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6 January 1929 – 29 April 1945
Leader Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Erhard Heiden
Succeeded by Karl Hanke
Chief of German Police in the Reich Ministry of the Interior
In office: 17 June 1936 – 29 April 1945
Leader Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Karl Hanke
Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of German Nationhood
In office: 7 October 1939 – 29 April 1945
Leader Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Office abolished
Director of the Reich Main Security Office (acting)
In office: 4 June 1942 – 30 January 1943
Preceded by Reinhard Heydrich
Succeeded by Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Reich Minister of the Interior
In office: 24 August 1943 – 29 April 1945
Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Wilhelm Frick
Succeeded by Wilhelm Stuckart
Born Heinrich Luitpold Himmler
7 October 1900
Munich, Kingdom of Bavaria, Germany
Died 23 May 1945 (aged 44)
Lüneburg, Lower Saxony, Germany
Political party National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP)
Spouse(s) Margarete Boden (m. 1928)
Gebhard Ludwig Himmler (older brother)
Ernst Hermann Himmler (younger brother)
Gudrun (born 8 August 1929 in Munich)
Helge (born 15 February 1942)
Nanette Dorothea (born 20 July 1944 at Berchtesgaden)
Alma mater Technische Universität München
Cabinet Hitler Cabinet
Religion Neo pagan
Allegiance German Empire German Empire
Years of service 1917–18
Unit 11th Bavarian Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars World War I
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler (German: [ˈhaɪnʁɪç ˈluˑɪtˌpɔlt ˈhɪmlɐ] ( listen); 7 October 1900 – 23 May 1945) was Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron; SS), and a leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) of Nazi Germany. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler briefly appointed him a military commander and later Commander of the Replacement (Home) Army and General Plenipotentiary for the administration of the entire Third Reich (Generalbevollmächtigter für die Verwaltung). Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and one of the people 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. Over the next 16 years, he developed the SS from a mere 290-man battalion into a million-strong paramilitary group, 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 onwards, 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). Himmler had a lifelong interest in occultism, interpreting Germanic neopagan and Völkisch beliefs to promote the racial policy of Nazi Germany, and incorporating esoteric symbolism and rituals into the SS.
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. Most of them were Polish and Soviet citizens.
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. Realising that the war was lost, he attempted to open peace talks with the western Allies without Hitler's knowledge shortly before the war ended. Hearing of this, Hitler dismissed him from all his posts in April 1945 and ordered his arrest. Himmler attempted to go into hiding, but was detained and then arrested by British forces once his identity became known. While in British custody, he committed suicide on 23 May 1945.
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was born in Munich on 7 October 1900 into a conservative middle-class Roman Catholic family. His father was Gebhard Himmler (17 May 1865 – 29 October 1936), a teacher, and his mother was Anna Maria Himmler (née Heyder; 16 January 1866 – 10 September 1941), a devout Roman Catholic. Heinrich had two brothers, Gebhard Ludwig (29 July 1898 – 1982) and Ernst Hermann (23 December 1905 – 2 May 1945).
Himmler's first name, Heinrich, was that of his godfather, Prince Heinrich of Bavaria, a member of the royal family of Bavaria, who had been 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. He had poor health, suffering from lifelong stomach complaints and other ailments. In his youth he trained daily with weights and exercised to become stronger. Other boys at the school later remembered him as studious and awkward in social situations.
Himmler's diary, which he kept intermittently from the age of ten, 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 Himmler 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, receiving the Iron Cross and eventually being 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 to 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 other 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 Bund Reichskriegsflagge (Imperial War Flag Society).
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. 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 educate all three sons. 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.
Himmler in early SS uniform, with rank of Oberführer
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. However, 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, came to abandon Catholicism and focused on the occult and in antisemitism. Germanic mythology, reinforced by occult ideas, became a 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. 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
Himmler in 1929, photograph by Heinrich Hoffmann.
Upon the resignation of SS commander Erhard Heiden in January 1929, Himmler assumed the position of Reichsführer-SS with Hitler's approval;[a] 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 officially 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 political extreme, which included 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 was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg on 30 January 1933, heading a short-lived coalition of his Nazis and the German National People's Party. The new cabinet initially included only three members of the NSDAP: Hitler, Hermann Göring as minister without portfolio and Minister of the Interior for Prussia, and 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 the Cabinet—in practice, Hitler—full legislative powers, and the country became a de facto dictatorship. On 1 August 1934, Hitler's cabinet passed a law which stipulated that upon von Hindenburg's death, the office of president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the chancellor. Von Hindenburg died the next morning, and Hitler became both head of state and head of government under the title Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor).
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. On 31 December 1931, Himmler introduced the "marriage order", which required SS men wishing to marry to produce family trees proving that both families were of Aryan descent to 1800. If any non-Aryan forebears were found in either family tree during the racial investigation, the person concerned was excluded from the SS. 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.
Himmler (front right, beside prisoner) visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp in 1936
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 Totenkopf (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, far dwarfing the army—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.
Göring had created a Prussian secret police force, the Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo in 1933, 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. This was a radical departure from long-standing German practice that law enforcement was a state and local matter. 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 answerable only to Hitler on 20 July 1934. Himmler's title of Reichsführer-SS became the highest formal SS rank, equivalent to a field marshal in the army. The SA was converted into a sports and training organisation.
Himmler and Rudolf Hess at Dachau in 1936, viewing a scale model of the camp.
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 decreed the unification of all police forces in the Reich, and named Himmler Chief of German Police. In this role, Himmler was still nominally subordinate to Frick. In practice, however, the police was now effectively a division of the SS, and hence independent of Frick's control. 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) as the umbrella organisation for all criminal investigation agencies in Germany. The Kripo was merged with the Gestapo into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo: security police), under Heydrich's command. 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.
Himmler, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, and other SS officials visiting Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941
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 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.
Himmler saw a main task of the SS to be that of "acting as the vanguard in overcoming Christianity and restoring a 'Germanic' way of living" as part of preparations for the coming conflict between "humans and subhumans". Himmler biographer Peter Longerich wrote that, while the Nazi movement as a whole launched itself against Jews and Communists, "by linking de-Christianisation with re-Germanization, Himmler had provided the SS with a goal and purpose all of its own." Himmler was vehemently opposed to Christian sexual morality and the "principle of Christian mercy", both of which he saw as a dangerous obstacle to his plans battle with "subhumans". In 1937, Himmler declared:
We live in an era of the ultimate conflict with Christianity. It is part of the mission of the SS to give the German people in the next half century the non-Christian ideological foundations on which to lead and shape their lives. This task does not consist solely in overcoming an ideological opponent but must be accompanied at every step by a positive impetus: in this case that means the reconstruction of the German heritage in the widest and most comprehensive sense.
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.
Himmler inspects a prisoner of war camp in Russia, circa 1941
Germany subsequently invaded Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands, and France, 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's declared that the war in the east was a pan-European crusade to defend the traditional values of old Europe from the "Godless Bolshevik hordes". Constantly struggling with the Wehrmacht for recruits, Himmler solved this problem through the creation of Waffen-SS units composed of Germanic folk groups taken from the Balkans and eastern Europe. Equally vital were recruits from among the Germanic considered peoples from northern and western Europe in the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and Finland. Spain and Italy also provided men for Waffen-SS units. Among western countries, the number of volunteers varied from a high of 25,000 from the Netherlands to 300 each from Sweden and Switzerland. From the east, the highest number of men came from 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. 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. 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.
Jews on selection ramp at Auschwitz, May 1944
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 Jews in Aktion Reinhard (Operation Reinhard), named in Heydrich's honour. He ordered the Aktion Reinhard camps—the first extermination camps—to be constructed at Bełżec, Sobibór, 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. Nauseated and shaken by the experience, he was concerned about the impact such actions would have on the mental health of his SS men. He decided that alternate methods of killing should be found. 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; most estimates range closer to six million. Himmler visited the camp at Sobibór 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. The Nazis planned to kill Polish intellectuals and restrict non-Germans in the General Government and conquered territories to a fourth-grade education. The Nazis wanted to breed a master race of racially pure 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.
On 4 October 1943, during a secret meeting with top SS officials in the city of Poznań (Posen), and on 6 October 1943, in a speech to the party elite—the Gau and Reich leaders—Himmler referred explicitly to the "extermination" (German: Ausrottung) of the Jewish people. A translated excerpt from the speech of 4 October reads:
I also want to refer here very frankly to a very difficult matter. We can now very openly talk about this among ourselves, and yet we will never discuss this publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on 30 June 1934, to perform our duty as ordered and put comrades who had failed up against the wall and execute them, we also never spoke about it, nor will we ever speak about it. Let us thank God that we had within us enough self-evident fortitude never to discuss it among us, and we never talked about it. Every one of us was horrified, and yet every one clearly understood that we would do it next time, when the order is given and when it becomes necessary.
I am now referring to the evacuation of the Jews, to the extermination of the Jewish People. This is something that is easily said: 'The Jewish People will be exterminated', says every party member, 'this is very obvious, it is in our program — elimination of the Jews, extermination, a small matter.' And then they turn up, the upstanding 80 million Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. They say the others are all swines, but this particular one is a splendid Jew. But none has observed it, endured it. Most of you here know what it means when 100 corpses lie next to each other, when there are 500 or when there are 1,000. To have endured this and at the same time to have remained a decent person — with exceptions due to human weaknesses — has made us tough, and is a glorious chapter that has not and will not be spoken of. Because we know how difficult it would be for us if we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and rabble-rousers in every city, what with the bombings, with the burden and with the hardships of the war. If the Jews were still part of the German nation, we would most likely arrive now at the state we were at in 1916 and '17 ... 
Hitler's motivation for authorising Himmler's speeches was to ensure that all party leaders were made aware of these plans and actions. Thus, it would be impossible for them to later deny knowledge of the killings. Because the Allies had indicated that they were going to pursue criminal charges for German war crimes, Hitler tried to gain the loyalty and silence of his subordinates by making them all parties to the planned genocide.
As Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of German Nationhood (RKFDV) with the incorporated VoMi Himmler was deeply involved in the Germanization program for the East, particularly Poland. As laid out in the General Plan for the East, the aim was to enslave, expel or exterminate the native population and to make Lebensraum ("living space") for Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans). He continued his plans to colonise the east, even when many Germans were reluctant to relocate there, and despite negative effects on the war effort.
Himmler's racial groupings began with the Volksliste, the classification of people deemed of German blood. These included Germans who had collaborated with Germany before the war, but also those who considered themselves German but had been neutral; those who were partially "Polonized" but "Germanizable"; and Germans who were of Polish nationality. Himmler ordered that those who refused to be classified as ethnic Germans should be deported to concentration camps, have their children taken away, or be assigned to forced labour. Himmler's belief that "it is in the nature of German blood to resist" led to his conclusion that Balts or Slavs who resisted Germanization were racially superior to more compliant ones. He declared that no drop of German blood would be lost or left behind to mingle with an "alien race".
The plan also included the kidnapping of Eastern European children by Nazi Germany. Himmler urged:
Obviously in such a mixture of peoples, there will always be some racially good types. Therefore, I think that it is our duty to take their children with us, to remove them from their environment, if necessary by robbing, or stealing them. Either we win over any good blood that we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people, ... or we destroy that blood.
The "racially valuable" children were to be removed from all contact with Poles, and raised as Germans, with German names. Himmler declared, "We have faith above all in this our own blood, which has flowed into a foreign nationality through the vicissitudes of German history. We are convinced that our own philosophy and ideals will reverberate in the spirit of these children who racially belong to us." The children were to be adopted by German families. Children who passed muster at first but were later rejected were taken to a ghetto in Łódź, where most of them eventually died.
By January 1943, Himmler reported that 629,000 ethnic Germans had been resettled; however, most resettled Germans did not live in the envisioned small farms, but in temporary camps or quarters in towns. Half a million residents of the annexed Polish territories, as well as from Slovenia, Alsace, Lorraine, and Luxembourg were deported to the General Government or sent to Germany as slave labour. Himmler instructed that the German nation should view all foreign workers brought to Germany as a danger to their German blood. In accordance with German racial laws, sexual relations between Germans and foreigners were forbidden as Rassenschande (race defilement).
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.