Himmler, Heinrich

(1900-1945), leader of the SS, head of the Gestapo, minister of the interior and, next to Adolf Hitler, the most powerful man in Nazi Germany. Himmler was a fanatic racist whose theories originated with Adolf Hitler, but who used his superior administrative abilities to put into practice the "Final Solution," which was the attempted elimination of the Jewish people. The killing of Jews was for Himmler and other Nazi ideologues the means to achieve the supremacy of the Ayran race and to purify the world of "sub-humans".

Himmler took part in the Nazi putsch of 1923. He joined the SS in 1925 and became its head in 1929. In 1933, he became head of the Gestapo. In 1936 he won control of the entire police force throughout Germany, his title being Reichsfuhrer-SS und Chef der Duetschen Polizei (Reich Leader of the SS and Chief of the German Police). His concern for racial purity was exemplified by the men selected for the SS. They were chosen for their Nordic qualities which were thought to be the characteristics of a "master race."

Initially, 4 Einsatzgruppen were delegated to begin a campaign of mass murder as they followed the German Army in its invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. But mass shootings had practical problems. This led to the creation of extermination camps in Poland and the use of poison gas. Through the SS Himmler dominated the concentration camps and extermination camps in Poland.

Near the end of the war Himmler, realizing the inevitability of a German defeat, made a number of humanitarian gestures hoping to ingratiate himself with the Allies. Through Count Folke Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross, he allowed the release to Sweden of 10,000 women from the Ravensbruck concentration camp, 2,000 of whom were Jewish. Himmler committed suicide before he could be brought to trial as a war criminal.

Source: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.

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