The first personal note by Heinrich to survive is a fragment of a diary he kept during 1910 in Munich. In a typical entry on 22 July he wrote: ‘Took a bath. The thirteenth wedding anniversary of my dear parents.’ It is a diary in which he simply adds up the smaller facts of his life from taking baths to going for walks, and he is careful always to show his respect for adults by entering their correct titles. The impression he gives already is that he has a painstaking primness of nature.3

The sections of Himmler’s early diary that survive increase in length and scale during the later years of his youth, and so reveal more about his mind and character. The principal period they represent includes the first year of the war, when he was a schoolboy of fourteen in Landshut, and the period of his adolescence and young manhood in Munich, when he was from nineteen to twenty-two years of age, and then again when he was twenty- four. The total span of the diary covers ten important and formative years in his life, but the entries themselves are intermittent and survive in notebooks that cover only occasional periods of a few months in any detail. Nevertheless, they are of the greatest interest because they reveal so much of the nature of their author.

Although the war seems at first to have affected life at Landshut very little — Himmler’s diary is full of the records of peaceful walks and church-goings, of working on his stamp collection and doing his homework — it is evident that the war news excited him sufficiently to make him enter up various events which he copied from the newspapers. Occasionally he bursts out into schoolboy slang. He notes on 23 September that Prince Heinrich has written to his father, and that the Prince has been wounded. But the initial German victories fill him with enthusiasm for the war, and on 28 September he says how he and a schoolboy friend ‘would be so happy if we could go and slog it out’ with the English and French. But principally he lives the normal life of a schoolboy — attending Mass, going out with his brothers to visit friends (‘had tea with the Frau President, who was very gracious’), playing games and practising on the piano, for which it seems he had little aptitude. He pours scorn on the grumbling and timid people of Landshut who so dislike the war — ‘all the silly old women and petty bourgeois in Landshut… spread idiotic rumours and are afraid of the Cossacks who, they think, will tear them limb from limb.’ On 29 September he notes that his mother and father went to the railway station to help hand out refreshments to transports of wounded soldiers. ‘The entire station was crowded with inquisitive Landshuters who cut up very rough and even began to fight when bread and water were given to seriously wounded Frenchmen who, after all, since they are prisoners, are worse off than our chaps. We took a walk in town and were frightfully bored.’ On 2 October he is roused to enthusiasm by the mounting statistics of Russian prisoners. ‘They multiply like vermin’, he writes. ‘As for the Landshuters, they are as stupid and chickenhearted as ever.’ ‘Whenever there is talk about our troops retreating, they wet themselves,’ writes Himmler, in an attempt to be vulgar, and he continues the following Sunday, after church, ‘I use dumbbells every day now so as to get more strength.’ On 11 October, a few days after his fourteenth birthday, he refers to an army exercise in his locality, and how he ‘would have loved to join in’.

The diaries of this earlier period already begin to reveal that, in spite of his frequent walks, his swimming, and other exercise, he is constantly complaining of heavy colds and suffering from feverishness and stomach upsets. He seems to have been a diligent, not brilliant, pupil at school; he refers frequently, among other subjects, to history, mathematics, Latin and Greek, and to the homework he has to do. He practised assiduously at the piano, but unlike his elder brother, he had no talent at all as a pianist; it was years, however, before he asked his parents to allow him to give up this impossible task. He was also studying shorthand, and began in 1915 to use it for the entries in his diary. But after September 1915 he seems virtually to have given up the diary until a year after the war, in August 1919, when the entries are suddenly resumed.

To judge from his schoolboy enthusiasm, Himmler’s one idea was to grow up and join the Army. His elder brother became seventeen on 29 July 1915, and Heinrich records how on that very day ‘he enters the Landsturm’, that is, the Reserve Army. ‘Oh, how I wish to be as old as that’, writes Heinrich, ‘and so able to go to the front.’

He had to wait until 1917 before he too could volunteer. The draft of a letter written by his father on 7 July survives to show how he used his influence with the Bavarian royal household to ask that, while his son might be regarded as a future officer-cadet, he should at the same time be allowed to remain at school long enough to matriculate before being conscripted. The application form he filled in, dated 26 June, also survives; this was designed to secure his son’s eventual acceptance for training as an Army officer.

Himmler did not in fact formally matriculate until 18 October 1919, two days before he began the study of agriculture in the Technical High School of the University of Munich. Meanwhile in 1917 he had been called up; he served in the 11th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, training at Regensburg, his mother’s home town. Much later, Himmler was to claim that he had led men into action during the First World War,4 but this does not accord with an application for military papers that is still preserved in his own handwriting; this is dated 18 June 1919, and makes it clear that Himmler had been released from the Army on 18 December 1918 without having received the military documents due to him following the completion of a course for officer-cadets in Freising during the summer of 1918, and another as a machine-gunner in Bayreuth during September. He needs these papers, he claims, because he is about to join the Reichswehr, having served meanwhile in the local Landshut Free Corps.

Himmler therefore did not qualify as an officer in time to serve on the Western Front, but continued what military activities he could after the Armistice in 1918. It is clear that in spite of his weak health soldiering appealed to him, but meanwhile during the difficult post-war years — Bavaria had for a while a Communist state government during 1919, and the effects of inflation were soon to be felt — he had to qualify for some civilian occupation. It was then that he decided to study farming. By the time he resumed his diary more fully in August 1919, he was already working on a farm near Ingolstadt, a small town on the Danube to which the family were to move from Landshut during September, when Professor Himmler took up a post as headmaster.

Himmler’s work as an apprentice farmer was not to last long; on 4 September he suddenly felt ill. At the hospital in Ingolstadt it was found he had paratyphoid fever. When he recovered he was told he must leave the farm for at least a year, and on 18 October he was accepted as a student in agriculture at the University of Munich. The diary also makes it clear that for the time being he had to give up his hopes of serving as a reservist either in the Army or in the Free Corps movement. He managed, however, to join the traditional student fencing fraternity.

Himmler was to remain a student in Munich until August 1922, when at the age of twenty-one he gained his agricultural diploma. What remains of his diary during this three-year period shows that he was anxious to live the life of the conventional student, persistently seeking out fencing partners until he had received the traditional cut in the face during his last term at college, and making enthusiastic friendships which enabled him to indulge in earnest intellectual discussions. He also believed in enjoying himself, and he even learned dancing in his youthful determination to become a social success. He found the dancing lessons troublesome: ‘I’ll be glad once I know it’, he writes on 25 November. ‘This dancing course leaves me absolutely cold and only takes up my time.’

He lived in rooms where no food was provided, and he took his meals at the house of a certain Frau Loritz, who had two daughters, Maja and Kathe. Although he went home frequently at weekends, and remained on close terms with his brother Gebhard, he soon fell in love with Maja in Munich. ‘I am so happy to be able to call this wonderful girl my friend’, he writes in October, and again the following month: ‘had a long talk with her about religion. She told me a great deal about her life. I think I have found in her a sister.’ Some of his entries are enigmatic: ‘we talked and sang a little. It gives one plenty to think about later.’ But apparently this slight love affair soon drifted into an unimpassioned friendship, even though in November he ‘talked to Maja about relations between man and woman’, and after a discussion on hypnotism he claims to himself that he has considerable influence over her.

It was, apparently, an uneasy time for him. He was restless, and dreamed of leaving Germany eventually and working abroad. Though he often had to work in the evenings, he began to study Russian in case his future travels took him east. His closest friend, apart from his brother Gebhard, was a young man called Ludwig Zahler, a companion from his days in the Army, with whom he talked endlessly, but whose character evidently disturbed him. ‘Ludwig seems to me more and more incomprehensible’, he writes, and then two days later, ‘I have now no more doubts about his character. I pity him.’

He shows that he also had some doubts about himself. ‘I was very earnest and depressed’, he records in November, after an evening with Maja. ‘I think we are heading for serious times. I look forward to wearing uniform again.’ Less than a week later he confesses to himself, ‘I am not quite sure what I am working for, not at the moment at any rate. I work because it is my duty. I work because I find peace of mind in working … and overcome my indecision.’

At the time he was writing these entries at odd moments in his diary, Himmler was only nineteen, but

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