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A Forensic Investigation

by Hugh Thomas

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-28923-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

A strange foray into the history of the Third Reich that posits skullduggery and conspiracy in the matter of the SS leader’s celebrated suicide.

Himmler supposedly killed himself on May 23, 1945, after having been captured by British soldiers. There were two post-mortem examinations, both to establish proof of the cause of death (cyanide poisoning) and identity of the deceased and, in intelligence agent Kim Philby’s words, to “lay to rest the ghost of a live Himmler.” Nonsense, says forensic expert Thomas (The Murder of Adolf Hitler, 1996): the body pictured in the newsreels was not Himmler’s, but that of a lieutenant. What happened to the real article? Well, Thomas continues, British and American intelligence allowed him to slip underground as part of a complex deal that effectively granted him immunity from prosecution; Himmler went on to control the “Fourth Reich” (the Nazi regime in South American exile) while perhaps continuing to live in Germany. This argument, largely in the absence of evidence (the British government will not open its files on Himmler until 2045), is intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying. Somewhat better grounded is Thomas’s account of how Himmler, recognizing a couple of years before the fact that the Nazi cause was lost, prepared himself for a comfortable postwar future by stripping their treasury of millions on millions of Reichmarks, some of which he squirreled away in a secret Swiss bank that, among other things, had earlier invested funds from the British royal family in the Nazi war effort. The author adds that Himmler also attempted to better his position with the Allies, with whom he was secretly negotiating, by suspending the extermination of Jews for a time, though the “vacillating, panicky” Nazi later rescinded the order. These are large and controversial claims, and likely to be subject to intense scholarly scrutiny.

Worth reading, but only with your willing suspension of disbelief fully engaged.