Biography of Heinrich Himmler,

The Reich Leader of the SS from 1929.
He was born in Landshut, Bavaria, and studied at the Technischehochschule in Munich, becoming a laboratory technician. As a member of one of the nationalist movements, the Reichskriegsflagge organized by Rohm, he was one of those called out for the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, being the flag-bearer of the group that occupied the War Ministry building. After the debacle he moved back home to Landshut where he sold advertising space in the Party paper, the Volkischer Beobachter. During 1925 he acted as general secretary to Strasser. In 1926 he received the minor appointment of Deputy Leader of the small bodyguard group called Schutzstaffel, the SS, but his Party career still allowed him time to run a smallholding chicken farm where he carried out breeding experiments, developing his politico-eugenic theories. He had marred Magda Boden, but his devotion to Party work meant that they lived most of their time apart. In January 1929 he took over the SS, now numbering 280, as Reichsfuhrer SS. It was still a branch of the SA, but Himmler knowingly concentrated on its growth in size and breadth of function. First he put forward new recruitment plans to sieve through the large number of ex-Freikorps and unemployed-bourgeois volunteers, bringing in biological criteria and the concept of racial purity. Thus he gradually asserted the separation of the SS from the SA. One effect of this was that the army, which saw the SA under Rohm as a rival, tended to side with the SS as a force.

When Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, Himmler added the post of Polizeiprasident (police chief) of Munich to his duties. This seemed only a modest post to some, but he was, with his SS assistants Heydrich, Daluege and Schellenberg, gradually taking control of the whole German police system in all states except Prussia, where Goring had taken the Ministry of the Interior. He finally achieved power over all police in 1936. For the next ten years Himmler's life was devoted to expanding the role of the SS. After Heydrich's death in 1942, Kaltenbrunner took on the administrative weight of the SS and Himmler, being often present at Hitler's military planning sessions, wormed himself further into the FUhrer's confidence than Goring or Goebbels. From 1941 Bormann had taken Hess's place in running Hitler's secretariat and he now saw Himmler as his rival for power. By the beginning of 1942 Himmler's SS empire was reaching its zenith. He had absorbed Goring's Prussian secret police, the Gestapo, and made it a nationwide force, parallel to his Party intelligence and security organization, the SD; within weeks of their establishment, the new concentration camps had been put under his men and a branch of the SS, the Totenkopfverbande (the Death's Head units), was formed to run them; following the invading German armies into Russia, Himmler's Einsatzgruppen task forces were murdering Jews, gypsies, communists and partisans by the thousand; his armed SS squads had been turned into the Waffen SS and fought now as great armies; his SS empire had its economic section, owning industries and, by making themselves tax-exempt, becoming hugely profitable. At the same time Himmler continued to concern himself with the perfecting of a future German elite through his SS. Not only would they be of guaranteed Aryan stock, but they would be encouraged to breed the new elite, through his Lebensborn (Source of life) network of maternity homes. Most important of all to Himmler, however, would be the purity of their thought. Apart from the SS-financed research organization, the Ahnenerbe, he ordered the rebuilding of the old castle of Wewelsburg as a shrine to a Germanic civilization in which the holy order of the SS would be founded. This was done at immense expense and, from 1934 on, senior members of the SS met there several times a year in conference; there his assistant Karl Wolff would usher each SS leader into a monastic cell, where he would be surrounded by treasures from old Germany and was supposed to steep himself in Germanic mysticism. The leading twelve higher SS officers were assigned places, beneath their fake-medieval coats-of-arms, around a circular Arthurian table.

There can be no doubt of Himmler's responsibility for the carrying out of the Final Solution. He is almost alone among the leading Nazis to have put the concept of the extermination of the Jewish people into words. In several recorded speeches he lectured concentration camp officers on their responsibility for destroying a whole people. Yet at the same time he authorized an SS unit (Morgen, Konrad) to investigate incidents of `brutality' in Sobibor, Majdanek and Auschwitz.

After the 1944 Bomb Plot he was able to remove rivals, such as Canaris, on the slightest ground of suspicion. Himmler's final step to power followed the Bomb Plot when Hitler, no longer trusting his generals, gave Himmler the military appointment of Commander-in-Chief of the Army Reserve (Ersatzarmee). In 1944 Himmler seemed to have reached the pinnacle of Nazi power: he was given command first of Army Group Upper Rhine to face the American army, then transferred east to command Army Group Vistula in January 1945. With his lack of military experience he found himself helpless in face of the momentum of the Russian advance. By now the Allied armies were squeezing Germany on both fronts. In Berlin, Bormann's position close to Hitler was unchanged, and Bormann argued that, as the war moved on to German soil, the Party itself (and not just the Wehrmacht) was responsible for military leadership. As the army became discredited in defeat, the Party Gauleiters took charge. It was Bormann therefore (rather than Himmler) who commanded the last-ditch Volkssturm. By now even Himmler saw that the end was coming. Since October 1944 Schellenberg had been urging him to make contact with neutral nations to obtain peace terms for Germany. But it was not until February 1945, when the Swedish Red Cross representative Count Bernadotte visited Germany, that Himmler showed interest in the dealings. In April, Himmler met Bernadotte, but for a moment he hesitated; he begged Hitler to leave Berlin to fight in southern Germany. Hitler, having heard of Himmler's peace moves, dismissed him from all posts.

The final Donitz government saw him as a liability. Hoping to escape arrest, Himmler took the name and documents of a dead village policeman, Heinrich Hitzinger, but at a routine check by British military police his nerve crumbled and he admitted to being Himmler. He was arrested, but before he could be interrogated he was found to have taken poison.