Hein­rich Himm­ler: A Life

Peter Lon­gerich
  • Review
By – December 7, 2011
Peter Lon­gerich, author of the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed book Holo­caust, has writ­ten what is almost the defin­i­tive biog­ra­phy of Hein­rich Himm­ler, the archi­tect of the Nazi geno­cide against the Jews. Almost because, although the biog­ra­phy is com­pre­hen­sive with regard to Himmler’s ear­ly life and how he turned the SS into the mur­der­ous orga­ni­za­tion that was respon­si­ble for the mass mur­der of Jews, Lon­gerich writes sur­pris­ing­ly lit­tle about his rela­tion­ship to Hitler. 

His­to­ri­ans agree that Hitler issued the orders for the Final Solu­tion” of the Jew­ish ques­tion,” and Himm­ler was giv­en enor­mous pow­er to enforce this mur­der­ous objec­tive. Giv­en Hitler’s propen­si­ty to give gen­er­al pol­i­cy direc­tions with­out specifics, it is unclear whether the mur­der­ous ram­page that became the Holo­caust was the prod­uct of his explic­it orders or that of Himmler’s fanat­i­cal and far-reach­ing objec­tive of cre­at­ing a new Aryan racial order in the East through mass mur­der and eth­nic cleans­ing. Himmler’s ulti­mate goal was based on racial fan­tasies which he gleaned from the racial lit­er­a­ture of his teenage years, when he dreamed of reset­tling the lost Nordic-Ger­man­ic pop­u­la­tions of East­ern Europe with­in an Aryan Ger­man empire in Europe. This oppor­tu­ni­ty arose when the Nazis invad­ed the Sovi­et Union in June, 1941 and Hitler issued his Com­mis­sar order call­ing for a ruth­less ide­o­log­i­cal war in the East against Judeo-Bol­she­vism,” result­ing in the mur­der of six mil­lion Jews, viewed as the pri­ma­ry tar­get, as well as mil­lions of oth­er infe­ri­or” beings. Giv­en the lee­way Hitler gave his com­man­ders in the killing fields to inter­pret his orders, it is hard to dis­tin­guish Hitler’s ulti­mate inten­tions with regard to the Jews from Himmler’s own ini­tia­tives.

Thus, with­out know­ing more about their rela­tion­ship and the man­ner in which Hitler con­veyed his orders to Himm­ler in regard to the gen­er­al objec­tive of mak­ing Europe Juden­rein (free of Jews), it is dif­fi­cult to con­cur with Longerich’s con­clu­sion:

If Himm­ler had been replaced in the 1930s by some­one else, this spe­cif­ic and high­ly dan­ger­ous net­work of dif­fer­ent pow­ers (refer­ring to Himm­ler) would not have come into being. If, on the oth­er hand, these respon­si­bil­i­ties had been dis­trib­uted among sev­er­al Nazi politi­cians as sep­a­rate domains, Nazi pol­i­cy could not have led to its dread­ful con­se­quences in quite the same way… for the sys­tem­at­ic mur­der of Euro­pean Jews to which Himmler’s is con­nect­ed today was not in his eyes the ulti­mate goal of his poli­cies but rather the pre­con­di­tion for much more exten­sive plans for a bloody new order­ing of the Euro­pean continent.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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