He understood from very early on that the frequent affirmation of loyalty was the road to power in Hitler's competitive and treacherous court. For Himmler, such devotion was both a psychological need and a vital, thoroughly honed political skill. Hitler rewarded him with a much repeated soubriquet 'the loyal Heinrich' — which implies that he stood out from even his most sycophantic peers. And Himmler insisted that loyalty became the hallmark of SS ideology.
Himmler was a highly competent organiser and manager.
Like Stalin, he made himself master of the card index file. No detail was too trifling. Himmler knew everything about everybody who mattered. He liked to deliver pompous homilies on the black art of political manipulation and fervently believed that the acquisition of power was a conspiratorial skill practised by 'wire pullers'. As 'loyal Heinrich', the manipulative Himmler put these insights to good use. The Baltic German Felix Kersten, who became Himmler's masseur and confidante, was surely right when he called his master a 'crass rationalist coldly taking human instincts into account and using them to his own ends'.
Although Himmler presented himself as 'loyal Heinrich', and evidently derived satisfaction from seeming dutiful, loyalty was a means to an end — one that would serve him very well in the slippery world of Hitler's court. Unlike Hitler and many of the Nazi elite, Himmler had never experienced active service on the front line. This humiliating failure seems to have provoked in him a perverse need to embrace violence as an abstract human quality — one that profoundly shaped his world view. The Germanic or Nordic race, he believed from very early on, possessed a natural right to domination, but this racial privilege was resented and threatened by Jews and 'Asiatic' peoples.
This antagonism could only be resolved through bloodshed. This insignificant 'Gruppe' could muster just men when Himmler received his appointment, but he seems to have grasped its potential very quickly. The rapid expansion of the SS is well documented. By the time Hitler seized power in , membership had expanded to more than 50, Even more significant than these numbers was Himmler's understanding of brand and corporate identity. Drawing on very diverse models such as the Knights Templar, the Order of Jesuits as well as Italian Black Shirts, Himmler fashioned a distinctive paramilitary elite, replete with oaths and slogans, that was avowedly aristocratic.
The SS that emerged after would spawn numerous agencies, militias and pseudo-academies like the Ahnenerbe, all dedicated to a radical refashioning of German imperialism.
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Himmler forged a political apparatus designed to enforce security on the Home Front and on the frontiers of an expanding imperial domain. Hitler never sanctioned such profligate ambition. He could not afford to allow a single individual or agency to acquire hegemonic power. The Nazi state has often been viewed as an embattled arena in which highly aggressive power-brokers continuously jostled for favour and power. Hitler frequently handed the same apparently sovereign power to more than one of his paladins.
For Hitler, this wasteful duplication of powers was strategic. It allowed him to dominate squabbling competitors who would win or lose according to laws that mimicked the natural 'survival of the fittest'. Himmler understood this very well. It was essential that he disguise his master plan for the SS so that he retained his claim to be 'loyal Heinrich', not a rival. Hitler deftly exploited Himmler's anxieties concerning the intentions of his deputy Reinhard Heydrich.
But Himmler rarely rose to the bait and took full advantage of the arcane mechanisms of the 'Chaos State' to pursue his own ends. His first big opportunity came in the summer of He insisted that the SA should be acknowledged as Germany's principal armed force. This notorious purge of troublesome former comrades marked a step change in the political fortunes of Himmler, the SS and Heydrich's SD. Himmler had both proven himself loyal and demonstrated that the new state depended on his growing security apparatus.
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