Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), Hitler's notorious "Reichsführer SS" (Federal leader of the SS) and chief of the German police, is one of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century. Not only was he directly responsible for the death of at least six million Jews but also for the death of countless others most of whom belonged to so-called "inferior races" or simply despised Nazism. Moreover, a lot of German enemies and political opponents of the "Third Reich" also died in concentration camps and prisons – as a result of the brutal practices of SS and State Security Police or "Gestapo." (Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller had once visited Russia where he had been impressed by the methods of Stalin's secret police.)
Less well known is the fact that the same Heinrich Himmler warmly embraced Islam or "Mohammedanism" as it was called then. He admired the religion of the Muslims because it promised that there will be "beautiful women in paradise for those who die in battle." (Many of today's suicide bombers – often sexually frustrated young males – have also deluded themselves into believing that 72 smiling "Huris" or virgin beauties are waiting for them in paradise.)
Felix Kersten (1898-1990) was Himmler's personal masseur and confidant. It was seven years after the war that Kersten published his sensational memoirs, "Totenkopf und Treue." The Kersten memoirs were also published in English but, unfortunately, the original chapter on Himmler's "Enthousiasm for Islam" ("Begeisterung für Islam") was conspicuously lacking in the English edition. Although some of Kersten's claims are exaggerated, other parts of his memoirs seem to be fairly reliable. Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel, two leading Himmler biographers, believe that Kersten "became the most powerful influence in Himmler's life after the death of Heydrich." There is no doubt that Kersten met Himmler quite often and that they were very close friends. This is apparent, for example, from the numerous references to Kersten in Himmler's 1941/42 office diary/appointment book ("Dienstkalender"), published in Hamburg in 1999. On March 21, 1945, Himmler wrote a very friendly letter to Kersten, thanking him for a recent visit:
"This time I was again delighted when you came here and used your tremendous medical skills as a token of (our) long friendship. In the many years we know each other we discussed many problems."
Kersten kept notes of everything Himmler told him. He was the only man whose "miraculous hands" could relieve Himmler's pain. Himmler's health was rather poor as he was suffering from severe stomach cramps. "The moment he was relieved of pain, Himmler began to unburden his mind," Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel write.
The fact that Himmler did not hesitate to nearly exclusively confide in Kersten was not appreciated by other high ranking SS officers. It seems that Himmler was well aware of this. He personally warned SS Security Service chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner, that should Kersten be murdered, he, Kaltenbrunner would not survive Kersten longer than 24 hours. Kaltenbrunner's predecessor Reinhold Heydrich did not like Felix Kersten either. He thought the Finish masseur was a spy. But Heydrich, too, could not have Kersten arrested or killed since he knew that the Finnish masseur enjoyed Himmler's personal protection. (As he was traveling in an open car Heydrich was attacked by two British supported partisans in Prague in May 1942 and later died in hospital.)
Kersten was not a spy, but he did have high level contacts both in Germany and Sweden. It was through his efforts and personal influence on Himmler that 3500 Jews could be transferred from Nazi concentration camps to Sweden. And this was not the only thing Kersten did to save those who suffered under Nazi persecution. On December 12, 1945, the World Jewish Congress sent a letter to Kersten thanking him for his successful efforts to save the 3500 Jews as well as for his generous willingness to help whenever he could.
Himmler: "Islam is a practical and sympathetic religion for soldiers"
British historian Peter Longerich recently published a 1035-page study on Himmler quoting, inter alia, from documents in the German Federal Archives in Berlin ("Bundesarchiv Berlin"). Longerich quotes Himmler as saying in November 1944 that Islam is "a practical and sympathetic religion for soldiers." "It promises that those who fall in battle will go to heaven."
We find similar quotes in Kersten's 1952 book. On December 1, 1942, Himmler told Kersten:
"Mohammed knew that most people are terribly cowardly and stupid. That is why he promised two beautiful women to every courageous warrior who dies in battle. This is the kind of language a soldier understands. When he believes that he will be welcomed in this manner in the afterlife, he will be willing to give his life, he will be enthusiastic about going to battle and not fear death. You may call this primitive and you may laugh about it, but it is based on deeper wisdom. A religion must speak a man's language."
Himmler, whose parents were devout and conservative Bavarian Catholics, publicly left the Catholic Church in the summer of 1936. In his conversations with Kersten he later lashed out against the Catholic Church, the Vatican and Christianity in general. Christianity does not promise anything to the soldiers and warriors who die in battle, Himmler said. They either go to hell or heaven – there is just no reward for fighting bravely. "And now compare this, Herr Kersten, to the religion of the Mohammedans, a religion of people's soldiers."
In other words, Himmler admired the Muslim concept of martyrdom: if you die on the battlefield as a jihadist (Muslim holy warrior) and so become a martyr, you will be amply rewarded in the afterlife ("paradise"). This is precisely what Haj Amin Al-Husseini told the Muslim soldiers in the SS.
It was in the first half of 1942 that Himmler and an SS officer named Adolf Eichmann befriended this firebrand cleric – the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem whom the Nazis had welcomed to Berlin. Haj Amin Al-Husseini, whose hatred of the Jews equalled that of the Nazis, arrived in Nazi Germany in November 1941 and was received by Hitler that same month. The Grand Mufti wanted the Nazis to approve his plan for a pro-Nazi Muslim fighting force or "Arab legion." Hitler initially declined, but Himmler was enthousiastic about the idea. In November 1943, the SS Reichsführer sent a telegram to the Grand Mufti, saying there existed "a natural bond between National Socialist Greater Germany and the freedom loving Mohammedans throughout the world."
Earlier that year, a special Muslim unit had been created inside Himmler's "Waffen-SS" (the combat arm of the SS). It was called the "SS-Handschar Division" and largely consisted of Bosnian Muslims. In 1944, the Handschar Division committed serious war crimes in Yugolavia killing Serb civilians. (After the war, Yugoslav leader Marshall Tito wanted Al-Husseini for war crimes but the French and the British had no intention of upsetting the Arab world.) Al-Husseini traveled to Sarajevo in October 1944 to address his men from the Handschar Division. He said that the National Socialist and the Islamic world view largely ran parallel. "The Germans are the real friends of the 400 million Muslims," he added. In April 1944, the SS founded its own "Imam training school" in Guben, near Cottbus. Himmler strongly supported this initiative and the Grand Mufti gave the opening ceremony speech.
Himmler told his masseur Felix Kersten on December 2, 1942, that he was reading serious books on the "Mohammedan religion." When the war was over, he said, he wanted to visit the Islamic countries himself with a view to continuing his studies. "Look, how wise ("vernünftig") this religion is."
Himmler: "Let us assume that the Turkish Muslim armies would have conquered Vienna and Europe in 1683...."
Five days later, Himmler told Kersten that he regretted the fact that the Turkish Muslim armies had not been able to conquer Europe in 1683:
"Let us assume that the Turks in whose ranks Europeans were fighting as well, even in high positions, would have conquered Vienna and Europe in 1683 instead of having been forced to withdraw. If the Mohammedans would have gained the victory at the time and Islam would have swept victoriously over Europe, then the Christian churches would have been depoliticized. (...) For the Turks were religiously tolerant, they allowed each religion to continue to exist, provided it was no longer involved in politics – otherwise it was finished."
This view comes close to the Muslim concept of the so-called "Caliphate" or Allah's kingdom on earth. The same concept is also embraced by many terrorists belonging to Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri repeatedly said they strongly regretted that the Muslims had been driven out of Spain ("Al-Andalus") in the late Middle Ages. They call on Muslims to reconquer "every stolen Islamic land, from Palestine to Al-Andalus and other Islamic lands that were once lost because of the betrayals of rulers and the feebleness of Muslims." Many militant Muslims believe that Europe can also be conquered though massive immigration flows from the Muslim world.
There is something else that Himmler and the militant Muslims have in common. Both believe in polygamy and having lots of the children. Indeed, the Muslim prophet Mohammed himself, "is usually said to have had fourteen wives in the strict sense, of whom nine survived him," W. Montgomery Watt, a British expert on Islam, writes. (Montgomery Watt then identifies the names and age of thirteen wives or concubines.) Himmler once told Kersten: "The multiple marriage ("Mehrehe") also exists in other countries, so why shouldn't this be the case here?" Katrin Himmler, Heinrich Himmler's great-niece, recently published an excellent book on the three Himmler brothers. Himmler was officially married to Marga Boden, but Hedwig Potthast was his mistress, she writes. Himmler and Miss Potthast who was his secretary once, lived as if they were married. They had two children. Himmler told his SS men to follow his example: the more "Aryan" children they would beget, the more women they would make pregnant, the better. "We must show courage and act decisively in this matter, even if it means arousing still greater opposition from the Church," Himmler told Kersten.
It is not very strange that some high ranking SS criminals later found refuge in the Muslim world. Alois Brunner, for example, lived in Syria for many years. (He is problably no longer alive.) Others went to Egypt. Militant Muslims, but also many Egyptians, Syrians and Saudis, embrace a virulent kind anti-Semitism. Osama bin Laden, whose father was from Yemen but later settled in Saudi Arabia, and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian, call on their followers to kill Jews and Americans wherever they can be found. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who coordinated the 9/11 attacks and is currently in Guantanamo Bay, made no secret of his anti-Semitism when he proudly announced at a hearing that he "decapitated with his blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl."
If Himmler – like Eichmann and Brunner – would somehow have managed to escape from Nazi Germany, he would probably have tried to reach a safehaven in a Muslim or Latin American country. Instead, he committed suicide on May 23, 1945, now 64 years ago.
Emerson Vermaat is a Dutch investigative reporter. He is author of a major Dutch study on temporary alliances between extremists: "Nazi's, Communisten en Islamisten" ("Nazis, Communists and Islamists"), Aspekt Publishers, Soesterberg, Netherlands, November 2008).
Heinrich Himmler's SS & Gestapo (DVD documentary, Eagle Rock Entertainment, 1999). Heinrich Müller was appointed by Himmler and admired the methods of Stalin's secret police, the NKVD.
Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel, Heinrich Himmler. The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and the Gestapo (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007, p. 175 ("...single most powerful influence..."), p. 181 ("We must act decisively in this matter..."), p .176 ("The moment he was relieved of pain..."). This study was first published in 1965. A German edition was published in 1981: Heinrich Fraenkel and Roger Manvell, Himmler. Kleinbürger und Massenmörder (Herrsching: Manfred Pawlak Verlagsgesellschaft/Berlin: Verlag Ullstein, 1981), p. 166.
Heinrich Himmler, Der Dienstkalender Heinrich Himmler 1941/42 (Hamburg: Hans Christian Verlag, 1999). See the index under "Kersten.
Felix Kersten, Totenkopf und Treue. Heinrich Himmler ohne Uniform (Hamburg: Robert Mölich Verlag, 1952), p. 12 (full text of letter from the World Jewish Congres to Felix Kersten, December 15, 1945), p. 122 ("Er – Heydrich – habe seiner Umgebung gegenüber den Verdacht geäussert ich stände in feindlichen Nachrichtendienst...."), p. 127 (Heydrich to Kersten: "Ich glaube Ihnen kein Wort, ich weiss, dass Sie nicht auf unserer Seite stehen."), p. 203 ("Darum verhiess er – Mohammed – jedem Krieger, der tapfer in der Schlacht kämpft und fällt, zwei schöne Frauen zur Belohnung..."), p. 205 ("Er erklärte mir, er wolle nach dem Krieg selbst die islamischen Länder besuchen und dort Studien machen."), p. 206-208 ("Wenn die Türken Europa erobert hätten..."), p. 226 ("In anderen Länder besteht ja auch die Mehrehe, warum soll es bei uns nicht gehen?"), p. 358, 359 (full text of Himmler's letter to Kersten, dated March 21, 1945 ("In den langen Jahren unserer Bekanntschaft haben wir uns ja über viele Probleme unterhalten...").
H.R. Trevor-Roper, Himmlers Leibarzt, in: Der Monat. Eine Internationale Zeitschrift, November 1956 (vol. 9, number 98), p. 70. Heinrich Himmler to Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of the SS Security Service (SD): "Wenn Kersten umgelegt wird, überlebst du ihn nicht um vierundzwanzig Stunden."
Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler. Biographie (München: Siedler Verlag, 2008), p. 277. ("...eine für Soldaten praktische und sympathische Religion..." "...verspricht ihnen den Himmel, wenn sie gekämpft haben und im Kampf gefallen sind." See also: Bundesarchiv Berlin (BAB), NS 19/4013, November 26, 1944.
Emerson Vermaat, Nazi's, Communisten en Islamisten. Opmerkelijke Allianties tussen Extremisten (Soesterberg, Netherlands: Aspekt Publishers, 2008), p. 38-41 (Al-Husseini).
Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World. The Statements of Osama bin Laden (New York: Verso, 2005), p. 14, 91, 227.
W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1966), p. 395-397 ("Muhammad's marriages").
Katrin Himmler, Die Brüder Himmler. Eine deutsche Familiengeschichte (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2008), p. 233-246. Katrin Himmler is highy critical both of Heinrich Himmler and his two brothers (Gebhard and Ernst; Ernst was her grandfather). Katrin Himmler is married to an Israeli Jew with whom she has a son. She reveals that Heinrich Himmler's father later joined the Nazi party and was very proud of his son's career.
Major General Charles J. Dunlap and Major Linell A. Letendre, Military Lawyering and Professional Independence in the War on Terror: A Response to David Luban, in: Stanford Law Review, 2008, vol. 61, issue 2, p. 429 (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed).