World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Heinrich Himmler
From Wikipedia
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler (pronounced [ˈhaɪnʁɪç ˈluˑɪtˌpɔlt ˈhɪmlɐ]  7 October 1900–23 May 1945) was Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) of Nazi Germany. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler later appointed him Commander of the Replacement (Home) Army and General Plenipotentiary for the entire Reich's administration (Generalbevollmächtigter für die Verwaltung). Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and one of the persons most directly responsible for the Holocaust.

As a member of a reserve battalion during World War I, Himmler did not see active service. He studied agronomy in college, and joined the Nazi Party in 1923 and the SS in 1925. In 1929, he was appointed Reichsführer-SS by Hitler. Himmler developed the SS into a powerful group with its own military, and, following Hitler's orders, set up and controlled the Nazi concentration camps. He was known to have good organisational skills and for selecting highly competent subordinates, such as Reinhard Heydrich in 1931. From 1943 forward, he was both
Chief of German Police and Minister of the Interior, overseeing all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo (Secret State Police).

On Hitler's behalf, Himmler formed the Einsatzgruppen and built extermination camps. As facilitator and overseer of the concentration camps, Himmler directed the killing of some six million Jews, between 200,000 and 500,000 Romani people, and other victims; the total number of civilians killed by the regime is estimated at eleven to fourteen million people.

Late in World War II, Hitler charged Himmler with the command of the Army Group Upper Rhine and the Army Group Vistula; he failed to achieve his assigned objectives and Hitler replaced him in these posts. Shortly before the end of the war, without the knowledge of Hitler, he attempted to open peace talks with the western Allies. Hearing of this, Hitler dismissed him from all his posts in April 1945. Upon realizing that the war was lost, Himmler attempted to go into hiding. He was detained and then arrested by British forces once his identity became known. While in British custody, he committed suicide on 23 May 1945.
Himmler aged 7
Early Life

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born in Munich on 7 October 1900 to a conservative Roman Catholic middle-class family. His father was Gebhard Himmler, a teacher, and his mother was Anna Maria Himmler (née Heyder), a devout Roman Catholic. His older brother, Gebhard Ludwig, was born in July 1898, and his younger brother, Ernst, was born in 1905.

Heinrich was named after his godfather, Prince Heinrich of Bavaria of the royal family of Bavaria, who was tutored by Gebhard Himmler. He attended a grammar school in Landshut where his father was deputy principal. While he did well in his schoolwork, he struggled in athletics. His health was poor, with lifelong stomach complaints and other ailments. He trained daily with weights as a youth and exercised to become stronger. Fellow students remembered him as studious, and awkward in social situations.

Himmler's diary, which he kept intermittently from age 10, shows that he took a keen interest in current events, dueling, and "the serious discussion of religion and sex". In 1915, he began training with the Landshut Cadet Corps. His father used his connections with the royal family to get Heinrich accepted as an officer candidate, and he enlisted with the reserve battalion of the 11th Bavarian Regiment in December 1917.
His brother, Gebhard, served on the western front and saw combat; he received the Iron Cross and was eventually promoted to lieutenant. In November 1918, while Himmler was still in training, the war ended with Germany's defeat, denying him the opportunity to become an officer or see combat. After his discharge on 18 December, he returned to Landshut.
After the war, Himmler completed his grammar-school education. From 1919–1922, he studied agronomy at the Munich Technische Hochschule (now Technical University Munich) following a brief apprenticeship on a farm and a subsequent illness.

Although many regulations that discriminated against non-Christians—including Jews and other minority groups—had been eliminated during the unification of Germany in 1871, antisemitism continued to exist and thrive in Germany and other parts of Europe. Himmler was antisemitic by the time he went to university, but not exceptionally so; students at his school would avoid their Jewish classmates. He remained a devoted Catholic while a student, and spent most of his leisure time with members of his fencing fraternity, the "League of Apollo", the president of which was Jewish. Himmler maintained a polite demeanor with him and with Jewish members of the fraternity, in spite of his growing antisemitism. During his second year at university, Himmler redoubled his attempts to pursue a military career. Although he was not successful, he was able to extend his involvement in the paramilitary scene in Munich. It was at this time that he first met Ernst Röhm, an early member of the Nazi party and co-founder of the Sturmabteilung ("Storm Battalion"; SA). Himmler admired Röhm because he was a decorated combat soldier, and at his suggestion, Himmler joined his antisemitic nationalist group, the Reichskriegsflagge.

In 1922, Himmler became more interested in the 'Jewish question', with his diary entries containing an increasing number of antisemitic remarks and recording a number of discussions about Jews with his classmates. His reading lists, as recorded in his diary, were dominated by antisemitic pamphlets, German myths, and occult tracts.[19] After the murder of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau on 24 June, Himmler's political views veered towards the radical right, and he took part in demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles. Hyperinflation was raging that summer, and his parents could no longer afford to keep all three sons in school. Disappointed by his failure to make a career in the military and his parents' inability to finance his doctoral studies, he was forced to take a low-paying office job after obtaining his agricultural diploma. He remained in this position until September 1923.

Nazi activist

Himmler joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in August 1923; his Party number was 14,303. As a member of Röhm's paramilitary unit, Himmler was involved in the Beer Hall Putsch—an unsuccessful attempt by Hitler and the NSDAP to seize power in Munich. This event would set Himmler on a life of politics. He was questioned by the police about his role in the putsch, but was not charged because of insufficient evidence. But he lost his job, was unable to find employment as an agronomist, and had to move in with his parents in Munich. Frustrated by these failures, he became ever more irritable, aggressive, and opinionated, alienating both friends and family members.

In 1923–24, Himmler, while searching for a world view, moved away from Catholicism and furthered his interest both in the occult and in antisemitism. Germanic mythology, reinforced by occult ideas, became a substitute religion for him. Himmler found the NSDAP appealing because its political positions agreed with his own views. Initially, he was not swept up by Hitler's charisma or the cult of Führer worship. As he learned more about Hitler through his reading, he began to regard him as a useful face of the party, and he later admired and even worshipped him. To consolidate and advance his own position in the NSDAP, Himmler took advantage of the disarray in the party following Hitler's arrest in the wake of the Beer Hall Putsch.[28] From mid-1924 he worked under Gregor Strasser as a party secretary and propaganda assistant. Travelling all over Bavaria agitating for the party, he gave speeches and distributed literature. Placed in charge of the party office in Lower Bavaria by Strasser from late 1924, he was responsible for integrating the area's membership with the NSDAP under Hitler when the party was re-founded in February 1925.

That same year, he joined the Schutzstaffel (SS) as an SS-Führer (SS-Leader); his SS number was 168. The SS, initially part of the much larger SA, was formed in 1923 for Hitler's personal protection, and was re-formed in 1925 as an elite unit of the SA. Himmler's first leadership position in the SS was that of SS-Gauführer (district leader) in Lower Bavaria from 1926. Strasser appointed Himmler deputy propaganda chief in January 1927. As was typical in the NSDAP, he had considerable freedom of action in his post, which increased over time. He began to collect statistics on the number of Jews, Freemasons, and enemies of the party, and following his strong need for control, he developed an elaborate bureaucracy. In September 1927, Himmler told Hitler of his vision to transform the SS into a loyal, powerful, racially-pure elite unit. Convinced that Himmler was the man for the job, Hitler appointed him Deputy Reichsführer-SS, with the rank of SS-Oberführer.

Around this time, Himmler joined the Artaman League, a Völkisch youth group. There he met Rudolf Höss, who was later commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, and Walther Darré, whose book, The Peasantry as the Life Source of the Nordic Race, caught Hitler's attention, leading to his later appointment as Reich Minister of Food and Agriculture. Darré was a firm believer in the superiority of the Nordic race, and his philosophy was a major influence on Himmler.

Rise in the SS

Upon the resignation of SS commander Erhard Heiden in 1929, Himmler assumed the position of Reichsführer-SS with Hitler's approval; he still carried out his duties at propaganda headquarters. One of his first responsibilities was to organise SS participants at the Nuremberg Rally that September. Over the next year, Himmler grew the SS from a force of about 290 men to about 3,000. By 1930 Himmler had persuaded Hitler to run the SS as a separate organisation, although it was still subordinate to the SA.

To gain political power, the NSDAP took advantage of the economic downturn during the Great Depression. The coalition government of the Weimar Republic was unable to improve the economy, so many voters turned to the NSDAP. Hitler used populist rhetoric, including blaming scapegoats—particularly the Jews—for the economic hardships. In the 1932 election, the Nazis won 37.3 percent of the vote and 230 seats in the Reichstag. Hitler led a short-lived coalition government and was appointed chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg on 30 January 1933. Hindenburg appointed Hermann Göring as minister without portfolio, Minister of the Interior for Prussia, and Reich Commissioner of Aviation, and named Wilhelm Frick as Reich Interior Minister.

Less than a month later, the Reichstag building was set on fire. Hitler took advantage of this event, forcing von Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended basic rights and allowed detention without trial. The Enabling Act, passed by the Reichstag in 1933, gave Hitler and his party full legislative powers, and the country became a de facto dictatorship. After the death of von Hindenburg in August 1934, the Reichstag appointed Hitler Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor); he thus became head of state as well as head of government. The post of president was eliminated.

The Nazi Party's rise to power provided Himmler and the SS an unfettered opportunity to thrive. By 1933, the SS numbered 52,000 members. Strict membership requirements ensured that all members were of Hitler's Aryan Herrenvolk ("Aryan master race"). Applicants were vetted for Nordic qualities—in Himmler's words, "like a nursery gardener trying to reproduce a good old strain which has been adulterated and debased; we started from the principles of plant selection and then proceeded quite unashamedly to weed out the men whom we did not think we could use for the build-up of the SS." Few dared mention that by his own standards, Himmler did not meet his own ideals.

Himmler's organised, bookish intellect served him well as he began setting up different SS departments. In 1931 he appointed Reinhard Heydrich chief of the new 'Ic Service' (intelligence service), which was renamed the Sicherheitsdienst (SD: Security Service) in 1932. He later officially appointed Heydrich his deputy. The two men had a good working relationship and a mutual respect. In 1933, they began to remove the SS from SA control. Along with Interior Minister Frick, they hoped to create a unified German police force. In March 1933, Reich Governor of Bavaria Franz Ritter von Epp appointed Himmler chief of the Munich Police. Himmler appointed Heydrich commander of Department IV, the political police. That same year, Hitler promoted Himmler to the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer, equal in rank to the senior SA commanders. Thereafter, Himmler and Heydrich took over the political police of state after state; soon only Prussia was controlled by Göring.

Himmler further established the SS Race and Settlement Main Office (Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt or RuSHA), a racist and antisemitic organisation. He appointed Darré as its first chief, with the rank of SS-Gruppenführer. The department implemented racial policies and monitored the "racial integrity" of the SS membership. SS men were carefully vetted for their racial background and were required to get racial certificates of any prospective spouses. Each man was issued a Sippenbuch, a genealogical record detailing his genetic history. Himmler expected that each SS marriage should produce at least four children, thus creating a pool of genetically superior prospective SS members. The programme had disappointing results; less than 40 per cent of SS men married and each produced only about one child.

In March 1933, less than three months after the Nazis seized power, Himmler set up the first official concentration camp at Dachau. Hitler had stated that he did not want it to be just another prison or detention camp. Himmler appointed Theodor Eicke, a convicted felon and ardent Nazi, to run the camp in June 1933. Eicke devised a system that was used as a model for future camps throughout Germany. Its features included isolation of victims from the outside world, elaborate roll calls and work details, the use of force and executions to extract obedience, and a strict disciplinary code for the guards. Uniforms were issued for prisoners and guards alike; the guards' uniforms had a special death's head insignia on their collars. By the end of 1934, Himmler took control of the camps under the aegis of the SS, creating a separate division, the SS-Totenkopfverbände.

Initially the camps housed political opponents; over time, undesirable members of German society—criminals, vagrants, deviants—were placed in the camps as well. A Hitler decree issued in December 1937 allowed for the incarceration of anyone deemed by the regime to be an undesirable member of society. This included Jews, Gypsies, communists, and those persons of any other cultural, racial, political, or religious affiliation deemed by the Nazis to be Untermensch (sub-human). Thus, the camps became a mechanism for social and racial engineering. By the outbreak of World War II in autumn 1939, there were six camps housing some 27,000 inmates. Death tolls were high.

Consolidation of power

In early 1934, Hitler and other Nazi leaders became concerned that Röhm was planning a coup d'état. Röhm had socialist and populist views, and believed that the real revolution had not yet begun. He felt that the SA—now numbering some three million men—should become the sole arms-bearing corps of the state, and that the army should be absorbed into the SA under his leadership. Röhm lobbied Hitler to appoint him Minister of Defence, a position held by conservative General Werner von Blomberg.
On 30 November 1933, Göring had established a Prussian police force, called the Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo, and appointed Rudolf Diels as its head. Göring, concerned that Diels was not ruthless enough to use the Gestapo effectively to counteract the power of the SA, handed over its control to Himmler on 20 April 1934.

 Also on that date, Hitler appointed Himmler chief of all German police outside Prussia. Heydrich, named chief of the Gestapo by Himmler on 22 April 1934, also continued as head of the SD.
Hitler decided on 21 June that Röhm and the SA leadership had to be eliminated. He sent Göring to Berlin on 29 June, to meet with Himmler and Heydrich to plan the action. Hitler took charge in Munich, where Röhm was arrested; he gave Röhm the choice to commit suicide or be shot. When Röhm refused to kill himself, he was shot dead by two SS officers. Between 85 to 200 members of the SA leadership and other political adversaries, including Gregor Strasser, were killed between 30 June and 2 July 1934 in these actions, known as the Night of the Long Knives. With the SA thus neutralised, the SS became an independent organisation from 20 July 1934, responsible only to Hitler, and Himmler's title of Reichsführer-SS became the highest formal SS rank. The SA was converted into a sports and training organisation.

On 15 September 1935, Hitler presented two laws—known as the Nuremberg Laws—to the Reichstag. The laws banned marriage between non-Jewish and Jewish Germans and forbade the employment of non-Jewish women under the age of 45 in Jewish households. The laws also deprived so-called "non-Aryans" of the benefits of German citizenship. These laws were among the first race-based measures instituted by the Third Reich.

Himmler and Heydrich wanted to extend the power of the SS; thus, they urged Hitler to form a national police force overseen by the SS, to guard Nazi Germany against its many enemies at the time—real and imagined. Interior Minister Frick also wanted a national police force, but one controlled by him, with Kurt Daluege as his police chief. Hitler left it to Himmler and Heydrich to work out the arrangements with Frick. Himmler and Heydrich had greater bargaining power, as they were allied with Frick's old enemy, Göring. Heydrich drew up a set of proposals and Himmler sent him to meet with Frick. An angry Frick then consulted with Hitler, who told him to agree to the proposals. Frick acquiesced, and on 17 June 1936 Hitler appointed Himmler as Chief of German Police and decreed the unification of all police forces. In this role, Himmler was still nominally subordinate to Frick, but the de facto power was now in the hands of Himmler. This move gave Himmler operational control over Germany's entire detective force. He also gained authority over all of Germany's uniformed law enforcement agencies, which were amalgamated into the new Ordnungspolizei (Orpo: "order police"), which became a branch of the SS under Daluege.

Shortly thereafter, Himmler created the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo: criminal police), merging it with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo: security police), under Heydrich's command.[78] In September 1939, following the outbreak of World War II, Himmler formed the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA: Reich Main Security Office) to bring the SiPo (which included the Gestapo and Kripo) and the SD together under one umbrella. He again placed Heydrich in command.

Under Himmler's leadership, the SS developed its own military branch, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), which later evolved into the Waffen-SS. Nominally under the authority of Himmler, the Waffen-SS developed a fully militarised structure of command and operations. It grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions during World War II, serving alongside the Heer (army), but never being formally part of it.

In addition to his military ambitions, Himmler established the beginnings of a parallel economy under the umbrella of the SS. To this end, administrator Oswald Pohl set up the Deutsche Wirtschaftsbetriebe (German Economic Enterprise) in 1940. Under the auspices of the SS Economy and Administration Head Office, this holding company owned housing corporations, factories, and publishing houses. Pohl was unscrupulous and quickly exploited the companies for personal gain. In contrast, Himmler was very honest in matters of money and business.

In 1938, as part of his preparations for war, Hitler ended the German alliance with China, and entered into an agreement with the more modern Japan. That same year, Austria was unified with Nazi Germany in the Anschluss, and the Munich Agreement gave Nazi Germany control over the Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia. Hitler's primary motivations for war included obtaining additional Lebensraum ("living space") for the Germanic peoples, who were considered racially superior according to Nazi ideology. A second goal was the elimination of those considered racially inferior, particularly the Jews and Slavs, from territories controlled by the Reich. From 1933 to 1938, hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrated to the United States, Palestine, Great Britain, and other countries. Some converted to Christianity.

PoW Camp in Russia
World War II

When Hitler and his army chiefs asked for a pretext for the invasion of Poland in 1939, Himmler, Heydrich, and Heinrich Müller masterminded and carried out a false flag project code-named Operation Himmler. German soldiers dressed in Polish uniforms undertook border skirmishes that deceptively suggested Polish aggression against Germany. The incidents were then used in Nazi propaganda to justify the invasion of Poland, the opening event of World War II.  At the beginning of the war against Poland, Hitler authorised the killing of Polish civilians, including Jews and ethnic Poles. The Einsatzgruppen (SS task forces) had been originally formed by Heydrich to secure government papers and offices in areas taken over by Germany before World War II. Authorised by Hitler and under the direction of Himmler and Heydrich, the Einsatzgruppen units—now repurposed as death squads—followed the Heer (army) into Poland, and by the end of 1939 they had murdered some 65,000 intellectuals and other civilians. Militias and Heer units also took part in these killings. Under Himmler's orders via the RSHA, these squads were also tasked with rounding up Jews and others for placement in ghettos and concentration camps.

Germany subsequently invaded France, Denmark and Norway, and the Netherlands, and began bombing Great Britain in preparation for an invasion. On 21 June 1941, the day before invasion of the Soviet Union, Himmler commissioned the preparation of the Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East); the plan was finalised in July 1942. It called for the Baltic States, Poland, western Ukraine, and Byelorussia to be conquered and resettled by ten million German citizens. The current residents—some 31 million people—would be expelled further east, starved, or used for forced labour. The plan would have extended the border of Germany a thousand kilometres to the east (620 miles). Himmler expected that it would take twenty to thirty years to complete the plan, at a cost of 67 billion Reichsmarks. Himmler stated openly: "It is a question of existence, thus it will be a racial struggle of pitiless severity, in the course of which 20 to 30 million Slavs and Jews will perish through military actions and crises of food supply."

Himmler, declaring that the war in the east was a pan-European crusade to defend the traditional values of old Europe from the "godless Bolshevik hordes", attracted volunteers from all over Europe for the Waffen-SS.[94] He initially selected recruits from northern and western Europe—from Scandinavia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Flanders, the Netherlands, and Switzerland—that he thought to be racially closest to Germans. Spain and Italy also provided men for Waffen-SS units. Among western countries, the number of volunteers varied from a high of 50,000 from the Netherlands to 300 each from Sweden and Switzerland. From the east, the highest number of men came Lithuania (50,000) and the lowest from Bulgaria (600). After 1943 most men from the east were conscripts. The performance of the eastern Waffen-SS units was, as a whole, sub-standard.

In the fall of 1941, Hitler named Heydrich as Deputy Reich Protector of the newly established Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich began to racially classify the Czechs, deporting many to concentration camps. Members of a swelling resistance were shot, earning Heydrich the nickname "the Butcher of Prague". This appointment strengthened the collaboration between Himmler and Heydrich, and Himmler was proud to have SS control over a state. Despite having direct access to Hitler, Heydrich's loyalty to Himmler remained firm.

With Hitler's approval, Himmler re-established the Einsatzgruppen in the lead-up to the planned invasion of the Soviet Union. In March 1941, Hitler addressed his army leaders, detailing his intention to smash the Soviet Empire and destroy the Bolshevik intelligentsia and leadership. His special directive, the "Guidelines in Special Spheres re Directive No. 21 (Operation Barbarossa)", read: "In the operations area of the army, the Reichsführer-SS has been given special tasks on the orders of the Führer, in order to prepare the political administration. These tasks arise from the forthcoming final struggle of two opposing political systems. Within the framework of these tasks, the Reichsführer-SS acts independently and on his own responsibility." Hitler thus intended to prevent internal friction like that occurring earlier in Poland in 1939, when several German Army generals had attempted to bring Einsatzgruppen leaders to trial for the murders they had committed.

Following the army into the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen rounded up and killed Jews and others deemed undesirable by the Nazi state. Hitler was sent frequent reports.[103] In addition, 2.8 million Soviet prisoners of war died of starvation, mistreatment, or executions in just eight months of 1941–42. As many as 500,000 Soviet prisoners of war died or were executed in Nazi concentration camps over the course of the war; most of them were shot or gassed. By spring 1941, following Himmler's orders, ten concentration camps had been constructed in which inmates were subjected to forced labour.[106] Jews from all over Germany and the occupied territories were deported to the camps or confined to ghettos. As the Germans were pushed back from Moscow in December 1941, signalling that the invasion of the Soviet Union had failed, Hitler and other Nazi officials realised that mass deportations to the east would no longer be possible. As a result, instead of deportation, many Jews in Europe were destined for death.

The Holocaust

Nazi racial policies, including the notion that people who were racially inferior had no right to live, date back to the earliest days of the party; Hitler discusses this in Mein Kampf. Somewhere around the time of the German declaration of war on the United States in December 1941, Hitler finally resolved that the Jews of Europe were to be "exterminated". Heydrich arranged a meeting, held on 20 January 1942 at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin. Attended by top Nazi officials, it was used to outline the plans for the "final solution to the Jewish question". Heydrich detailed how those Jews able to work would be worked to death; those unable to work would be killed outright. Heydrich calculated the number of Jews to be killed at 11 million, and told the attendees that Hitler had placed Himmler in charge of the plan.

In June 1942, Heydrich was assassinated in Prague in an operation led by Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, members of Czechoslovakia's army-in-exile who had been trained by the British Special Operations Executive. During the two funeral services, Himmler—the chief mourner—took charge of Heydrich's two young sons, and he gave the eulogy in Berlin. On 9 June, after discussions with Himmler and Karl Hermann Frank, Hitler ordered brutal reprisals for Heydrich's death. Over 13,000 people were arrested, and the village of Lidice was razed to the ground; its male inhabitants and all adults in the village of Ležáky were murdered. At least 1,300 people were executed by firing squads. Himmler took over leadership of the RSHA and stepped up the pace of the killing of European Jewry in Aktion Reinhard (Operation Reinhard), named in Heydrich's honour.[115] He ordered the Aktion Reinhard camps—the first extermination camps—to be constructed at Bełżec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.

Initially the victims were killed with gas vans or by firing squad, but these methods proved impracticable for an operation of this scale. In August 1941, Himmler attended the shooting of 100 Jews at Minsk. Just after the event, he vomited. After regaining his composure, Himmler decided that alternate methods of killing should be found. He told Heydrich that he was concerned for the mental health of the SS men. On his orders, by spring 1942 the camp at Auschwitz had been greatly expanded, including the addition of gas chambers, where victims were killed using the pesticide Zyklon B. By the end of the war, at least 5.5 million Jews had been killed by the Nazi regime;[121] most estimates range closer to six million.

Himmler visited the camp at Sobibor in early 1943, by which time 250,000 people had been killed at that location alone. After witnessing a gassing, he gave 28 people promotions, and ordered the operation of the camp to be wound down. In a revolt that October, prisoners killed most of the guards and SS personnel, and 300 prisoners escaped. Two hundred managed to get away; some joined partisan units operating in the area. The remainder were killed. The camp was dismantled by December 1943.

Himmler was a main architect of the Holocaust, using his deep belief in the racist Nazi ideology to justify the murder of millions of victims. Hitler and the Nazi regime had similar plans for the Poles; intellectuals were to be killed, and most other Poles were to be only given a fourth-grade education. The Nazis wanted to breed a master race of "Nordic Aryans" in Germany. As an agronomist and farmer Himmler was acquainted with the principles of selective breeding, which he proposed to apply to humans. He believed that he could engineer the German populace, for example, through eugenics, to be Nordic in appearance within several decades of the end of the war.

20 July plot

On 20 July 1944, a group of German army officers led by Claus von Stauffenberg and including some of the highest-ranked members of the German armed forces attempted to assassinate Hitler, but failed to do so. The next day, Himmler formed a special commission that arrested over 5,000 suspected and known opponents of the regime. Hitler ordered brutal reprisals that resulted in the execution of more than 4,900 people. Though Himmler was embarrassed by his failure to uncover the plot, it led to an increase in his powers and authority.

General Friedrich Fromm, commander-in-chief of the Reserve (or Replacement) Army (Ersatzheer) and Stauffenberg's immediate superior, was one of those implicated in the conspiracy. Hitler removed Fromm from his post and named Himmler as his successor. Since the Reserve Army consisted of two million men, Himmler hoped to draw on these reserves to fill posts within the Waffen-SS. He appointed Hans Jüttner, director of the SS Leadership Main Office, as his deputy, and began to fill top Reserve Army posts with SS men. By November 1944 Himmler had merged the army officer recruitment department with that of the Waffen-SS and had successfully lobbied for an increase in the quotas for recruits to the SS.

By this time, Hitler had appointed Himmler as Minister of the Interior and Plenipotentiary General for Administration (Generalbevollmächtigter für die Verwaltung). In August 1944 Hitler authorised him to restructure the organisation and administration of the Waffen-SS, the army, and the police services. As head of the Reserve Army, Himmler was now responsible for prisoners of war. He was also in charge of the Wehrmacht penal system, and controlled the development of Wehrmacht armaments until January 1945.

Military commander
On 6 June 1944 the Western Allied armies landed in northern France during Operation Overlord. In response, Army Group Upper Rhine (Heeresgruppe Oberrhein) group was formed to engage the advancing U.S. 7th Army (under command of General Alexander Patch) and French 1st Army (led by General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny) in the Alsace region along the west bank of the Rhine. In late 1944, Hitler appointed Himmler commander-in-chief of Army Group Upper Rhine.

On 26 September 1944 Hitler ordered Himmler to create special army units, the Volkssturm ("People's Storm"). All men between the ages of sixteen and sixty were required to join, over the protests of Armaments Minister Albert Speer, who noted that irreplaceable skilled workers were being removed from armaments production. In October 1944, children as young as fourteen were being enlisted. Because of severe shortages in weapons and equipment and lack of training, members of the Volkssturm were poorly prepared for combat, and about 175,000 of them lost their lives in the final months of the war.

On 1 January 1945 Hitler and his generals launched Operation North Wind (Unternehmen Nordwind). The goal was to break through the lines of the U.S. 7th Army and French 1st Army to support the southern thrust in the Ardennes offensive, the final major German offensive of the war. After limited initial gains by the Germans, the Americans halted the offensive. By 25 January, Operation North Wind had officially ended.

On 25 January 1945, in spite of Himmler's lack of military experience, Hitler appointed him as commander of the hastily-formed Army Group Vistula (Heeresgruppe Weichsel) to halt the Soviet Red Army's Vistula–Oder Offensive into Pomerania. Himmler established his command centre at Schneidemühl, using his special train, Sonderzug Steiermark, as his headquarters. The train had only one telephone line, inadequate maps, and no signal detachment or radios with which to establish communication and relay military orders. Himmler seldom left the train, only worked about four hours per day, and insisted on a daily massage and a lengthy nap afterwards.

 He was unable to devise any viable plans for completion of the military objectives. Under pressure from Hitler over the worsening military situation, Himmler became anxious and unable to give him coherent reports. Hitler was unwilling to admit that his choice of commander had been inadequate. After an intense argument with General Heinz Guderian, who insisted on a change of command of the Army Group Vistula, Hitler assigned General Walther Wenck to Himmler's headquarters to take over command of a limited counter-offensive; Hitler then observed that it was not possible for him to move the troops needed for Guderian's planned double pincer attack from neighbouring regions.

When the counter-attack failed to stop the Soviet advance, Hitler held Himmler personally liable and accused him of not following orders. Himmler's tenure as a military commander ended on 20 March, when Hitler replaced him with General Gotthard Heinrici as Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula. By this time Himmler, who had been under the care of his doctor since 18 February, had fled to a sanatorium at Hohenlychen. Hitler sent Guderian on a forced medical leave of absence, and he resigned his post as chief of staff to Hans Krebs on 29 March. Himmler's failure and Hitler's response marked a serious deterioration in the relationship between the two men. By that time, the inner circle of people which Hitler trusted was rapidly shrinking.

Capture and death
Unwanted by his former colleagues and hunted by the Allies, Himmler attempted to go into hiding. He had not made extensive preparations for this, but he had equipped himself with a forged paybook under the name of Sergeant Heinrich Hitzinger. With a small band of companions, he headed south on 11 May to Friedrichskoog, without a final destination in mind. They continued on to Neuhaus, where the group split up. Himmler and two aides were stopped at a checkpoint on 21 May and detained. Over the following two days he was moved around to several camps, and was brought to the British 31st Civilian Interrogation Camp near Lüneburg on 23 May.

The duty officer, Captain Selvester, began a routine interrogation. Himmler admitted who he was, and Selvester had the prisoner searched. He was taken to the headquarters of the Second British Army in Lüneburg, where Doctor Wells conducted a medical exam. The doctor attempted to examine the inside of Himmler's mouth, but the prisoner was reluctant to open it and jerked his head away. Himmler then bit into a hidden cyanide pill and collapsed onto the floor. He was dead within fifteen minutes. Shortly afterward, Himmler's body was buried in an unmarked grave near Lüneburg. The precise location of the grave remains unknown.