Books: A nice German family

The private letters of Heinrich Himmler to his wife turn the horrific into the mundane.

HEINRICH HIMMLER poses for a photo with his wife Marga and his daughter Gudrun. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
HEINRICH HIMMLER poses for a photo with his wife Marga and his daughter Gudrun.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
On October 4, 1943, Heinrich Himmler, in his address to the highest-ranking SS leaders in Poznan, bluntly described the hopeless situation with the war, and at the same time appealed to their fighting spirit.
“What happens to Russians, what happens to Czechs, is absolutely unimportant to me,” he said.
“Whether the other people live in comfort or starve in misery interests me only to the extent that we need them as slaves for our culture... Whether 10,000 Russian women die of exhaustion or not, building an anti-tank ditch interests me only to the extent that it is completed for Germany.”
“Jews shall be exterminated,” Himmler promised.
“This is a glorious page in our history that has never been, and never will be written.”
There was little new in this frank appeal.
Himmler was a Nazi from his early youth. Born on October 7, 1900, in Munich, and brought up in a solid middle- class environment, he started his fascist activities as a student of agriculture.
Not exactly “Aryan” in looks, he compensated for his physical shortcomings by serving as a fanatic Nazi organizer and speaker, a faithful admirer of Hitler.
Elected to the Reichstag in 1930, he became in 1943 interior minister of the German Reich and Commander of the Army Reserve, a top SS Commander of almost unlimited power.
During his work for the Nazi Party he met Marga Siegroth, whose blonde hair and blue eyes represented his ideal of a pure German virgin. They shared a common notion of the absolute supremacy of the German people, coupled with the rejection of democracy, contempt for the Weimar regime, and, above all, hatred of the “Jewish rabble” responsible for the German defeat in the World War I.
Katrin Himmler, Heinrich’s greatniece, a political analyst and the author of A German Family History, and Michael Wildt, an internationally recognized author who specializes in the Third Reich, assembled and edited The Private Heinrich Himmler: Letters of a Mass Murderer – the vast collection of Heinrich’s and Marga’s letters. They supplement the correspondence with a detailed historical commentary on almost every letter and person involved. Thus we follow a rather serene family correspondence, while terrible crimes are committed daily.
Himmler’s letters to Marga, from their first encounter in 1927 up to the end of the war in 1945, are published here in English for the first time. In 1945, two American GIs stole “souvenirs” from Haus Lindenfycht, Himmler’s private residence.
After changing hands many times they are today stored in the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz as “Himmler Papers.”
Himmler rarely stayed at home. He traveled most of the time and had his own “Himmler Train” during the war. He was busy with the “transfers of population,” the building of extermination camps, setting up of the gas chambers and the “liquidation of all the Reich’s enemies.”
Once he even commanded an armored brigade on the Soviet front with tragic consequences. He wrote short notes to Marga, excusing himself by his most difficult task that had to be done.
“The struggles, especially those of the SS, are very tough.” Sometimes he enclosed “a little picture of his journeys” to occupied territories, where his visits were accompanied by mass “resettlement” and murder.
From 1938 he lived openly with his secretary, Hedwig Potthast, 12 years his junior. In contrast to the “tough” Marga, she was known as a “sweet woman,” and they had two children. This was in accord with his “Edict to Propagate,” written in support of extramarital children born by entering into a second marriage without dissolving the first one. Marga, well aware of Potthast, kept busy working for the German Red Cross and the Nazi Party.
The couple employed forced labor on their fast-growing real estate possessions, but Marga enjoyed doing heavy work herself in their huge garden.
After the 1942 Stalingrad debacle, letters became even shorter, but were usually accompanied by “gifts” and food that an average German could only dream of. The author of the “Final Solution” was a good family provider from butter to furs. He was, however, quite stern with his daughter Gudrun and son Gerhard, whom he disciplined frequently in order to make them “strong Germans.” His son for years feared his father’s visits because he was always punished with brutal blows.
On May 5, 1944, Himmler told his generals: “The Jewish question is solved in Germany. It was solved without accordance with the life struggle of our people, which is a matter of existence of our blood.”
The former Catholic – who as a boy attended mass and later married a Protestant – and professional SS executioner Himmler had evolved for his guilty conscience a private anti-atheist faith into ancient Germanic gods and rites. In his prayers he appealed to “The Ancient One,” a mythical German divinity “Waralda,” who he expected, during the last days of the Third Reich, would protect the German people, and would not let them perish.
On April 20, 1945, Hitler’s birthday, Himmler visited him for the last time.
Eight days later Hitler learned that Himmler was secretly negotiating with the Western Allies and had him removed from all functions.
Caught by the British on May 22, 1945, Himmler committed suicide with a cyanide capsule. Marga survived many anti-Nazi trials and died in August 1967.
Gerhard was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Russia. He returned to Germany in 1955, and worked as a truck driver.
Gudrun married, had two children and lives in Germany today.
The letters present both Heinrich and Marga as tough and cold people sharing together their deep, however false, convictions and prejudices, characteristic of their milieu. They both firmly believed that Hitler was the man of destiny.
Heinrich, a sufferer of almost daily stomach pains, was deeply aware of the extent of his inhumane crimes. His excuse was that “he had to do what had to be done” in order to win for Germany her freedom and well-deserved, bright future.
The text takes no sides, but offers the reader a frank historical record of the rise and disgrace of Nazism and its ugly perpetrators.