- Heinrich Himmler: Biographie
The Nazi dictatorship continues to attract the attention of an audience ranging from university students to a general public that regularly tunes in to the History Channel for information about Hitler's Germany and World War II. And while social and cultural historians produced impressive studies of the inner functioning of the Nazi state, biographies about Hitler and other leading Nazis seem to dominate the German history sections in bookstores and libraries. And these biographies become longer and longer. Ian Kershaw's two-volume Hitler biography of 2122 pages is now joined by Peter Longerich's Himmler biography with 1035 pages. There is no doubt that both biographies are of superb quality and eloquence. However, both books offer less of a biography of their subjects and more of a structural account of the times their subjects dominated.
Longerich divides his book into six chapters. The first chapter focuses on Himmler's childhood and youth, and the remaining five chapters follow his rise and fall as leader of the SS in the Third Reich. The author describes Himmler as a very shy and socially awkward teenager and young adult whose [End Page 198] life was dominated by an authoritarian father figure (whom he never challenged), extremely conservative attitudes with regards to women (which were quite similar to Hitler's views on womanhood), and a general lack of sexual experience until he turned 27. Himmler's attempts to gain control over his body and his (sexual) desires resulted in latent physical pain and psychosomatic symptoms he battled throughout his entire life.
Himmler's personal attitudes towards sexuality (and fear of homosexuality) and the competition with Ernst Röhm for power and influence shaped his policies with regards to the membership in his SS. He was deeply concerned that the overtly masculine image of the Nazi movement provided fertile soil for homosexuality. He, therefore, insisted that his SS were not to become an organization of individual men who glorified a cult of manhood and comradeship but an association of family fathers who were married to Aryan wives and produced plenty of offspring. This "family-oriented" SS was of course also envisioned as a counter-image to the SA which, in Himmler's eyes, seemed, at least until summer 1934, to provide a safe haven for homosexuals.
After Röhm's death, Himmler took charge of the inner security of Hitler's dictatorship. The control over the police, the Gestapo, the SS, the SA, and the concentration camp system provided powerful and unlimited tools for the persecution and annihilation of political enemies. Himmler created an aura of terror and intimidation that provided, according to Longerich, a solid basis for the stability of the system. Longerich downplayed the role of denunciations and the voluntary cooperation of the German population in favor of an outdated model of the Nazi dictatorship in which the Gestapo appears to be all powerful. If the Gestapo and SS were in fact as powerful as Longerich suggests, it seems rather curious that they were unable to detect the preparations for Georg Elser's attempt at Hitler's life in 1939 and Claus Schenk Count von Stauffenberg's plot against Hitler in 1944. Elser's and Stauffenberg's assassination attempts made Himmler simply look incompetent and the Gestapo blind.
Even though Longerich points to a few instances such as Himmler's decision to begin an extramarital relationship and his encouragement to his men to have children out of wedlock, in which Himmler's private life overlapped and influenced his political life, this book presents more of a history of the SS than of Himmler the individual. Beginning with the second chapter, Longerich focused on the inner workings of the SS and its leadership. We still learn about Himmler, however, that he acted as a teacher and educator who interfered repeatedly with the private lives of his SS men. He wanted to be absolutely sure that his men were straight, married, free of debt (and thus not tempted by corruption), healthy, and completely dependent on him. Himmler preferred to "save" individuals who...