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: The Father of the Holocaust The Holocaust, a term not given to the “Final Solution”, the mass executions directed towards the Jewish culture, could be linked to a variety of individuals in the Nazi regime. Reinhard Heydrich, Joseph Goebbels, and Hermann Göring are names heard quite often in Ian Kershaw‟s book HITLER in reference to the “Final Solution.” Each of these men played a key role in the execution of over six million European Jewish citizens. Although these three men played important roles, no one played a bigger role that Heinrich Himmler, the Officer in Charge of all Nazi concentration camps. Himmler‟s roles in being the Reichsführer-SS, the head of the Gestapo, the head of the Waffen-SS, and the minister of the interior gave him the power and the following needed to commit the horrendous acts carried out through the Holocaust. His total control over all parties directly involved in the Holocaust is how Heinrich Himmler became the main person responsible for over six million deaths. Heinrich Himmler was born on October 7, 1900 in Munich, Germany (Wistrich). Throughout his youth Himmler intended to become a farmer and earned his degree in agronomy. Near the end of World War One Himmler joined the army as an officer cadet in the 11th Bavarian Regiment where he stayed until the end of the war (Sackett, 22 June 06). After the war he became involved in one of the many right wing soldiers organizations, the Freikorps, which were common at the time. In 1923, Himmler applied for membership with the Nazi party which was accepting members of the Freikorps as possible members of the Sturmabteilung (storm troopers,
Snyder 2 referred to as the SA.) It was in this organization that Himmler first came in contact with Adolph Hitler. In November of 1923 Himmler took part in Hitler‟s Beer-Hall Putsch in Munich as a standard-bearer (Kershaw Hubris, 301). For the next few years Himmler‟s good graces with Hitler would continue to improve and pay many dividends. Himmler continued to play a major role in the Nazi party while Hitler was in prison for his organization of the Beer Hall putsch. In 1925, shortly after the re-founding of the Nazi party marked by the release of Hitler from prison, Himmler joined the Schutzstaffel. The Schutzstaffel, or the SS, was designed to be the protection squad of Hitler. Then in 1927 he had been appointed as Deputy Reichsführer-SS by Reichsführer-SS Erhard Heiden, making him the number two guy in the SS (Kershaw Hubris, 301). Heiden saw Himmler as a smart young man but did not believe he had leadership potential (Sackett, 27 June 06). After the Reichsführer-SS Heiden resigned in 1929, Himmler was named as the new Reichsführer-SS by Hitler (Kershaw Hubris, 301). This marked the beginning of Himmler‟s climb to becoming one of the most powerful men in the Nazi regime as well as Germany. If Hitler had never gained power, then it is doubtful that Himmler would have been anything more than a name in a political party. On January 30, 1933 Germany‟s president Paul Von Hindenburg appointed Hitler to become chancellor of Germany despite his own misgivings about Hitler. Himmler on the other hand had increased the number of SS members from around 280 when he became Reichsführer-SS to 52,000 by the time Hitler took power (Sackett, 27 June 06). Himmler had also established strict membership criteria to become a member of the SS focusing on the Aryan supreme race that Hitler had envisioned (Kershaw Hubris, 50). By the fall of that year Himmler had already begun to separate the SS from the SA through a variety of tactics including changing their uniform from brown to black (Kershaw Hubris, 506). This made
Snyder 3 the SS stand out from the SA‟s brown shirts. Shortly after this was implemented in the fall of 1933 Himmler was promoted to SS-Obergruppenführer und Reichsführer-SS. This made him equal in rank to senior SA commanders, who greatly despised the SS and the power they were awarded. From here tensions between the SS and the SA only grew greater and greater. The SS and the SA were both formed for a reason in the early Nazi political scheme. Himmler though was beginning to feel threatened by the SA leadership, Ernst Röhm, in the power struggle that constantly seemed to be going on inside the Nazi regime (Kershaw Hubris, 506). Himmler along with Hermann Göring both agreed that the SA was posing a real threat to the German army and the Nazi leadership. They saw some of Röhm‟s actions as if he was planning a coup. Röhm constantly was stating how the revolution had not yet begun even though Hitler and the Nazi party were now in complete control of Germany. Himmler and Göring were able to play on Hitler‟s constant paranoia and convince him that Röhm was becoming a real problem. With Hitler‟s approval Himmler, Göring, and Reinhard Heydrich now began a purge of the SA by eliminating its leadership on June 30, 1934 and became known as the Night of Long Knives (Kershaw Hubris, 511). The SA had been devastated by the execution of almost all its senior leadership and was now not considered a threat. The very next day Himmler was appointed Reichsführer-SS by Hitler and the SS became a sovereign establishment of the Nazi party. Then in 1936 Himmler gained further control over the public by the SS‟s attainment of control over all local police agencies. Germany‟s secret police force also fell under the Himmler‟s control. The SS was now turning into its own private military force and would now become known as the Waffen-SS. These new controls over his own military branch gave Himmler all the resources and support he needed to allow the “Final Solution” to raise.
Snyder 4 The “Final Solution” as it was referred to, was not always considered as extermination of the Jews. One of the first solutions to the Jewish question by Himmler was deportation. Himmler wanted to deport Jews to Madagascar, North Africa, and the east. “Himmler told Greiser that it was his intention to deport Jews first into the polish territories…then „next spring to expel them further to the east‟. With this in mind, he was sending 60,000 Jews to the Lodz ghetto…for the winter” (Kershaw Nemesis, 479). After the Night of the Long Knives, the Death Heads, SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), were formed to become the police force at the new concentration camps set up by Himmler. The SS‟s own intelligence force, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), was tasked with finding the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, priests, communist or anyone else deemed by the Nazi regime to be against the regime or of a subhuman religious, race, political, or cultural association and placing them in the concentration camps. Himmler opened the first concentration camp in Dachau on March 22nd, 1933 (Kershaw Hubris, 463). By the beginning of World War Two, these concentration camps were increasingly being filled with the enemies of the Nazi regime to include Jews and Prisoners of War. These individuals were either killed or forced to work under slave labor conditions and were commonly malnourished and tortured. Prisoners were often transported to these concentration camps by rail car under horrendous conditions such as freezing conditions and malnutrition. Himmler was also involved in the programs of euthanasia and moving Jews to ghettos. The euthanasia program would terminate the lives of those individuals who were not deemed to be models of Hitler‟s Aryan model. These individuals included those who were suffering from mental illness, disabled, physically deformed, and handicapped. “The use of gas-vans, already deployed in East Prussia in 1940 to kill „euthanasia‟ victims” was already in place (Kershaw Nemesis, 483). Throughout World War Two over 200,000 people were victims of this program.
Snyder 5 As can be seen in Kershaw‟s quote, the transportation of Jews to ghettos further east was extremely hard. Once in these ghettos, Jews would remain until they could eventually be shipped to death camps. On July 19, 1942 Himmler had ordered the ghettos be emptied and Jews transported to death camps. By war‟s end most of these ghettos had been depopulated. Another idea to the Jewish question was death squads. These death squads would take hundreds of Jews, Communists, and Poles and terminate their lives through horrific means. Some of these means included placing them into churches and burning the churches, filling them into huge pits, or just shooting them. These acts were so appalling that even Himmler himself was disturbed by the sight. “Immediately after witnessing…an „execution‟ of Jews near Minsk” Himmler was “sick” (Kershaw Nemesis, 469). Although this image obviously disturbed Himmler, he instructed them to “widen the slaughter, now to include women and children” (Kershaw Nemesis, 469). Now Himmler, the father of the Holocaust was ready for the “Final Solution.” The “Final Solution” to the Jewish dilemma was the mass extermination of Jews at extermination camps. The first of these camps, Chelmno, was designed for the strategic purpose of mass extermination. Soon many other camps would follow with the same purpose. Roughly one million people a year were executed at these camps. Upon arrival at these camps people were divided into two groups: those fit to work and those unfit. Those deemed unfit were immediately executed in the gas chambers and their bodies burned. The extermination camps worked with extreme German efficiency in providing the “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem. Himmler‟s role in all of this is only apparent when you understand that he was the overseer of every aspect of the Holocaust. From the Night of Broken Glass until his defecting from the Nazi regime, Himmler was responsible for overseeing the actions of those actually
Snyder 6 doing the killing. Himmler stated that seeing “1,000 Jewish corpses lying side by side” was “a glorious page in [German] history that has never been written” (Kershaw Nemesis, 487). Himmler himself even states he and Hitler alone are responsible for the Holocaust. After witnessing the execution aforementioned that made Himmler sick, “Himmler had told his men that he and Hitler would answer to history for the necessary extermination of Jews” (Kershaw Nemesis, 469).
Snyder 7 Works Cited Kershaw, Ian. HITLER 1889-1936 Hubris. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000. Kershaw, Ian. HITLER 1936-1945 Nemesis. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2000. Sackett, Robert. Lecture. University of Colorado At Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs. 22 June 2006. Sackett, Robert. Lecture. University of Colorado At Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs. 27 June 2006. Wistrich, Robert S. Who's Who in Nazi Germany. Routledge, 1997.
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