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Leader of the German SS

Leader Of The SS

Heinrich Himmler SS Leader of Germany

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler October 1900 – 23 May 1945)

Was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and later the Minister of the Interior, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo (Secret State Police). Serving as Reichsführer and later as Commander of the Replacement (Home) Army and General Plenipotentiary for the entire Reich’s administration, Himmler rose to become the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany.

As overseer of the concentration camps, extermination camps, and Einsatzgruppen (literally: task forces, often used as killing squads), Himmler coordinated the killing of some six million Jews, between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma, many prisoners of war, and possibly another three to four million Poles, communists, or other groups whom the Nazis deemed unworthy to live or simply “in the way”, including homosexuals, people with physical and mental disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of the Confessing Church. Shortly before the end of the war, he offered to surrender both Germany and himself to the Western Allies if he were spared prosecution. After being arrested by British forces, he committed suicide before he could be questioned.

Heinrich Himmler was born in Munich to a Roman Catholic Bavarian middle-class family. His father was Joseph Gebhard Himmler, a secondary-school teacher and principal of the prestigious Wittelsbacher Gymnasium.

In 1910, Himmler attended Gymnasium in Landshut, where he studied classic literature. Himmler’s father, the principal, sent him to spy on and punish other pupils. His father even called him a born criminal. While he struggled in athletics, he did well in his schoolwork. His parents eventually gave in to his request of joining the Army, therefore allowing him to train (upon graduation from secondary school in 1918) with the 11th Bavarian Regiment.

Since he was not athletic, he struggled throughout his military training. In 1918 the war ended with Germany’s defeat, thus ending Himmler’s aspirations of becoming a professional army officer.

From 1919 to 1922 Himmler studied agronomy at the Munich Technische Hochschule following a short-lived apprenticeship on a farm and subsequent illness.

In 1923, Himmler took part in Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, serving under Ernst Röhm. In 1926 he met his future wife and married Margarete Siegroth in 1928, but they separated in 1940.

Rise in the SS

Rise in the SS

Early SS: 1925–1934

Himmler joined the SS in 1925; his first position was that of SS District Leader in Bavaria. In 1927, he became Deputy–Reichsführer-SS, with the rank of SS-Oberführer, and upon the resignation of SS commander Erhard Heiden, in 1929, Himmler was appointed Reichsführer-SS. At that time, the SS then had 280 members and was merely an elite battalion of the much larger Sturmabteilung (SA). Over the next year, Himmler began a major expansion of the organization and, in 1930, he was promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer (Reichsführer was, at that time, simply a title for the National Commander of the SS).

By 1933, the SS numbered 52,000 members. The organization enforced strict membership requirements ensuring that all members were of Hitler’s Aryan master race.

Himmler and his deputy Reinhard Heydrich began an effort to separate the SS from SA control. Black SS uniforms replaced the SA brown shirts in July 1932 and by 1934 enough quantities were manufactured for general use by all. In 1933, Himmler was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer. This made him an equal of the senior SA commanders, who by this time loathed the SS and envied its power.

Persuaded by Himmler and Göring, Hitler agreed that Röhm had to be eliminated. On 30th June 1934, in what became known as the Night of the Long Knives, the SA Leadership had been decimated. The next day, the SS became an independent organization responsible only to Hitler, and Himmler’s title of Reichsführer-SS became the highest formal SS rank.

Consolidation of power

On 20 April 1934, Göring formed a partnership with Himmler and Heydrich. Göring transferred authority over the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), the Prussian secret police, to Himmler, who was also named chief of all German police outside Prussia. On 22 April 1934, Himmler named Heydrich the head of the Gestapo. Heydrich continued as head of the SD, as well.

On 17 June 1936, Himmler was named Chief of German Police after Hitler announced a decree that was to “unify the control of Police duties in the Reich”. Traditionally, law enforcement in Germany had been a state and local matter. In this role, Himmler was nominally subordinate to Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick. However, the decree effectively merged the police with the SS, making it virtually independent of Frick’s control.

Himmler gained authority as all of Germany’s uniformed law enforcement agencies were amalgamated into the new Ordnungspolizei (Orpo: “order police”), whose main office became a headquarters branch of the SS. Despite his title, Himmler gained only partial control of the uniformed police. The actual powers granted to him were some that were previously exercised by the ministry of the interior. It was only in 1943, when Himmler was appointed Minister of the Interior, that the transfer of ministerial power was complete.

With the 1936 appointment, Himmler also gained ministerial authority over Germany’s non-political detective forces, the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo: crime police), which he merged with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo: security police) under Heydrich’s command, and thus gain operational control over Germany’s entire detective force. This merger was never complete within the Third Reich with the Kripo remaining mainly under the control of its own civilian administration and later the party apparatus. However, in occupied territories not incorporated into the Reich proper, SiPo consolidation within the SS line of command proved mostly effective. In September 1939, following the outbreak of World War II, Himmler formed the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA: Reich Main Security Office) wherein the SiPo (Gestapo and Kripo) along with the Sicherheitsdienst (SD: security service) became departments under Heydrich’s command therein.

The SS during these years developed its own military branch, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), which later evolved into the Waffen-SS. Even though nominally under the authority of Himmler, the Waffen-SS developed a fully militarized structure of command and operationally were incorporated in the war effort parallel to the Wehrmacht.

Himmler and the Holocaust

After the Night of the Long Knives, the SS-Totenkopfverbände organized and administered Germany’s regime of concentration camps and, after 1941, extermination camps in occupied Poland as well. The SS, through its intelligence arm, the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD), dealt with Jews, Gypsies, communists and those persons of any other cultural, racial, political or religious affiliation deemed by the Nazis to be either Untermensch (sub-human) or in opposition to the regime, and placed them in concentration camps.

World War II

In 1939 Himmler masterminded Operation Himmler (also known as Operation Konserve or Operation Canned Goods), arguably the first operation of World War II in Europe. It was a ruse to create the appearance of Polish aggression against Germany, which was subsequently used by Nazi propaganda to justify the invasion of Poland.

Before the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), Himmler prepared his SS for a war of extermination against the forces of “Judeo-Bolshevism”. Himmler, always glad to make parallels between Nazi Germany and the Middle Ages, compared the invasion to the Crusades. He collected volunteers from all over Europe, especially those of Nordic stock who were perceived to be racially closest to Germans, like the Danes, Norwegians, Swedes and Dutch. After the invasion, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonian volunteers were also recruited, attracting the non-Germanic volunteers by declaring a pan-European crusade to defend the traditional values of old Europe from the “Godless Bolshevik hordes”. Thousands volunteered and many thousands more were conscripted.

In the Baltic states many natives were willing to serve against the Red Army due to their loathing of their oppression after the occupation by the Soviet Union. These men were conscripted into the Waffen-SS. Employed against Soviet troops, they performed with a high degree of professionalism. Waffen SS recruitment in Western and Nordic Europe collected much less manpower, though a number of Waffen-SS Legions were founded, such as the Wallonian contingent led by Léon Degrelle, whom Himmler planned to appoint chancellor of an SS State of Burgundy within the grand Nazi scheme; once Germany had won the War.

In 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler’s right hand man, was assassinated near Prague after an attack by Czech special forces supplied by British Intelligence.

Himmler immediately carried out reprisal, killing the entire population, including women and children, of the village of Lidice.

Interior Minister

In 1943, Himmler was appointed Reich Interior Minister, replacing Frick, with whom he had engaged in a turf war for over a decade Himmler’s appointment effectively merged the Interior Ministry with the SS. Nonetheless, Himmler sought to use his new office to reverse the party apparatus’s annexation of the civil service and tried to challenge the authority of the party gauleiters.

This aspiration was frustrated by Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary and party chancellor. It also incurred some displeasure from Hitler himself, whose long-standing disdain for the traditional civil service was one of the foundations of Nazi administrative thinking. Himmler made things much worse still when following his appointment as head of the Reserve Army, he tried to use his authority in both military and police matters by transferring policemen to the Waffen-SS.

20 July plot

The leaders of German Military Intelligence (the Abwehr), including its head, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, were involved in the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. This prompted Hitler to disband the Abwehr and make Himmler’s Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD) the sole intelligence service of the Third Reich. This increased Himmler’s personal power.

General Friedrich Fromm, Commander-in-Chief of the Reserve (or Replacement) Army (Ersatzheer), was implicated in the conspiracy. Fromm’s removal, coupled with Hitler’s suspicion of the army, led the way to Himmler’s appointment as Fromm’s successor, a position he abused to expand the Waffen SS even further to the detriment of the rapidly deteriorating German armed forces (Wehrmacht).

Unfortunately for Himmler, the investigation soon revealed the involvement of many SS officers in the conspiracy, including senior officers, which played into the hands of Bormann’s power struggle against the SS because very few party cadre officers were implicated. Even more importantly, some senior SS officers began to conspire against Himmler himself, as they believed that he would be unable to achieve victory in the power struggle against Bormann.

Commander-in-Chief

In late 1944, Himmler became Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Army Group Upper Rhine (Heeresgruppe Oberrhein). This army group was formed to fight the advancing U.S. 7th Army and French 1st Army in the Alsace region along the west bank of the Rhine.

On 1 January 1945, Himmler’s army group launched Operation North Wind (Unternehmen Nordwind) to push back the Americans and the French. In late January, after some limited initial success, Himmler was transferred east. By 24 January, Army Group Upper Rhine was deactivated after going over to the defensive. Operation North Wind officially ended on 25 January.

Elsewhere the German Army had failed to halt the Red Army’s Vistula-Oder offensive, so Hitler gave Himmler command of yet another newly formed army group, Army Group Vistula (Heeresgruppe Weichsel) to stop the Soviet advance on Berlin. Hitler placed Himmler in command of Army Group Vistula despite the failure of Army Group Upper Rhine and despite Himmler’s total lack of experience and ability to command troops.

As Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula, Himmler established his command centre at Schneidemühl. On 30 January, Himmler issued draconian orders: Tod und Strafe für Pflichtvergessenheit —”death and punishment for those who forget their obligations”, to encourage his troops. The worsening situation left Himmler under increasing pressure from Hitler; he was unassertive and nervous in conferences. In mid-February the Pomeranian offensive by his forces was directed by General Walther Wenck, after intense pressure from General Heinz Guderian on Hitler. By early March, Himmler’s headquarters had moved west of the Oder River.

On 13 March, Himmler abandoned his command and, claiming illness, retired to a sanatorium at Hohenlychen. Guderian visited him there and carried his resignation as Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula to Hitler that night. On 20 March, Himmler was replaced by General Gotthard Heinrici.

Peace negotiations

Heinrich Himmler in 1945.

In the winter of 1944–45, Himmler’s Waffen-SS numbered 910,000 members, with the Allgemeine-SS (at least on paper) hosting a membership of nearly two million. However, by early 1945 Himmler had lost faith in German victory. He realized that if the Nazi regime were to survive, it needed to seek peace with Britain and the United States.

To this end, he contacted Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, near the Danish border. He represented himself as the provisional leader of Germany, telling Bernadotte that Hitler would almost certainly be dead within two days. He asked Bernadotte to tell General Dwight Eisenhower that Germany wished to surrender to the West. Himmler hoped the British and Americans would fight the Soviets alongside the remains of the Wehrmacht. At Bernadotte’s request, Himmler put his offer in writing.

On the evening of 28 April, the BBC broadcast a Reuters news report about Himmler’s attempted negotiations with the Western Allies. When Hitler was informed of the news, he flew into a rage. A few days earlier, Hermann Göring had asked Hitler for permission to take over the leadership of the Reich

Himmler’s treachery, combined with reports the Soviets were only 300 meters from the Chancellery, prompted Hitler to write his last will and testament. In the Testament, completed the day before he committed suicide, he declared Himmler and Göring to be traitors. He also stripped Himmler of all of his party and state offices: Reichsführer-SS, Chief of the German Police, Commissioner of German Nationhood, Reich Minister of the Interior, Supreme Commander of the Volkssturm, and Supreme Commander of the Home Army. Finally, he expelled Himmler from the Nazi Party and ordered his arrest.

Himmler’s negotiations with Count Bernadotte failed. He joined Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who by then was commanding all German forces within the northern part of the western front. Dönitz sent Himmler away, explaining that there was no place for him in the new German government. However, the negotiations helped secure the release of some 15,000 Scandinavian prisoners from the remaining concentration camps.

Himmler next turned to the Americans as a defector, contacting Eisenhower’s headquarters and proclaiming he would surrender all of Germany to the Allies if he were spared from prosecution. He asked Eisenhower to appoint him “minister of police” in Germany’s post-war government. He reportedly mused on how to handle his first meeting with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) commander and whether to give the Nazi salute or shake hands with him. Eisenhower refused to have anything to do with Himmler, who was subsequently declared a major war criminal.

Capture and death

Himlers capture and death Germany

Himmler wandered for several days around Flensburg near the Danish border. Attempting to evade arrest, he disguised himself as a sergeant-major of the Secret Military Police, using the name Heinrich Hitzinger, shaving his moustache and donning an eye patch over his left eye, in the hope that he could return to Bavaria. He had equipped himself with a set of false documents, but someone whose papers were wholly in order was so unusual that it aroused the suspicions of a British Army unit in Bremen. Himmler was arrested on 22 May and in captivity, was soon recognized. Himmler was scheduled to stand trial with other German leaders as a war criminal at Nuremberg, but on 23 May committed suicide in by means of a potassium cyanide capsule before interrogation could begin. Shortly afterwards, Himmler’s body was buried in an unmarked grave on the Lüneburg Heath. The precise location of Himmler’s grave remains unknown.

Himmler himself was proud of the input into the Third Reich dagger and Third Reich sword design and production. There is an image of him taken in 1936 proudly showing his personal SS Officers sword/degen to photographers.

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