I know that there are many people in Germany who feel sick when they see this black tunic; we can understand that.
It really makes no odds to us if we kill someone. — Heinrich Himmler.
Two death masks were made of Heinrich Himmler after he had hastily swallowed the cyanide capsule that ended his life within a few minutes while he was undergoing a medical examination by a British military doctor on 23rd May 1945. One of them shows a face twisted into a grotesque grimace, brutal, curiously impudent, its diabolical structure emphasized by the contortions of the death struggle, particularly by the pinched mouth. The other is an inexpressive, rather calm face with nothing frightening about it. It is as though death itself were trying, yet again, to demonstrate the strange combination to which it owed one of its most terrible and diligent servants in this world. (1)
The features of the first mask are more in keeping with the popular idea of the man. Widely identified with the SS state and the extermination factories, Heinrich Himmler seems like the civilized, or at least contemporary, reincarnation of a mythical monster. The feeling of menace, of omnipresent yet intangible terror, which once emanated from him has become attached to his name and to his personality, which is all the more sinister for its lack of personal colour. Even in his life-time there was a Himmler 'myth', which distorted the features of the Reichsfuhrer of the SS in a way that made him all the more terrifying and turned into an abstract principle the man who was unrecognizable as a human being. Entirely in this sense Himmler said of himself that he would be 'a merciless sword of justice'.(2) The methods of his terrorism, based upon modern principles of organization, and the rationalised, 'industrial' extermination processes which he employed, the whole businesslike practicality of his fanaticism, have curiously intensified the aura of terror surrounding his person, beyond all actual experience.
However, as soon as we peel off a few layers from the demonized image we lay bare the far simpler features of a romantically eccentric petty bourgeois who, under the specific conditions of a totalitarian system of government, attained exceptional power and hence found himself in a position to put his idiocies into bloody practice. Those who met him personally are unanimous in describing him as utterly mediocre, indistinguishable from the commonplace by any special trait of character. A British diplomat commented that he had never been able to draw from the Reichsfuhrer of the SS 'a remark of even the most fleeting interest', and Speer's judgement, 'half schoolmaster, half crank', neatly sums up what many people have said.(3) Walter Dornberger, who was in charge of the rocket centre at Peenemunde, graphically described Himmler's appearance:
He looked to me like an intelligent elementary schoolteacher, certainly not a man of violence. I could not for the life of me see anything outstanding or extraordinary about this middle-sized, youthfully slender man in grey SS uniform. Under a brow of average height two grey-blue eyes looked out at me, behind glittering pince-nez, with an air of peaceful interrogation. The trimmed moustache below the straight, well-shaped nose traced a dark line on his unhealthy, pale features. The lips were colourless and very thin. Only the inconspicuous, receding chin surprised me. The skin of his neck was flaccid and wrinkled. With a broadening of his constant, set smile, faintly mocking and sometimes contemptuous about the corners of the mouth, two rows of excellent white teeth appeared between the thin lips. His slender, pale and almost girlishly soft hands, covered with blue veins, lay motionless on the table throughout our conversation. (4)
In fact, anyone who tried to see behind the slightly bloated smoothness of this face the disruption of a monstrous character was deluding himself. In the light of the million-fold terrors he inspired, there was a temptation to search for 'abysses' in which at least a pale gleam of some 'human' reaction might be visible, and it was that that misled people. In reality Heinrich Himmler was exactly what his appearance suggested: an insecure, vacillating character, the colour of whose personality was grey. His lack of independence was concealed by a desperate and stupid overzealousness. What looked like malignity or brutality was merely the conscienceless efficiency of a man whose life substance was so thinly spread that he had to borrow from outside. No emotion either carried him away or inhibited him; His very coldness was a negative element, not glacial, but bloodless. (5) A capable organizer and administrator, he possessed that inhuman mixture of diligence, subservience and fanatical will to carry things through that casts aside humane considerations as irrelevant, and whose secret idols are closed files of reports of tasks completed; a man at freezing-point. Hence it required great psychological perspicacity to discover a personal contact — before the hasty construction of imaginary psychic abysses — the true basis of his existence, to find him sinister, more sinister than Hitler himself, as an observer wrote,
'through the degree of concentrated subservience, through a certain narrow-minded conscientiousness, an inhuman methodicalness about which there was something of the automaton'. (6)
It was these qualities which, more than anything, laid the foundations for his rise and saved him from sharing the fate of the sectarians within the movement. For this character, almost abstract in its colourless impersonality, gained a certain individuality from Himmler's eccentric views, which opposed to a world heading for destruction a crude mixture of racial theories, runic beliefs and sundry doctrines of natural healing. With naive certainty Himmler considered himself the reincarnation of Heinrich I, who had done battle with the Hungarians and Slavs. He recommended a breakfast of leeks and mineral water for his SS, would have only twelve people as guests at his table, following the example of the Round Table of King Arthur, and was occasionally to be found in the company of high SS officers all staring fixedly into space in an attempt to compel a person in the next room to confess the truth by their 'exercises in concentration'. (7) His pleasant superstitions naturally, after the fashion of the time, had pseudo-scientific trimmings. He had archaeological excavations carried out in search of the original pure Aryan race and studies made of the skulls of 'Jewish-Bolshevik commissars', in order to arrive at a typological definition of the 'subhuman'. It was this same side of his personality that was reflected in the almost religious ceremonial practised in the SS.
Hitler undoubtedly watched these efforts with the greatest misgiving. In Mein Kampf he had already come out against pseudo-academic folkish occultism,(8) and finally at the cultural conference during the Reich Party Congress of 1938 he publicly repudiated all such goings-on, which 'could not be tolerated in the movement':
At the pinnacle of our programme stands not mysterious premonition, but clear knowledge and hence open avowal. But woe if, through the insinuation of obscure mystical elements, the movement or the state should give unclear orders. And it is enough if this unclarity is contained merely in words. There is already a danger if orders are given for the setting up of so-called 'cult places', because this alone will give birth to the necessity subsequently to devise so-called cult games and cult rituals. Our 'cult' is exclusively cultivation of that which is natural and hence willed by God.(9)
Possibly these declarations were also directed against Himmler. Albert Speer, in any case, said Hitler was in the habit of 'criticizing and mocking' the ideology of the SS;(10) but obviously he recognized and valued the skill in handling power that lay behind it. And if Himmler himself would have liked to give free play to his eccentric longings, the example of the SS shows more clearly than anything else how fully irrational tendencies could at any time be checked by a purposeful sense of reality. 'In calculations I have always been sober,' he stated. (11) For the liturgy of self-presentation practised by the SS was never just show, a solemn but faded accessory. It was something that held them together, and one of the most effective means for establishing a sworn brotherhood of the elect. Participation in the mystic ritual not only conferred a special distinction but also placed them under a special obligation. Without a doubt the rituals which Himmler staged on the Wevelsburg, and at other places dictated by his faith, had the additional purpose of overwhelming those present with a melancholic shudder at his innate demonism. Over and above this, they were intended to inspire those states of rapture which are so easily transformed into brutal and merciless violence. But none of this belies the initiatory character of these solemn hours, which amounted to a repeated act of consecration and total commitment to a community above all traditional ties, one that seriously demanded 'unconditional liberation from the old social world of caste, class and family' and 'proclaimed its own "law" as springing unconditionally from the mere fact of belonging to the new community'. (12) In its aims the SS went far beyond all the overt considerations of militant political groupings. Leading SS officers appeared not merely as instruments of domination within the 'internal battleground', but as the nucleus of a new state apparatus. The goal of the SS was to permeate and dissolve the old order, and it was also to be the hard core of an imperial dominion aiming at
'organizing Europe economically and politically on a basis that would destroy all pre-existing boundaries, with the Order in the background'. (13)
The setting of these tasks and the first steps towards their achievement once more reflected the dual character of unreal fantasy and rational planning which was Himmler's most personal contribution to the regime. It was his conviction that by systematically pursuing his policy, 'on the basis of Menders Law', the German people could in 120 years once more become 'authentically German in appearance'. (14) To this end he put forward and partially implemented an alteration in the marriage laws to do away with monogamy. He had various plans for establishing a privileged SS caste, eliminating traditional standards of value and working out a system of graduated educational and developmental opportunities for subjugated peoples. Within national frontiers pushed three hundred miles to the east, towns were to be pulled down and that 'paradise of the Germanic race' created, of which splendid visions were continually conjured up by the Reichsfuhrer of the SS, and those of his followers who enjoyed his special confidence. A widespread network of defensive villages was also envisaged, not merely to make it possible for the members of the Order, the 'New Nobility', to maintain their dominant position by force and government, but also to re-establish the ancient contact with the soil. The police functions which in actual fact the SS largely assumed paled beside these romantic visions of the future. These latter were the 'Holy of Holies', and Himmler described as the 'happiest day of my life' the day on which Hitler gave his consent to the plan for the creation of soldier-peasants (Wehrbauern). (15)
Crazy ideas of this sort exist on the lunatic fringe of every society in almost every epoch, exercising varying degrees of practical influence. Stable social orders absorb those who hold them relatively unharmed and allow them a certain limited field of activity as founders of sects, quack doctors or pamphleteers. It is only in a hopelessly disrupted society that a figure like Heinrich Himmler can acquire political influence; and only under a totalitarian form of government offering universal salvation could he come to hold the power that offered some prospect of putting his ideas into practice. His sobriety and apparent common sense, which deceived outsiders, were precisely what made his career possible. 'I am convinced that nobody I met in Germany is more normal,' an English observer wrote in 1929. (16) The basic pathological characteristic of the National Socialist movement, so often and so erroneously sought in clinically obvious psychopaths like Julius Streicher, showed itself rather in the curious amalgam of crankiness and 'normality', of insanity and sober administrative ability. Thus Streicher was pushed further and further to the sidelines, while Heinrich Himmler, who possessed the 'arcanum imperil' of this system of government, quickly reached the highest power, a calculating man of faith who without doubt or challenge trampled over millions, leaving behind him a trail of blood and tears, the most dreadful combination of crackpot and manipulator of power, of quack and inquisitor, that history has ever known. Concentration camps and herb gardens, such as he had planted at Dachau and elsewhere: these are still the most apt symbols of his personality.
His loquacity has left behind a wealth of documents that all support this analysis. In his speech to the SS Group Leaders on 4th October 1943 in Poznan, one of the most horrifying testaments in the German language, he declared:
It is absolutely wrong to project your own harmless soul with its deep feelings, our kind-heartedness, our idealism, upon alien peoples. This is true, beginning with Herder, who must have been drunk when he wrote the Voices of the Peoples, thereby bringing such immeasurable suffering and misery upon us who came after him. This is true, beginning with the Czechs and Slovenes, to whom we brought their sense of nationhood. They themselves were incapable of it, but we invented it for them.
One principle must be absolute for the SS man: we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, what happens to the Czechs, is a matter of utter indifference to me. Such good blood of our own kind as there may be among the nations we shall acquire for ourselves, if necessary by taking away the children and bringing them up among us. Whether the other peoples live in comfort or perish of hunger interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture; apart from that it does not interest me. Whether or not 10,000 Russian women collapse from exhaustion while digging a tank ditch interests me only in so far as the tank ditch is completed for Germany. We shall never be rough or heartless where it is not necessary; that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude to animals, will also adopt a decent attitude to these human animals, but it is a crime against our own blood to worry about them and to bring them ideals.
I shall speak to you here with an frankness of a very serious subject. We shall now discuss it absolutely openly among ourselves, nevertheless we shall never speak of it in public. I mean the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. It is one of those things which it is easy to say. 'The Jewish people is to be exterminated,' says every party member. 'That's clear, it's part of our programme, elimination of the Jews, extermination, right, we'll do it.' And then they all come along, the eighty million good Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. Of course the others are swine, but this one is a first-class Jew. Of all those who talk like this, not one has watched, not one has stood up to it. Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand. To have gone through this and yet — apart from a few exceptions, examples of human weakness — to have remained decent, this has made us hard. This is a glorious page in our history that has never been written and never shall be written. (17)
The man who wrote some of the most terrible chapters in German history was born in Munich on 7th October 1900. His family atmosphere and all the main impressions of his years of development were evidently decisively influenced by the personality of his father, who, as the son of a police president, a former tutor to the princes at the Bavarian court, and a head-master, also applied authoritarian principles in his own household. He was austere, precise and pious. No doubt it would be going too far to see in the son's early interest in Teutonic sagas, criminology and military affairs the beginnings of his later development, but the family milieu, with its combination of 'officialdom, police work and teaching', (18) manifestly had a lasting effect on him. His opposition to his father's discipline and upbringing may have engendered a kind of dependence that later expressed itself as a complex need to look up to someone and surrender himself to that person. His fanatical concern with education, which led him continually to try to teach and impart axioms for living, was doubtless also largely the outcome of his early years. The doctor Felix Kersten, who treated him continuously from 1939 onwards and enjoyed his confidence, has asserted that Himmler himself would rather have educated foreign peoples than exterminate them. (19) During the war he spoke enthusiastically — looking ahead to peace — of establishing military units who were
'educated and trained, once education and training can be practised again'.(20)
It was at first intended that Himmler should become a farmer, and this was the source of the peasant ideas which later infused his ideological conceptions, especially in relation to the SS. But his poor physical constitution would in any case have made him unfit for a farmer's life. During the celebrations which he organized in Quedlinburg Cathedral in July 1936 to the accompaniment of ancient German horns, to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the death of Heinrich I, he extolled the latter as a 'noble peasant of his people'; in a speech the same year he described himself as 'a peasant by ancestry, blood and nature'.(21) But after the First World War, in which he had taken part at the very end as an ensign, he came via a rightist-radical soldiers' association to Hitler's party. A photograph of the November Putsch of 1923 shows him as a standard-bearer at the side of Ernst Rohm. Soon he emerged as a colleague of Gregor Strasser in the social-revolutionary wing of the NSDAP; undoubtedly this association sprang not so much from ideological motives as from the fact that he and Strasser were compatriots. In fact his ideological position, which later seemed so resolute, remained for a long time vague and indefinite. In 1926 he met Margarete Boden, the daughter of a West Prussian landowner. She had served as a nurse in the war and later had built up a modest private nursing home with her father's money. She was seven years older than Himmler, fair-haired and blue-eyed in complete conformity with the supposed Germanic type. Two years later he married her, and it was she, it was revealed later, who aroused his interest in homeopathy, mesmerism, oat-straw baths and herbalism.(22)
On 6th January 1929 Himmler, at the same time running a chicken farm at Waldtrudering near Munich, was appointed head of the then barely three-hundred-man-strong SS. He proved his abilities as an organizer by expanding the force to over 50,000 men by 1933. He was still a marginal figure in the top leadership; it was only during the seizure of power that, along with his superior assistant Reinhard Heydrich, he methodically and patiently worked his way up and gained control of the Political Police.(23) 30th June 1934 was the crucial day of his career. After he had worked in the background on the construction of the scenery before which the clumsy Rohm, for whom he had once carried the banner, advanced to his own execution, his SS units provided the murder commandos for the three-day massacre. From the rivalry between the Reichswehr and the SA he emerged alongside Hitler as the true victor. Only three weeks later the SS, hitherto subordinate to the SA, was raised to the status of an independent organization.(24) When on 17th June 1936 Himmler was finally appointed head of the now unified police forces of the Reich and confirmed as Reichsfuhrer of the SS, he seemed to have reached the peak of an astounding career. He now controlled a substantial portion of the real power and also, thanks to the terror that he spread, an even greater part of the psychological power.
This appointment provided him, in fact, with a spring-board for a process of expansion which largely determined the future face and history of the Third Reich, and in the course of which the real power visibly shifted towards himself and the SS. What he had been secretly preparing for a long time, egged on by Heydrich restlessly working in the background, now took shape step by step as the conquest of positions of solid power. The SS mobile troops, the economic and administrative head office of the SS, the concentration camps, the SS security service, the Head Office for Race and Settlement, and finally the Waffen SS soon grew from small institutions with limited functions into powerful organisations. The economic empire of the SS, which eventually spread over Europe, and the Waffen SS with almost forty divisions were merely particularly striking sides of an expansionist urge which must be seen as a whole, an urge which revealed not simply an insatiable desire for office but rather the structural law of the National Socialist regime in transition to the SS state. This process is not to be understood merely by considering the SS state from its most obvious side, the police empire or the system of concentration camps and extermination factories.
In fact, the aims of the enormous SS apparatus were far more comprehensive and concerned not so much with controlling the state as with becoming a state itself. The occupants of the chief positions in the SS developed step by step into the holders of power in an authentic 'collateral state', which gradually penetrated existing institutions, undermined them, and finally began to dissolve them. Fundamentally there was no sphere of public life upon which the SS did not make its competing demands: the economic, ideological, military, scientific and technical spheres, as well as those of agrarian and population policies, legislation and general administration. This development found its most unmistakable expression in the hierarchy of the Senior SS and Police Commanders, specially in the Eastern zones; the considerable independence that Himmler's corps of leaders enjoyed vis-a-vis the civil or military administration was a working model for a shift of power planned for the whole area of the Greater German Reich after the war. This process received its initial impetus following the so-called Rohm Putsch, and it moved towards its completion after the attempted revolt of 20th July 1944. The SS now pushed its way into 'the centre of the organisational fabric of the Wehrmacht', and Himmler, who had meanwhile also become Reich Minister of the Interior, now in addition became chief of the Replacement Army. On top of his many other functions he was thus in charge
'of all military transport, military censorship, the intelligence service, surveillance of the troops, the supply of food, clothing and pay to the troops, and care of the wounded'.(25)
Within this picture of consistent and soberly planned extensions of power, individual eccentricities were not lacking. While the majority of Himmler's organisations, foundations and acquisitions served realistic power aims, others merely satisfied his private fantasies — like the Mattoni mineral-water factory, the Lebensborn eV (the state-registered organization for the promotion of human propagation), the Nordland Publishing Company, the cultivation of Kog-Sagy's roots, or the SS Association for Research and Teaching on Heredity, whose task it was
'to investigate the geographical distribution, spirit, deeds and heritage of the Nordic Indo-Germanic race'.(26)
Himmler's comprehensive and unitary organization provided the totalitarian government with the systematic control that now enabled it to operate to its full extent. No sooner had Himmler, in the course of capturing power, seized control of the police than a perceptible tightening of the regime could be felt. The spontaneous acts of violence that had marked the initial phases of the Third Reich lessened and then ceased altogether with the final removal of power from the SA. The 'emotional' terrorism practised by Ernst Rohm's shock troops with a blend of political and criminal techniques gave way to its rational counterpart, a central bureaucracy systematically employing terrorism as an institution. The new type of man of violence recruited by Himmler was concerned with the dispassionate extermination of real or possible opponents, not with the primitive release of sadistic impulses. Whatever sadism occurred, particularly in the concentration camps, was included by Himmler among those 'exceptional cases of human weakness' of which he had spoken in his Poznan speech quoted above; they occurred in contradiction of the 'idea' of the type. His perpetually reiterated moral admonishments are in no way a merely feigned moral austerity not 'meant seriously'; they are founded in the principle of rational terrorism. He took ruthless measures in cases where corruption, brutality or any other personal motives were apparent, and even trusted henchmen were not spared.(27) As he once emphasized:
The wealth which they [the Jews] had, we have taken from them. We ourselves have taken none of it. Individuals who have offended against this principle will be punished according to an order which I issued at the beginning and which threatens: He who takes so much as a mark shall die. A certain number of SS men — not very many — disobeyed this order and they will die, without mercy. We had the moral right, we had the duty to our own people, to kill this people that wanted to kill us. But we have no right to enrich ourselves by so much as a fur, a watch, a mark, or a cigarette or any thing else. I shall never stand by and watch the slightest rot develop or establish itself here. Wherever it forms, we shall burn it out together. By and large, however, we can say that we have performed this task in love of our people. And we have suffered no damage from it in our inner self, in our soul, in our character. (28)
It was not so much a sign of moral callousness when the numerous members of the SS leadership who were present failed to be repelled by the terms of this speech; rather, it was that they felt confirmed in their hopelessly perverted idealism. If the system of concentration camps mainly served the purpose of destroying opponents, it also and to an increasing extent fulfilled the task of educating the members of the Order according to the ideal of the new aristocracy of the Germanic Herrenvolk, of training them above all in hardness towards themselves.(29) Unlike the SA, rightly described as recruited from the urban labour exchanges,(30) the elite SS succeeded, at least to begin with, in attracting a type who sought scope for his idealism, his readiness to serve, and his vague need for faith. According to Himmler's ideas its 'inner values' comprised loyalty, honesty, obedience, hardness, decency, poverty and courage. But this ethos, though ceaselessly preached and reinforced by torchlight celebrations, lacked genuine ethical roots and therefore ended by being a scantly romanticized call to murder, addressed to a mentality that had ceased to ask questions but silently and obediently killed, and actually compared the justice of mass murder with the injustice of a stolen cigarette. With its principles of behaviour removed from any system of moral standards and linked to the aims of power, it ceased to be an ethos. It became an instrument of total domination aimed directly at a man's inner being and wearing the mask of morality, though misconstrued by some of the rank and file as a 'new morality' and not infrequently — at the cost of individual conflict — put in the place of traditional values. Precisely the effort that it cost the non-criminal, 'idealistic'-minded type of SS man to achieve total lack of feeling, the ability literally to walk unmoved over corpses, often enabled him to delude himself into thinking that he was engaged in an ethical struggle, from which he then drew a sense of self. justification. In the hopeless confusion of all criteria under the influence of a totalitarian ethic, harshness towards the victims was held justified by the harshness practised towards oneself. 'To be harsh towards ourselves and others, to give death and to take it', was one of the mottoes of the SS repeatedly emphasized by Himmler. Because murder was difficult, it was good, and justified. By the same reasoning he was always able to point proudly, as though to a Roll of Honour, to the fact that the Order had suffered 'no inner damage' from its murderous activity and had remained 'decent'. It was entirely consistent that the moral status of the SS rose with the number of its victims. As Himmler declared to the officer corps of the 'Adolf Hitler' SS Bodyguard on 7th September 1940:
Exactly the same thing happened at forty degrees below zero in Poland when we had to carry off thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands when we had to be so hard — as to shoot thousands of leading Poles. When we had to be so hard, because otherwise vengeance would have fallen upon us later. It is a great deal easier in many cases to go with a company into battle than to operate with a company in some region suppressing a rebellious population at a low level of culture, carrying out executions, transporting people away, taking away howling and weeping women.(31)
However, it was not merely the ethos of hardness that gave such utterances by Himmler their decisive twist, but rather the vulgar and calculating pride in his own capacity for inhumanity with which the pedant and the former model pupil of the King Wilhelm Gymnasium in Munich sought to establish his leadership among his murder-and-battle-hardened subordinates. In fact it is difficult even now to understand to what individual qualities and advantage he owed his relatively uncontested position within the SS. He was the most colourless personality in the inner circle of the leaders of the Third Reich; he possessed no natural authority and his 'charisma' was that of a head teacher. The long years of screening by Heydrich, and Hitler's personal trust, which lasted to the end and which he paid for with extreme docility, clearly assisted him greatly. In addition, the Order's stringent principle of obedience and duty helped to keep his position uncontested, and its members were always being involved in new tasks imposed by its continuous expansionist drive, which gave them sufficient goals to exercise their rivalry outside the SS. But independently of this, he himself was always concerned to reinforce his influence, not merely institutionally but also psychologically, by proving both to those above him and those below him that he was the most extreme SS man among the Fuhrer's followers. Indeed, totalitarian systems in general owe their inhumanity more to competition between rivals jealously striving for power than to the principle of contempt for human beings as such.
It is true that from the time when the SS became more and more exclusively engaged in mass murder and extermination, Himmler's extremist protestations frequently took on strained undertones.
'We must forswear and renounce false comradeship, falsely conceived compassion, false softness, and a false excuse to ourselves,' he once cried out almost passionately to his listeners. (32)
The observation that in his purposeful coldness he was beyond reach of all feeling is undoubtedly correct.(33) All feelings of guilt, of individual responsibility, were warded off and 'dealt with' partly by his pseudo-moral values, partly by interposing those bureaucratic mechanisms that gave his character its specific stamp, so that they did not reach the foundations of his personality. Nevertheless we may surmise that the ever louder admonishments to harshness and ruthlessness were intended to drown elements of unrest which in the end he could not fail to hear. The scope of the terrorist activity made it inevitable that occasionally he should face the consequences of what he had thoughtlessly set in motion at the conference table or by putting his signature to documents. But he himself did not have the hardness he demanded from his subordinates, any more than he had the rest of the elite characteristics of the SS man, the external racial features, the physical height, the hair colour, or the so-called Great Family Tree (Grosser Ahnennachweis) going back to 1750.(34) There is no evidence that he was conscious of these problems or suffered from them. Only once does he seem to have submitted himself to the sight of what he demanded from others. SS Obergruppenfuhrer von dem Bach-Zelewski has attested that in 1941 in Minsk, Himmler ordered a hundred prisoners to be assembled for a model execution. At the first salvo, however, he almost fainted, and he screamed when the execution squad failed to kill two women outright.(35) In significant contrast to his abstract readiness to commit murder was the heartfelt emotion, described elsewhere, which overcame him at the sight of blond children,(36) and his positively hysterical opposition to hunting. His lunch was ruined if he was reminded that animals had been slaughtered. He once protested to his doctor:
How can you find pleasure, Herr Kersten, in shooting from behind cover at poor creatures browsing on the edge of a wood, innocent, defenceless. and unsuspecting? It's really pure murder. Nature is so marvellously beautiful and every animal has a right to live. It's just this point of view that I admire so much in our forefathers. They, for instance, formally declared war on rats and mice, which were required to stop their depredations and leave a fixed area with a definite time limit, before beginning a war of annihilation against them. You will find this respect for animals in all Indo-Germanic peoples. It was of extraordinary interest to me to hear recently that even today Buddhist monks, when they pass through a wood in the evening, carry a bell with them, to make any woodland animals they might meet keep away, so that no harm will come to them. But with us every slug is trampled on, every worm destroyed. (37)
The almost incomprehensible distortion of all standards of judgement revealed when this observation is set beside what he said about experiments on living prisoners or the 'treatment of other races in the East' (38) can be understood only in the context of his utopian fanaticism, which in its narrow-minded obsessionalism undoubtedly contained an element of insanity, and in the context of his world of ideas that was totally divorced from human reality. At an early stage he had shown that he could attribute idealistic motives to his behaviour. In 1921, when he was active in student self-government, he wrote in his diary:
'In actual fact I did not originally do it for idealistic reasons. Now that I have done it, I shall do it idealistically.'(39)
This ability to make 'decent' motives seem plausible according to changing needs prepared the way for a further abstraction of all activity from categories of individual guilt and made possible, not only for him but for a large number of his subordinates, a clouding of all personal responsibility. The human experiments in the laboratories of the concentration camps, which displayed a horrifying amateurism, yielded not the slightest useful result because their real purpose was merely to act as a blind; in the words of one of the doctors involved, Himmler wanted to prove 'that he was not a murderer but a patron of science'.(40) Any remaining feelings of guilt were removed by the assertion, delivered with the pseudo-tragic pose of provincial demonism, that it was 'the curse of the great to have to walk over corpses'.(41) Behind this, conjured up more zealously than ever, lay that concept of a Greater German post-war empire which, beyond the extermination which he carried out with routine conscientiousness, he was planning and preparing. The nature of these plans is disclosed by the terms in which he expressed himself on this 'theme of his life', by means of which he hoped to escape from the constraints of his dry and colourless existence to a position of leadership in idealized territories. Herrenmenschen were contrasted with 'working peoples'; there was talk of 'fields of racial experiment', 'nordification', 'aids to procreation', 'the foundations of our blood', 'fundamental biological laws', 'the ruination of our blood', 'the breeding of a new human type', or 'the botanical garden of Germanic blood' — truly the visions of a poultry farmer from Waldtrudering! Meanwhile Himmler devised plans for an SS State of Burgundy, which was to enjoy a certain autonomy as a racially and ideologically model state under his personal leadership, to be a sort of gigantic Nordic boarding school; this idea gave his narrow-minded pedagogic temperament the cold happiness for which it longed.(42) As it has been said of the spokesmen of the French Revolution that they confused politics with a novel, so it may be said of Himmler that he confused politics with the obscure and fanciful tracts that had been the first stage in the educational career of his Fuhrer.
The ultimate indissoluble residue of Himmler's make-up rests upon his devotion to the person of Hitler, to whom he subordinated himself in a positively pathological manner. His dependent nature and need of emotional support, demonstrated both by his choice of a wife seven years older than himself and by the dogmatic pedantry of his beliefs, culminated in an exaggerated loyalty towards the 'Fuhrer of the Greater Germanic Reich', as he liked to call Hitler in anticipation of the future. Once when Felix Kersten was treating Himmler, Kersten answered the telephone; Himmler turned to him, his eyes shining, and said,
'You have been listening to the voice of the Fuhrer, you're a very lucky man.'(43)
The head of the German Intelligence Service, Walter Schellenberg, who was his adviser towards the end of the war, reports that after every conversation with his Fuhrer, Himmler used to imitate his speech and mode of expression. (44) Kersten says that Himmler saw in Hitler's orders 'the binding decisions of the Germanic race's Fuhrer, pronouncements from a world transcending this one', which 'possessed a divine power':
He [Hitler] rose up out of our deepest need, when the German people had come to a dead end. He is one of those brilliant figures which always appear in the Germanic world when it has reached a final crisis in body, mind and soul. Goethe was one such figure in the intellectual sphere, Bismarck in the political — the Fuhrer in the political, cultural, and military combined. It has been ordained by the Karma of the Germanic world that he should wage war against the East and save the Germanic peoples — a figure of the greatest brilliance has become incarnate in his person.(45)
Kersten himself adds:
'Himmler uttered these words with great solemnity and effect. Now it became clear to me why Himmler had sometimes pointed to Hitler as a person whom men would regard in centuries to come with the same reverence that they accorded to Christ.'
If the devoutly exaggerated absoluteness of his loyalty towards the Fuhrer-god corresponded to a deep need on Himmler's part for security and something to hold on to, it is also understandable that his faith barely stood up to the strain of the final phase of the regime. For when, with the turn of the tide in the war and Hitler's increasingly obvious failure, the first cracks and fissures began to show on the idol, he instantly relapsed into his fundamental vacillation. Today we may take it as proved that from 1943 onwards he had loose, informative contacts with the Resistance Movement and even played a still unclarified but unquestionably dubious role in the events of 20th July, (46) before entering in the spring of 1945 into secret negotiations with a representative of the World Jewish Congress and finally with Count Folke Bernadotte. In so far as he was not forced into these negotiations against his will it remains questionable whether he ever intended to commit an act of conscious disloyalty. It is more probable that in a corner of his pathologically adoring heart he maintained the altars of his idol-worship to the last and that this was why his actions were irresolute and unplanned. But the inherent weight of the enormous power which he had gathered together during the last few years — not least with an eye on the succession to Hitler now forced him to act.
The steps he took, however, indicate an almost incredible divorce from reality. He greeted the representative of the World Jewish Congress, who came to see him on 21st April 1945, with the unbelievable words:
'Welcome to Germany, Herr Masur. It is time you Jews and we National Socialists buried the hatchet.' (47)
He indulged in speculation upon what he would do as soon as he came to power, and seriously hoped, up to the day of his arrest, that the Western Allies would greet him as a partner in negotiations and even as an ally against Soviet Russia. When he visited Grand Admiral Donitz, who had just been appointed Hitler's successor, on 1st May, he spoke of his 'widespread reputation' abroad.(48) Having bid farewell to Donitz he was still planning on 5th May to create a National Socialist government under his personal leadership in Schleswig-Holstein, to provide him with the legal right to negotiate with the Western Allies.
In the last analysis it was this stupendous lack of realism which determined this man's life and character. Once, in the panic turbulence of those days when, after shattered hopes, he became aware of reality in the shape of the approaching disaster, he told one of his colleagues,
'I shudder at the thought of everything that is going to happen now.'(49)
And if it was only fear that he felt now, this too was something he had obviously never considered, because it had never appeared either in documents or reports, or in his daydreams of future projects. They did not mention the fact that man is afraid of death.
Indeed, during these weeks of the collapse of the Third Reich the SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler was an opportunist fighting stubbornly to delay the end. In vain did those around him press him to declare himself and assume responsibility for the SS.(50) on 19th March he was still conjuring up apocalyptic visions of a last-ditch stand to the last man 'like the Ostrogoths on Vesuvius';(51) now he thought only of disguise and flight. 'One thing can never be forgiven among us Germans: that is treachery,' he had assured his followers a few months earlier. No small number of the SS, especially members of the elite groups, committed suicide when they realized Heinrich Himmler's treachery. In Bohemia, in May 1945, according to a contemporary report, SS officers lit a fire one night, stood in a circle around it singing the SS oath song 'Wenn alle untreu werden' (When all become untrue), and thereafter all took their own lives. What caused their disillusionment so suddenly and with such shock was not so much the betrayal to which Hitler was referring when he repudiated Himmler in his testament and stripped him of all his offices because of his independent peace feelers with the Western powers. In so far as their motives related to the SS leader's actions, it was rather his betrayal of the shared 'idea of the SS', in which they had believed through all battles, all victories, defeats, and crimes. Its collapse left only a senseless, filthy, barbaric murder industry, for which there could be no defence. Rudolf Hoss, for many years commandant of Auschwitz, became 'quite mute' when Himmler, 'radiant and in the best of spirits', advised him to go underground. (52)
Evidently the mechanism that produced illusion did not break down even now. On 21st May 1945, when Himmler left Flensburg under the name of Heinrich Hitzinger, his moustache shaved off and a black patch over his left eye, he had chosen for his disguise the uniform of a sergeant-major of the Secret Military Police, a subdivision of the Gestapo. Not grasping the terrifying reputation of all organisations associated with his name, he had no idea that he had thereby laid himself open to automatic arrest. The very same day he was taken prisoner by a British control post.
He put an appropriate end to his life. Suicide erased whatever justification he had advanced for the sufferings he had caused.
'My behaviour is more important than what I say,' he had declared in his Poznan speech, and added, 'This Germanic Reich needs the Order of the SS. It needs it at least for the next few Centuries.'(53)
Now his behaviour contradicted it all. There is no legend.