The German newspaper Die Welt reports they plan to publish some of the 700 letters from the private correspondence of Heinrich Himmler kept for the last 69 years in a Tel Aviv bank vault. Die Welt are satisfied they are genuine.
“In the coming days I’ll be in Lublin, Auschwitz, Lviv and then in new parts..I wonder if I’ll be able to phone?” he writes to his wife. On another occasion, “I’m off to Auschwitz, kisses, your Heini.”
After the protracted scandal over the so-called Hitler Diaries in the 1980s, which turned out to be an elaborate fake, pains have been taken to authenticate the handwriting. It is claimed to match that from other certified copies of Himmler writing.
The letters were originally gathered up by two American soldiers. They took them, along with other documents and memorabilia, from Himmler’s Bavarian home at the end of the war. They were then either sold, or otherwise obtained, by a man named Chaim Rosenthal, who kept them underneath his bed for four decades. This is how they came to be in Tel Aviv.
Rosenthal tried to sell them in 1983, but his timing was bad. Too many people were still smarting from the revelations that the Hitler Diaries were forged. Rosenthal was an old man, 90, when he eventually parted with them, and the new owner became a diamond dealer from Belgium, David Lapa.
Lapa’s daugher, Vanessa, is a documentary film-maker, and in 2011 she went to Die Welt to propose to them that they publish the trove of letters and photographs. It has taken Die Welt a further three years to satisfy themselves of their authenticity and now they are ready to go to print. The German Federal Archives are satisfied that they are genuinely from the hand of Himmler.
Many of the epistles are to his wife, Marga, and they vary from love letters and erotica to everyday descriptions of what he is doing. At no point does he ever allude to the genocide in which he is such an active and controlling participant, nor does he mention anything about the concentration camps, except to comment that he is visiting there. A strong theme of anti-Semitism runs through the correspondence from both husband and wife. Magda refers to Jewish people as “scum” and her ”Heini” or “Pappi,” as he would sign himself, commiserated.
Whether he was deliberately keeping the holocaust a secret from his wife is not established, but it certainly looks that way. As SS Reichsfuehrer, Himmler was directly in charge of all the concentration camps all through Europe and organized and oversaw the mass extermination of over six million Jews.
The letters provide an eery insight into how “life goes on” even in the worst of circumstances. In June 1941, when Germany has just invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, Magda writes, “There is some caviar left in the fridge. Take it.” The same year Himmler forgets their anniversary, and admits “The fighting was very difficult, especially for the SS.” Millions died in that campaign.
Whilst the pair use the euphemism of “revenge” to anticipate their sexual reunions, “The revenge, it will be fun” and “I am nothing but revenge,” there are some signs that the man struggled to some extent with his conscience. He calls the SS the “thugs” of the “German struggle for freedom” and imagines that there is “horror waiting for us in the future.”
In 1928, Magda chides Himmler for being a “bad man” with a “hard and coarse heart.” In this marital tiff he retaliated by calling her a “small woman.” Ten years later he began a long-term affair with Hedwig Potthast by whom he fathered two daughters.
The Die Welt editorial accepts that many of the letters deal with mundane matters, but they also reveal his self-image as a “apparently unfeeling, self-righteous bureaucrat” even as he goes about committing one of the gravest ever crimes against humanity. Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust said that the publication shows Himmler to be a family man, which makes his choices in other areas even more “shocking and incomprehensible.” She says that the Nazis were not monsters, they were men who did monstrous acts.
The serialization presents a chance to try to see inside the mind of this notorious man, who was captured by the British after he escaped in 1945, but killed himself with a cyanide capsule before he could ever be questioned. It has begun just ahead of World Holocaust Day which commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz in January of 1945.
Himmler and Marga’s daughter, Gudrun, is still alive. She is 85 years old and lives in Munich. She remains a key player in the Stille Hilfe (Silent Aid) movement, which helps protect surviving Nazis from being brought to trial and justice. As a teenager though, she expressed anti-war sentiment, writing to her father “It’s awful that we make war against Russia. They were our allies.”
With the publication of Heinrich Himmler’s private letters, these hitherto unseen glimpses into the family life of a Nazi monster, will cause endless speculation and debate as to what sort of human being he really was.
By Kate Henderson