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How the descendants of Himmler confronted their Nazi family history

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Katrin Himmler unraveled the Nazi history of her grandfather Ernst and of the man responsible for implementing “the final solution of the Jewish problem” - his brother, Heinrich Himmler. (Photo: Amazon.ca)

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Born in 1967, Katrin found out her family’s legacy at the age of fifteen in a history lesson at school.

While studying on the Nazi times, one of her schoolmates asked her baldly what connection she had with Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi head of SS and ardent killer of millions. “It was a question I avoided myself for a long time. I knew about Heinrich Himmler, my great-uncle.”

“I knew about ‘the greatest murderer of the century’, who was responsible for the extermination of the European Jews and the murder of millions of others. My parents had provided me with books about the Nazi period (…) I identified with the victims, felt ashamed of my name and, in some inexplicable yet distressing way, I often felt guilty.”

The teacher, nervous, that old accounts might be opened, drastically intervened and changed the subject. She probably blocked a sound debate atmosphere on the country’s recent history and how this affected Germany’s after-war generation: A divided country between the two ends of the world political range, that once fought together to bring down Hitler’s Germany… split families between the East and West… a ruined country depending on foreign manpower to pull out from the devastating outcome of the years of war.

And obviously – an unbearable legacy of racial indoctrination that brought on the scene “a unique and unprecedented extermination” – the Holocaust.

Katrin didn’t come across her grand-father Ernst.

An electrical engineer, born in 1905, as the third son of the respectable, middle-class Himmler family. Gebhard, their father, headmaster of a gymnasium, was a devoted nationalist who backed the policies of the Empire and Kaiser Wilhelm II, including WW1. The family had placed all that they had to the state bonds to support the Fatherland. In 1918, when Germany was out of war badly beaten by her opponents, they had all lost.

“I knew nothing about this man who was my grand-father: how he grew up, how he behaved towards his wife and children, what he was interested in apart from his work, what his attitude to the Nazis was – or to his brother Heinrich.” Katrin wrote in her book.

“Had the younger sibling simply yielded to the authority of the older one, the man with political influence, but kept his distance politically? But what then be Heinrich’s motivation in supporting Ernst in his career. Did they really see each other as rarely as claimed (by the family) and if so, why? … What had my grand-father Ernst and my grand-mother Paula known about what Heinrich was doing? Perhaps, his father had known something, my father always said, but definitely not his mother, ‘who was politically very naive’.”

Then in 1997, her father called Katrin to ask her to make a study of Ernst Himmler in particular, and the Himmler family in general, so that nothing vague remains about the ties among the brothers. The German Federal Archives had already taken over the files that were held at the former Berlin Documentation Center, after the reunification of the Germanies.

The many documents Katrin went deep inside took her by surprise: Ernst Himmler joined the Nazi Party in 1931, well before Hitler was appointed Chancellor. He then joined the SS in 1933, most possibly with the push of Heinrich. There was no further proof of anything showing a strong ideological relationship between the two brothers; however, such early membership had disappointed Katrin.

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Ernst was assigned to the Berlin Radio as an engineer. That was the official broadcasting agency of Germany during the Nazi years, a strategic place to be. He was appointed as Director within the cooperation. Was he the shadow of Heinrich there? Or were his skills that brought him to this position? Nobody knows.

Qualified as indispensable for broadcasting activities, he never joined the army, never engaged himself in Hitler’s efforts to make Europe Judenfrie. However, he was somewhere there, present in the circle. For sure, he was not without effect as his children had thought of him to be. He knew all that was going on.

Ernst had been confirmed dead in 1949. Nobody knew how it happened, but the last time he had been seen was the 30th of April 1945, the day Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin’s bunker.

A couple of years later a witness came out saying that Ernst Himmler, the brother of the monster Heinrich Himmler, had to join the fierce street battles against the Soviet troops. That was most probably a first for him, also a last. He, said the witness, had killed himself “when he had bitten a poison capsule.”

Author Katrin Himmler said she “identified with the victims, felt ashamed of my name and, in some inexplicable yet distressing way, I often felt guilty.” (Photo: Sara Leigh Lewis)

Coming back to Katrin Himmler: “I had known Dani, a Jewish Israeli, for a long time but had lost sight of him for some years. In the autumn of 1997, a few months after I had started looking at my grandfather’s files, we went to Krakow for a few days, a journey to a country where his family had had his roots. Our fathers had both been born in 1939, one as a Polish Jew who survived the war in occupied Warsaw as a child provided with ‘Aryan’ papers; the other as a nephew and godchild of Heinrich Himmler, who always received a present from the Reichsführer SS on his birthday and at Christmas.”

Katrin and Dani’s friendship ended with marriage. “Two years after my father’s telephone call … (our) son was born. I am still afraid of the moment when he will learn that one side of his family made every effort to wipe out the other. The only thing that makes it easier for me to contemplate this moment is that it will be possible for me to answer his questions and give him clear information on the extent of the guilt and responsibility of my forebears.”

“The Himmler Brothers – A German Family History” was first published in 2007. Katrin Himmler dedicated her book to her son, who she knew would need to bear quite a heavy burden, not only of his mother’s family but also of his father’s family who barely escaped the atrocities of the Shoah.

Marsel Russo was born in Istanbul and was raised in a secular Jewish family. He holds a Chemistry degree and an MBA. His deep interest in the Jewish history of the 20th century, as well as other topics, has appeared since 2005 in Shalom, the weekly newspaper of the Jewish community of Turkey.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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