Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Himmler, Heinrich (1900–1945)

Title: Heinrich Himmler inspects a prison camp
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German political figure and leader of the Schutzstaffel (SS, bodyguard units). Born on 7 October 1900 in Munich, Heinrich Himmler attended secondary school in Landshut. During World War I, he progressed from clerk to officer cadet in the 11th Bavarian Regiment. He then studied agriculture at the Munich Technical High School from 1918 to 1922. Himmler joined the National Socialist Party and played a small role in the November 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Although he remained politically active, he also married, bought a farm, and raised poultry.

In January 1929, Adolf Hitler appointed Himmler as head of the SS. Within a few years, Himmler built the SS from a force of 200 men into an organization 50,000 men strong with its own distinctive black uniform, personal devotion to Hitler, and ethos. In 1934, Reichsführer (leader) of the SS Himmler gained control of the Gestapo. Hitler rewarded him for his active role in the 1934 Blood Purge by making the SS an independent organization second only to his own immediate authority. In June 1936, Himmler also gained control of all the police forces of Germany.

Although he was physically far removed from the ideal Aryan type, Himmler was a fanatical adherent of Nazi racial theories. He busied himself with fantastic schemes to breed a new race of "pure Aryans"—an SS version of the medieval knights—who would rule Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. He set up special Lebensborn homes for unmarried mothers with impeccable racial antecedents, and special schools (the SS Junkerschulen) for training the SS future elite. Hitler, despite his promise to the German army, allowed Himmler to establish armed SS formations, known as the SS Verfügungstruppen (emergency troops), from which came the divisions of the Waffen-SS during World War II. The SS also came to have considerable economic interests, including armaments factories. By 1939, Himmler's influence overshadowed the Nazi Party; many high-ranking officials, even in the military, found it prudent to hold SS ranks. Himmler was one of the most important figures in Germany, and perhaps the most dreaded.

Controlling Germany's racial policies, Himmler directed the "final solution"—the extermination of the Jews as well as the incurably ill, the disabled, gypsies, and homosexuals. The SS already ran the concentration camps. It now established and ran the death camps as well.

After the July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler, Himmler took command of the Reserve Army. In November 1944, Hitler gave Himmler command of Army Group Rhine, and during January-April 1945, he had charge of Army Group Vistula—two positions for which he was utterly unqualified. In April 1945, Himmler attempted to negotiate a surrender to the Western Allies. A furious Hitler stripped him of his posts. Himmler attempted to flee but was captured by British troops. Identified on 23 May 1945, Himmler committed suicide by means of a hidden cyanide capsule.

Annette Richardson


Further Reading
Breitman, Richard. The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution. New York: Knopf, 1991.; Fest, Joachim C. The Face of the Third Reich. New York: Pantheon Books, 1970.; Krausnick, Helmut, and Martin Broszat. The Anatomy of the SS State. London: Collins, 1968.; Manvell, Roger. Heinrich Himmler. London: Heinemann, 1965.
 

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