Saturday 17 February 2018

Private letters shed light on Himmler's 'wicked heart'

Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the ‘Final Solution’ which cost six milliion Jews their lives. New letters throw light on Himmler’s background.
Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the ‘Final Solution’ which cost six milliion Jews their lives. New letters throw light on Himmler’s background.
Pictured left to right: Nazi leader Adolph Hitler; Arthur Seyss Inquart, who was chancellor of Austria; and Marga and Heinrich Himmler, who was head of the SS

Damien McElroy and Inna Lazareva

A COLLECTION of letters, notes and photographs from Heinrich Himmler has been published in full, shedding light on the private life of the man who orchestrated the Holocaust.

Spanning the courtship of his future wife in 1927 to just a few weeks before his suicide in 1945, the Himmler archive published by 'Die Welt' promises an unprecedented insight ito the domestic relationship of the Nazi high command.

Some exchanges between Himmler and his wife Marga contain a chilling informality. In a July 1942 note to his wife, he wrote: "I am travelling to Auschwitz. Kisses. Your Heini."

CAVIAR

Marga wrote to her husband shortly after hearing the news about the invasion of Russia in June 1941. She also had some advice: "There is still one can of caviar in the fridge. Take it."

Himmler's 12-year-old daughter, Gudrun, said: "It is terrible that we're at war with Russia – they were our allies," she wrote. "Still Russia is sooo big – if we take the whole of Russia, the battle will become very difficult."

Earlier letters reveal an affectionate debate over his nature, discussing if he has a "wicked and hardened heart". In a 1928 letter, Marga wrote: "I am so lucky to have such a good wicked husband, who loves his wicked wife so much."

Jacques Schuster, a German journalist who has spent months authenticating the material, said it had been vouched for by the country's foremost expert in the Nazi era, Michael Hollmann, head of Germany's Federal Archives.

"He [Himmler] was a private man, but a mass murderer also, often in the same moment. For example, there's some days on which he said: 'OK, today, I celebrate my birthday with kids, and in the afternoon I have to go to Auschwitz'."

The archive languished in a bedroom in Tel Aviv for years before it was bought by the family of Vanessa Lapa, an Israeli-Belgian documentary maker, in 2007.

How the material ended up in Israel is not clear.

'Yedioth Aharonoth', an Israeli newspaper, said Chaim Rosenthal, a memorabilia collector who acquired the material in the 1970s, may have found it at a Belgian flea market. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

The monarchist Catholic who excelled at killing children

OF ALL the Nazi leaders, Heinrich Himmler had the most sinister reputation, writes Daniel Johnson.

As head of the SS and the Gestapo, he built a state within a state that kept occupied Europe under the Nazi yoke. Hitler tolerated his insatiable empire-building and plotting, mainly because he trusted Himmler to murder unlimited numbers of people without a qualm.

With his rimless spectacles and blank expression, Himmler's ice-cold personality became the embodiment of the Nazi racial utopia and its totalitarian methods.

Who was Heinrich Himmler, and how much can his private papers and photographs add to what we know about him?

These new letters may help historians to trace the evolution of Himmler's Weltanschauung (world view) in his early years, as well as the uniquely ruthless personality that emerged from the internal Nazi power struggles.

The Himmler family was solidly monarchist and Roman Catholic, but the young Heinrich was radicalised by the short-lived Communist regime that briefly ruled Bavaria after the First World War, and provoked a far-Right backlash.

In 1923 Himmler took part in Munich's Beer Hall Putsch led by an Austrian demagogue: Adolf Hitler. The attempted coup failed and Hitler was jailed, but for a generation of young extremists such as Joseph Goebbels and Himmler, he was a hero.

In 1927, the young Himmler met a nurse who shared his eccentric beliefs: Margarete Boden, known as Marga.

In the late 1920s, Himmler was put in charge of Hitler's "protection squads", the Schutzstaffeln or SS, and set about creating the machinery of terror that would come into its own after 1933.

The first of the concentration camps, Dachau, was set up in 1933; ultimately, tens of millions of people would pass through Himmler's vast network of penal colonies, labour camps and factories.

But for Europe's Jews there would be no escape: after Hitler gave Himmler oral instructions to carry out the "Final Solution to the Jewish Problem", six million were murdered by his SS legions.

He took satisfaction in killing Jewish women and children, warning that this was necessary to prevent a new generation of Jews from avenging their fathers.

A man of such brutality was unlikely to treat his wife well, and Himmler's affectionate letters signed "Heini" could not disguise his infidelity with his secretary.

When she was interrogated by the Allies after the war, Marga defended her husband by blaming Hitler for the order to exterminate the Jews.

But when Marga was asked about Himmler's treatment of herself, she finally broke down, declaring: "Well I think the Americans and the British know just as well as I do that my husband was not faithful to me."

In the last days of the war, Himmler gave orders to his remaining camp commanders that no living prisoners were to be handed over to advancing Allied troops.

Having fled in disguise, wearing an eyepatch, the fugitive SS chief was captured near Luneberg by the British. Three days later he committed suicide, using a cyanide capsule concealed in his mouth. He avoided justice, but not ignominy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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