Himmler occupied a unique place, and particularly when war began. The following article is taken from the War Illustrated in 1939; words and phrases reflect the era of 1939 rather than present day.
If there is one man in Nazi Germany whom everybody fears it’s Heinrich Himmler, the chief of the two great terroristic organizations, the Gestapo and the S.S. Of lowly birth, and in early days a school-teacher, he early allied himself with Hitler and was the Fuehrer’s standard-bearer during the unsuccessful Munich putsch of 1923. Since 1929 he has been commander of the SS (Schutz-Staffeln, defence corp), the black uniformed private army which is so much in evidence in the Nazi Reich. These Black Guards are the army of the home front; 200,000 of them are trained as regular soldiers, serve for seven years and live in barracks. They are selected with particular care, for it is intended that they should constitute a kind of praetorian Guard such as surrounded the emperors of imperial Rome, or the janissaries of the sultan at Constantinople. Trained in special schools set up in castles in various parts of the Reich, they are permitted to marry only after a thorough investigation of the pedigree of the proposed bride. They are even forbidden to smoke. It is said that two of the Black Guards are always in attendance on Herr Hitler to protect his life with their own; even when he sleeps one is on guard inside the room while the other keeps watch between the double doors leading to it.
As commander of the black guards, as the person primarily responsible for the safety of the Führer, Himmler wields a tremendous power, but the date which he inspired is due to his position as chief of the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret police). He is the Fouche (character), of the Nazi regime, and he performs his duties with an efficiency of the most sinister kind. His agents – spies is the better word – are everywhere. The concierge of most of the great apartment houses with which the German cities are filled are suspected of being in his pay, and he has informants (not to say agent provocateurs) in all the factories and big business houses, in the universities and the schools. in newspaper officers and in the beer halls. So widespread are the ramifications of his spy system that conversations in Germany are becoming a lost art, for even the most careless gossip may be reported by the Gestapo and call down upon the unhappy speaker’s head in the most dire consequences. For lapses of speech as well as conduct, the doors of the concentration camp are open – and the concentration camps are under Himmler’s control.
With typically Teutonic efficiency and zeal he has built up a colossal card index system recording the names and particulars of all those persons in every ran of life who are suspected of being even lukewarm in their attachment to the Nazi system. No one knows how many millions of the German people are included in this vast dossier – and it is not intended that anybody should know.
To Himmler’s headquarters are reported names of all those who in the heat of the moment have let out an unguarded statements, or those who are believed to be not satisfied with the news given by German official wireless, but in the silent darkness of their own homes listen into the news bulletins given over the air by Paris and Brussels, Moscow and London. When you put through a telephone call in Germany you can never be sure that an agent of the Gestapo is not tapping the line; and when you open your letters at the breakfast-table you have an uneasy feeling that someone has opened them before you.
Fearful in peacetime, Himmler casts an even more monstrous shadow now that Germany is at war. But his regimentation of the home front, he strives to maintain the people’s morale. But it may doubted whether morals can flourish in the forcing-bed of terrorism.
In appearance Himmler is the typical German beaurocrat; some people would call him insignificant – until they look into this eyes. He is by no means a great speaker – indeed, he is not a believer in speeches, but rather in action of the underground variety. Essentially he is an organiser, a ferreter-out of secrets, one who has an excellent ear and nose for the slightest suggestion of disaffection.
Although those who have made his personal acquaintance aver that he has considerable charm, it is possibly true to say that he has no fiends, for even Hitler may wonder if his allegiance to him is based on personal affection or on cool calculation. During the ‘blood purge’ of June 30, 1934, it was Himmler’s Black Guards who despatched in cold blood Roehm* and scores – perhaps hundreds – of Nazi personnel whose continued existence their Führer decided was inconvenient to the maintenance of his power.
Those who hold a high place in the Nazi movement today may well remember the callous competence displayed by Himmler and his agents in the mass executions. Master spy, executioner in chief – no wonder Himmler is hated and feared.
* Ernest Roehm was the leader of the Brown Shirts, SA/Stormtroopers and was murdered for planning a coop against Hitler know as the Night of the Long Knives