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Old 07-17-2022, 01:26 PM   #25 (permalink)
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IV: Blueprint for Murder: Building Hell on Earth

Not to be outdone, Himmler established his own death camps, one of the first being also one of the most infamous, Dachau, in Bavaria. Chillingly, this was situated about ten miles from Munich, and so may (depending on what direction it was located) have ended up being close to the farmhouse in Waldtrudering. This, to me, suggests a sort of Vlad Dracul mentality, where the proximity of death and suffering to one’s one location does not cause any consternation or upset. I mean, yes, Himmler may have moved by now - probably had - and even if not, then ten miles to the north is not ten miles to the south, but it would be interesting to see how close Dachau was to his home, even if he no longer lived there. At any rate, given Goring’s involvement in the concentration camp business, if you will, Himmler knew he needed men he could trust to staff his camp, and so he ordered a special volunteer section of the SS to guard it, men who would be fanatically loyal to him, and brutally uncompromising to the inmates. This new unit was called the Totenkopf, or Death’s Head battalion, and they would take charge, in due course, of all the concentration camps which would spring up like diseased crops all over Germany and later its occupied territories.

Imagine the kind of man who would willingly put himself forward to oversee the forced labour, torture, brutal treatment and extermination of people! Someone who would not be ordered to undertake this onerous task, but who would actually agree to it of their own free will. Men who would volunteer to work in the death factories, patrolling the grounds, the fences, the gates, pushing the inmates around, no doubt availing themselves of the women inmates who would have less rights than a black woman in the Deep South before the Civil War. Two of the guards in Dachau would themselves rise in the ranks (or I guess you could say, sink to levels seldom plumbed even by the worst of humanity) and go on to become infamous. One would, as already mentioned, be the lord of Auschwitz, presiding over one of the worst charnel houses in the dark, terrible history of the Nazi concentration camps, Rudolf Hoesse, while the other would be known after the war as one of the very few Nazis caught and executed as a war criminal, a man perhaps responsible for more Jewish deaths than anyone other than Himmler and Hitler, and a key architect of the so-called Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. He would hang in 1962, seventeen years after the war ended, but before his death Adolf Eichmann would proclaim that he would "leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.

Once the SS were established as the country’s official secret police, along with the Gestapo, Himmler would have those who were even suspected of being “disloyal” arrested. The description could cover everything for outspoken criticism of the Party, or refusal to join, to a chance remark or even a completely unsupported accusation, for which proof was seldom required or requested, and which may have been nothing more than someone settling a score. Men and women lived in fear of the knock at the door, none too gently of course, and the thrusting into their shaking hand of a piece of paper, perhaps the most important piece of paper they would ever hold - perhaps even the last piece of paper they would ever hold - with the following written on it: ‘Based on Article I of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State of February 28 1933, you are taken into protective custody in the interest of public security and order. Reason: suspicion of activities inimical to the State.’ Now there's a catchall phrase!

Once such a “protective custody order” was received, there was little chance its recipient was coming back alive. At best, they might hope to live out what remained of their life in prison or in a concentration camp, no charges ever brought, no court ever involved, no rights allowed. At worst it could mean death, and often not a quick one. It’s quite likely that someone hearing a thump on the door in the night and realising it was not their door, breathed a sigh of relief and thought no more about it. Till they were knocking at their door, or course. Even selling out your neighbours and friends would not save you if you yourself were accused, and the chances were that if you were a known informant, then you were probably going to end up being a victim of the same system of reporting.

Particularly telling is this short extract from the rules for the camps, laid by by Himmler and Theodor Eicke, commander of the Totenkopf: ‘The following offenders, considered as agitators will be hanged: anyone who . . . makes inciting speeches and holds meetings, forms cliques, loiters around with others; who for the purpose of supplying the propaganda of the opposition with atrocity stories, collects true or false information about the concentration camp …”

The emphasis is mine, showing that Himmler didn’t really care whether what these people reported, or tried to report, was in fact true. He knew it was. He just didn’t want anyone else finding out about it, which is completely different to someone spreading unfounded lies and mistruths about Dachau and other camps. What essentially Himmler’s decree is saying here is, if you tell the truth, a truth we don’t want getting out, you’re going to be hanged.

One thing that could be guaranteed about any high-ranking Nazi, or any hoping for advancement, was that he would be laying his plans to either make or break alliances, betray those above or below him, and smooth his way towards the Nazi Holy Grail, a place at Hitler’s side. Himmler was no different, in fact he was a master of weaving webs of suspicion and machinations, but suffice to say here, for now, that Goring was so shocked by Rohm’s appointment to Hitler’s cabinet at the end of 1933 that he began to re-evaluate his relationship towards Himmler. The two men had never been friends, and never would be, but it was clear to both that they might need to set aside their differences if they were to thwart a perceived coup by Rohm and the SA.

As a result, and with the uncovering by Heydrich of a plot (real or not I don’t know, and did it matter?) to have him assassinated, Goring was left looking somewhat ineffective. How had his Gestapo been unaware of a scheme to kill their own leader? Pushing his advantage, Himmler requested that Hitler transfer the command of the Gestapo to him, and der Fuhrer agreed, making Himmler at a stroke one of the most powerful men in Germany. They say knowledge is power, and the Gestapo, under Goring’s leadership, had been for years collecting dirt and information on Party members, agitators, anyone deemed disloyal or whose weaknesses could be used against them when or if the time came. All of this potentially explosive information was now in the hands of Heinrich Himmler.

A small, petty, vindictive man, Himmler was certainly short in many ways. Short on human compassion, short on tolerance, short on mercy, short on talent, other than an almost inhuman capacity for administration. Short sighted too, and of course short in stature. And yet, this small man would cast a long and dreadful shadow across Germany and later occupied Europe, and become almost as hated and vilified a figure as his glorious leader in the years to come.
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