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Old 12-14-2021, 01:20 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Before that though, there was another challenge he would prove unequal to, and that was of his heart. In 1904 he had briefly met the daughter of Lady Blanche Hozier, then nineteen, and when he again ran into her four years later at a party given by one of her aunts, he was stricken with her to the extent that they were married six months later and the new Lady Clementine bore him his first child ten months later, a girl. They would have five in all, three more girls and one boy, whom they would name after Winston's father, Randolph. In the same year as he married Churchill was also elected as President of the Board of Trade, one of the youngest ever to hold that position. This year was not however without setbacks, including losing his seat in the Manchester constituency and having to opt for a “safe seat” across the border in Scotland, where he was successfully elected as representative for Dundee. Whether he knew or cared anything about Scotland is probably irrelevant; the seat merely provided safety for him to continue in the Commons, and it's possibly likely that if that could have been attained by sitting as member for Dublin, he would have hopped on the boat over to Ireland. Maybe. Anyway he did not have to go so far, but his seat was now well away from where he lived, though of course then as now MPs are not necessarily expected or required to live in their constituency, as long as they keep “visible” and drop in from time to time, so Churchill was able to leave the bleak Scottish town behind by May and return south, only venturing across the border a few times in the next three years.

Further tribulations came when he retired to the house of a friend in Rutland at the break-up of parliament for the summer, and which subsequently burned down (no account advises how this happened, but the house was gutted). Winston was relatively unharmed, but all his important papers were lost in the fire. Soon after this he proposed to Clementine, in August. Engagements were then not the long events they can be these days, when a woman could be proposed to and not married until years later. There was to be no hanging around (whether this was for the sake of propriety, for fear one or the other would change their mind, or whether Churchill was eager to begin, ahem, close relations with his new wife and feared the birth of an illegitimate child if he could not restrain his ardour I don't know; maybe it was just seen as the polite thing not to make the lady wait) and they were united in holy wedlock the next month.

Easily returned in the election of 1910, Churchill nevertheless hated Dundee, and spent as little time as politely possible there. When you read his account of his experiences in the notorious Queen's Head hotel, it's not too surprising that he would want to get away from the place at the earliest opportunity: “This hotel is a great trial to me. Yesterday morning I had half-eaten a kipper when a huge maggot crept out & flashed his teeth at me! Today I could find nothing nourishing for lunch but pancakes. Such are the trials which great & good men endure in the service of their country!'” Ugh! Turn you right off your haggis, that would! He proved himself no friend to the aristocracy when he made a speech calling for the total abolition of the House of Lords, but it was impossible to deny that he was a rising star, climbing into the firmament and exploding all over the place. When the Prime Minister offered him the Irish Office, he politely declined and instead suggested he should be given the Home Office or the Admiralty. He would hold the latter position soon enough, in political time, but for now Asquith agreed and he became the Home Secretary.

During this time he repaired his somewhat frosty relationship with the King, and more importantly projected himself as a man of the people when he authored two important bills, the Mines Bill of 1911 which sought to both raise the minimum age for mining from thirteen to fourteen (I know!) and to standardise safety rules to protect this most precarious and dangerous, but vital of professions. The other bill was the Shops Bill, which sought to protect the rights and working wage of those involved in the retail industry. Though this was taken apart and never passed in its fullest form – losing the right to overtime restrictions and Sunday openings, for example – it still showed the public at large that he cared about them, or seemed to, and was trying to help them. Napoleon had once described Britain – disparagingly but in fact accurately – as “a nation of shopkeepers”, and being an island, Churchill of course knew how important this industry was to his country, and felt it unfair that its workers should be so shabbily treated.

He was also involved heavily in the National Insurance Act, which provided in part for unemployment insurance, a thing very much needed in a country where people were so frequently out of work. He told the House on May 15 : “There is no proposal in the field of politics that I care about more than this great insurance scheme.” There was, though, and he applied what remained of his boundless energy to it as he feared the government was soon to fall. Though he had been returned without difficulty in Dundee, his party had lost its majority in 1910 and Churchill knew the writing was being chalked on the wall. Before it was complete and spelled out electoral defeat, he wished to organise the reform of the prisons system. Though most ministers, and most Home Secretaries before him, preferred to ignore the problem (and it was a big one) Churchill remembered his time spent in the school house in Africa during the Boer War, and so he was more sympathetic towards the conditions prisoners endured, if not prisoners of war. He had been a prisoner, and so had a perhaps unique view of how that felt.

Apart from ensuring that from then on, those termed “political prisoners” (which included many suffragettes, who had been imprisoned for protest actions but otherwise had no criminal record) would be treated differently and more leniently than the run-of-the-mill thief, murderer or rapist, he obtained better conditions for all prisoners, and as a man who was very sceptical of the power of prison to reform and rehabilitate, directed his own efforts towards ensuring the prisons were less full than they usually were. As a result of his recategorising certain less serious crimes – drunknness, debt, public disorder etc – as non-custodial ones, the population of British prisons fell by a staggering ninety-eight percent over ten years. One aspect of criminal law he could not – and probably did not want to, on balance – interfere with or try to change was the death penalty, which held sway in Britain up until the mid-1960s, though by then used very sparingly and only in the very worst or most notorious cases. As Home Secretary, it was Churchill's unenviable duty to decide which cases presented to him should be afforded mercy, and commuted, and which should proceed with the man (or, very occasionally, woman) being hanged.

This power of life and death, which might have bolstered the feeling of superiority in some other men, weighed Churchill down with its responsibility, and of the forty-three cases presented to him during his tenure he recommended mercy in twenty-three, but that still meant he signed off on the deaths of nearly half of the cases. Of course, in due course he would be responsible for making the decisions to send thousands, even millions of young men to their deaths, and of taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians as he ordered German cities to be bombed, but that would be in a state of war, and while I'm sure they bothered him, as they would any rational human being, those actions would not have oppressed him as much as did sending convicted men to meet their maker. Despite this, I find it strange to read that he was not an abolitionist, and when the vote was to come up he would support the retention of the death penalty.

Never much of a lady's man – he had had a few affairs before his marriage, but little meaningful, and he was hardly what could be called handsome – he danced desperately on the head of a pin as he tried to both support and block women's suffrage, the former on the basis that women voting meant, of course, more votes in the populace, likely to favour the party who eventually enfranchised them, the latter in fear that supporting such a mostly unpopular position would weaken the party and lead to its downfall. But in suffrage, you were either with the girls or against them – there was no room for middle ground, and the pin he had been dancing on was dashed to the ground and stepped on as suffragettes attacked him, dogged his speeches and eventually came face-to-face with his authority in a major demonstration in which there were over two hundred arrests, though most of them were released without charge (mostly because he didn't want the idea of 200 women going to prison, and the bad publicity that would create, both for the government and for his own prison reforms).

You would have to characterise Churchill's time as Home Secretary as one of ups and downs; with several high-profile strikes, including a rail and a dockers' one, handled by him with varying degrees of success, an incident in which violent criminals who had killed police officers were allowed to burn in their hideout, Churchill ordering the fire brigade to stand down; his opposition to the Peers and his disdain for the House of Lords, and his fractious relationship with the police, it was decided by 1911 that the post really didn't suit him, and he was of the same mind, wishing to move closer to his old military ways, and angling again for the Admiralty. Fortuitously for him, an incident in the Moroccan port of Agadoo, sorry Agadir provided the kind of climate that would smooth his transition in that direction. Utilising a version of the English tactic of “gunboat diplomacy”, a German frigate sailed into the port. It didn't do anything, just sat there in I guess what could be taken as a menacing or at the very least provocative manner, but it shook up the French, and indeed the British, and well it should have done, as we all know what happened a few years later.

Although the incident was nothing about nothing, a storm in a Moroccan teacup, it still provoked Churchill into prevailing upon Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, soon to be Prime Minister) to issue this stark if slightly ambiguous warning to the Germans, if not actually mentioning them: “But if a situation were to be forced upon us in which peace could only be preserved by the surrender of the great and beneficent position Britain has won by centuries of heroism and achievement, by allowing Britain to be treated where her interests were vitally affected as if she were of no account in the Cabinet of nations, then I say emphatically that peace at that price would be a humiliation intolerable for a great country like ours to endure.”

When the reply came back from the Germans, it was stiff enough that Churchill was told the fleet could be attacked at any moment. He began making what preparations he could, and with remarkable foresight laid out the entire coming conflict in a memorandum, and while he could of course not predict the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the spark that lit the powder-keg to kick off World War I, he got most of it right. England would side with France and Russia, while Austro-Hungry would ally itself with Germany, the Germans would attack through Belgium, push the French back to Paris. At any rate, he pushed for the Admiralty, as he had the previous year, and this time he got it.
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Old 12-15-2021, 10:27 AM   #22 (permalink)
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IV: Churchill Misrules the Waves – Storm on the Horizon

If nothing else, being given the post of the Lord of the Admiralty raised Churchill's profile by making him one of the four men in the government to be provided a residence at the nation's expense (the other three of course were the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Lord Chancellor), perhaps the finest of all the residences, the sumptuous Admiralty House. In addition to this, he got his own yacht. Oh yes. The Lord Admiral could not be seen being ferried from appointment to appointment on some Navy runabout, so he had Enchantress, a 320-foot behemoth weighing 4,000 tons and with a crew of nearly 200. The ship was not mothballed during Churchill's tenure, as he made good use of it, spending over eight months of his time in the Admiralty aboard her, basically showing her off and showing off his power and prestige no doubt. But he was not an indolent commander, lazing back on Enchantress and letting the world, and responsibility, pass by. On the contrary, as already noted, he was preparing for war.

It's easy to see Churchill as a war-mongerer, but according to most of the notes quoted in Roy Jenkins' (pretty boring mostly) biography of the great man, nothing could be further from the truth. Although he anticipated, or perhaps a better word would be foresaw, the coming of a great war in which England and France would take on Germany and her allies, he was by no means looking forward to it. He intended to prepare for it, the same way, perhaps, someone going to the dentist (not an occasion anyone would be looking forward to or wishing for – unless there were in great pain I expect) would ensure their teeth were brushed before leaving the house for the appointment. You wouldn't want to do it, you might wish to avoid it altogether, but if you had no choice you were damned sure you were going to be prepared. So it was with Churchill in his role as Lord of the Admiralty. He could see the dark clouds forming on the horizon, and intended Britain should be ready to weather the storm.

This meant, of course, bolstering up and training the navy, having it equipped with the best vessels and ensuring the proper chains of command were in place, and a whole lot more besides. Obviously, strategy as to where the various fleets should be deployed in the case of war breaking out was of paramount importance too, including the deployment of seven army division to France at the first sign of hostilities, and to change the policy of ships blockading German ports, and instead send them to intercept the enemy, or any who tried to supply or assist him. In this he came up against some stiff opposition, making enemies of powerful people, removing them from their posts in various manners and replacing them with men not only loyal to him and who would support and implement his policies in the advent of war, but who were, in his view, better suited to get the job done. Out went First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson and Lord Fisher, in came Rear Admiral David Beatty and Sir John Jellicoe, two men who were to prove pivotal in the naval battles of World War I. Not all of his appointments would work out so well, particularly the ill-advised rethink on the deposed – and semi-retired, at seventy-two – Lord Fisher, whom Churchill invited back as First Sea Lord.

It was, of course, during the First World War that Churchill made his name and wrote it in the annals of history before he became Prime Minister and elevated himself almost to the state of legend, but the period was also the time that marked his greatest fall, one that could have toppled him so badly that he might never have risen again. As we all know, his predictions about German belligerence came to pass, and World War I – then known as the Great War, or indeed, perhaps naively, the War to End All Wars – fell upon the planet like a ravening beast. There had never been a world war before; it was something terrible and new. Up to now, in human history, armies had fought other armies, nations had fought other nations, empires had fought other empires, but from a strictly global point of view these conflicts could be regarded as parochial. In other words, only those with a vested interest in, or subservient to, the main powers took part. When the Roman Empire went to war, although its legions might number among them troops from Africa, Egypt, Greece, none of these countries supported their campaigns. Their soldiers fought because the countries or regions they belonged to were part of the empire, but those territories themselves did not rise up. When Britain struggled to curb the expansion of France under Napoleon, she mostly did so alone. When the French fought the Dutch, it was just those two countries. Generally speaking, even if allies, unless called upon (and unless it was expedient to do so, as treaties were forever being warped and changed and loyalties shifting in those times) most of the other kingdoms left them to it. It often worked out better for them if they stayed out, and could then capitalise on a weaker enemy, or even, a weaker previous ally.

But there was no such thing in World War I. All countries joined in, even America (though they came late) and Russia (who, for only the first time in history, fought on the same side, as they would in World War II, but never again) and it truly was, and deserved the title of, a world war. Churchill knew though that history would not remember or care about his prediction of such an event, but would judge him by his actions, read, his victories, during the conflict. Sadly for him, these victories were not only slow in coming, but preceded by embarrassments, such as the escape, despite hot pursuit, of the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau, leaving the vaunted Royal Navy basically chasing its own tail and looking stupid, and the later sinking of three British cruisers by German U-Boats a month later off the coast of Holland. Ironically, it was in home waters that an audacious attack saw the battle cruiser Audacious destroyed off the coast of Ireland, and this indignity was exacerbated when, weeks later the Battle of Coronel, which took place on the Chilean coast, was lost, with the sinking of two cruisers and the loss of 1,600 men. Things were not going well.

Five weeks later the Royal Navy responded by winning the Battle of the Falklands, sending four German cruisers to the seabed, but as Christmas approached the Germans were able to shell the English coastal towns of Yarmouth, Whitby, Scarborough and Hartlepool, and the populace began to brace for an enemy invasion. That never came, of course, but confidence was rapidly diminishing in both the ability of the Navy to take out the enemy and its capacity to protect its own coastline. When the Belgian army seemed to have made up its mind to retreat from Antwerp, pulling back to Ostend, Churchill saw the danger of losing control of Dunkirk, and went to Antwerp immediately. There he seems to have derived so much pleasure and satisfaction from directing the defence of the city that he asked for permission to resign his commission as First Lord and taking command of the army instead. This request was however refused, and when his replacement arrived he returned to London, to attend the birth of his third child, and second daughter. He was late, something his wife was angry about, and missed the birth.

In 1915 he proposed an attack through the Dardanelles, or Strait of Gallipoli in northwestern Turkey, in the hope of taking Constantinople and bringing in Greece, Romania and Bulgaria on the side of the Allies. His main intent here was to prevent a prolonged war of attrition in Belgium, or, to put it in his own words, to prevent the soldiers “chewing barbed wire in Flanders” - which was unfortunately exactly what happened. His decision to try to take Gallipoli entirely by naval strength proved impossible, and troops had to be moved in in support, but too few and too late. Gallipoli was a massacre, a failure and a huge blot on the already-shaky career of the First Lord. With resignation of Fisher, added to the knives being drawn of many of his political and naval opponents, Churchill was finished at the Admiralty. His plans had not worked, the ambitious but flawed Dardanelles campaign had floundered (sorry) and his services to the navy were no longer required.

He continued on for some months, not in any major role, offering advice, suggestions, strategies, and watching the whole thing crumble down about him. Eventually, near the end of November of 1915 he tendered his resignation from the government and, carrying his rank of Colonel, embarked for France, returning to his first love, the life of a soldier – and a commander.

La Belle France: Churchill Resurgent

It wasn't long before he was literally back in the trenches, assigned to the 2nd Grenadier Guards, and seemingly loving it. I've not been able to discover (though I did skim Jenkins' tedious accounts more than perhaps I should have) why Churchill was so enamoured of the Navy. He wasn't a nautical man, was not from a naval background, and, so far as I can see, had no experience at sea, never mind sea warfare. At a quick glance, he seems most unsuited to the post he occupied. However, I guess that could be said of many officers and commanders, and a good number got their posts through the reliable “good old boy/old school tie” system rather than by any merit or competence displayed. Might explain in part when the First World War was both such a charnel house and a running farce in terms of strategy and tactics. But for whatever reason, if only because he saw naval power as being the only force that could hold back the expected German onslaught, he had pushed for the Admiralty twice, got it on the second time of asking, and, it must be said, made something of a hash of it. Thousands of lives were lost due to his lack of understanding, bullishness and perhaps, in terms of naval warfare, inexperience.

Now he was back doing what he loved, what he was eminently qualified to do, and determined to erase the stain his time at the Admiralty had marked his war record with. Unfortunately (using this word in the strictest sense of Churchill's wish to advance his career) although he soon dispelled the men's reservations against, even distrust of him and became one of the boys, he never faced any serious assaults, though he did emulate his later foe by also narrowly avoiding death when a large chunk of shrapnel landed near him. When he went back on leave in May, he addressed all his energies towards politics, doing all he could to help the troops and try to place Britain on the right footing to win, or at least survive, the war, but he was no longer in the government, his enemies crowded around him like vultures to tear him apart, and few listened to his ideas, recommendations or suggestions. It felt like he would never shake off the shadow of the Dardanelles fiasco, and he was already being treated as yesterday's man.

Whether his grasp of the situation was loose or whether he just wished to force through his opinion, he threw his weight on the side of the debate as to whether or not conscription to the British Army should be forced across the sea, in Ireland. Given the time, with the Easter Rising having been just put down, its leaders martyred (in Irish eyes) and hatred and resentment for the English bubbling to fever pitch, and though undoubtedly some Irishmen put their differences with the English aside in favour of the bigger picture of world peace, the idea of any Irishman being forced to fight for the King seems ludicrous, and surely Churchill must have known this. Yet he continued to push the issue. Indeed, he had flip-flopped on the question of Irish Home Rule, one of the biggest dilemmas gripping the British government up to the outbreak of war. At first, as a staunch Unionist, he had railed against it, then later he had seemed to support it (with the proviso that Ulster should be exempted) and now he suggested that men who were not allowed their own parliament should fight on the side of the people who were their oppressor! It sounds incredible, and of course the motion was completely defeated, most British surely more worried about internal attacks from Irish conscripts than open ones from Germans!

Perhaps more realistically, he put a lot of energy into arguments for the setting up of an Air Ministry (presumably commanded by him) but it seemed he was being passed over, his mistake in Gallipoli ever to dog him. Even when Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, was killed, and Lloyd George took over, Churchill saw himself being appointed Minister for Munitions, but it did not happen. Nobody wanted to trust him with any post of importance or influence, nobody believed he had the skill for such a position, and so he floated on in limbo, delivering speech after speech in the House, always being shouted down by the inevitable “What about the Dardanelles?” to which he had no acceptable response. The Comer Report, published in 1917, partially absolved him of direct personal blame for the failure, but he could never quite shake off the impression that the responsibility for the debacle lay with him.

Then in July, after Asquith had resigned and Lloyd George had become Prime Minister, and after considerable wrangling and discussion, Churchill had a new post. He was the Minister of Munitions, which suited him fine, as it gave him overall responsibility for all the armed forces – after all, what use is an army, navy or air force without ammunition? Albert Speer realised this in the next war, when Hitler placed him in the same position: in one way, yes, it was a vote of confidence, but in another it was a warning: if the war effort fails from now on, it fails on your watch. Churchill, of course, had no intention of allowing that to happen. However he soon realised his appointment held nothing of the power wielded by Speer, and mockingly called himself a “shopman at the orders of the War Cabinet.” He was not consulted on decisions made about the war, only tasked to provide what had been decided, however this left him free to make numerous visits to France, where he did his best to influence the authorities there to adopt his suggestions, particularly regarding the Americans, who had just recently joined the war effort, and to deal with labour disputes.

His time in the Home Office stood him in good stead here, as he lobbied for fairer working conditions and better wages for the workers in munitions factories, and dealt with two strikes. One of the ways, perhaps controversial, in which he did this was, losing patience with strikers and inwardly condemning them for not being in service, to threaten them with just that: conscription into the armed forces. This was enough to shake even the deepest-held beliefs of workers, who were not prepared to die for their principles, certainly not in a foreign land. By November 1918 that threat had evaporated, as Germany was on the run and soon to surrender in the Armistice, but of course by then the need for munitions was decreasing, and life began slowly to return to normal for workers, so the conditions under which and against which they had gone on strike improved, taking with them the need for such action, and leading to a form of industrial detente.

Looking back over the contribution of Winston Churchill to the First World War, the amount of powerful people he pissed off, the policies he advocated and those he opposed, and his overall performance, both as Home Secretary and later First Lord of the Admiralty, he would not seem to be the obvious choice as the man to lead Britain through her second major conflict in twenty-five years, much less to achieve victory for them. But history can be fickle and capricious, and the world was not yet finished with Winston Churchill.

It had, in fact, barely begun.
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Old 07-02-2022, 02:47 PM   #23 (permalink)
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If Hitler was the most powerful man in the Third Reich, the second most feared was the man in black, a small, unassuming, bespectacled ex-chicken farmer who would go on to become one of the greatest mass murderers in history, who would set up one terror organisation and work his way into controlling the other, and who would, in the end, meet the fate of most if not all of Hitler’s inner circle. But who was Heinrich Himmler, and how did he rise so quickly within the Nazi echelons of power to become the living symbol of the oppression of the Third Reich, synonymous with torture, anti-semitism and murder?

(For much of this entry I will be referring to Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel)

I: Born to Darkness: Heil to the Prince

The turn of the century brought forth a monster whom history would curse, and who would in three short decades write his name large in blood and darkness across the pages of the Second World War. Heinrich Himmler was born on October 7 1900, the second of three boys, and given the name of the Bavarian Prince for whom his father, Gebrardt, a Munich schoolteacher, had been appointed as private tutor. Himmler did not come from a wealthy or noble family, unlike his contemporary Goring, though his father, conscious of his great fortune and status as His Highness’s tutor, did what he could to act like a noble, buying expensive art and furniture for the flat in which he lived with his wife, Anna. His own father had been a penniless soldier, and Gebrardt was determined his sons would have a better start in life than he himself had. His sons of course when they were old enough attended his own school, but there is no evidence that he treated them any differently. He may, in fact, have been harder on them, as discipline and manliness were important to him, no more so in his own sons.

As the First World War began, Himmler was of course too young to enlist, being only fourteen when war broke out, so unlike his later beloved leader he could only read about it and occasionally witness things like prisoners being transferred through his hometown of Landshut. Even at this early age his contempt for what he would no doubt have termed “lower races”, and his burgeoning anti-semitism, as well as his nationalist fervour, were evident. He wrote of Russian prisoners that "They multiply like vermin. As for the Landshuters, they are as stupid and chickenhearted as ever. Whenever there is talk about our troops retreating, they wet themselves.”

He was eventually drafted in 1917, and does seem to have seen some action, though like Hitler he would embellish his actions, claiming he led men into battle when it is clear he was not an officer and could do no such thing, and the idea comes across that he joined up, or was able to join up, too late: the war ended less than a year later, and by the time he enlisted in December 1917 the tide was beginning to turn against Germany, leading to their ultimate defeat and surrender in November of the next year. I suppose to be fair to him (much as I don’t wish to be) the appellation that has followed him down through history - and which I’ve used myself here in the introduction - of being a failed chicken farmer isn’t quite accurate. In fact, he did work on a farm for about a month, but he got very sick - he was never a well child - and the cause was traced to the farm, from which he was told to abstain for a year at least. There’s no mention either in the book or in the Wiki article as to specifically what he farmed, so while it may have been chickens, it may just as well have been sheep or pigs, or crops. At any rate, his farming career was short and ill-starred, and he entered the University of Munich in 1919, where he studied agriculture.

Though he claims to have fallen in love with the daughter of the woman who ran the eatery where he took his meals, the relationship between Maja Loritz and him seems to have been platonic, more, as he says himself, as if she were his sister. Nothing came of it, and he began to think about another war which he believed was on the horizon. ‘I think we are heading for serious times. I look forward to wearing uniform again.’ His best friend - perhaps his only friend - Ludwig Zahler, he seems to have dropped quite quickly, though in contrast to Hitler he seemed prepared to spend time in Russia if necessary, and even learned the language. Hard to imagine Der Fuhrer polluting his pure German (!) tongue with the bastardised language of the hated Bosheviks!

Throughout his early adulthood, Himmler gives the impression almost of a man masquerading as a human, some sort of cold alien being who does what he has to in order to fit in, not to stand out. He dated girls but made no bones of the fact that he was not interested in sex with them, he had friends but was close to none of them, and he did all he could to be socially acceptable, while still remaining aloof and detached from his fellow humans. He comes across as a man who realises he is missing something in his life, who is not satisfied with himself, as this self-effacing comment demonstrates: ‘I still lack to a considerable degree that naturally superior kind of manner that I would dearly like to possess.’ He had also given up his ideas of heading east to farm in Russia, and was now considering Turkey instead.

His views on women are not too surprising, considering the kind of man we know he grew up into, but still disturbing when he admits to his friend that he does indeed despise them. He goes further: ‘A real man will love a woman in three ways: first, as a dear child who must be admonished, perhaps even punished, when she is foolish, though she must also be protected and looked after because she is so weak; secondly, he will love her as his wife and loyal comrade, who helps him fight in the struggle of life, always at his side but never dampening his spirit. Thirdly, he will love her as the wife whose feet he longs to kiss and who gives him the strength never to falter even in the worst strife, the strength she gives him thanks to her childlike purity.’

One concept that resonates very strongly here, and in most of his writings, is the idea of purity, and he seemed to prize that almost above all else. This would, of course, make him a perfect fit for the Nazi Party when they took power. Similar to Hitler, but not Goring, he subsisted on a very small allowance; his father was not rich, and not given to supporting his sons more than he had to. Perhaps he believed they should carve their own way in the world. His budgeting and his attention to detail marked him as a careful, meticulous man, perhaps what we might call today a bean counter, and this of course would serve him well when he took over perhaps the most frighteningly administrative organisation of the twentieth century, where people were reduced to numbers and filed away.

His intention was to remain celibate until he married, if he ever did, and this refusal to join in and let himself go made it hard, even impossible, for him to make friends, and also marked him out as a little weird. He would never really fit in, and it’s hard, even at this early stage, not to see this almost rejection of him by the world as fuelling the inhuman and despicable acts he would oversee during his tenure as Germany’s most feared man. Around about now he also began to have doubts about religion. A staunch Catholic, he vowed to remain faithful even if he was excommunicated - why he feared such a fate should befall him is unknown - but went to mass less and less from about 1924 onwards.

II: Darkness Calling: The Circle of Evil is Forged

His first real brush with anything approaching the Nazi Party came on January 26 1922, when he met Captain Ernst Rohm at a rifle club meeting. Rohm would go on to become head of the SA, and be perceived as enough of a threat by Hitler to be one of those murdered during the “Night of the Long Knives”, but Himmler was star-struck by the older man, who held the same views he did about Bolshevism. By the middle of the year the phrase “the Jewish question” had begun appearing in his well-kept but seemingly ultimately boring and pedantic diaries. It should be, in fairness, understood that Himmler’s views - and those of Rohm - were not unique in Germany at that time, nor even unusual. Hatred of Jews had, as we have already established, been well entrenched even before the myth of the “stab-in-the-back theory”, as everyone needs someone or something to blame their woes on, and the People of Abraham have been convenient scapegoats all through history. In fact, around this period it would probably be seen as odd if you didn’t hate the Jews. Not that that in any way makes it right, no more than being racist about blacks, Irish, Chinese, West Indian or any other race during the 1970s or 1980s was right. But it was, at the time, the way of the world. Look, even Churchill had his problems with the Jewish race, as we’ve seen.

Then again, of course, hating or professing to hate Jews is a far different thing to actively attacking them, and our man Himmler was naturally about to gravitate towards the latter. In the company of the man he saw as a war hero, and indeed a mentor (until Hitler came along) Heinrich Himmler joined the Nazi Party, four months before Hitler’s famous failure at the Munich Bürgerbräukeller, a failed coup that landed the future leader of the Reich in jail. But first Himmler joined Rohm’s brigade, the Reichskriegsflagge, the deceptively-innocent-sounding national war flag society, and indeed this is what he did: waved a flag. When Rohm and his brigade were detailed by Ludendorff and Hitler to take the war ministry, which they did, fulfilling their part of the putsch, Himmler stood outside waving the Imperial German flag. Perhaps due to this minimal participation in the event, he escaped prison while Rohm, along with Ludendorff and Hitler, were held awaiting trial the following February. In the end, only the two latter would be imprisoned.

Well, as everyone knows, imprisoned isn’t really the word in terms of Hitler. One thinks of the more recent so-called incarceration of Pablo Escobar; a cushy, comfortable, all-mod-cons “prison” which allowed visitors, alcohol, parties (though I doubt Der Fuhrer threw many of those) and access to writing materials, with which he penned the worldwide best-seller (!) Mein Kampf. But Rohm was released without charge, and so free to pursue his goal of setting up his own paramilitary force, which he expected to become the armed wing of the new Nazi Party, the SA. Hitler, of course, would have other ideas once he got out. For now though, Himmler joined the same right-wing, anti-Semitic party that Rohm did, the Völkische, and set about campaigning for them. To the chagrin of his family, having lost his job due to his participation in the putsch, Heinrich refused to seek another job, but instead devoted himself to politics in the name of the Völkische.

Meanwhile Rohm had resigned in disgust at the now-released Hitler’s determination to pursue more legal paths to power, and had taken a job in Bolivia. He would return to lead the SA at Hitler’s request in 1930, but his dictatorial style of leadership was not approved by Hitler, who feared Rohm would become too powerful and with the SA behind him as an autonomous body answerable to him (and, ostensibly, Hitler) might mount his own bid for power and topple Hitler. Four years later he would be dead, as Hitler “cleaned house” in a purge which became known as Nacht der langen messer, or Night of the Long Knives.

For now, Himmler was a student without a tutor, and with the previously-all-but-dead Nazi Party beginning a resurgence in power and popularity in 1925, he rejoined the organisation almost exactly two years after he had originally signed up. Now he would have a darker, more savage, more powerful mentor, and I don’t mean Hitler. Although he ended up working as a secretary and general dogsbody for the Strasser brothers, Otto and Gregor, who were instrumental in the rebirth of the Nazi Party, Himmler soon realised these two moderates did not share his virulent anti-Semitic views. When their secretary (and occasional spy, as he kept an eye on the cache of arms the Nazis were secretly amassing as they prepared for war) wrote to a Nazi party member, a supporter of Hitler who was leaving for America, of his plan to name-and-shame local Jews, they laughed at him.

‘For some time I have entertained the project of publishing the names of all Jews, as well as of all Christian friends of the Jews, residing in Lower Bavaria. However, before I take such a step I should like to have your opinion, and find out whether you consider such an undertaking rich in prospects and practicable. I would be very indebted to you if as soon as possible you would give me your view, which for me is authoritative, thanks to your great experience in the Jewish question and your knowledge of the anti-Semitic fight in the whole world.”

While his bosses may have twirled their index fingers at their temples and grinned at the nationalist and racist fervour of this young upstart, the letter does show how Himmler already intended to operate, if he got a chance. There would be no compromise, no finding common ground with Jews (including any in positions of power), no attempt to come to terms or understand each other’s position, and no backing down. To him, all Jews were scum (and indeed, as the letter shows plainly, he viewed their supporters - “Christian friends of the Jews”) - in the same dark light of hatred, and all were to be dealt with in the same manner. It was this kind of attitude that would endear him (if that’s not the wrong word to use) to another up and coming star of the Nazi party, a man who would in fact control its destiny through the manipulation and dissemination of propaganda designed to support it.

Himmler met Josef Goebbels in 1925, when the young doctor came to work for the Strassers. Goebbels was already known to Hitler, and would soon gratefully accept the position of organiser for the Nazi party, but Hitler knew nothing about his contemporary. While Goebbels showed a flair for writing, rhetoric, public speaking and an ability to twist the truth into whatever shape he wished his listeners to perceive, Himmler was little more than an office boy who dreamed of one day being a soldier. He had no real aptitude beyond that of clerical organisation, administration and bureaucracy, abilities which would stand him in good stead when he became the leader of the SS, and later, the Gestapo. Himmler looked as he was: a filing clerk with a heart full of hatred and the organisational brain to apply that to reducing human beings to numbers; manilla files containing names, races, birth dates, colour of eyes, colour of hair; people turned into statistics. His cold, calculated manner would also allow him to sign death or torture warrants of men, women and children with no more emotion than he would evince signing for a pair of new boots.

Both of these men would in time turn out to be indispensable to Hitler’s new Reich, as one told the people what Hitler wanted them to hear, and the other closely monitored what they said, and how they said it. Between them they would become two of the most powerful men in Germany, if not the world. But one would, if you will, have the courage of his convictions and remain true to his leader to the end and follow him to Hell, the other would make a cowardly attempt to escape and save his own life. But that was in the future, and for now both men only knew each other in passing, nodding acquaintances, soon to be united in their worship of the man who would burn the world.

Himmler’s big chance came when he was appointed second in command of a small group called the schutzstaffel, or SS. Numbering at the time only two hundred, it would come to encompass the entire Nazi organisation, its secret police, the most feared and powerful arm of the party. Originally detailed to act as a bodyguard corps for Hitler, it would in time (as we will see when we go into its formation and deployment in much greater detail later on in this journal) hold sway over the German wehrmacht, the army, and staff and run the horrific concentration camps, the labour and death factories which the Nazis would set up to eliminate the Jews.

He had joined the SS in 1925, soon after rejoining the Nazi Party, and proudly bore the blood flag they carried, a replica of the one that had fallen during the putsch, and which Hitler would mythologise as having been steeped in the blood of martyrs, though in reality all the SS had done on November 9 was wreck the printing presses of a socialist newspaper. His position in the group, though given the grandiose title of Deputy Reich Propaganda Chief, was mostly to attract new members, enlist willing men and swell the ranks of the SS. Around this time he seems to have begun to impress Goebbels, and the two spent more time together than they had previously when he had worked on and off in the offices of the Strassers.
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Old 07-09-2022, 07:34 PM   #24 (permalink)
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III: The Bride Wore Black: Till Death Do We Part

Despite his initial aversion to, one could almost say revulsion at, women, Himmler was not immune to the arrows of Cupid, and he duly fell in love. In one of those not-so-funny twists Fate likes to play on us, her name, though Margarete Concerzowo, was Marga, so close to Goebbels’ Magda that there’s only one letter in the difference. The owner of a nursing home in Berlin, she was into homoeopathic cures and herbal remedies, and interestingly, was a Pole, which surely gave her a good chance of having some Jewish ancestry? Seven years his elder, she was as calculating and dedicated to order as he was, and they were accordingly married in 1928, moving out into the suburbs of Berlin. In this smallholding they kept hens, and I would posit that it may have been from this that the idea of Himmler having been a chicken farmer was later born.

Marriage seemed to improve Himmler’s prospects. Their first, and only, child was born a year later, a daughter they called Gudrun (which I think, but I’d have to check, is the name of a heroine or at least figure out of German mythology, maybe something to do with Sigrid or Siegfried?) and soon after Hitler himself appointed him to the top job in the Munich branch of the SS, making him Reichsfuhrer. Despite, again, the grand title, Himmler still had little power, the real power residing of course in Berlin. But it wouldn’t be long before his reach extended to the German capital, and he became the overlord of the SS. Under his leadership, it would become a check on, and quickly the destruction of the rowdier, less disciplined and hated SA, and lead to the execution of the man who had once been his mentor and friend.

But for now, he had managed a promotion, which must have filled him with pride. Despite its not being the biggest step up - and surely he had ambitions to go further - it was still an improvement, and at worst it brought in more money for him and his small family. Marga had sold her nursing home in order to buy their little house in Waldtrudering, and so had no income, leaving the family dependent on what her husband earned, with the slightly added revenue from the small farm. Himmler would never be rich, though despite his father’s ambitions to the contrary, it doesn’t look as if he ever wanted to be. He did crave power though, and recognition, and respect, and these he would obtain, even if the respect was born out of sheer, naked fear.

Himmler had met, or been made aware of such dark influential figures in Germany as Rudolph Höss, later commandant of Auschwitz, Dr. Viktor Brack, who would go on to run his euthanasia programme, and Alfred Rosenberg and Walther Darré, two men most responsible for the idea of Aryan superiority and the master race. It would be their theories which would lead to Himmler’s philosophy guiding the development of the SS and feed into the general idea of the ubermensch robbed and twisted, as we have already seen, from the writings of Nietzsche. Darré joined Himmler’s staff in 1931 to set up the Race and Settlement Office, which was basically research into how many Germans and Europeans were “racially pure", setting down rules as to the treatment of those seen as ethnically questionable.

Hitler quickly began to see that his instinct had been right, and that Himmler was the man to shake up the SS, which under its previous leader had in fact decreased in membership. Under the guidance of Heinrich Himmler, it would swell from a few hundred to thousands in only three years, and by 1931 its original purpose as Der Fuhrer’s bodyguard would be sidelined - though the SS would always fanatically protect Hitler - to allow them to become a more elite fighting force, a sort of, as Himmler (and probably Hitler too) saw it, battle knights. Himmler set about making membership of the SS a privilege, something to be worked for, and something only the very best of the best (read, most fanatical and dedicated Nazis) could achieve. Their code of conduct was stricter than almost that of a Puritan, with total loyalty demanded to Hitler, an almost suicidal mentality (few if any SS were ever captured alive or surrendered) and an ingrained sense of superiority even to other Germans.

As the Nazi party would soon do, Himmler ensured he had control over every aspect of his soldiers’ lives, including how and who they could marry. The eternal misogynist, the last thing Himmler wanted was for his perfect soldier to breed with impure women, so the intended wives of SS men had to pass a test, as did they, and could only be joined on the very strictest and exacting grounds. He called this his Marriage Law. In part, it stated that

‘Every S.S. man who aims to get married must procure for this purpose the marriage certificate of the Reichsführer S.S.

S.S. members who though denied marriage certificates marry in spite of it, will be stricken from the S.S.; they will be given the choice of withdrawing.

The working-out of the details of marriage petitions is the task of the Race Office of the S.S.

The Race Office of the S.S. directs the Clan Book of the S.S., in which the families of S.S. members will be entered after the marriage certificate is issued.

The Reichsführer S.S., the manager of the Race Office, and the specialists of this office are duty bound on their word of honour to secrecy.’


In other words, if you were in the SS and wanted to marry a girl whom either Himmler or his Race and Settlement Office did not approve of, you had two choices: marry her anyway and quit (or be dismissed from) the SS, or find another bride the Reichsfuhrer agreed was suitable. Needless to say, this meant no SS man could even dream of marrying a girl who had even a drop of Jewish blood in her veins (though as I note, Himmler may have broken that edict himself), nor any other deemed “unacceptable” to the SS chief. I really don’t know, but I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they didn’t have to sign something promising to enroll any sons they had in the SS when they came of age too. Wouldn’t put it past them.

What is unquestionably clear is that Himmler - and Hitler, who of course supported, encouraged and endorsed Himmler’s methods and rules for the SS - was intent on creating a master race which would grow out of the sterile root of his organisation, spread and engulf all of Germany, and then all of Europe, eventually covering the world, assuming Hitler won the war. As I often remark caustically, it seems hilariously hypocritical to me (not meaning to make light of such horrible racism and eugenics of course) that men who were in no way the apex of humanity would deign to try to drive, even force and shape the evolution of man. Hitler was short and suffered later in life from Parkinson’s Disease, and was not even German. Himmler was short-sighted, with little capacity for emotion and a poor sex drive, Goring was fat and overweight, indulgent and had a bad leg, in addition to being a morphine addict, and Goebbels was hardly a prime example of “Aryan purity” either. In fact, much as I hate to give him any credit, if anyone exemplified the kind of ideal man that Himmler and Hitler wished to propagate, it was Reinhardt Heydrich. At least he looked the part, and following Darré’s blueprint for the perfect Nordic man, he had little interest in culture, was unquestioningly obedient to his masters, cruel and cold, and thankfully killed before he could rise any further in the ranks.

He met Himmler at the beginning of June 1931, having been recommended by one of his staff. The Reichsfuhrer of the SS had an important role for Heydrich to play, one that his ice-cold dedication to duty and his almost casual brutality suited perfectly. He wanted the young leutnant to set up a secret department within the SS, a sort of internal affairs deal which would spy on even Party members, and would especially concentrate on the SA, to which, at this time, his SS was still subservient, despite its power and standing. Heydrich would become, perhaps unbeknownst to Himmler, a silent threat to his own position, a force to be reckoned with, a man whose ambitions were so massive and daring that it is believed he was even mounting an attempt at a coup to remove Hitler from power and replace him, before he was assassinated in 1942, putting an end to his plans, and perhaps saving Himmler from a similar fate.

Insidiously, Heydrich made himself so indispensable to Himmler that he all but became his right hand man, running the SS with him, and helping him to transform it from a small force of about 400 men under the overall banner of the SA into a fighting force of 30,000 which, by 1932, was still only less than a third of the strength of the SA. In 1931 Hitler had requested Ernst Rohm return from self-imposed exile in Bolivia to lead the SA, fearful of the trouble they were causing him as he attempted to get right-wing industrialists and politicians on-side as he laid his plans to take power. With Rohm’s return Himmler was reminded uncomfortably of his subordinate status in the overall structure of the SA. His old friend did not necessarily interfere in Himmler’s running of the SS, but he made sure that the Reichsfuhrer was under no illusion that he was autonomous in any way.

After Rohm’s murder, Himmler undertook a study from 1934 to 1935 in which he checked and evaluated the calibre of the membership of the SS. He was aware that originally a lot of mostly wealthy or aristocratic young men had joined up in the belief that the organisation was more like a men’s club, a social recreation deal that allowed them to mix with the sort of people they wanted to mix with, and gave them the added prestige of being in the elite force. Put simply, many had joined up just because they liked the idea of wearing the uniform. They enjoyed being in the SS, but were not committed to it. Himmler wanted only the most fanatical, loyal and dedicated men in his corps, and so those who were seen as being there for other reasons, those who were playing at being soldiers, using their membership to impress the girls, or could otherwise be shown not to be “true” SS men, were kicked out. This in the end amount to about sixty thousand men, a large figure, though as the Nazis gained power it would become a tiny percentage of the overall membership in time.

As he would do throughout his career in the Reich, Himmler was winnowing the chaff, separating the men from the boys, and ensuring that only the best of the best of the best were accepted into the SS. This would radically change its image to those outside of the organisation, as well as create an almost mythical aura about it, comparable to, as Himmler had intended, a brotherhood of knights, to which everyone wanted to belong, but of which only the most select were allowed to be part.

With the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933, and the subsequent fire at the Reichstag building, following which the new Chancellor passed the Enabling Act, basically suspending all rights and turning Germany into a police state with himself as its head, things began to move fast, but around, not with, Himmler. Everyone seemed to ignore him, despite his perceived power as head of the SS. Rohm in particular detailed the SA to remove the Catholic Conservative government in Munich on March 8, completely bypassing Himmler, while Goring set up the concentration camps which would soon become synonymous with Himmler, in Prussia, without any consultation with the SS Reichsfuhrer. As Minister of the Interior for Prussia, Herman Goring had taken charge of the local police force, dismissing all those he deemed disloyal and installing his own men, and creating within the force a special, secret corps which went under the mundane-sounding Berlin Police Bureau 1A. It would later change its name to Geheime Staatspolizei, and Germany, and the world, would come to know and fear and hate it by its English translation.

Gestapo.
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Old 07-17-2022, 12:26 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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