Munich, Germany · January 20, 1929

On this date in 1929 failed German chicken farmer Hein­rich Himm­ler became Reichs­fuehrer-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler. The SS in his title referred to Schutz­staffel, meaning “Pro­tec­tion Squad.” Infor­mally known by its initials, the SS was created after National Socialist (Nazi) party leader Adolf Hitler, him­self a Viennese vagrant, set about forming a new body­guard following his release from prison for having led the abor­tive 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch. (The putsch was Hitler’s hare­brained scheme to take con­trol of the Bava­rian state govern­ment.) With the 28‑year‑old’s appoint­ment to Reichs­fuehrer-SS, Himm­ler’s fate and that of the SS became in­ex­tri­cably linked. Himm­ler devel­oped and put into prac­tice his ec­cen­tric ideo­logical, mysti­cal, and racial theo­ries, bringing in the con­cept of “racial purity” for mem­ber­ship in the SS, fash­ioning the SS as the guard­ian of the Aryan (Nor­dic) race against “Jewish Bol­she­vism,” and posi­tioning the SS as the prime secu­rity organ of the Nazi Party and pro­tec­tor of the mil­len­nial future of the German Reich. “Should we succeed in estab­lishing this Nor­dic race again from and around Ger­many,” he said, “then the world will belong to us.” To that end, Himm­ler gathered around him­self some of the vilest ghouls in Hitler’s pan­theon of evil, in­cluding Reinhard Heydrich, one of the archi­tects of the Final Solu­tion, and Heydrich’s able lieu­ten­ant Adolf Eich­mann, Gestapo chief of the depart­ment of Jewish affairs. From 1,000 strong in 1929, Himm­ler headed an organ­i­zation of 200,000 in 1934. That same year a reno­vated Renais­sance castle in North Rhine-West­pha­lia, We­wels­burg, was turned into the “Reich SS Leader­ship School,” where the leading cadre of the “Gen­eral SS” (“All­ge­meine-SS”) and the “Armed SS” (“Waffen-SS”) were to engage in rig­orous phy­si­cal training and study pre- and early his­tory, mytho­logy (Himm­ler adapted the idea of the Grail to create a hea­then mys­tery for the SS), astron­omy, and art. Himm­ler planned to make We­wels­burg the “cen­ter of the new world” (“Zen­trum der neuen Welt”) following the “final victory.” When the “final victory” failed to mate­ri­alize, Himm­ler ordered the SS to destroy the We­wels­burg, which it did on March 31, 1945, three days before a unit of the U.S. Army Third Armored Division seized the grounds.

Heinrich Himmler was as evil a man as ever lived, as I learned in two fine bio­graphies of the second-most powerful man in Nazi Germany, one authored by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel (Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo), the other by Peter Longerich (Heinrich Himmler: A Life). But then I read Robert Ger­warth’s biography of Reinhard Heydrich, titled Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich—“hangman” being one of three nicknames Heydrich wore with pride. Up till his fatal encounter with two Czech nationalists, Heydrich was widely viewed as the most dan­ger­ous man in Nazi Germany. Gerwarth explains why in this authoritative biography of evil incarnate.—Norm Haskett

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Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler: The Second Power in Nazi Germany

Wewelsburg Castle, Himmler’s Reich SS Leadership School

Above: Wewelsburg Castle, built between 1603 and 1609 in the northeast of North Rhine-Westphalia, was the planned site of Himmler’s “Reich SS Leader­ship School” (Reichs­führer­schule SS). Actual in­struc­tion never took place there. Instead, the castle was trans­formed into an iso­lated cen­tral meeting place for the highest-ranking SS officers. Today the castle serves as a youth hostel, one of the largest in Germany. Photo taken in 2010.

Hitler and HimmlerHimmler and Heydrich

Left: Head of the SS from 1929 to 1945 and chief of the Gestapo (secret state police) from 1934 to 1945, “der treue Heinrich” (the loyal Heinrich) was second to Hitler as the most powerful man in Nazi Germany. From 1943 to 1945 Himmler held another post, Minister of the Interior; in this position he was one of the persons most directly responsible for the Holocaust.

Right: Himmler with Reinhard Heydrich (holding sheets of paper) at Hitler’s Bavarian retreat on the Obersalzberg, 1939. Heydrich, ruthless head of the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA), worked under Himmler. In July 1941 Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering ordered the conscienceless and more-than-willing Heydrich to prepare the “final solution”—the exter­mi­nation of all Jews in Europe.

Goering, Himmler, HitlerBody of Himmler at British HQ

Left: On the day of the invasion of Poland, September 1, 1939, Hitler tapped Goering, here seen with Himmler, to be his successor. From 1942 onwards Goering largely withdrew from Nazi Germany’s military and political scene when the Luftwaffe, which he headed, stumbled on both the Western and Eastern fronts.

Right: Himmler’s body on the floor of British 2nd Army HQ after his suicide on May 23, 1945, during a routine interrogation. Two days earlier Himmler, a fugitive using an alias, had been detained at a British checkpoint. During his interrogation Himmler revealed his true identity.

Occult History of the Third Reich: Heinrich Himmler, SS Mystic