It is only in a hopelessly disrupted society that a figure like Heinrich Himmler can acquire political influence; and only under a totalitarian form of government offering universal salvation could he come to hold the power that offered some prospect of putting his ideas into practice. His sobriety and apparent common sense, which deceived outsiders, were precisely what made his career possible. ‘I am convinced that nobody I met in Germany is more normal,’ an English observer wrote in 1929. The basic pathological characteristic of the National Socialist movement, so often and so erroneously sought in clinically obvious psychopaths like Julius Streicher, showed itself rather in the curious amalgam of crankiness and ‘normality’, of insanity and sober administrative ability. Thus Streicher was pushed further and further to the sidelines, while Heinrich Himmler, who possessed the ‘arcanum imperil’ of this system of government, quickly reached the highest power, a calculating man of faith who without doubt or challenge trampled over millions, leaving behind him a trail of blood and tears, the most dreadful combination of crackpot and manipulator of power, of quack and inquisitor, that history has ever known. Concentration camps and herb gardens, such as he had planted at Dachau and elsewhere: these are still the most apt symbols of his personality.
But he himself did not have the hardness he demanded from his subordinates, any more than he had the rest of the elite characteristics of the SS man, the external racial features, the physical height, the hair colour, or the so-called Great Family Tree (Grosser Ahnennachweis) going back to 1750. There is no evidence that he was conscious of these problems or suffered from them. Only once does he seem to have submitted himself to the sight of what he demanded from others. SS Obergruppenfuhrer von dem Bach-Zelewski has attested that in 1941 in Minsk, Himmler ordered a hundred prisoners to be assembled for a model execution. At the first salvo, however, he almost fainted, and he screamed when the execution squad failed to kill two women outright. In significant contrast to his abstract readiness to commit murder was the heartfelt emotion, described elsewhere, which overcame him at the sight of blond children, and his positively hysterical opposition to hunting. His lunch was ruined if he was reminded that animals had been slaughtered. He once protested to his doctor:
"How can you find pleasure, Herr Kersten, in shooting from behind cover at poor creatures browsing on the edge of a wood, innocent, defenceless. and unsuspecting? It’s really pure murder. Nature is so marvellously beautiful and every animal has a right to live. It’s just this point of view that I admire so much in our forefathers. They, for instance, formally declared war on rats and mice, which were required to stop their depredations and leave a fixed area with a definite time limit, before beginning a war of annihilation against them. You will find this respect for animals in all Indo-Germanic peoples. It was of extraordinary interest to me to hear recently that even today Buddhist monks, when they pass through a wood in the evening, carry a bell with them, to make any woodland animals they might meet keep away, so that no harm will come to them. But with us every slug is trampled on, every worm destroyed."
The almost incomprehensible distortion of all standards of judgement revealed when this observation is set beside what he said about experiments on living prisoners or the ‘treatment of other races in the East’ can be understood only in the context of his utopian fanaticism, which in its narrow-minded obsessionalism undoubtedly contained an element of insanity, and in the context of his world of ideas that was totally divorced from human reality