Archive/File: holocaust/reviews breitman.002 holocaust/reviews padfield.001 Last-Modified: 1994/11/05 Copyright 1991 Chicago Tribune Company Chicago Tribune May 19, 1991, Sunday, FINAL EDITION SECTION: TRIBUNE BOOKS; Pg. 3; ZONE: C; Nonfiction LENGTH: 1905 words HEADLINE: Nazidom's lethal robot Heinrich Himmler: Devious, secretive executioner for the Third Reich BYLINE: Reviewed by Larry V. Thompson, Professor of history at the U.S. Naval Academy BODY: Himmler By Peter Padfield Holt, 656 pages, $29.95 The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution By Richard Breitman Knopf, 315 pages, $23 Peter Padfield's biography of Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and police in the Third Reich, is yet another effort to explain the man behind the Holocaust, concentration camps, the dreaded Gestapo and the reign of terror unleashed upon Nazi-occupied Europe. Previous biographies of Himmler offer various explanations as to why a devout Catholic from a solid middle-class background with a good formal education became a fanatical Nazi. Comparing the apparent normality of his youth with the horrible acts he later sanctioned, these accounts viewed Himmler as psychologically flawed, an unprincipled opportunist and racial fanatic, an intriguer intent on amassing personal and organizational power as well as a pedantic bureaucrat who worshipped Hitler. Padfield insists, however, that Himmler's transformation from romantic idealist to racial revolutionary cannot be understood solely in psychopathic terms, or as an unbridied lust for power, or as the acts of an efficient bureaucratic sycophant gone amok. He suggests that Himmler became a racial executioner primarily because those surrounding him encouraged it and German society sanctioned it. "A man is not what he does so much as what he is allowed to do; otherwise what would each of us not do to change the world and ourselves?" Having posed this question, Padfield, a British historian and author of a biography of Admiral Karl Doenitz, demonstrates that Himmler institutionalized evil with considerable social approval. As Reichsfuhrer, Himmler prided himself on having the courage to act on his convictions. He urged his SS men to take pride in executing the tasks that others, who supported the ends but were squeamish about the means, were unable to stomach. Demonstrating initiative, being aggressive and venerating achievement were the criteria of leadership in the SS and the Third Reich. No one placed a greater premium on them than Himmler. Padfield thinks Himmler's metamorphosis occurred in his early 20s, when he absorbed the shock of a lost war while undergoing doubts about his manhood. His country had no future, and neither did he. In a diary, he equated personal with national humiliation. Too young to serve in the war, he agonized over his inability to discipline himself in social or sexual intercourse. Often retreating into heroic and maudlin fantasies, he immersed himself in racist literature and became a political activist. Politics convinced Himmler that his and Germany's misfortune were caused by Jews, Freemasons, Bolshevism and modernism in general. Paramilitary affiliation in several Free Corps units led to his joining the Nazi Party in 1923. Wearing a uniform, rubbing shoulders with veterans and fighting communists, socialists and even the Weimar government gave Himmler the heroic purpose for which he yearned. Becoming a political soldier for Adolf Hitler exposed Himmler to the conspiratorial world of the racial nationalists, a world of intrigue, treachery, violence and hate. He coped with it, Padfield suggests, because a pervasive social crisis matched his private one. The hate, fear and loathing of Jews, Bolsheviks, the bourgeoisie and modernity marking those who gravitated to Nazism molded him while forging a group psychosis that ultimately infected German society. Padfield speculates that the man who planned and ordered monstrous atrocities was an "operational personality" who withdrew from the real world long before 1933, developing a "false" self that magnified certain character traits. His obsessiveness, slavish obedience, secretiveness, moralizing and exaggerated sense of loyalty, discernible as a young adult, became pronounced later and defined him as the Reichsfuhrer. Shielded by his false self, Himmler remained emotionally aloof from the cruelty he managed. He was both a robot and a lethal weapon at Hitler's disposal. Padfield's study describes how Himmler obtained power and what he did with it. Unlike others, he argues that Himmler and not Reinhard Heydrich provided the vision and determination to weld a Party security apparatus into the elite Schutzstaffel (Guard Echelon SS), the means through which Himmler amassed his enormous power, culminating by 1944 in his becoming the second most powerful man in the Reich. Padfield superbly analyzes Himmler's patient and calculated campaign for personal and organizational stature. Positions, titles and influence transformed the private Himmler into the public and officious Reichsfuhrer whom Padfield encounters lurking behind a mountain of bureaucratic memorabilia. He notes that Himmler's later speeches, letters and memos echo the sentiments expressed in his earlier diary entries, demonstrating that he remained locked in the vicious milieu of the '20s. So, too, were those who surrounded him. They accepted his justifications for their collective inhumanity because they approved his ends. That they condoned, if not accepted, deviant behavior in pursuit of racial purification makes Himmler's often assumed abnormality problematic. Padfield asks, Who in the midst of the Third Reich's grotesque unreality was normal? Padfield stalks an elusive figure and defines him better than any effort to date. But he admits that much about Himmler remains speculative. The Reichsfuhrer proved as successful at hiding himself as he did in disguising policies and projects from competitiors or compatriots. Padfield might agree, therefore, that Himmler will attract future biographers. Richard Breitman's study of Himmler's role in designing and implementing genocide complements and reinforces Padfield's analysis. Breitman's aim is to determine when the plans for genocide began and to clarify how the actions leading to it evolved. He identifies Himmler as the chief planner, emphasizing that the Reichsfuhrer was in this endeavor, as in all others, a master of deceit. Similarly, Padfield stresses Himmler's predilection for deceptions against friend and foe alike, in and outside of Germany. Indeed, Padfield demonstrates that Himmler eventually deceived and betrayed all his patrons, including Hitler. Concealing genocide became Himmler's greatest subterfuge. Breitman insists, however, that Himmler's deceit and the imposed secrecy surrounding Jewish extermination subsequently contributed to the confusion and controversy among historians over when and why it began and who bears ultimate responsibility for it. He concludes that Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich were the major co-conspirators of the Final Solution, and he argues that it was a planned rather than improvised program. He deduces this from documentation previously available to historians, but he also uses Himmler's hitherto neglected daily appointment calendar and office logs, which recorded his incoming and outgoing phone calls and written correspondence. While the logs are incomplete, they let Breitman track Himmler's whereabouts and activities. What emerges is a pattern that places Himmler or Heydrich with Hitler at critical times before, during and after decisions radicalizing Jewish persecution were made. Equating proximity with previous actions and motivations, Breitman infers that plans leading to extermination were hatched, briefed and ultimately approved in these meetings. Characteristically, he says, Himmler omitted detailed memos for the record of these discussions - always conducted, as the German phrase has it, "under four eyes" - or he laconically employed language that masked killing behind euphemisms. While not denying that the stages through which Jewish policy passed were affected by circumstances of foreign policy, economics, war, geography and technical difficulties, Breitman asserts that "the idea of killing Jews was on the SS agenda from at least late 1938 on." He argues further that the Final Solution was in place by March, 1941, a date several months ahead of the period favored by other specialists. Thus, he believes that the decision to kill Jews predated the campaign against the Soviet Union and was not the result of military failure and frustration during 1942. These conclusions place Breitman within the "intentionalist" school of historians who believe that Hitler's anti-Semitism presumed a radical physical solution to the "Jewish Question" even before the Second World War began. While not agreeing with Breitman's chronology, Padfield is also convinced that Hitler and Himmler intended to exterminate Jews before the war. Unlike Padfield, who finds it self-evident that Jewish extermination emanated from Hitler's brand of anti-Semitism, Breitman is concerned to sharpen the chronology of the Final Solution in order to clarify the debate between historians of the intentionalist camp and scholars designated as "functionalist." Functionalists insist that extermination evolved from ad hoc improvisations by subordinates in the field who promoted it hoping to eliminate the catastrophic conditions created when military conquest brought millions of Jews into German hands. Functionalists find no evidence of planning behind the Final Solution until late 1941, and they view SS sovereignty within it as the culmination of bitter competition among State and Party organs for executive power. Himmler won, they claim, not without difficulty, because he possessed a superior organizational apparatus. Breitman does not deny that local initiative escalated radicalization, nor does he dispute that "turf battles" were fought for control of Jewish lives by sundry agencies. These actions, he argues, obscure rather than clarify the fact that an SS strategy evolved from abstract formulation in the prewar years to reality by the spring of 1941. Breitman is convinced that this transformation was neither accidental nor circumstantial. He contends that Hitler and Himmler agreed that Jewish liquidation should occur, and they schemed, deceived and acted accordingly as opportunities developed for achieving it. The absence of concrete documentation demonstrating their intent denotes that a massive cover-up took place. The cover-up not only fooled many contemporaries, but it also established the basis for subsequent disagreements among historians as to the causes behind the Holocaust. Breitman, a professor of history at American University and co-author of a previous work on genocide, provides no definitive answer as to why Hitler and Himmler opted for extermination. He speculates that both men may have been influenced by a contemporary historical account of Genghis Khan, which convinced them that Germany's future strength depended upon achieving racial purity and that a racial armageddon with Jewish Bolshevism loomed ominously in the East. While not wholly improbable, this explanation stretches credulity and remains unpersuasive, although one must concede that no other answer yet commands unqualified support. Breitman anticipates that not all historians will accept his deductions and hypotheses, which are often inferred rather than proven. The continued absence of a "smoking gun" ensures that the debate he seeks to sharpen will remain lively. Speculation notwithstanding, he formulates a challenging thesis. His book advances a provocative interpretation that merits further enquiry.
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