HEINRICH HIMMLER by Peter Longerich


A Life
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Exhaustive—and sometimes exhausting—life of the Nazi functionary who rivaled Adolf Hitler in power and influence.

In disfavor for the last couple of decades, psychohistory finds a champion in Longerich (Modern German History/Royal Holloway University of London; Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews, 2010, etc.), who puts Heinrich Himmler on the couch and finds in him a bundle of neuroses, including attachment disorder: “People who suffer from this kind of dysfunction acquired in early childhood frequently tend, while growing up and as adults, to attach very high expectations to personal relationships, though they cannot define these expectations precisely, and as a result they cannot be fulfilled.” Be that as it may, and cold fish though Himmler was, he was methodical in building and maintaining his personal power. Weak and sickly, he nonetheless became commandant of Hitler’s personal bodyguard, the “protection squad,” building it from a small and elite guard into an organization to rival the size and power of the regular Wehrmacht, or army. Indeed, writes the author, one of the leaders of the attempted assassination of Hitler in 1944 reckoned “that a coup was unavoidable if the army were not to be at the mercy of the SS in the short or long term.” Longerich credits Himmler with helping develop the misty Teutonic mythology that provided the mythic basis of the regime and the white-knight image of the SS. He also demonstrates, ably but in sometimes narrative-crushing detail, that Himmler was skilled in reading the signs of the growing radicalization of the regime and getting there first, adapting the SS every couple of years to changing conditions. Himmler was also adept at keeping his skin even while incurring Hitler’s disfavor at times—especially at the end of the war, when he attempted to bargain his way, using Jews as pawns, into a separate accommodation with the advancing Allies.

Admirably thorough and packed with facts, though often arid and mired in specifics. Readers may wish for a shorter, more pointed treatment, but, psychologizing aside, students of World War II will likely find this the last word on its immediate subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-19-959232-6
Page count: 832pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2011


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