Katrin Himmler has had the unfortunate experience of having Adolf Hitler's second in command, Heinrich Himmler as her Great Uncle. Throughout her life, her family have down-played the role of her own grandfather, Himmler's brother Ernst, who she was told, "went along with things" and was a very minor Nazi. However, over the last few years she has conducted an in-depth investigation into her family history, and the result is this excellent book.
Katrin Himmler begins by describing the childhood and youth of the three Himmler brothers, and the home life they had with their parents. They were by any account a fine family, the parents strict, but involved in every aspect of their sons' lives, and the three boys being in turn respectful of their parents and working hard at the various activities around home and school. Their parents were proud, upper middle-class people who sought and found recognition from influential people in Munich society. The family were strong Catholics, and despite this, Katrin Himmler shows us the family's strong feelings of nationalism and ethnicity, and an unquestioning dislike for Slavs and Jews who were seen as "dirty" and primitive peoples. We read of family life in the Weimar Republic, with holidays and games, and a rich involvement with friends and relatives, but also increasing money and employment problems due to the rampant inflation which beleagured the nation during the 1920s.
Heinrich joins the emerging National Socialist movement and due to his great skills of organisation, rises up through the ranks until he achieves the terrifying position of Commander of the SS. The Himmler name turns out to be a helpful passport for the other two brothers, and Katrin discovers that far from being a "minor Nazi", her grandfather was in fact a key figure in the broadcasting organisation, who arranged broadcasts from the Nuremburg rallies and the 1936 Olympic games - a position he could not possibly have maintained without being a seriously committed party member.
It will spoil the book for others if I go on to describe further what Kain Himmler found in her investigations. However, the book is a fascinating picture of life in Germany through the 1920s and 30s and into the war. Katrin Himmler's research has been impeccable and she gained access to a considerable amount of family and national archive material, which she has pulled together into a unique narrative, both informative and very readable, and also containing a number of excellent photographs to illustrate the text. It was as enjoyable as any detective novel but fills in many gaps in our understanding of what the Nazi party meant to countless Germans.
This is another book for those (like me) who want to understand quite what happened to the minds of the German people in the run up to the Second World War. Other books on Amazon deal with this question and the reviews reveal considerable divergence of views about whether the Germans were unique in their ability to adopt such a cruel ideology and make it their own. Whatever stance the reader takes on this question, this book is invaluable as an account of the inner life of this prominent German family. One cannot help but admire the willingness of Katrin Himmler to explore and then document her findings with such painful honesty and humanity.