Heinrich Himmler was one of the most feared men in Europe throughout the Nazi era, and was responsible for implementing the Final Solution as well as running the vast network of concentration camps, the Gestapo and the vast empire of the SS.
The book was originally written in 1965, so there are areas where more recent research has changed our view of events. As far as I can tell these are generally rather minor – one that stuck out was the role of Himmler’s physical therapist Felix Kersten, who does appear to have used his influence to save a great many people from the Nazis, but perhaps not as many as too credit for in his own memoirs.
The area where accuracy is most important in any book on Himmler is the Final Solution, and here all seems to be in order. Twenty years after the end of the war more than enough documentation was available for us to be sure about Himmler’s central role in the holocaust. The authors also make it abundantly clear that Hitler was at the heart of the holocaust, even if he did delegate the actual running of it to Himmler. Himmler’s own role is made very clear using extensive extracts from his own speeches, in which he frequently refered to the holocaust,
Some reviews suggest that Himmler emerges as the sort of crank who in other circumstances would bore you with his ‘theories’ in the pub, but who was dangerous because of the unlimited amount of power he was given. I disagree with that view, which seems to me to misunderstand the nature of his believes. Himmler emerges as a man with a truly nasty set of views, ranging from his murderous anti-semitism to his obsession with the ‘purity’ of the ‘Nordic’ races or on the elimination of the disabled. His obsessions ran deep – even as the Third Reich was crumbling around him he was still willing to spend time examining the marriages of individual SS officers! He also emerges as an increasingly delusional figure, still convinced that he could find a place in post-war Germany and seemingly unaware that the Allies viewed him as one of the worst of the war criminals! Ironically this delusion probably saved quite a few lives, as people like Kersten were able to convince him to stop the killings by playing on the idea of his post-war life!
I must admit I was surprised to discover that Himmler had only been 39 at the outbreak of the Second World War, so held immense amounts of power while younger than the vast majority of German generals of the period.
This is still a valuable biography of one of the key figures in the Nazi regime, painting a picture of a petty, obsessed, evil figure, who found himself in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.
1 - Chaste Youth
2 - Reichsführer S.S.
3 - The Elite
4 - Secret Rivals
5 - Final Solution
6 - The Miraculous Hands
7 - Slave of Power
8 - Self-Betrayal
Author: Heinrich Fraenkel & Roger Manvell
Year: 2017 edition of 1965 original