I’m posting this on the 70th anniversary of the death of Heinrich Himmler. On critical anniversaries of World War Two I am posting various historical notes and reviews. Along those lines I have obtained Kindle editions of biographies of Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering published in 1960 by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel. This book is Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo. This is not so much a review of Himmler and his life as it is of the Manvell and Fraenkel book. It’s not going to be possible to talk about the book without getting into the life of the man, so this will include biographical highlights of Heinrich Himmler.
The authors published their trilogy 15 years after the end of the war, and this was a critical time. The collapse of the Third Reich and the Nazi Party was so complete and so cataclysmic that complete documentation was not immediately available. Important records were presented as evidence in the war crimes trials of 1946 and subsequently. In the mean time the Soviets had overrun the major institutions of Nazi power, and they were initially slow to disclose their holdings. Manvell and Fraenkel were able, by 1960, to obtain access to records not available to early writers. Also people central to the story were still available for interviews. The collaboration with Fraenkel was key to construction of these biographies:
He himself escaped from Germany just in time to avoid being arrested on the night of the Reichstag fire, and he subsequently took part in the foundation of the Free German movement in Britain. He also assisted at the independent legal investigations into the causes of the fire which were conducted in Britain by Sir Stafford Cripps and other world-famous lawyers, and he has written a number of books and pamphlets on Germany under the Nazis.
Fraenkel, Heinrich; Manvell, Roger (2010-09-06). Doctor Goebbels: His Life and Death (Kindle Locations 100-103). Frontline Books. Kindle Edition.
Heinrich Fraenkel has made numerous visits to Germany on research for this book. He has interviewed many people, some of them prominent in the S.S. or former members of Himmler’s staff who have asked to remain anonymous. Owing to Himmler’s methodical nature, vast quantities of private papers, official correspondence and secret memoranda have survived and are held in the various official archives we have indicated. Many new facts have come to light during the past two years from captured documents recently handed over by the American government to the German Federal Archives at Koblenz. These and other files have been studied and what they have shown has helped to complete this portrait of Himmler.
Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2007-09-17). Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo . Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
A less likely candidate for Nazi leadership in oppression and murder you would not find than Heinrich Himmler. Historically, he came almost from oblivion into the forefront of crimes against humanity. In the introduction the authors summarize him:
It remained for Himmler, the idealist without ideals, at once the most diffident and the most pedantic man in the Nazi hierarchy, persistently uncertain of himself and yet perpetually militant and power-loving, to accumulate in secret the ultimate control of Germany. Looked at from his own point of view, it was Himmler’s personal tragedy that while loving the thought of power so dearly he proved so utterly incapable of using it to any positive ends once he had acquired it. It remained a dead weight in his hands and a constant source of anxiety. While the very mention of his name struck terror into the hearts of millions of people, he himself was nervous to the point of timidity and became utterly speechless if Hitler chose to reprimand him. He cowered behind his own autocracy, and lost all powers of initiative in the face of personalities stronger or more persistent than himself, especially those on whom he came to depend, such as Heydrich, Schellenberg or Felix Kersten, his masseur, the only man who could relieve him of the chronic cramp in his stomach which was exacerbated by worry and despair. Yet it was Himmler who towards the end held most of what trump cards there were left in the hands of Nazi Germany, and who was regarded by many as the certain successor if Hitler collapsed.
Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2007-09-17). Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo. (Kindle Locations 100-103). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels superseded his own slight stature and physical debility with fire and energy. Nothing in Himmler’s manner or performance accounted for the absence of the Nazi superman myth within him. His average physical stature (69 inches) was not compensated by a manly physique. He was virtually chinless and had a body befitting a shoe salesman. In the cauldron of Nazi politics Himmler was a glass of warm milk, albeit a deadly one.
His unfortunate body plan made Himmler easily recognizable and a prime target for caricature.
Cartoons of World War II by Tony Husband (Kindle edition, location 492)
He came to his position of power by the most chance of circumstances. Nothing in his beginnings hints at the monster he was to become:
The first personal note by Heinrich to survive is a fragment of a diary he kept during 1910 in Munich. In a typical entry on 22 July he wrote: ‘Took a bath. The thirteenth wedding anniversary of my dear parents.’ It is a diary in which he simply adds up the smaller facts of his life from taking baths to going for walks, and he is careful always to show his respect for adults by entering their correct titles. The impression he gives already is that he has a painstaking primness of nature.3
Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2007-09-17). Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo (p. 2). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Despite later pretensions, he did not serve during the Great War, getting into a reserve position days before Germany’s capitulation. His military contacts did, however, bring him into association with Ernst Roehm, later to become head of Hitler’s gang of street fighters, the SA. It was Himmler’s association with Roehm that was soon to bring him into contact with Hitler.
Already Himmler’s anti-Jewish sentiments were beginning to appear in his personal notes:
He was, however, already developing his anti-Semitism, a feeling common enough among the right-wing Catholic nationalists in the south. From 1922 anti-Jewish sentiment grows stronger in Himmler’s diary, although on one occasion he softens a little towards a young Austrian-Jewish dancer he met in a night-club with a friend called Alphons, who had managed to persuade him to indulge in this most unusual expedition. He noted that she had ‘nothing of the Jew in her manner, at least as far as one can judge. At first I made several remarks about Jews; I absolutely never suspected her to be one.’ He made sentimental excuses to himself on her behalf, no doubt because she was pretty and gave him a pleasant shock by admitting she was no longer ‘innocent’. He is less indulgent to a fellow-student and former fellow-pupil at school, a Jew named Wolfgang Hallgarten6 whom he calls Jew-boy (Judenbub) and a Jewish louse (Judenlauser) because he had become a left-wing pacifist. From now onwards there are occasional references to the ‘Jewish question’ in the diaries.
Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2007-09-17). Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo (p. 11). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
When the Nazi party was banned in the aftermath of the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” in November 1923, Himmler found himself cast adrift and had to return to live with his family in Munich. Leaders of the putsch, including Hitler, were jailed for several months, and the Party splintered, close to total disintegration. Himmler took up with the Strasser brothers Otto and Gregor at this time as a worker in the Party office. During this time the Versailles Treaty required strict disarmament of the German military, but secret rearmament began almost immediately:
The creator of the nucleus and structure of the future German Army was General von Seeckt. As early as 1921 Seeckt was busy planning, in secret and on paper, a full-size German army, and arguing deferentially about his various activities with the Inter-Allied Military Commission of Control.
Churchill, Winston (2010-06-30). The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Volume 1 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (p. 40). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
In this enterprise the Strassers put Himmler to work:
He was responsible for surveying the secret arms dumps which were kept concealed in the country districts away from the eyes of the Inter-allied Control Commission. Himmler, aged twenty-four, enjoyed this underground activity; it filled him, says Otto Strasser, with nationalistic pride, and he preferred it to the office work which he had to carry out for Gregor Strasser who, as well as being a Reichstag Deputy, was in charge of Party activities in the district of Lower Bavaria, a position he had held since 1920.
Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2007-09-17). Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo (p. 15). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Himmler grew in his position as an office functionary for the Strassers, and Otto took amusement at Himmler’s fascination with Jews. However, this position soon put Himmler on the path to his niche in the Nazi Party and to a special place in world history:
Himmler’s ambitious diligence, however, won him the position of Strasser’s deputy as district organizer in Lower Bavaria, working of course under Hitler’s shadow in Munich. He also became second-in-command of a small corps numbering some two hundred men and known as the Schutzstaffel, or S.S. The S.S. was originally a group formed in 1922 before the Munich putsch and called the Adolf Hitler Shock Troops, a special bodyguard of tough men who kept close to Hitler on public occasions and guarded him from attack. According to his official record Himmler had joined the S.S. in 1925, receiving the S.S. number 168. The reformed S.S. marched past Hitler at the second Party gathering in Weimar in 1926, and they were given a special ‘blood-flag’ for their services to their leader in the November putsch. These services had been to wreck the printing presses of the Social Democrat newspaper in Munich.
Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2007-09-17). Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo (p. 16). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
It was as the organizer and leader of the S.S. and the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), that Himmler was to earn his special place in Hell.
Himmler’s anti-Jewish radicalism and even more so that of Joseph Goebbels helped secured the pair their special bond with Adolph Hitler. Himmler’s younger lieutenant Reinhard Heydrich only surpassed Himmler’s zeal in eliminating European Jewry. However, a team of Czech and Slovak agents ambushed and killed Heydrich in 1942, leaving Himmler the sole warden of the Holocaust.
Despite his brutal efficiency in killing internal enemies of the Reich and undesirable elements in European society, Himmler lacked the iron backbone required for this most grisly of tasks. On an early occasion he went to the front lines in Eastern Europe to a place where Jews were being shot and their bodies thrown into pits. A witness later being interviewed for the documentary The World at War told that some blood or brain matter spattered onto Himmler’s boots, and he became queasy and had to leave. In his private notes he mentions his supposed revulsion at the task he has assigned to himself:
The destruction of human beings, who were themselves so much more destructive than the animals, was in fact forced on Himmler, and he accepted this fearful task because he believed it to be the only, as well as the ‘final’, solution to the problem of securing the racial purification of Germany which remained his deep-rooted ideal. Belief in the maintenance of racial purity in the modern world, if it is to be carried to its logical conclusion, must lead either to complete segregation or to genocide. Himmler, in the circumstances of total war, came to accept genocide as the only solution. The primitive hatred and fear from which such absolute ideas originate forced Himmler, who was neither primitive nor passionate by nature, to take the supreme crime of mass murder upon his uneasy conscience.
Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2007-09-17). Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo (pp. 183-184). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Toward the end, as it became obvious to Himmler and to others when it would never be acknowledge by Hitler, that Germany would be crushed by the Allied forces, he attempted to posture himself in semi-private notes, as a victim of circumstances rather than the chief architect of the atrocities.
However, the end came without remorse in the spring of 1945, and Himmler’s concern turned to his own survival. He abandoned the Nazi leadership holed up in a Berlin bunker and sought to prolong the inevitable by taking a convoy of his guards and closest aids through the debris that had been northwestern Germany. With resolute finality the drama played out to its end. Forced to abandon their vehicles Himmler’s party trudged across the landscape until they could go no further. A military check point halted them, and Himmler resolutely owned up to his identity.
Then Colonel Murphy and Captain C. J. L. Wells, an army doctor, came in to carry out the routine inspection of their prisoner. They still suspected that Himmler was carrying poison. When he had stripped, they searched all over his body — his ears, his armpits, his hair, his buttocks. Then the doctor ordered him to open his mouth, and, in the words of Colonel Murphy, ‘immediately he saw a small black knob sticking out between a gap in the teeth on the right hand side lower jaw’.
‘Come nearer the light’, said the doctor. ‘Open your mouth.’
He put two fingers into the prisoner’s mouth. It was then that Himmler suddenly turned his head aside and bit down hard on the doctor’s fingers.
‘He’s done it’, shouted the doctor.
Both the colonel and the sergeant jumped on Himmler and threw him to the ground, turning him on his stomach to prevent him swallowing. The doctor held him by the throat, trying to force him to spit out the poison. The struggle to preserve his life by using emetics and a stomach-pump lasted a quarter of an hour; every method of artificial respiration was used. ‘He died,’ said the sergeant, ‘and when he died we threw a blanket over him, and left him.’
Manvell, Roger; Fraenkel, Heinrich (2007-09-17). Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo (p. 248). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.
I thought of this scene years later when I learned how the human wretch that was Muammar Gaddafi was run to ground and killed inside a car along a dusty road. The absence of pity is comparable.
Fraenkel and Manvell take similar approaches to development in each of their three biographies, and here, as well, the same issue is encountered. It’s not possible to unroll these stories in a strict chronology. Separate narratives must be developed in parallel, meaning it’s often necessary to retrace the same ground along multiple threads. This can leave the casual reader at odds as to the time frame. I found it helpful to consult additional sources as I read this Kindle edition over a period of days.
This volume appears to have escaped most of the lapses that occur when a print edition is converted to a computer file. When OCR (optical character recognition) technology is employed to convert print to computer text, strange character substitutions can pop up. This edition has a few of those, but not as many as I have found in other Kindle editions of print classics over the past year I’ve been reading these.