Archive/File: holocaust/reviews breitman.003 Last-Modified: 1994/11/05 Copyright 1991 News World Communications, Inc. The Washington Times May 13, 1991, Monday, Final Edition SECTION: Part F; BOOKS; Pg. F1 LENGTH: 1131 words HEADLINE: Single-minded and boring, Himmler was perfect tool for Hitler BYLINE: Sol Gittleman BODY: Although the literature of the Holocaust is enormous, we are running out of time in our efforts to understand it. The biological clock is ticking; soon there will be no more eyewitnesses, and already historical revisionism is asking such questions as: Did it really happen? In one chilling way the Persian Gulf war will add a cubit to the historical memory on an earlier war that cost 50 million lives. World War II was the greatest single instance of mass death in world history. The effort to exterminate Europe's Jews by the German Third Reich was aided by some striking technological breakthroughs. After all, one cannot kill millions of people systematically without exceptional organizational ability and means far more sophisticated than guns or routine weaponry. There is, alas, a grim relationship between smart rockets turning corners and Zyklon-B gas, which made Auschwitz and other factories of death the efficient places they were. But one also needs people and will, and this is the problem with the subject of "The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution," Richard Breitman's very readable and intelligent book: Heinrich Himmler, the short, pudgy, myopic and ultimately boring leader of Hitler's horrific SS; Himmler, whose energy was even more single-mindedly than Hitler's aimed at the Final Solution. Like Adolf Eichmann's, Himmler's life and stature were a monument to Hannah Arendt's description of the banality of evil. There is no psychohistorical possibility of understanding why this son of a well-educated, upper-middle-class Bavarian family could have turned into the perfect instrument for the destruction of millions of people. The Jews were his special hate, no question about it. Himmler's capacity for total dehumanization of men, women and children brings a surrealistic horror to any biographical study of this monster of a person. He did not even have Hitler's passion for hating Jews. At first his anti-semitism was almost intellectual, but it developed into a cause that he equated with the survival of the German people. Only through the total extermination of the Jew from Europe could there be any hope for German survival. But Himmler also was zealous in his willingness to kill Poles by the millions, and even mentally retarded Germans. He took up the cause of racial purity wherever he went and whenever he could. He sharpened his bureaucratic talents to this purpose: Wherever he and his organization went, death followed for those who stood in the way of Germany's future. Himmler's capacity to organize, to persist, to battle with those who disagreed with him, to translate his Fuhrer's occasional vagueness into action plans, and above all never to lose sight of the goal becomes the almost unspeakable message of Mr. Breitman's research. Because he cannot concentrate on personality, the author must focus on the horror of the accomplishments. In doing so, he reveals for us much more than just a portrait of one man. First, there is the magnitude of the slaughter, mass murder on a scale admittedly inconceivable. The commandant of Auschwitz once said, "Our system is so terrible that no one in the world will believe it to be possible. . . . If someone should succeed in escaping from Auschwitz and in telling the world, the world will brand him as a fantastic liar." But the narrative succeeds in breaking through the reader's disbelief. It did happen, and Himmler made it happen. That there were associates such as Reinhard Heydrich - accomplished fencer, musician and pilot - who were equally dedicated to the destruction of millions only adds to Mr. Breitman's charge, and he very effectively portrays the gallery of conspirators. There are very few heroes here, but the reader grasps for them with a kind of hunger for humanity. As Himmler's Einsatztruppen of SS followed the armies of Germany into Eastern Europe after the invasions of 1939 and 1941, some few German generals were outraged at the organized slaughter of Jews. Marshal Wilhelm List, commander of the 14th Army in Poland, issued orders for every unit operating in his sector, whether regular army or SS, to stop the burnings of synagogues and the summary executions. Field Marshal August von Mackensen ordered all SS units out of his zones of command. Gen. Johannes Blaskowitz, commander-in-chief of the army's eastern sector in Poland until the end of October 1939, court-martialed soldiers caught operating with the SS units and forbade any cooperation with them. Gen. Blaskowitz used his energy to follow the deportations of Jews to regional ghettos and to hound Himmler and his subordinates. Until Gen. Blaskowitz was relieved of duty - dismissed, in fact - in May 1940, Himmler was prevented from working effectively with army units. But with the general out of the way, the SS found plenty of willing military participants. What stands as the most awful aspect of Himmler's role in the Holocaust is his ability to marshal minds better than his to aid in the deed. Mr. Breitman reminds us that at the Wannsee conference of Jan. 20, 1942, where details of the Final Solution were hammered out, eight of the 15 participants held doctorates. The capacity of the German chemical-engineering industry to make the technological breakthrough that led to the gas used in the death camps also leads the reader involuntarily back to the Gulf war and the potential horror of chemicals being used on humans once again. If he had a gift besides his organizational agility, Himmler knew how to get close to businessmen, understood how he could tap into their motives by offering profit, advance and a privileged place in the future of Germany - a Germany free of Jews and racially pure. Some of those close to Himmler shared his ideology; others merely saw an opportunity and took it. Perhaps the most terrifying chapter in Mr. Breitman's book deals with the initial Nazi policy of forced emigration, before the Final Solution was instituted. Himmler observed that no one wanted the Jews, that no nation of the world was interested in having these "vermin" in their midst. Mr. Breitman points out that the United States was no more willing to take these desperate people, many of whom were sailing the oceans of the world looking for a haven. There is some irony in this. One wonders what the Middle East would be like today if the world had shown some compassion 50 years ago. Sol Gittleman is professor of German, provost and senior vice president at Tufts University. ***** THE ARCHITECT OF GENOCIDE: HIMMLER AND THE FINAL SOLUTION By Richard Breitman Alfred A. Knopf, $23, 335 pages REVIEWED BY SOL GITTLEMAN
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