When war was declared in 1914, a failed painter and bum named Adolf Hitler fell to his knees with joyful tears running down his cheeks and promptly signed up. While others were miserable in the trenches, Hitler enjoyed his role as trench runner.
Equally ecstatic about World War I, Heinrich Himmler never got his chance to bear arms, and this disappointment explains, perhaps even more than any anti-Semitism, his feverish service for Hitler as head of the secret police: Himmler was overcompensating.
For those who point to Himmler’s unsuitability to head a secret police because of his pre-Hitler occupation as a chicken farmer, they should look again, for the Gestapo head was a natural policeman. His school principal father gauged this early on, calling him “a born criminal” and tasking Himmler with spying on other students.
Himmler’s imbibed his machismo from his surroundings. Born in turn-of-the-century Munich, which housed a considerable number of beefy anti-Semites, Himmler longed for a means to demonstrate his own “manliness.”
But his physical condition frustrated any military glories. Denied by the military to man the trenches because of his poor eyesight, Himmler, who collected stamps through the war, practically begged his father to pull strings and get him into the war. By then, though, the conflict was over.
This series of missed opportunities for soldierly glory continued after the war. In 1920, his rescue attempt with paramilitary groups to free a comrade named Count Arco from the hangman was thwarted when the condemned man’s sentence was commuted. Membership in a Freikorp Rifle Club provided no head-breaking as well.
Experiencing brief street combat courtesy of his new alliance with Adolf Hitler during the low comedy that was the Beer Hall Putsch, Himmler remained an armchair soldier, even when appointed as head of the SS. Before and during World War II, Himmler’s bloodlust, once again, had to be satisfied via remote control as his SS went into battle.
But his other enthusiasm, racial breeding, would find a ready outlet. What the others dreamed, Himmler did. Hitler and company would speak of eradicating the Jewish menace, but it was Himmler on his own initiative who shoved them into the showers and crematoriums.
While Hitler dreamed of a “master race,” Himmler sought to breed one by not only eradicating “lesser elements” but by reducing the number of abortions, punishing homosexuality (both of which to him were destroyers of the motherland). He opposed abortions not on moral grounds, but as a means to supply more soldiers to Hitler’s war machine. Himmler sought to carry out Hitler’s master race desires by turning Himmler’s Knights-of-The-Round-Table castle into a wartime breeding ground between SS officers and imported blonde maidens.
For all his implementation of Hitler’s desires, Himmler at times warranted his comedic reputation. A fervent advocate of pest control, he built insect rooms for SS officers to be bitten in for not taking pest control seriously.
But examining his life in totality, Himmler was a reptile behind the pince-nez, and one wonders what combat experience would have done to his already-warped personality.