In Depth

Soldier, father, psychopath: Himmler's diaries rediscovered

Journal reveals chilling new details about how one of Nazi Germany's most feared men mixed genocide with daily life

Newly discovered diaries written by Heinrich Himmler provide a chilling insight into the Nazi SS chief responsible for the death of millions of Jews.

"It could be any businessman's desk diary, with its neatly typed lists of mundane appointments, travel arrangements and lunch meetings," says The Sun. "But Himmler's business was genocide."

Who was he?

One of the most feared and powerful men in Nazi Germany, Himmler was Adolf Hitler's right-hand man and responsible for overseeing the SS and concentration camps across the country. He was committed to "racial purity" and the chief architect of the massacre of millions of Jews and other minority groups. 

circa 1938:German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945) and his chief of police Heinrich Himmler (1900 - 1945) inspecting the SS Guard.(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Himmler and Hitler inspect an SS guard in the late 1930s

As Germany's defeat in the Second World War became imminent, Himmler made attempts to negotiate with the Allies, the BBC reports. "Hitler was furious and stripped Himmler of all his offices." He was caught trying to flee after Germany's surrender and killed himself by biting on a cyanide capsule in 1945.

How were the diaries found?

The books, more than 1,000 pages covering the years 1938, 1943 and 1944, were discovered at a defence ministry archive in the town of Podolsk, near Moscow. They are being studied by historians and analysts at the German Historical Institute (DHI) in Moscow and extracts are being serialised by the German tabloid Bild.

DHI director Nikolaus Katzer says they are of "shudderingly outstanding historical significance".

What do they reveal?

Commentators have been struck by the banality of some of his entries, which often preceded unimaginable horrors. Himmler began many of his days with a massage from his personal doctor before contacting his wife and three children.

One such day saw him then overseeing a mass execution at a Nazi death camp, after which he hosted a lavish banquet.

His diaries also revealed that he enjoyed curling, saunas, card games, star-gazing and cosmology.

German researcher Matthias Uhl said he was shocked by Himmler's "enormous concern for his elite SS, family and friends - while meticulously implementing mass murder", reports the BBC.

Damian Imoehl, the journalist who helped to track down the diaries for Bild, said: "The most interesting thing for me is this combination of doting father and cold-blooded killer."

Despite being a mass murderer, Himmler was frightened of blood, writing in August 1941 how he almost fainted when brain matter landed on his coat during a mass shooting.

Speaking in front of Nazi troops in occupied Poland in 1943, the police chief explicitly outlined his plans for what he called the "Final Solution".

"We're eliminating the Jews, exterminating them," he said. "[It is] a small matter."

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