(October 7, 1900
- May 23, 1945) was one of the most powerful people in Nazi Germany; he
led the SS and Gestapo and was put in charge of organising the mass extermination
of Jews and others in extermination camps.
Born near Munich, Bavaria, Germany into a middle class family, he was
the son of a Bavarian schoolmaster and attended Landshut High School. After
graduating Himmler joined the 11th Bavarian Regiment, but he never saw
any action. In 1918, after the war, he became active in the Freikorps,
a private army of right-wing ex-German Army men resentful of Germany's
loss of the war and committed to defending the borders against invasion
from the Red Army and to attacking Communists and radicals within Germany.
He then joined the extreme right-wing National Socialist German Worker's
Party (NSDAP, also known as the Nazi Party) in 1923. He carried the Imperial
German Battle Ensign in the Munich Putsch, the Party's failed attempt at
a nationwide right-wing revolution.
Despite this failure and Hitler's subsequent prison sentence, Himmler
was still a devout follower of Hitler, convinced that he was the messiah
sent by God to lead Germany to greatness, and had the long term job of
organising Nazi Party propaganda. In 1928, after marrying and becoming
a chicken farmer, Himmler joined the Sturm Abteilung, or SA, but a year
later was promoted by the newly freed Hitler to lead his personal bodyguard,
the Schutzstaffel or SS. This was thought by many simply as a reaction
by Hitler to Himmler's kind words and not as a reflection on Himmler's
He managed to develop the SS into the strongest para-military organisation
in the Third Reich. In 1929 when he was appointed to lead the SS it had
only 280 members but by 1933 when the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany
it had 52,000 members, even though Himmler reveiwed each membership application
to ensure that all members were of Hitler's "Aryan" 'master race'. With
Hitler's permission, the SS acquired vast police powers in Germany itself
and the occupied territories and it also gained primary responsibilities
in the areas of security, intelligence gathering, and espionage.
Himmler's army was not the largest Nazi military group in Germany, but
was second only to the SA. Both Himmler, and another of Hitler's right
hand men, Hermann Goering, agreed that the SA and its leader, Ernst Röhm
were beginning to pose a threat to the German Army and the whole Nazi leadership
of Germany itself. Röhm had strong socialist views and believed that although
Hitler had successfully gained power in Germany, the 'real' revolution
had not yet begun, leaving some Nazi leaders with the belief that Röhm
was intent on using the SA to administer a coup. With some persuasion from
Himmler and Goering, Hitler began to feel threatened by this prospect,
and agreed that Röhm must die. He delegated the task of administering
this death to Himmler and Goering, who, along with Reinhard Heydrich, Kurt
Daluege and Walter Schellenberg, carried out the execution of Röhm and
numerous other senior SA officials, in what became known as The Night of
the Long Knives on June 30, 1934.
Himmler now had total control over internal German military as the SS
was now the principal force in the Reich. In 1936 Himmler gained yet more
power as Hitler handed the control of Germany's secret police force, the
Gestapo over to him. In 1940 Himmler slightly reorganised the SS and turned
it into the Waffen-SS which by six months numbered over 150,000 men.
In the Second World War the SS's Totenkopf Units were given the task
of organising and administering Germany's regime of concentration camps
and eventually, extermination camps. The SS, through its intelligence arm
the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) had to find Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and communists
and any other culture or race deemed by Hitler to be either Untermenschen
(sub human) or in opposition to his regime, and place them in concentration
camps. Himmler now became one of the main architects of the Holocaust,
using elements of mysticism and a fanatical belief in the racist Nazi ideology.
By 1944 Himmler's SS numbered over 800,000, however, most of them were
either in infantry or armoured units.
By 1944 Himmler was tasked to sorting out a dispute between the SD and
the German military intelligence organisation, the Abwehr. Himmler resolved
the issue by simply merging the Abwehr into the SD.
The increasingly desperate Nazi regime then placed Himmler in charge
of the German Army facing the oncoming United States Army from the West
in 1944, and in 1945 switched him to face the Red Army to the East. Himmler,
however, lost faith in German victory, and came to the realization that
if the Nazi regime was to have any chance of survival, it would need to
seek peace with Britain and the United States. When Hitler discovered this
and found Himmler attempting to make contact with the Allies, he ordered
Attempting to evade arrest, Himmler disguised himself as a member of
the Gendarmerie but was recognized and captured on May 22nd in Bremen,
Germany, by an British Army unit. Himmler was scheduled to stand trial
with other German leaders as a major war criminal at Nuremberg, but committed
suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule before interrogation could begin.