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Last-Modified: 1994/11/05

               Copyright 1991 News World Communications, Inc.    
                              The Washington Times

                      May 13, 1991, Monday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 1131 words

HEADLINE: Single-minded and boring, Himmler was perfect tool for Hitler

BYLINE: Sol Gittleman


    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.


    By Richard Breitman

    Alfred A.  Knopf, $23, 335 pages


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