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Private Letters Shed New Light on the Man Behind the Holocaust

Heinrich Himmler's letters document the rise and fall of Nazi Germany - and the private life of Adolf Hitler's right-hand man.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 1/26/2014, 9:27 AM

Heinrich Himmler (left) with Adolf Hitler
Heinrich Himmler (left) with Adolf Hitler
Reuters

Heinrich Himmler's documents, love letters, and photos have been revealed to the public for the first time Sunday, in the German newspaper Die Welt.

The collection documents the rise and fall of the Third Reich from an insider's perspective - and the decision to publish the information has made headlines across the globe. The period covered includes the Reich's rise in 1927 until its downfall in 1945, five weeks before the top-ranking Nazi official's suicide. 

Himmler, the mastermind behind the Holocaust, was the person behind the Nazi propaganda machine between 1926 and 1930. In 1929, he was appointed as head of the SS; he expanded its ranks from 300 men to over 50,000 by 1933. Himmler was later responsible for implementing the "Final solution to the Jewish problem" - the systemic genocide of over 6 million Jews. 

The official met his wife, Margarete Boden, in 1927. The two married in July 1928; and their only child, daughter Gunrud, was born in August 1929. The relationship was allegedly strained, with Himmler utterly absorbed in his work. 

The documents reveal the inner workings of both stories: the rise and fall of the Third Reich, which began to fail in the mid-1940s; and the rise and fall of Himmler's marriage - which soured after 1938, when Himmler had an affair with his private secretary, Hedwig Potthast. 

Himmler's personal letters apparently show a great deal of affection for his family, a portrait which paints a stark contrast toward his professional life and role in killing millions of Jews and other minorities during the Holocaust. 

The official uses several affectionate nicknames for his wife and daughter - he famously called Gundrun "Püppi ("dolly")" - despite the fact that he was rarely home, and even after the couple separated. Himmler eventually moved in with Potthast and even fathered two children with her - son Helge in 1942 and daughter Nannette Dorothea in 1944 - but he remained close to Gundrun. 

While Margerete's letters to the Nazi official are preserved in the German Federal Archive, Himmler's replies have never been published - until now. 

The Telegraph reveals translations of excerpts from some of the letters - several of which reveal volumes about Himmler's personality and family life. 

On January 27, 1928, Margarete complained to Himmler about "Jewish scum." Himmler responded, "My poor love, you must cope with the unfortunate Jews because of the money [they have]." 

Himmler also related to traveling to Auschwitz with total nonchalance, writing in July 1942, “I am travelling to Auschwitz. Kisses. Your Heini.”

The documents also reveal the extent to which Himmler's family was aware of, and involved in, Germany's military progress. In June 1941, Gudrun, then 12, tried to advise Himmler against entering a two-front war. “It is terrible that we’re at war with Russia - they were our allies,” she wrote. “Still Russia is sooo big - if we take the whole of Russia, the battle will become very difficult.”

Overall, the British daily notes, the letters reveal two sides of the official: his persona as a family man, as his role as a mass murderer. While he expresses his blatant anti-Semitism at times, other letters attempt to hide the extent of the horror from his family. 

Michael Wildt, a German historian, described the find to British newspaper the Telegraph as “a dense body of private documents. There is nothing like it for any other member of the Nazi leadership.”

The documents had been preserved by an Israeli family in Tel Aviv for decades, but it is unclear how they arrived there, according to the daily. 

According to Die Welt, the letters had been independently verified before publication. The newspaper quoted Michael Hollmann, president of the German Federal Archive, as stating, “We are sure about these documents. There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the documents in Tel Aviv.”

The German newspaper stated that the primary value of the documents is in the details of Himmler's life - not necessarily any new revelations about the Third Reich itself.  Himmler, unlike other Nazi officials, kept his family life conspicuously private. 

“The documents do not change the overall picture of the Nazi reign of terror, but they certainly add countless previously unknown details and help [give] a better idea of what type of person the SS leader was, his everyday life and his surroundings,” according to Die Welt