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Heinrich Himmler

Lesson from a Wretched Life

Heinrich Himmler

by Dennis Pollock

In most respects Heinrich Himmler would not seem to belong in a list with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and some of the world's most evil men. He possessed virtually no charisma whatsoever, and the words most often used to describe him are clerk and schoolmaster. He considered himself a man of high moral rectitude and lived on a small salary throughout his days as the second in power in the mighty Third Reich. He had a nervous disposition and did not like to take risks. He had little about him, in either personality or physical demeanor, that would have set him apart from the tens of thousands of government clerks and bureaucrats that went quietly about their business in every country of the world.

But Himmler’s business was murder. This mousey little man, with his rimless glasses and his love for keeping records on nearly everything, was responsible, under Hitler’s authority, for the deaths of ten million men, women, and children. His name struck fear in the hearts of all Europe, and his legacy is that of genocide and misery on a scale the world has never seen before or since. If ever the term “cold-blooded killer” applied to anyone, it was Herr Himmler. While others killed out of rage or greed or lust, Himmler killed out of principle, without passion and without regret. He turned murder into an efficient business, and did it so well that almost no one had any idea as to the extent of this holocaust until the deed was done.

Proper Young Man

We know more about Himmler’s youth than many other historical figures, due to the fact that he kept a diary, much of which survived his death. Most of Heinrich’s diary entries are pedantic and hold little interest for most. He records such things as taking walks, going to church, working on his stamp collection, and doing his homework. We do, however, see a trait that would, in time, become lethal. Himmler shows utter contempt for the weak and those who are not as militaristic as he, calling those who protested World War I “silly old women and petty bourgeois.” Speaking of the Russian prisoners, he proudly declares “they multiply like vermin” and writes of the German pacifists: “They are as stupid and chicken-hearted as ever.” Young Heinrich was easily possessed by the anti-Semitic spirit that was rife in Germany in those days. In his diaries, this proper young German has a penchant for referring to individuals he dislikes as “Jew louses.”

One of the great puzzles to this strange man was his hatred of weakness, when in his physical body he, himself was far from strong. While he dreamed of becoming a great Germanic warrior, the truth was that he was flabby, slow of foot, and not particularly coordinated. He was pathetic at gymnastics, the only school-sponsored sport. One of his fellow pupils recalled how the gym instructor used to deliberately ridicule and torment him in front of the other students. Masculinity and physical prowess were highly prized in German society, and young Heinrich always seemed to come up short.

One item of interest in Himmler’s youth was his relationship with the Catholic Church. Being raised in a devout Catholic family, Himmler attended endless masses, and religious rituals and liturgy were part and parcel of his youth. In his desire to conform and be the proper young man, he was quite faithful to the church as a youth.  As he matured, however, he began to realize that in many quarters it was OK to be less than ardent about religion and still maintain the proper German pedigree. Indeed there seemed to be something of a conflict between Christianity, with its “Thou shalt not kill” and its “turn the other cheek” and the masculine, martial German tradition. By his late teens he was beginning to see orthodox Christianity as being somewhat wimpy and non-Germanic.

Himmler Becomes a Nazi

Nazis

Upon leaving college, Himmler got a job as a fertilizer salesman, but his real interest became more and more attuned to right-wing nationalistic politics, and he found himself attending Nazi meetings constantly. When he wasn’t working for the party he was reading, and his reading was becoming almost exclusively racist and pro-German. He read books which unapologetically praised the “Nordic” race, men who were broad in shoulder and slim in waist, with chiseled features and blond hair – “a royal species.” These kinds of descriptions had a profound impact on Himmler, made all the stranger since he possessed none of these attributes. Yet as he read he began to conclude that the greatest problems of the world were all due to inferior breeding and inferior races. Jews, blacks, Slavs, and gypsies … were a drain on society, and had been the result of poor breeding.

As he moved up the ladder in the Nazi hierarchy he was hardly noticed. He had none of the blustery pugnacious style that marked so many Nazis. He went about his work quietly, efficiently, and kept his eyes open. During these early days Himmler was given the position that would lead to his ultimate rise to power. He was made second in command to a small group of some 167 men who were assigned to be Hitler’s personal bodyguards. They were known as the Schutzstaffel, or more commonly as the "SS." Himmler, who loved important sounding titles and responsibilities, was thrilled. He immediately set out to organize this handful of ruffians into an arm of terror such as the world had never yet seen.

While he labored for the party, Himmler managed to fall in love. On a trip to Berlin he met a nurse seven years older than himself, Margarete Concerzowo. Himmler was smitten and began a courtship with her through the mail. He called her “the flower of all womanhood,” and she called him “my naughty darling.” It is hard to believe that this iceman who could order the deaths of millions of men, women, and children could be so human as to fall in love, but such is the mystery of evil. They were married in July, 1928.

By January of 1929 Hitler was looking for a replacement for Erhard Heiden to head the SS. He chose the ever so dutiful, ever so efficient Heinrich Himmler. The short-sighted, flabby file clerk may not have looked like the kind of man to control some of the toughest thugs in Germany, but Hitler saw below the surface. The combination of a steel will, a fanatical loyalty, a penchant for details, and a true belief in the superiority of the “Aryans” convinced Hitler that here was a man who could be trusted with the most powerful of positions. One of Hitler’s pet names for his SS chief was to become "der treue Heinrich" (faithful Heinrich).

Thus a bright but nerdy schoolboy, who recorded his baths and his walks in his diary, rose to that position that would eventually make him the second most powerful man in the whole of Europe. His love for order, his obsession for keeping dossiers, and his willingness to do whatever the party asked had served him well. It was as though he had been especially prepared for the service of his master. And he would gladly serve.

Reichsfuhrer – SS

Himmler set about slowly and methodically to build up the SS. By the end of his first month as their leader, he had instituted racial safeguards to purify the ranks. Every SS man had to be able to produce proof of solid German ancestry for at least three generations. To Himmler the idea that all the world’s problems were due to race was not just theory; it was reality. He was not like so many other Nazis, merely giving lip service to these ideas to please Hitler. Heinrich was a true believer.

Himmler and HitlerWhile the first two years of his reign were used primarily to reorganize, the years that followed saw the SS rise phenomenally in stature and in number. Himmler became more and more enamored with Adolf Hitler. He told Otto Strasser that his SS would be an Order sworn to the Fuhrer. “For him I could do anything. Believe me, if Hitler were to say I should shoot my mother, I would do it and be proud of his confidence.” Otto told him that he shuddered at him, and thereafter greeted the Reichsfuhrer with the words, “I shudder at you.” Himmler would laugh and take it as a compliment.

Evidence of Himmler’s genuine belief in the Nazi platitudes he preached comes to light as you contrast Himmler with Hitler’s other trusted man, Herman Goering. As World War II dragged on Goering used his position to gather enormous wealth and possessions for himself. He indulged in lavish, expensive uniforms, and gorged on the finest delicacies. Himmler, on the other hand, lived frugally, refusing to use his personal position for profit, or to charge the smallest personal item to his expense account. When he had his driver pick up his parents and give them rides in his official car, he noted the fuel costs and had them deducted from his salary. If he borrowed a cigar, he would repay with a larger one, or return a cigar and one half more. In a very bizarre way, he considered himself a highly moral man, and was disgusted with many of his fellow Nazis who behaved so “immorally.”

By 1933 the SS had grown from 167 to nearly 50,000 men. Himmler loved to preach to his men. He constantly gave speeches, decrying the evils of the inferior races, the glory and superiority of the Aryan race, and the noble way in which all SS men were to conduct themselves. In one speech he took note of the fact that many of his men were getting heavily in debt. This was not acceptable. He granted that during the war, there might be a necessity for such things, but declared that in the future: “An SS man buys nothing for which he cannot pay… an SS man never buys by means of a loan – he can save up the money beforehand and then buy… the SS man is the most honorable human being that can be found in Germany – the most honorable that one can imagine.”

The Concentration Camps

In his quest for order, Himmler created what he considered to be the model concentration camp at Dachau to house 5,000 prisoners in 1933. With the many Jewish “vermin” and other racially inferior types, they would need lots of prison space to confine them. Ever the efficient administrator, Himmler was sure he could create a camp that would reach the zenith of German efficiency. The camp was to be run with an iron hand. Hitler was impressed, and later relegated responsibility for all the concentration camps over to “der treue Heinrich.”

It is curious that, like his master, Himmler could sentence men to death without batting an eyelash, yet found the killing of any animal a terrible crime. He harped at his personal physician, Felix Kersten, for his deer hunting: “How can you find pleasure, Herr Kersten, in shooting from behind cover at poor creatures browsing on the edge of a wood – innocent, defenseless, unsuspecting? It is really pure murder… Every animal has a right to live.” Somehow the irony of defending animals while he butchered his own species never seemed to penetrate his cold, efficient heart.

The Shadow Lengthens

By 1939 Himmler's marriage had disintegrated. He was no longer Margarete’s “naughty darling” and she had long since ceased being “the flower of all womanhood.” He now lived and worked in Berlin, and she stayed back on their farm in Gmund. Himmler began to take up with his secretary, who became like a second wife to him. The former youth who determined to remain chaste until marriage now had two children by his mistress, and felt himself all the more patriotic for it. Was he not increasing the stock of good German blood?

It is interesting that the first cases of Himmler’s SS being involved with systematic murder involved the German people themselves. In 1939 Hitler ordered Himmler to supervise the euthanizing of the weak throughout Germany. The retarded, the simple-minded, and patients in mental institutions were targeted. If nature had ordained the survival of the fittest, surely it could not be wrong to assist nature by the destruction of those least fit. It was done in relative secrecy, Hitler realizing that there were many in Germany that would not understand these “mercy killings.” Death reports were falsified, and every attempt was made to keep the general population unaware of the murderous policies set in place by their Fuehrer and his SS chief.

The euthanization program had been based upon one of Hitler and Himmler’s most basic and fundamental assumptions: many, if not most lives were fit only for slavery or death, due to poor genetics. Jews, gypsies, the retarded, the emotionally disturbed … all these must be eliminated, or at the least sterilized and supervised, to keep them from diluting the strong, mentally superior Aryan race, of which the majority of the Germanic peoples were the purest examples. In the minds of these two fanatics, the extermination of the weak was a distasteful business, but for the sake of the betterment of the world, it had to be done by those with the foresight to know what was best for the common good.

Himmler proved himself a most efficient administrator of murder. His natural obsession with details, his slavish devotion to Hitler, and his passionate fixation with race and genetics, made him the ideal man to supervise Hitler’s murderous schemes. Himmler wanted to be able to kill the undesirables in a cleaner, neater fashion that would not take such a toll on those who must do the dirty business. When he learned of Zyklon B, and saw that it could kill hundreds in minutes without blood and dismemberment, he put together the ultimate killing machine. Herd the undesirables into a “shower room,” lock the doors, and kill them with gas in twenty minutes' time. It was neat, efficient murder.

Himmler and the Jews

Himmler described his organized murder of the Jews as simply dealing with lice: “It is exactly the same as de-lousing; getting rid of lice is not a question of ideology. It is a matter of cleanliness. We shall soon be de-loused.”

Day by day and week by week the killing went on. At its zenith around 250,000 Jews were killed in a single month. Noting this statistic, Himmler wrote on a note that they died “for the greater glory of the German Reich.” His major worry by this point was a concern that such mass slaughter would have a negative effect upon the poor SS men whose job was to do the actual killing. In a speech he gave to encourage his partners in murder, he exhorted them:

Most of you know what it means when a hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred or a thousand. To have stuck it out, and at the same time… to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us so hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and will never be written…

True to the End

In April, 1945, Himmler’s master, Adolf Hitler, put a pistol in his mouth and ended his life. It was now every man for himself. The Russians were attacking from the east, and the Americans and the British from the west. The man who had preached to his men to do their duty and fight until death, could not bring himself to take his own advice. Shaving off his mustache, doing away with his famed pince-nez glasses, he attempted to blend in with the masses of ordinary German soldiers who were being taken prisoner. When the Americans seemed to recognize him, rather than face a trial and execution by hanging, he bit down on a capsule of cyanide. Within minutes he was dead.

Lesson Learned

So what can we learn from the life of this wretched and evil man? One of the major insights that screams at us from Himmler's story is that morality is worthless if it is not God's morality. To the very end Himmler fancied himself a highly moral man. He had been meticulously honest, a patriot who passionately loved his country, and he liked to think that he did all he did for the betterment of mankind. But the code of ethics that satiated his soul and motivated his murderous policies was flawed and corrupt to the core. This man who was so scrupulous to pay for the fuel consumed when his parents rode in his government car, who flinched at the killing of deer, and who lived on a small salary when he could easily have siphoned off millions of marks through his powerful position in the Nazi government, was guilty of murders and atrocities on a scale and to a degree that has rarely been seen in our world.

Having rejected the morality of the Holy Scriptures, deciding that God's word was antiquated and archaic, Himmler embraced the poisonous morality of Adolf Hitler and the anti-Semitism which made up the very worst of German culture in those days. While many joined the Nazi party for power or due to cultural pressure, Heinrich was a true believer. His story is a dramatic testimony of the power of belief to transform and motivate a life. He did what he did because he believed what he believed.

In our culture today, we likewise have rejected Biblical morality. Unborn babies are slaughtered every year in the name of a woman's "right to choose." Sex outside of marriage is condoned and even expected; young people who wait until marriage are looked upon as freaks and hopeless losers. Marriages are dissolved easily and quickly on the basis of "irreconcilable differences." Groundless divorces have become the norm, with lawyers advertising "easy divorce without the drama." Homosexuality is the latest celebrity cause, and is pushed at us relentlessly. The people who promote and defend these evils are often highly moral individuals. They speak of lofty ideals and when challenged, answer with shrill voices of righteous indignation. They love to talk about "being on the right side of history" which is code for following whatever direction the latest cultural winds are blowing, especially in terms of sex without any moral restraints whatsoever. Like Heinrich Himmler, their problem is not a lack of morality. They have morality all right, but it is a home-made version. They have never embraced the morality of Jesus Christ.

When we are born again we are forgiven and we are given the gift of eternal life. We shall live forever with God. But we are also given a code of ethics which is to be our guide as we live out our years on this earth. These ethics and moral decrees are found in the Bible, the very same book which tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…" We cannot, we must not, we dare not allow our culture to become a substitute for the Holy Scriptures and begin to dictate what is lawful and what is not. To embrace Jesus Christ is to embrace His word, His ways, His precepts, and yes, His commandments. Anything less than this and we are left with a false gospel, a spurious Jesus, and a pretend Christianity.

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