Heinrich Himmler (7 Oct. 1900 – 23 May 1945) was Reichsführer SS, meaning national leader of the SS, and head of the German police. As such, he gave the orders to his subordinates as to what to do with the Jews within Germany’s reach: He ordered the police to arrest them; to deport them; to detain them in ghettos and camps; he told the SS what to do with them in the various camps; to deploy them at forced-labor tasks; and he decreed to the leaders of the Security Police and the Security Service, including their Einsatzgruppen, how to handle them in the temporarily German-occupied eastern territories. Hence, Himmler was second only to Hitler when it came to implementing the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”
Interestingly, the order to prepare the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” as an extension of prior efforts to make Jews emigrate from Europe, was issued on 31 July 1941 by Hermann Göring to Himmler’s subordinate Reinhardt Heydrich. Himmler was circumvented.
Himmler’s statements regarding the treatment of the Jews within his reach can be divided into two distinct and separate sets:
First, Himmler’s various speeches, during which he lectured to high German government and military officials throughout the war. (See the dedicated entry on Himmler speeches.) Starting in late 1943, he was very blunt in several of his speeches as to the ongoing project of annihilating the Jews within the German sphere of influence.
Second, his orders to his subordinates as to how he wished the Jews to be treated. These documents paint a different picture than what he stated in some of his 1943 speeches. Not annihilation, but maximum exploitation of the Jews’ labor force was increasingly at the top of Himmler’s priorities.
Here is a list of orders and other documented statement by Himmler:
- In a memorandum of May 1940, Himmler rejected “the Bolshevik method of physical annihilation of a people […] as un-Germanic” with regard to the Jews, and Hitler commented upon this by writing in the margin, “Quite correct.”
- On 18 September 1941, Himmler wrote a letter to Gauleiter Arthur Greiser. The document states explicitly that the Jews from Germany and the Protectorate (Czechia) will be deported to eastern areas as a first step. In spring 1942, they were to be moved still further east.
- On 23 October 1941, Himmler ordered a stop to all Jewish emigration. A day later, his subordinate Kurt Daluege, chief of the German police force, issued a directive according to which “Jews shall be evacuated to the east in the district around Riga and Minsk.”
- On 25 January 1942, five days after the Wannsee Conference, Himmler wrote to Richard Glücks, Concentration Camp Inspector:
“You will make preparations to receive 100,000 Jews and up to 50,000 Jewesses in the concentration camps in the coming weeks. Large scale economic tasks will be assigned to the concentration camps in the coming weeks.”
- On 29 January 1942, Himmler issued his “Guidelines on the Treatment of the Jewish Question.” They stipulated that all measures aimed at solving the issue for all of Europe do so by way of the expulsion of Jewry and by using the Jews for forced labor at “road, railway and canal construction, agriculture, etc.” Jewish workers should be pooled “in purely Jewish enterprises under supervision.”
- On Apr. 30, 1942, Oswald Pohl, chief of the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office, reported (129-R; IMT, Vol. 38, pp. 364f.):
“1. The war has brought about a visible structural change in the concentration camps and their tasks regarding the employment of inmates. The increase in number of prisoners detained solely on account of security, re-education, or preventive reason is no longer in the foreground. The primary emphasis has shifted to the economic side. The total mobilization of inmate labor, first for wartime tasks (increase of armaments) and then for peacetime tasks, is moving ever more to the forefront.
2. From this realization arise necessary measures which require a gradual transformation of the concentration camp from its original, exclusively political form into one commensurate with its economic tasks.”
- On 17/18 July 1942, Himmler ordered the expansion of the Auschwitz Camp to house 200,000 mainly Jewish prisoners for labor deployment.
- On 16 September 1942, one day after his meeting with Armaments Minister Albert Speer, Oswald Pohl, head of the SS’s Economic and Administrative Main Office reported to Himmler that all prisoners of the Reich were to be conscripted for armaments production:
“The Jews destined for eastern migration therefore will have to interrupt their journey and work at armaments production.”
- 28 December 1942: Glücks conveyed Himmler’s order to all camp commandants that death rates in all camps must be reduced by all means. The inmates have to receive better food.
- On 20 January 1943, Glücks elaborates in more detail about Himmler’s order by giving detailed instructions on how to improve living conditions in the camps.
The rich surviving documentation on the Auschwitz Camp proves beyond doubt that a) there was no order to kill Jews, and b) that there were many orders to save the lives and improve the health and survival chances of all inmates in that camp. Hence, the just-mentioned orders to reduce death rates in all camps by all means were not just on paper. (For details, see the entry on Auschwitz, on healthcare, and on the Birkenau Camp.)
Himmler’s service calendar is also revealing, as it has only one entry about this matter, dated 18 December 1941: “Jewish question | to be exterminated as partisans.” It is unclear what this referred to, but it is likely that this concerned the growing partisan activities in the East, which was heavily supported and contributed to by Jews. Hence, if Jews were encountered as partisans, they were to be exterminated. Other than that, this calendar contains absolutely nothing indicating that Himmler was in any way concerned with how best to exterminate six million innocent civilians. There is also no trace in this calendar of Himmler discussing with any of the alleged main executors of the Holocaust any pertinent issues: Adolf Eichmann, Rudolf Höss, Odilo Globocnik, Christian Wirth and Paul Blobel are all conspicuously absent. In his meetings with Reinhardt Heydrich and Adolf Hitler, Himmler never broached the Jewish question.
As with the missing Hitler Order, there is also no Himmler Order for the extermination of Europe’s Jews. To circumvent this “problem,” American interrogators managed to “convince” German mid-level official Kurt Becher that he once saw an order issued by Himmler in late 1944 to stop the extermination. (See the entry on Kurt Becher.) However, no such order has ever been found either, so it stands to reason that Becher made it up in order to receive favorable treatment from his Allied captors.
After the end of the war, Himmler tried to escape from northern Germany in civilian clothes, but was captured by the British. He was interrogated for a while, then died. The British claimed that he committed suicide by taking a cyanide pill he is said to have hidden in a hollow tooth. However, the capsule photographed as evidence is far too big to be hidden in a tooth. Moreover, a high-level British government document discovered in the early 2000s shows that orders had been given to the arresting British unit to kill Himmler and let his body vanish. Others claim that he was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere near Lüneburg. (See Allen 2005; Kollerstrom 2014.)