Heinrich Himmler

The power-hungry head of the Nazi SS

At age 27, Heinrich Himmler, then a squad leader in the small personal security branch of the Nazi party, told the party's leader, Adolf Hitler, of his vision of transforming the party's security squads (Schutzstaffel, abbreviated SS, meaning Protection Squads) into a "racially pure" elite force, personally loyal to Hitler. Hitler approved, promoted Himmler to deputy nationwide leader of the SS, and a year later, on January 6, 1929, promoted Himmler to "Reichsfuhrer-SS" (nationwide leader-SS), which remained his title and rank for 16 years, until the end of Nazi Germany.

As head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler led one of the most outstanding power-hungry careers in history. SS membership increased from 280 to over a million, and the power and authority granted to him by Hitler continuously expanded, transforming the SS to a-state-within-a-state, making Heinrich Himmler the 2nd most powerful person in the Nazi regime. His powers eventually included:

Disciplined cold-blooded murderers

Hitler approved Himmler's vision for the SS because it solved his control problems. As the Nazi party's leader in the chaotic and violent politics of post World War 1 Germany, Hitler controlled a large and rapidly expanding para-military organization, the Sturmabteilung (abbreviated SA, meaning Storm Battalions). The SA men were recruited from the masses of frustrated and often unemployed ex-soldiers, and also from street gangs. They did not hesitate to use violence in the streets, and in attacking other parties meetings, but they lacked discipline, quality, blind obedience, and personal loyalty to Hitler, who initially still faced potential competition, or even just independent ideological opinions, from within his party. The SA's coarse violence also interfered with Hitler's plans to gain the support of rich industrialists, senior army officers, etc.

The SS were initially just a unit of the SA that was responsible for protecting Hitler and other key Nazis, and maintaining security and order in the party's meetings. What Himmler offered to Hitler was to develop the tiny SS into a very different type of force. Under Himmler, the SS was strict about its recruitment requirements. In addition to fully documented "racial purity" (i.e. ethnic German origin), SS members were required to be intelligent, decent, reliable, self-disciplined, obedient, and totally loyal, ideologically and personally, to Hitler.

Instead of the hot-headed street gangs of the SA, the SS would murder anyone without hesitation, but only if ordered to. They would torture or murder a person, or mass-murder thousands, but would not loot, cheat, or brawl. They would murder even fellow Nazis, and even fellow SS men, if ordered to. They would act with calculated cold-blooded self-disciplined violence, in total personal obedience to Adolf Hitler (via Himmler's orders). When the Waffen-SS was formed, its recruitment requirements also included physical size and fitness, bravery and endurance, in order to form elite military units. And last, many high-ranking SS officials were highly-educated people with various doctoral degrees.

The SS men knew that they were the party's elite, later also the German people's elite, and Himmler did a lot to further enhance their esprit de corps, with their own unique uniforms, ranks, ceremonies, privileges, etc.

From Hitler's point of view, it paid off once he came to power in Germany. Whenever he needed to imprison or murder people, anyone from veteran Nazis to entire population groups, the SS did it efficiently, systematically, and at ever increasing scale. It vastly expanded during World War 2, as Nazi Germany invaded and occupied most of Europe, enslaved, deported, imprisoned, and mass-murdered, entire ethnic populations, especially but not only the Jews, in the most systematic cold-blooded genocide in history.

Himmler's end

In the last days of the war, Himmler understood that the end was near and that Hitler will stay in Berlin and die. Instead of abiding by the SS oath of "absolute allegiance until death", he decided to save himself. He left Berlin, and via a Swedish diplomat he delivered a letter to the western Allies. He wrote that Hitler would be dead soon, and that he would be his successor, and he offered that the western Allies would make a separate peace with Germany, and join it in the war against Russia. It was an unrealistic proposal, but IF accepted, it meant that Himmler will not be punished for his vast crimes. When BBC Radio reported Himmler's private peace proposal, Hitler, who until then trusted Himmler's total loyalty to him, declared Himmler a traitor, stripped him of his titles, and named Admiral Karl Doenitz, the head of the German Navy, as his successor. After Hitler's suicide, Himmler met Doenitz and asked to be his deputy, but Doenitz dismissed him. Two days later Germany surrendered, and Himmler tried to escape using a false identity of a low-ranking soldier, but days later he was detained, and when asked who he was, he admitted that he was Heinrich Himmler, and then committed suicide with a poison pill.

Related essays:
Adolf Hitler
Joseph Goebbels
Hermann Goering
World War 2 leaders

Back to main page