dear parents, for money; have only twenty-five of the last hundred marks, which included the monthly thirty… white shirts I never put on for work, so my things are really being saved enormously… the polka-dot tie I got for Christmas is torn in several places… heartfelt greetings and kisses.’

The character of the man is in everything he writes, as well as in the fact that these letters, like so much else from the period — receipts, lists, drafts, ticket-stubs, and so on — survived through his care the holocaust of Germany.

Correctness was all. On 5 November 1921 he attends in hired morning dress the funeral of Ludwig II of Bavaria; a few weeks later he calls formally on the royal widow, who was the mother of his godfather; on 18 January 1922 he takes part in a nationalist student ceremony to commemorate the founding of the German Empire. A week later, on 26 January, he attends a rifle-club meeting in Munich with Captain Ernst Roehm, who, he says in his diary, is ‘very friendly’. ‘Roehm pessimistic about Bolshevism’, he adds laconically.

Roehm was still active in the Army. He was thirteen years senior to Himmler and was soon to become the principal influence in bringing him more fully into contact with politics. Along with his elder brother Gebhard, Himmler was to join the local nationalist corps led by Roehm and called the Reichskriegsflagge, the paramilitary contingent which was later, in November 1923, to join forces with Hitler in the Munich putsch.

Meanwhile Himmler had graduated on 5 August 1922. His studies at the Technical College had included chemistry and the science of fertilizers, as well as the generation of new varieties of plants and crops. His immediate need for work was relieved by an appointment as laboratory assistant on the staff of a firm in Schleissheim specializing in the development of fertilizers. Schleissheim is barely fifteen miles north of Munich; this meant that Himmler did not lose touch with the centre where Hitler was breeding his own particular form of nationalism which had already led to the formation of the National Socialist Party. Although Himmler could not have escaped knowing something of Hitler and his political activities in Munich, the first mention of him in what survives of the diaries does not occur until February 1924, five months after the putsch. Among the many rival or parallel nationalist groups of the period, Himmler, like Goebbels, was initially affiliated to a group that did not come immediately under Hitler’s growing influence.

He was, however, already developing his anti-Semitism, a feeling common enough among the right-wing Catholic nationalists in the south. From 1922 anti-Jewish sentiment grows stronger in Himmler’s diary, although on one occasion he softens a little towards a young Austrian-Jewish dancer he met in a night-club with a friend called Alphons, who had managed to persuade him to indulge in this most unusual expedition. He noted that she had ‘nothing of the Jew in her manner, at least as far as one can judge. At first I made several remarks about Jews; I absolutely never suspected her to be one.’ He made sentimental excuses to himself on her behalf, no doubt because she was pretty and gave him a pleasant shock by admitting she was no longer ‘innocent’. He is less indulgent to a fellow-student and former fellow-pupil at school, a Jew named Wolfgang Hallgarten6 whom he calls Jew-boy (Judenbub) and a Jewish louse (Judenlauser) because he had become a left-wing pacifist. From now onwards there are occasional references to the ‘Jewish question’ in the diaries.

This was in July 1922, shortly before he left college and began to earn his living. Official records show that he did not formally apply to join the Nazi Party until August 1923, four months before the unsuccessful putsch, in which he was to play a minor part as ensign to Roehm’s contingent, the Reichskriegsflagge.7 Roehm’s men did not take part in the notorious march through the streets of Munich led by Hitler and Ludendorff; he had been made responsible for occupying the War Ministry in the centre of Munich. A photograph of Himmler survives in which he can be seen standing near Roehm holding the traditional Imperial standard and peering open-mouthed over the flimsy barricades of wood and barbed-wire. He had come specially from Schleissheim to take part in this exciting event, and its failure cost him his job though not his liberty.

The two days of the Munich putsch first brought together in a common action the future Nazi leaders, Hitler, Goring, Roehm and Himmler. But whereas Himmler stood in the background holding a flag, Goring, the former ace flier, marched beside Hitler and Ludendorff on 9 November, the day after Hitler’s attempt at a coup d’etat during a meeting addressed by leading Bavarian ministers in the hall of the Burgerbraukeller, the great tavern of Munich. Roehm, by now a close associate of the Nazi movement, had agreed to march on the military headquarters of the Ministry of War on the Schoenfeldstrasse, where they barricaded themselves in with barbed-wire and set up machine-guns for their defences. It was the only successful action of the coup. Roehm and his men occupied the building and stayed there during the night of 8/9 November, while Hitler and his storm-troopers spent the hours of darkness in the grounds of the Burgerbraukeller before the decision was reached to march on the centre of the city the following day and link up with Roehm, who alone among the leaders of the putsch did not behave like an actor in a melodrama. The march, which began around eleven o’clock, led by Hitler flourishing a pistol and Ludendorff looking grim and important, involved some three thousand storm-troopers crossing the River Isar and progressing for over a mile to the Town Hall in the Marienplatz. After this another mile had to be covered through narrow streets before the Ministry of War was reached. It was then that armed police finally stopped the march, and in the scuffle that followed Hitler was slightly injured and Goring badly wounded in the groin. Only Ludendorff strode on, oblivious of the bullets and sure of the iron weight of his authority. But he was arrested; Roehm and his men were forced to surrender some two hours later. They had been living in a state of siege in the Ministry since dawn, when infantry forces of the regular Army had put a cordon round the building.

The times were too uncertain for violent recriminations. The Nazi Party was banned; Himmler lost his job, and was forced to return home cap-in-hand. Home now meant Munich, to which the family had moved back in 1922. Roehm, whom Himmler still regarded with respect and affection as his superior officer, was confined like the other leaders of the unsuccessful putsch. On 15 February 1924, Himmler asked permission of the Bavarian Ministry of Justice to visit Stadelheim prison where Roehm was held. He rode out on his much-prized motor-cycle, taking with him some oranges and a copy of Grossdeutsche Zeitung. ‘Talked for twenty-minutes with Captain Roehm’, he recorded when he got back. ‘We had an excellent conversation and spoke quite unreservedly.’ They discussed various personalities, and Roehm was grateful for the oranges. ‘He still has his sense of humour and is always the good Captain Roehm’, remarks Himmler.

At the trial of the conspirators that followed on 26 February and lasted for over three weeks, Hitler acted as if he were the accuser, and the trial degenerated into a soft formality. Though Hitler was found guilty and served a nominal sentence, Roehm was completely discharged even though he too had been pronounced guilty of high treason. Hitler was confined in Landsberg castle; Roehm pursued his own plans for founding a revolutionary military movement while Hitler, dictating Mein Kampf, deliberately let his underground party disintegrate in his absence. By the time Hitler was released, owing to the favour shown him by the Bavarian Minister of Justice, Franz Gurtner, Roehm was no longer an acceptable figure in Hitler’s party. By April 1925 he felt bound to send Hitler his resignation as leader of the storm-troopers.

Himmler meanwhile had also been active. Much to his family’s annoyance, he refused to seek work: he wanted, he said, to leave himself free to engage in politics. Corresponding most closely to the disbanded Nazi Party were the nationalist and anti-Semitic groups of the extreme right known as the Volkische movement. Prominent among their supporters were Ludendorff, Gregor Strasser and Alfred Rosenberg; the Volkische groups were collectively a powerful element in the Bavarian government, and in 1924 they managed to draw sufficient support in the Reichstag elections to secure themselves thirty-two seats. Strasser, Roehm and Ludendorff were among those who became members of the Reichstag.8

The sight of such success naturally attracted Himmler. With time on his hands, he took part in the Volkische campaigns in Lower Bavaria. He began to gain experience as a member of a team of speakers at political meetings; he toured the smaller towns and the villages in the area of Munich and spoke on ‘the enslavement of the workers by stock exchange capitalists’ and on ‘the Jewish question’. ‘Bitterly hard and thorny is this duty to the people’, he writes after difficult meetings in the countryside attended by peasants and communists. Along with the other speakers he would mingle with the audience and encourage individual argument. The groundwork of his initial political experience was therefore laid in the same hard school as that of young Joseph Goebbels, who was about to be drawn into the same sphere in politics and address similar political meetings in the industrial area of the Ruhr.

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