Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Himmler from the Dark Valley

During these years Himmler's devotion to Hitler was absolute: he clicked his heels when answering his master on the telephone and was sometimes seen in rapt communion with a picture of the Fiihrer on his office wall. Himmler was both crank and clerk, visionary and pedant. The SS, combining spurious mysticism with organised murder, reflected its author's character. Sometimes its members were known as the Nazi Jesuits. Certainly Himmler, who had been brought up a Roman Catholic though he was later to call for the Pope's public execution, admired the black-cassocked society's discipline. The Fuhrer even went so far as to call him "our Ignatius de Loyola."" But Himmler also drew inspiration, in fashioning his elite, from the myths of King Arthur and the sagas of the Teutonic Knights. He developed an SS code of honour, including rules for duelling and committing suicide. As well as oath-taking ceremonies for initiates, he evolved a series of pseudo-chivalric, neo-pagan rituals to be performed in his medieval castle at Wewelsburg in the mountain forests of Westphalia. Here 12 senior SS paladins would sit round Himmler's mas-sive oaken table in high-backed, pigskin-covered chairs inscribed with their occupants' names on silver plates and engage in something like a secular seance. Himmler apparently believed that he had the power to summon up the spirits of the dead and he seems at times to have regarded himself as the reincarnation of one of them, the Dark Age German King, Henry the Fowler.

Himmler also dabbled in astrology, mesmerism and homoeopathy. He favoured herbal remedies—every concentration camp perforce had its herbal garden. He also foisted his food fads on subordinates, urging the saving properties of porridge, mineral water and wild mare's milk. Above all Himmler insisted on the redemptive quality of blood, blood generated on German soil. This magic fluid he invoked with solemn incantation: "Only good blood, blood which history has proved to be leading and cre-ative and the foundation of every state and of all military activities, only Nordic blood, can be considered." So Himmler recruited the "purest" pos-sible specimens of the master-race, who were permitted to marry only their female counterparts. However, what these bogus notions of biologi-cal supremacy chiefly spawned was a sanguinary contempt for lesser breeds, "the offal of criminals and freaks . . . [with] slave-like souls."82. These "sub-humans" were fit only for the concentration and extermina-tion camps. It was in the organisation of these "mills of deat03 that Himmler really fulfilled himself. Here was his proper memorial, for here the bloodless bureaucrat united with the bloodthirsty fantasist to produce an unprecedented apparatus of mass murder. The first concentration camp proper, run by the SS, was established in March 1933 around a derelict explosives factory at Dachau near Munich. In fact Dachau, the largest of its kind, became the generic name and the model for all camps during the 1930s. At first the 2,000 or so prisoners were housed in bare concrete huts once occupied by the munitions work-ers. These were ringed by a wall, barbed wire, machine-guns on watch-towers and a high-voltage electric fence. But in 1937 the inmates, at this stage mostly political prisoners leavened with Jews, constructed an elabo-rate new camp as well as comfortable living quarters for the SS guards nearby. This camp contained bunk-filled barracks, showers, kitchens, stores, workshops, punishment cells, an infirmary and a smart red-brick crematorium. Its main gate bore the legend 'Arbeit Macht Frei" Labour Brings Liberty.
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Goebbels later attributed Nazi triumphs to the "ritual of great party occasions" which had enabled him to foster the Fuhrer cult and bestow on Hitler "the halo of infallibility." In fact most Germans, though they gave Hitler credit for restoring national fortunes, probably did not succumb to the power of mass suggestion. There was strong subliminal resistance even to the most fundamental Nazi dogmas—jokers defined an Aryan as the "hind quarters of a prolet-aryan."' But some Germans were half-convinced, possessing genuine faith in Hitler while knowing it to be groundless: Ambassador Andre Francois-Poncet declared that "in no other race was sincerity so allied to mendacity."' Moreover, many people really did worship the Fiihrer. Typically they confessed their creed in quite straightforward terms: "My belief is that our Leader, Adolf Hitler, was given by fate to the German nation as our Saviour, bringing light into darkness."1°9 Attending the Passion Play at Oberammergau, the American Ambassador found that Hitler was identified with Jesus and Rohm with Judas—the only character played by a Jew. At Nuremberg, too, doxology alternated with demonology: Hitler chose the next rally, in September 1935, to promulgate the infamous laws depriving Jews of citizenship and civil rights. To protect "German Blood and German Honour,"" the Nuremberg Decrees also prohibited them from marrying Aryans. Foreign opinion was outraged by this "cold pogrom." "There has never been anything quite like it in the history of the world," expostulated Lord Beaverbrook's Sunday Express. The physical excesses of 1933 continue. Jews are still murdered in the concentration camps; they are still beaten in the streets, and are still paraded through the towns with defamatory placards round their necks. But from this week-end the screw tightens . . . There is nothing [German Jews] can do except run round helplessly in circles until they die."'
Hitler was indifferent to such sentiments. The announcement of the Nuremberg laws was a sign of sublime self-confidence, for the year between these two rallies had been one of almost unalloyed success for the Fuhrer. Admittedly there were still economic difficulties, but this did not worry
Hitler, who believed that it was enough to abolish "the feeling of hardship" by stimulating faith in the Vo/k." That certainly seemed an effective strategy in January 1935, when the inhabitants of the Saar, the coal-rich region detached from Germany at Versailles, voted to return by an overwhelming majority. Hitler thereupon renounced German claims to Alsace and Lor-raine, taking the sting out of French resentment and concealing a real advance by a rhetorical retreat. This was one of his prime diplomatic tech-niques and it frequently wrong-footed the other European powers. In March he responded to the announcement of British and French defence plans, themselves a reaction to his own rearmament, by instituting con-scription, with the declared intention of creating an army of over 500,000 men. He also confirmed the existence of a German air force which, he mendaciously told Sir John Simon, was equal to that of Britain. Once again the Fiihrer issued a verbal smokescreen. In a conciliatory speech he stressed Germany's wish for peace and exploited the guilt which nagged its former enemies over the Carthaginian peace. Faced with the repudiation of Versailles, Britain and France first dithered and then reached an accord with Italy at Stresa. Hitler demolished it with ease. Playing on pacifist pressures in Britain and the desperate wish of its government to inveigle Germany into some sort of arms limitation framework, he negotiated an Anglo-German naval agreement. Its provisions, restricting German strength to 35 per cent of Britain's surface fleet (but allowing parity in submarines), hampered his programme of naval expansion not at all. Instead, the signing of this agreement ended the period of isolation which Germany had suffered fol-lowing its withdrawal from the League, marked the "first triumph" of Nazi diplomacy,u3 and provided Hitler with the happiest day of his life.

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