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Tuesday 12 December 2017

The monarchist Catholic who excelled at killing children

Daniel Johnson

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

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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