A card game, a good film, star gazing and a meeting with Adolf Hitler – the diaries of SS commander and Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler - portions of which were published in Bild, a German tabloid on Tuesday – provided an interesting glimpse into the schedule of one of the most prominent Nazis during 1938 – the year the Kristallnacht took place – and 1943 to 1944 – critical years during World War II and the Holocaust.
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The diaries – a thousand pages of them – were not written by Himmler himself but by his assistants. They were recently discovered in a Russian military archive, were they were kept for over 70 years since they were confiscated by the Red Army at the close of the war. The German Historical Institute in Moscow characterized the diaries as "a document of unusual historical significance."
Himmler served in a number of senior positions in the Nazi regime, and is considered the second most important man in the Third Reich. Among these positions, Himmler headed the Gestapo and served as Minister of Interior. In 1945, Himmler was captured by British forces. He committed suicide and thus avoided standing trial. The diaries don't reveal extraordinary historical details and mostly describe an ordinary schedule of a busy senior official. That being said, the appearance of meetings, trips and meals alongside the planning and execution of the mass extermination of European Jewry makes them an interesting and important document.
For example, on one day Himmler visited the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany where he "took a snack in the café of the SS Casino." On another day he visited the Sobibór extermination camp in occupied Poland where he witnessed the gassing of 400 Jewish women and girls. After that he proceeded to go to a banquet with SS men. Another day was described thus: "Landing in Warsaw. Reception by a senior colonel. Lunch at the SS. Drive through the ghetto. Take inventory."
Damian Imoehl, the Bild reporter that obtained the diaries before they were published, described the Himmler he got to know from reading them to The Times: "He was very careful about his wife and daughter, as well as his affair with his secretary. He takes care of his comrades and friends."
"The most interesting thing for me is that combination," Imoehl said.
"One day he starts with breakfast and a massage from a personal doctor, then he rings up his wife and daughter in the south of Germany and after that he decides to have ten men killed or visits a concentration camp," he told the Times. In another instance the diary preserves Himmler's instruction to equip the Auschwitz concentration camp with new guard dogs that could rip their victims "to shreds."
Himmler's diaries, which as written above were not written by him, aren't personal and don't give any insight into his thoughts or feelings during the Holocaust. These can be gleaned from his personal letters, which were published two-and-a-half years ago by a different German paper, Die Welt. One of these read: "I'm off to Auschwitz, kisses, your Heini."