Spreading the Truth
|Himmler and Kaltenbrunner visit Mauthausen 1941|
On 4th October 1943 at the town hall of Posen[i] Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuhrer der SS, gave a speech detailing the atrocities that were happening in the death camps in the Eastern territories. This speech was not meant for public edification[ii];
'A glorious page in our history and one that has never been written and never can be written.'[iii]
He informed his audience that the SS was strong enough to carry this burden on their shoulders for the good of the German people.
‘We together – carry for our people the responsibility……….and then take the secret with us to the grave.’[iv]Himmler was not speaking to the uninitiated on this day; his audience comprised of senior SS leaders; which included all but four of his senior officers[v]. Kershaw (among others) suggests that the reason for the speech and the one two days later, to a different audience, was to stress the joint responsibility of the leaders of the regime for the horrors of the death camps.
The speech was wide ranging, covering a number of topics in detail.The Jews
‘I mean……….the extermination of the Jewish race.’[vi]
Page 65 of speech
There can be no doubt, to anyone knowing the relationship between the Reichsfuhrer and his master that if Himmler knew of the extermination of the Jews, then Hitler knew too. Like many other of Hitler’s subordinates Himmler was in thrall to his master and under no circumstances would he have undertaken a project of this magnitude without Hitler’s direct approval. It was only at the end, as Himmler saw the death throes of the Nazi regime and desperate to save his beloved SS, that he betrayed Hitler.Himmler approved of the hardness of his men; that they were able to kill without compunction. He made an oblique reference to the SS involvement in the Night of the Long Knives. He also agreed that some Jews might be considered acceptable by people, who presumably did not realise the danger posed by this alien race, and should not therefore be considered for Endlosung[vii];
'The eighty million worthy Germans, and each one has his one decent Jew.'[viii]Indeed there were Jews who were exempted from the destruction raining down on Jewry, and Erhard Milch, Luftwaffe Field Marshall was one such; and the dead Heydrich was believed by the regime to have been another.
Posen Town Hall
Himmler claimed that if they had not removed the Jews from Germany the authorities would have been faced with Jewish saboteurs and agitators fomenting trouble; causing distraction from the great task of winning the war. The Jewish uprising in Warsaw earlier in the year no doubt coloured his thinking; he may have been referring to it when he said;
‘We had the moral right, we had the duty to our people to destroy this people [the Jews] which wanted to destroy us.’[ix]The inhumanity of the speech gives an insight to the character of the man making it; a man, whose relationships with his staff were based on his own insecurities and need to bully his inferiors into acquiescence.
Himmler prided himself that the SS had not enriched themselves from the destruction of the Jews
‘The riches which they owned we have taken from them. I have given strict orders, which Obergruppenfuhrer Pohl has carried out, that this wealth should naturally be delivered to the Reich. We have taken nothing.’[x]
This statement of course was incorrect; many SS men within and without the camps had enriched themselves by stealing from the dead and dying, the displaced and the imprisoned. And of course the SS itself benefitted from the thefts, monies being paid into a secret account in Berlin.
There were also distributions of watches, pens, clothing and other items to members of the Waffen SS. As early as 1939 Himmler arranged for winter kit for his troops, using furs appropriated from Jewish women held at Ravensbruck concentration camp.Slave Labour
Himmler critiqued the policies of his own staff in the WVHA[xi] who, rather than looking after the welfare of the slave labourers, allowed the maltreatment that killed so many.
'At that time  we did not value the mass of humanity as we value it today, as raw material, as labour………….is now deplorable by reason of the loss of labour, is that the prisoners died in tens and hundreds of thousands of exhaustion and hunger,’[xii]
Mass graves at Dora-Central
From automatically killing those they despised and hated the Nazis moved to working their slaves to death, in the concentration camps and in off-shoot camps like Dora-Central, where slaves died working on the wonder weapons, the V1 & V2 rockets. Prisoners were used to make uniforms, make arms and help the war effort.
‘Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our Kultur: otherwise, it is of no interest to me. Whether 10,000 Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished.’[xiii]
The Germanisation of Europe
Lebensborn was an organisation set up by Himmler under the aegis of the SS in 1935. It provided care for women having children fathered by SS men[xiv]. In 1938 it was transferred from RuSHA[xv] to the Personalstab RFSS under Karl Wolff. After 1939 the organisation undertook responsibility for the children of Poles, who had the valuable characteristics of Aryans that were so important to Himmler’s racial theories. These children were forcibly removed from their parents and given to German couples[xvi] and Germanised.
In this speech Himmler defended this practise in passing;
'Whatever we find in the way of good blood from our race we will take, if necessary, by stealing children and raising them ourselves.'[xvii]This of course included the children of Lidice, stolen from their families as part of the retribution for the death of Reinhard Heydrich.
The practise was continued throughout the occupied territories during the war. Himmler himself early in 1943 had taken a fancy to two young blonde, blue-eyed Russian boys, who were cleaned up and given a little schooling before joining Himmler and his staff on his train Heinrich[xviii]. After a time the boys were then placed in school for indoctrination and Germanisation.The Future of the SS
The speech also covered the growth of the SS and its guiding principles;
'One principle must be absolute for the SS man: we must be honest, decent, loyal and comradely to members of our own blood and to no-one else.'[xix]And Himmler’s vision for the future; the SS must be ready to take over all the senior roles in a Nazi ruled Europe;
'In twenty to thirty years we must really be able to present the whole of Europe with its leading class.'[xx]In the future Himmler’s ongoing programme of infiltrating all the machinery of government, with members of the Order of the SS, would result in the SS reigning supreme.
‘This Germanic Reich needs the Order of the SS. It needs it at least for the next few centuries.’[xxi]Along with his master Himmler truly believed that the war would be won; not all of his audience were as convinced. And this despite admitting that the Nazis had persuaded themselves that the Soviet show trials in 1937 had been a blunder of the highest order;
‘During the Moscow trials……….we were persuaded……..in the SS that Stalin had made his greatest blunder. That was an out and out error on our part.’[xxii]
Albert Speer 1933
Two days later Himmler gave what amounted to the same speech to the Reichsleiters[xxiii] and Gauleiters[xxiv], an audience who were later in the day also addressed by Albert Speer[xxv], Admiral Donitz and Field Marshall Milch. According to Speer the audience got blind drunk afterwards, possibly horror struck at the vistas opened up by Himmler; implicating all Nazi senior officials in the Holocaust.
The following day the Reichsleiters and Gauleiters attended Hitler at the Wolfsschanze, where the Fuhrer knew that his audience had been made aware of their complicity in the horrors ongoing in the death camps. Hitler was ordering these Nazi senior officials to undertake all out war to ensure Germany’s survival.
‘The entire German people know that it is a matter of whether they exist or do not exist. The bridges have been destroyed behind them. Only the way forward remains.’[xxvi]He threatened that without a Nazi victory there would be nothing left of Germany; only the triumph of her enemies.
BibliographyBelzec, Sobibor, Treblinka - Yitzhak Arad, Indiana University Press 1999
Documents on the Holocaust – Ed. Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, Abraham Margaliot, University of Nebraska Press 1999The Origins of the Final Solution – Christopher R Browning, Arrow Books 2005
Hitler – a Study in Tyranny – Alan Bullock, Penguin Books 1962The Face of the Third Reich – Joachim Fest, Penguin Books 1970
The Destruction of the European Jews, Volume 3 – Raoul Hilberg, Holmes and Meier 1985Nazi Aggression & Violence Volume 1 International Military Trials Nuremberg, United States Government Printing Office 1946
Hitler 1936-1945 Nemesis – Ian Kershaw, Penguin Books 2001Heinrich Himmler – Peter Longerich, Oxford University Press 2011
Heinrich Himmler – Roger Manvell & Heinrich Fraenkell, Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal Ltd 2007The SS Alibi of a Nation – Gerald Reitlinger, Da Capo Press 1989
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – William L Shirer, Book Club Associates 1985www.wikipedia.en
[i] Capital of the Warthegau province, in west central Poland
[iii] Nemesis - Kershaw
[iv] The Origins of the Final Solution - Browning
[v] Kaltenbrunner, Wolff, Daluege (already on sick leave at this time) & Globocnik; Wolff claimed that he knew nothing of the Holocaust despite being Chief of the Personalstab RFSS
[vi] The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - Shirer
[vii] The regime’s term for the killing of undesirables, who included not only Jews, but also Gypsies, homosexuals, asocials, Communists and Jehovah’s Witnesses among others
[viii] Documents of the Holocaust – Arad, Gutman, Margialot
[ix] Hitler – Alan Bullock
[x] The Destruction of the European Jews - Hilberg
[xii] The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - Shirer
[xiii] Nazi Aggression & Violence Volume 1 International Military Trials, Nuremberg
[xiv] In and out of wedlock
[xv] Rasse-und Siedlungshauptamt-SS (SS Race and Settlement Main Office),
[xvi] Many never to see their families again. For more on this subject see Lebensborn - Clay and Leapman
[xvii] Heinrich Himmler - Longerich
[xviii] Named after an ancient Germanic king
[xix] The Face of the Third Reich - Fest
[xx] Hitler - Bullock
[xxi] The Face of the Third Reich - Fest
[xxii] The SS - Reitlinger
[xxiii] The political rank below Hitler; Himmler was one.
[xxiv] The second highest political rank; Nazi official in charge of a Gau.
[xxv] Who was later to claim no knowledge of the subjects under discussion
[xxvi] Nemesis – Kershaw