Heinrich Himmler und die Herrenrasse:
An Exploration of Himmler’s Racial Ideology
“Now you’ll see why I attach so much importance to having only blonde, blue-eyed types as Chosen Women. They will be a permanent ideal for the whole nation; others will watch them and follow their example. So they must also embody the ideal physical traits: no compromise is possible here.”-Heinrich Himmler to Felix Kersten, 15th-17th January, 1941
Often the esotericism of the Nazis is passed over for fear of turning a serious subject into something akin to pulp fiction, but this is a mistake. Nazism was not a simple political movement with easy-to-understand goals and incredibly obvious origins. The mass murder of the Jewish people, as well as others in Europe, cannot be explained away by calling the agents responsible mere monsters. To do so excuses reason and motivation—it is to condemn without understanding, when the goal should be to understand. There are roots that can be explored which reveal something of the Nazis not often present in much current or past discussion, though it is not an untouched subject. The occult and pseudoscience were vital factors to the hate-engine of the Third Reich, and they are worthy of serious inspection. To say that Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfürer-SS, was obsessed with German racial purity and other elements of mysticism is an understatement—it dominated much of his thought. This fascination was so deeply ingrained in him that it in turn shaped the Nazi’s regime in Germany and ultimately led to a barbaric, but well-organized, answer to the Jewish Question.
Himmler did not create the idea of Aryanism or the Herrenrasse, or master race. Neither did Adolf Hitler. In fact, it is not a Nazi invention at all. Though the term Aryan dates much further back than is relevant to this topic, the concept most germane to racial matters is a product of the Enlightenment, when naturalists, philosophers, and the like were trying to parse the meaning of being human and discover human origins. Originally, the exploration was related to the linguistic differences and similarities between the different peoples of the world: seeing that Finnish is fundamentally different in its construction from the Latin-derived languages, for instance. Naturally this line of research evolved, spread throughout many different countries, took on new forms, and split into new lines of enquiry. Because of the resemblance between what are called the Indo-European, or Aryan, languages—the branch on the linguistic tree of which English, German, Russian, Persian, and many other languages are a part—thought began to be directed at how such related languages could be found so far apart on the Earth. Logically an older common people must have lived together and migrated across the globe over many thousands of years, developing their respective languages but still sharing some identifiable common foundation. This allowed thought on the matter to twist from linguistic to racial, because it involved the spreading of peoples and cultures. Not all of the research done on this issue was strictly scientific. The Enlightenment allowed for great advances to be made in discovering how the universe operates, but the progress of science, with confusing and sometimes vague terms, also allows for error and dogma. Late 19th century mystics seized on this realm of nebulous research and steered it towards more personal and nationalistic goals. These investigations began to become focused on where this “original” people lived, with different groups vying for the honor of being the birth of modern man. Following from this, many Germans felt that since their ancestors had ruled the Earth eons in the past, it was their destiny to rule it again. Heather Pringle, in her 2006 work, The Master Plan, described it as a fusion between the Aryan and what the Germans had called Nordicism. She wrote that “What had started out in the eighteenth century in Britain as a harmless, purely linguistic investigation into the distant origins of the Europeans had become a deadly racial powderkeg by the early twentieth century in Germany.” Naturally, when the National Socialists came to power, Germany was already primed for further exploration of race and, perhaps in conjunction with a desire for revenge after the Peace Treaty in Versailles, some kind of action meant to allow the chosen race to, as they believed, once again rule the Earth.
Examples of this racial importance in academia and publishing need to be given, for they are legion. They are also important to list because to merely state that there was discussion on racial matters does disservice to how different that dialogue was from current standards, and also how rare such discussion can be found presently. It is concurrently vital to understanding Himmler’s racial ideology and political motivations to review the popular modes of discourse, as well as significant because the Reich did allow Himmler to embark on his peculiar projects. In an odd, but telling, publication of pre-Darwinian knowledge in a post-Darwinian world, Arthur De Gobineau’s The Inequality of Human Races was posthumously published in 1915. The work was originally written in the mid-19th century before Darwin’s magnum opus, and is well known today for developing the theory of scientific-racism. Gobineau wrote, of a native African, that “When we look for a moment at an individual of this type, we are involuntarily reminded of the structure of a monkey, and are inclined to admit that the negro races of West Africa come from a stock that has nothing in common, except the human form, with the Mongolian.” This particular passage hints at, and is indeed from a section in the book, that argues for multiple human origin stories. This theory played into the concept of a Northern-European origin of the mythical Aryan. It is worth noting that Gobineau was first translated into German in 1897, and his work was read and praised by the Nazis. Indeed, Gobineau is even mentioned in an SS pamphlet concerning racial theories, and therefore officially recognized by Himmler. That need not be pure speculation, as Himmler was a voracious reader. Also in the literary canon that affected popular thought were the works of Madison Grant, Fritz Lenz, Eugen Fischer, and Hans Friedrich Karl Günther (also known as Rassenpapst, or the Race Pope).
There were, however, anti-Nordic writings as well—Nordicism did not alone dominate Euro-American academic and popular thought. Writers such as V. Gordon Childe in 1926, and Frank H. Hankins in 1931 argued that the scientific evidence for Nordicism was scant to nonexistent, and even that the Northern-European Aryan theory was totally nonsense. Even Hitler expressed a disdain for some of Himmler’s more arcane interests, saying “Why do we call whole world’s attention to the fact that we have no past. It’s bad enough that the Romans were erecting great buildings when our forefathers were still living in mud huts; now Himmler is starting to dig up these villages of mud huts and enthusing over every potsherd and stone axe he finds.” This contradictory evidence, however, did not slow the rising tide of the certainty of racial supremacy residing within the Teutonic bloodline, an idea called Nordischer Gedanke, or Nordic Thought (also called völkische Bewegung).
Into this unstable brew of populist politics and pseudoscience enters the most interesting chicken farmer to have ever lived—Himmler. Arguably, from 1933 to 1945, Himmler was the second most important man of the Third Reich after Hitler, and for much of his life his devotion to Hitler was seen as absolute. Hitler had, after all, assigned Himmler the task of organizing his personal body guard, the Schutzstaffel, or SS. To reward Himmler for his true-believer status, as well as keep the security of the Reich in friendly hands, Hitler appointed Himmler to be in charge of not only the SS, but to the entire German police in 1936. The only man to whom Himmler had to defer was the Fuhrer; all other positions were in some way subordinate to Himmler. It is no doubt, then, that Himmler had some sway with the Fuhrer on different matters. Himmler, however, was not, and should not, be seen as a machine. Despite his party activities, Himmler was not only an arm of the Nazis, but a man with desires, aspirations, and a complicated history. Revealing Himmler’s private life is vital to understanding his spiritual relationship, and important to fully comprehending the man responsible for the deaths of millions. Needless to say, very long works have grappled with “the man who was Himmler” and an essay will never be able to fully explain his complete personality. Nevertheless, certain key points should be made when exploring Himmler’s racial ideology.
Himmler was a difficult man to read. Was he just staring at a new acquaintance, or was he assessing them for their racial purity, as he had been known to do? Much of these analyses are only speculation, but that is not to say they are unfounded. Himmler certainly had an undercurrent running throughout him. He may have been a family-man, but he also had his mistress; he may have been a dedicated acolyte of Hitler, but he also had goals to create the new Nazi religion, not necessarily with Hitler’s approval; he was responsible for the mass extermination of Jews and others, but Himmler could not stand the gore that resulted. This set of contradictions and uncertainties were even more opaque because of his dedicated esoteric pursuits. These pursuits would manifest in actual Nazi operation in the Third Reich—an operation that required time and money, and which Hitler condoned.
Himmler grew up a somewhat sickly child. Throughout his life he would be affected by stomach upsets, but his teenage and pre-teen days were particularly troublesome. He was a weak infant, and a not particularly athletic youth. He suffered from measles, mumps, and pneumonia—all of which were not rare for children at the time. However, Himmler would take advantage of his sicknesses in an effort to recapture the attention of his family who were either focused on his younger brother or on his older brother. Himmler seemed to be stuck in the middle. It was in his youth that Himmler began to meticulously keep a diary. There are occasions where he would document the exact day and time of a particular encounter with his peers or strangers. Long train rides later in life would allow him to read and write with frequency and dedication. Himmler’s father was religious, and Himmler grew up with ecclesiastical awareness, remaining a practicing Catholic into young-adulthood. Himmler’s time in the military was uneventful, though a point of soreness; he was unrewarded, never made officer, never saw combat, and was discharged at the end of the First World War. It was at about this age that Himmler began to sympathize with nationalist politics—an understandable political position considering the origins of the war and Germany’s unfair treatment at the Treaty of Versailles. Early on in his reading he had a limited tendency towards anti-Semitic writing, but this is not unusual for a European at this time. Perhaps telling, if one subscribes to some Freudian analysis of character, was Himmler’s lack of success in fornication. His personality seems to have been the main reason for this dilemma. His frustrations in socialization increasingly led to introspection and blame-placing. The Jews became an easy target for the blame Germany received after the First World War, as well as for Himmler’s personal defeats. With a preliminary picture of the insecure Himmler, and in an effort to avoid the biography, emphasis should refocus onto Himmler’s deeds and beliefs in relation to the Herrenrasse.
It was in 1935 that Himmler established the Ahnenerbe; the word means “inheritance from ancestors,” and its goal was to explore, as well as fabricate, the archeological history of the Aryan. It was the archeological arm of the SS, and all of its officials were SS officers. It should be noted that head of RuSHa’s (Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt) Pre- and Early History department, as well as part of Himmler’s general archeological cohort was Karl Maria Wiligut, a once-resident of a mental hospital for his diagnosed schizophrenia and megalomania, and devoted occultist. Wiligut would sometimes go into something like an epileptic fit, only to then lead Himmler to a field where he promised some artifact was buried. Needless to say, Himmler’s interests allowed him to be swayed by this type of charlatan, and it had profound effects on the Reich. In its decade-long existence the Ahnenerbe would conduct missions to Antarctica, Tibet, Scandinavia, Karelia (to learn about and seek out actual witches and wizards), Italy, the Crimea, France, and Poland. The institute had planned expeditions to other areas but had to cancel because of the ongoing war as well as budgetary restrictions; these expeditions would have taken the Ahnenerbe to Bolivia, Iceland, Iran, and the Canary Islands. The interests of senior Ahnenerbe staff ranged from traditional racist Nordicism to the weirder explorations, such as: the search for links to Atlantis, where some of the Ahnenerbe staff believed the Aryan race to have come from; the understanding that Thor’s Hammer was a literal energy weapon, which prompted Himmler to hope for the development of a similar device; and a recreation of the Holy Grail. The most notable, and debatably successful, expedition of the Ahnenerbe was to Tibet, where Himmler believed were the remains of a super-advanced civilization possibly descended from Atlantis. Himmler placed Ernst Schäfer and Bruno Beger, a zoologist and anthropologist respectively, in charge of the expedition, which took place in from April 1938 to August 1939, and the results included: skull measurements and facial casts of native Tibetans; hundreds and hundreds of samples of seeds, plants, and other flora and fauna; a film of their exploits which can be readily viewed today; and a working knowledge of inner Asia. It should also be said that although many under Himmler believed the Aryans to have emerged in Northern Europe, Himmler felt that the Aryans had come from the Himalayas—there were levels of inaccuracy and historical revision to the Nazi ideology, as well as a complete disagreement on the specifics of their mythology. Himmler was, however, very much interested in ancient German history, seeing it as a product of true Aryans. In 1936, “Himmler convened a special religious service over the tomb of Henry the Fowler…who founded the royal Saxon dynasty and pushed the Slavs eastward… [and] Himmler…swore to continue his mission in the East.” On the outside chance that Himmler did not believe a word he said about the occult, he certainly used his mystical ravings to justify the Reich’s actions. The only issue that the Ahnenerbe’s officials seemed to always reach consensus on was the official party-line of anti-Semitism and German racial superiority, all else was in flux. This dedication to being German was important for the Reich. Germans were even expected to prove their non-Jewishness via a genealogical study called Ahnentafel. The Ahnenerbe made this a way to prove one’s Aryanism.
Though the Ahnenerbe represented the foot work and mind work of the Nazis, actually going on digs, measuring skulls to determine racial classification, and doing etchings and casts of rock sculptures, the most inner-circle of the SS was in the majestic, private retreat wherein no visitors not invited could step foot: Wewelsburg Castle. It was at Wewelsburg, in Westphalia, that Himmler absorbed all the research and work of the Ahnenerbe and in turn created his own Camelot—a black Camelot. Wewelsburg also represents the high point of the mysticism of Himmler; and Wiligut, the occultist, was crucial to the development of Wewelsburg. Wiligut had advised Himmler to choose its location based on being the location of an old Germanic victory against invading Roman forces in a nearby forest, as well as for being a site of witch trials. The castle would hold a crypt wherein SS officers would be interred, and a room above that called Obergruppenführersaal, or Upper-Group Leader’s Hall, where cultish meetings and ceremonies might take place. Notably, there are twelve columns in that room and space for just twelve SS leaders—another reference by Himmler to the legend of King Arthur, apart from the Grail references. Wewelsburg never saw the frequent use that Himmler wished it to have, because the war had begun to interfere with the Reich’s future dreams. Though “the manifestations of the ‘cult’ remained in the end as undefined as their content… [and] Germany was simply not yet ready for [Himmler’s] substitute religion,” Himmler’s purpose for the creation of this Nazi religion was purely racial. He foresaw a pure Germany; religion was merely the tool by which his goal might be accomplished. Wewelsburg represents the crux of Himmler’s racial ideology for the aforementioned reasons, but also because to remodel the castle, Himmler built a concentration camp for slave labor nearby, called Niederhagen. Niederhagen, which existed in its largest form from 1941 to 1943, housed nearly 5000 prisoners—most exceptionally, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In line with his views on race, and according to the Ahnenerbe’s work in pseudohistory, Himmler was one of the biggest influences on the Reich’s creation of “delousing units,” as well as their operation. Of course, the aim of these units was not the extermination of lice, as historian Richard Breitman noted, but of the genetic invasions into Teutonic blood. Hitler had allowed the concentration camps over all of Europe to fall under the authority of Himmler. That meant that the occultist disciple then had the power over not only the police and SS, but over the very lives of any prisoner of the Reich. Total power to realize his dreams had been achieved. Delousing units were not the first methods to kill undesirables, however. Himmler had been in Minsk in 1941 and ordered and witnessed a mass shooting of a group of Jews who were made to lay down in a mass grave. “Before the shooting began, Himmler asked [one of the men to be killed]
Are you a Jew?
Are both of your parents Jews?
Do you have any ancestors who were not Jews?
Then I can’t help you!”
Himmler began to grow sick of the violence, seeing it as dehumanizing—not to those being killed, but to those doing the killing. Himmler decided then to come up with a more impersonal and efficient way of ridding those he and the Reich saw as lesser genetic stock. Thus the gas chambers began to be developed and the Holocaust could begin to answer the Jewish Question in earnest.
There are further roots of Nazism in the occult—too many to list at present—but much of the history has been obscured by semi-academic books, and budget Hollywood movies that tend to romanticize the relationship. Himmler’s racial ideology, as well as his religious views, no doubt were influenced by mystical views, odd personalities, and often unintelligible pseudo-science, and it in turn did influence certain Reich policies and racial strategies, or at least supported them. The connection between these abstruse fields and their influence on Hitler is debatable, but often any connection is relatively weak. Hitler did not agree with Himmler on the abolition of the Catholic Church, as he saw them as a potential ally. Hitler also seemed to allow Himmler to pursue his own interests only so far as they also supported Hitler’s own goals. Still, Hitler did put Himmler in a position of great authority, and Himmler used the Reich’s resources to pursue interests of a bizarre nature, and then turned that esoteric knowledge into the defense for some of the worst crimes ever perpetrated by man.
Breitman, Richard. The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution. New York:
Childe, V. Gordon. The Aryans; a Study of Indo-European Origins. London: K. Paul, Trench,
Trubner &, 1926.
Gobineau, Arthur. The Inequality of the Human Races. Translated by Adrian Collins. London:
William Heinemann, 1915.
Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of
Identity. New York: New York University Press, 2002.
Hankins, Frank Hamilton. The Racial Basis of Civilization; a Critique of the Nordic Doctrine.
New York: A.A. Knopf, 1931.
Himmler, Heinrich. The Private Heinrich Himmler: Letters of a Mass Murderer. Edited by
Katrin Himmler and Michael Wildt. Translated by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J.
Hansen. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Mariner Books, 1999.
Kershaw, Ian. Hitler, 1936-45: Nemesis. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.
———– Hitler. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.
Kersten, Felix. The Kersten Memoirs, 1940-1945. New York: Macmillan, 1957.
Longerich, Peter. Heinrich Himmler. Translated by Jeremy Noakes and Lesley Sharpe. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2012.
Padfield, Peter. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS. New York: Holt, 1990.
Poliakov, Léon. The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe.
Translated by Edmund Howard. New York: Basic Books,, Publishers, 1974.
Pringle, Heather Anne. The Master Plan: Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust. New York:
“Racial Policy.” German Propaganda Archive. Accessed October 29, 2016.
Accessed October 27, 2016.
An SS Pamphlet on Race
“Racial Policy.” German Propaganda Archive. Accessed October 29, 2016.
Only included here is the section mentioned in the body of this paper.
The Racial Question as the Decisive Question for our People
Whenever the existence of a people is threatened, the foundation of their development and rise becomes important. The history of every great nation shows a clear idea of its uniqueness and a rejection of foreign races. This attitude is as innate in people as it is in animals. This becomes problematic only when peoples disobey god-ordained laws, when the destructive ideas of equality destroy their instincts, when racial mixing develops. It is then usually too late to turn around, and the decline of the peoples can no longer be stopped. Warning voices were raised in the 18th and 19th centuries when Liberalism began to destroy the peoples of Europe. Gobineau recognized with sure perceptiveness the danger of race mixing. H. St. Chamberlain followed him, as did many others, above all F. K. Günter, who wrote The Racial Nature of the German People.
We owe these Nordic scientists this revolutionary knowledge: Humanity is not equal. Just as plants and animals are of different types, so, too, are people. Each of these types inherits certain characteristics, which distinguish it from all other types, from all other races. Racial differences are physical, spiritual, and intellectual. The most important differences are in the spiritual and intellectual areas, in life styles. Racial science is further supported by advances in genetics. Nordic scientists probed ever deeper into the secrets of life and nature. Gregor Mendel was the first to discover the laws of genetics, opening the way to understanding one of God’s greatest secrets, the nature and continuation of life.
Genetics tells us that characteristics are passed unaltered from generation to generation, and that spiritual and other characteristics are inherited along with physical ones. The environment can only influence what is already present in the genes. Unlike animals, a person does not have a single environment, but also lives in the cultural world of his race and people. This too determines the development of his inherited traits. His culture comes from his inheritance. Therefore, the race to which we belong determines the life we are born into, and the life we pass on.
Example of Ahnentafel from Frankfurt
(Could not appear in this version of the document. Email me for more information.)
 Kersten, Felix, Constantine FitzGibbon, and James Oliver. The Kersten Memoirs, 1940-1945. New York:
Macmillan, 1957, 77.
 Pringle, Heather Anne. The Master Plan: Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust. New York: Hyperion, 2006. 36.
 Gobineau, Arthur. The Inequality of the Human Races. Translated by Adrian Collins. London: William Heinemann, 1915, 107.
 See Appendix 1.
 Childe, V. Gordon. The Aryans; a Study of Indo-European Origins. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner &, 1926.
 Hankins, Frank Hamilton. The Racial Basis of Civilization; a Critique of the Nordic Doctrine. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1931.
 Pringle, The Master Plan, 66.
 Himmler unsuccessfully tried his hand at the yeoman life before his assignment as Reichsfürer-SS.
 Himmler would only be surpassed by Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, in late April 1945, after Himmler’s betrayal of Hitler became known. Goebbels served as Fuhrer for one day after Hitler’s suicide and before his own.
 Longerich, Peter, Jeremy Noakes, and Lesley Sharpe. Heinrich Himmler. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012,
 Ibid, 59.
 The Ahnenerbe was called the Studiengesellschaft für Geistesurgeschichte‚ Deutsches Ahnenerbe before being renamed in 1937 to Forschungs- und Lehrgemeinschaft des Ahnenerbe.
 Pringle, The Master Plan, 46-51.
 Longerich, Heinrich Himmler, 281.
 Breitman, Richard. The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution. New York: Knopf, 1991, 42.
 Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York: New York UP, 2002, 125.
 See Appendix 2.
 Longerich, Heinrich Himmler, 298.
 Breitman, The Architect of Genocide, 88.