daughter, she and Himmler were already separated, and she decided to tolerate the relationship for the sake of her daughter.

Himmler's Involvement in WW1

Heinrich was still a young teenager when World War I broke out. He recorded the event in his dairy. He described doing relief work and home guard training. After he turned 17 he became eligible for military service. His father arranged for him to be accepted for officer training. He reported for officer training with the 11th Bavarian infantry Regiment (January 1918). Coming from a comfortable, refined middle-class home, military life was a shock. The physical demands as well as rough barracks, life were difficult for a spoiled young man. He completed basic training, the cadet course, and finally machine gun school. The war ended, however, before he was deployed to the front. He would later claim that he had led men in combat. He never did and it was a life-long disappointment for him. He was also disappointed that he could not join the much reduced Army after the War.

Himmler's activities in the 1930's

- From 1925 to 1930, he was propaganda leader for the Nazis in Bavaria, Swabia and the Palatinate.

- In 1929, Hitler selected Himmler to build up a unit that was to be Hitler’s personal bodyguard. In 1929, this unit only numbered 200 men. It’s task was to protect Hitler.

- In 1930, Himmler was elected to the Reichstag as Nazi deputy for Weser-Ems. He also spent his time expanding the SS so that by 1933, it had 52,000 men in it. Himmler created the Security Service lead by Heydrich whose original function was to be the ideological intelligence service to the Nazi Party.

- In April 1934, Himmler was appointed head of the Gestapo. This was to become the most feared unit in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe in World War Two.

- In June 1934, it was the SS that carried out the Night of the Long Kniveswith cold efficiency.

- In 1936, Himmler was appointed commander of the unified police forces in Germany. This gave him all but unlimited power to know who was a threat to Hitler and the party.

- In 1943, Himmler was put in charge of the Ministry of the Interior.

- Himmler was in charge of Germany’s concentration camps (he had set up the first at Dachau in 1933) and eastern Europe’s death camps. His brilliance at organisation had terrible consequences for the Jews.

Himmler's Involvement in WW2

Himmler was obsessed with racial purity in Germany and encouraged Aryan 'breeding programs'. The outbreak of World War Two allowed Himmler to pursue another racial goal - the elimination of Jews and other so-called 'sub-humans'. After Germany's invasion of Poland, Himmler was given total control of the annexed parts of the country. Within a year more than one million Poles and 300,000 Jews had been forced out to be replaced with German settlers. By June 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Himmler controlled not only the police but the political administration of the occupied territories and, through his control of the SS, the concentration camp system. In 1943, Hitler appointed Himmler minister for the interior. In this post he oversaw the 'Final Solution' - the attempt to exterminate all the Jewish people in Europe - and administered the system of forced labour.

Himmler Post War

After the failed attempt on Hitler's life in July 1944, Himmler's position was strengthened still further. But as Germany's defeat became imminent, Himmler made attempts to negotiate with the Allies. Hitler was furious and stripped Himmler of all his offices. Following Germany's surrender, Himmler tried to escape under a false identity but was captured by the Allies. On 23 May 1945 he committed suicide in custody.

'Check it Out'

Night of the Long Knives

When: June 30, 1934

It was the SS that carried out the Night of the Long Knives with cold efficiency. Himmler as head of the SS, he had ultimate responsibility of internal security in Nazi Germany.

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