On this day: Himmler commits suicide

May 23 1945: SS head kills himself

By Jennifer Lipman, May 23, 2011

After Germany surrendered to allied troops on May 8, Heinrich Himmler was arrested by the British and imprisoned in Germany.

Rather than face questioning and trial, the SS official committed suicide by biting on a cyanide capsule, denying the world of the chance to bring him to justice.

The architect of Third Reich, Hitler's right-hand man and the Nazi who headed the Gestapo, Himmler was born into a Roman Catholic family in Munich in 1900.

His first foray into politics was in his early twenties, when he joined a nationalist group that subsequently participated in the failed Munich Putsch coup of 1923.

By 1929 he was given the role of personal bodyguard to Hitler, and from there his rise in the ranks of the Nazi police organisations was rapid. He was a key figure in the creation of the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau, in 1933.

In charge of the Gestapo from 1936, during the Holocaust Himmler was at the forefront of Nazi policy in occupied Poland and directed the efforts to eliminate the Jewish and other non-Aryan populations. His efforts lead directly to the deaths of millions of Jews, Poles, Roma and other "subhuman" groups.

What the JC said: Himmler, like other leading Nazis, continually tried to "justify" the "Final Solution" on the grounds that unless the Jews were eliminated, they would murder the entire German people and would destroy Western civilisation. Hence, Himmler perceived the "war against the Jews" as a "moral necessity" and as a self-defensive war.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 9:13am, May 23 2011