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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Fast Paced History of the Himmler Brothers,
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This is a most interesting piece of family history research into the background, upbringinging and subsequent fate, of the three Himmler brothers Gebhard, Heinrich and Ernst. It vividly portrays a picture of an industrious and clever middle class family with useful connections to the Bavarian royal family. The prevailing political views of the time and the profound effect of the First World War upon the family and their careers are carefully documented. This book gets away from the 'one-dimensional monster' descriptions of modern journalism and illustrates well the relationship with friends when the family is exalted and then in disgrace. This excellent translation is well written and faced paced throughout apart from a small section which illustrates the competition between the various Nazi agencies for control of the radio industry. I have no hestitation in commending this well balanced book to all those interested in the history of the Third Reich and the shaping of one of the main players.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Course of German History,
Katrin Himmler is the granddaughter of Heinrich Himmler's younger brother Ernst. Growing up she was aware her great uncle was known as "the greatest murderer of the century". She studied German history but shied away from examining the history of her own family. Anyone familiar with Laurence Rees's "The Nazis : A Warning From History" will be aware of the way in which many who lived during the Nazi regime were relectant to talk about what they did. For them it was a time best forgotten, as was their role in what took place. In some cases they invented a fictional account of their personal history. According to family legend Ernst was a non political person who occupied the position of Chief Engineer of the Reich Broadcasting Company in Berlin. He left Hitler's bunker shortly after the Furher killed himself in a bid to reach the Allied lines. He stumbled, and bit into the cynanide capsule in his mouth and died immediately, leaving open the question of whether it was an accident or suicide.
When Katrin Himmler started her research she found that Ernst Himmler joined the Nazi Party in 1931, was a member of the SS from 1933 and "had been a convinced Nazi who, in return for a helping hand in his career from his brother Heinrich, the Reichfuhrer SS carried out dubious tasks for him." One such task was his written recommendation that the protection accorded to a Jewish engineer, Major Schmidt, be removed. Ernst did not need to make such a recommendation and, while it was obvious such action could lead to Schmidt's death, his comment, "irrespective of the way such cases will be dealt with later on" suggested support for the Nazis' programmes. The letter destroyed the cautious empathy which she had previously had for her unknown grandfather.
Increasingly she found that while the family acknowledged the horrendous nature of Heinrich Himmler's crimes, like many other German families they tended to downplay their own role in supporting the Nazi state. She discovered that Heinrich's elder brother, Gebhard "was an ambitious careerist and a convinced Nazi from the earliest days of the Party" who was with Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Gebhard was a company commander during the invasion of Poland and his brother-in-law, Richard Wendler, "had been Governor of Cracow when the city's Jews were deported." In that capacity it became apparent that Wendler's concerns were not about the killing of the Jews but the failure to carry out deportations in an orderly manner. Heinrich Himmler had placed on record his views when he addressed a meeting of SS leaders in 1943. He regarded anti-Semitism as the de-lousing of the Greater German nation. There was no reason to suppose his brothers felt any differently.
The rationalisation of personalised egotism revealed itself in unexpected ways. Heinrich Himmler had convinced himself that Teutonic custom permitted racially impeccable SS men to have a second wife. He deplored monogomy as a "diabolical inevention" of the Catholic Church. He wanted more children for the Reich and needed a fertile female to produce offspring which was something his wife could no longer provide. His mistress, Hedwig Potthast, gave birth to two children and reinforced Himmler's belief that he was the reincarnation of Henry 1. Himmler laboured under the misapprehenson that he had a political standing separate from that of Hitler. This was quickly dispelled when the Allies rejected his bid to negotiate a separate peace on behalf of Germany and later by Donitz who formally dismissed him from office. Like his brother Heinrich Himmler bit into a cyanide capsule but in his case it was suicide.
One aspect of history which is often overlooked is the postwar position of those who had an association with the Nazi regime. Ernst's widow, Paula, returned to her home town where many treated her disdain. After several applications she was allowed to open a millinery shop and managed to get by. Himmler's mistress gradually withdrew from the outside world, dying in 1997. His eldest daughter Gudrun, continued to believe in Nazi ideology and constantly protested at the image painted of her father, whom she idolised. Gebhard distanced himself from his brother's ideological views presenting him as as a soft hearted and sensitive person who had put the nation's interests before his own. Gebhard "portrayed his own career during the Nazi period as if it had nothing to do with the system." He almost convinced himself things happened differently than the record shows. Katrin Himmler believes this state of denial still exists in many German families.
Katrin Himmler met and married an Israeli Jew and the writing of the book has filled in many gaps which will make it possible for her to explain to her son why one half of his family tried to eliminate the other. The integrity of her writing, including the many questions she asks, culminates in a frank, unsentimental and realistic acknowledgement of the guilt and responsibility of her forebears. This volume has provided an insight into how ordinary people rationalise their life choices. Well written with some excellent photographs and short bibliography. My only reservation is the absence of an index which would have earned an addtional star. Highly recommended nontheless.
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courageously digging up poisonous roots,
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult Ancestry,
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How easy would it be to write about your ancestors knowing your surname was inextricably linked with a person responsible for some of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity?
Katrin Himmler has tried and I believe succeeded with such a task. This young woman had to endure the embarrassment of being asked such a question in her history class as a 15 year old; she cannot be blamed for what has happened - that's an accident of birth.
The Himmler family were a family of well to do Germans with a family of 3 sons. Only 1 survived the end of the war. She interweaves each brother's story of their journey as a soldier during World War I through to their involvement in the Nazi Party and their work during the war. The infamous Heinrich was the middle brother, born in 1900. Katrin is Heinrich's great-niece; her grandfather was the youngest child. Her great-grandfather was a Headmaster and he and his wife look kindly German people who lived through to the 1930s where they were convinced that Hitler would be good for Germany. Perhaps it is too easy to say that in their ageing years, they were probably duped quite easily into that way of thinking. Having seen Germany prosper and then disintegrate during the years between the wars, they would have felt Hitler had help make Germany strong again.
Katrin Himmler does not waste sympathy on her infamous great-uncle; she writes it as it is. In the latter part of the book it is almost fitting that we discover her partner is Jewish and they have a half-Jewish child. It seems a metaphoric turning of her back on the dark heritage she can never escape from - but she and her partner have agreed that they are determined to make their child understand where he comes from.
This book is a remarkable document - it seems quite apparent that the 1939-1945 years of the family tree should have been expunged but Katrin seems to want to explain that history is what happened and this is why these three brothers took the paths they did. The shame seems understandable from Katrin Himmler's own father's perspective as he is one of the children born to these brothers. Heinrich Himmler's own legitimate daughter does not seem to be ashamed of her heritage - the two illegimate children born to his mistress are wiped from the family tree so it is possible that they never took their father's name. Well, why would you if you didn't have to?
This book has been very well researched and written and I think that this book would interest anyone.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good book about living with the legacy of a monster,
This review is from: The Himmler Brothers: A German Family History (Paperback)
The Himmler Brothers by Katrin Himmler is a fascinating account of how one family tried to deal with the legacy of its most infamous member. It is well-written and very interesting although it does suffer from the usual problems of books which have been translated. It is not a biography but instead an account of how one of the most notorious killers of the twentieth century emerged from a normal family and background and how his family after the war tried to pretend that he was a black sheep who they had had little to do with in order to cover up the fact that the whole family and especially his brothers were involved with the Nazi Party and benefitted from the connection to Heinrich Himmler. All in all a very good book.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting,
the unknown story of the Himmler family. Very honest, considering the author is the grand niece og Heinrich H., whom the callls a criminal without reservations.
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The Himmler Brothers: A German Family History by Katrin Himmler (Paperback - 20 Jun 2008)