At the heart of the evil of Nazism was Hitler’s “witch doctor,” Heinrich Himmler, and his peculiar and deadly organization with the mundane name Schutzstaffel, literally “protective squadron.” Undoubtedly you know them better as the feared SS, the very essence of Nazism. Their threatening double lightning bolt is perhaps the most dreaded symbol of the Third Reich.
The facts of the SS’s origins are truly stranger than fiction. If you thought Raiders of the Lost Ark was an inspired Hollywood fiction, think again. Hitler's Master of the Dark Arts reveals the hidden “truths” of the SS in full and morbidly fascinating detail.
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There have been many books written about Himmler¿s SS, the organization that began as Hitler¿s Schutzstaffel (¿protection squad¿) and ended up the multi-layered behemoth most responsible for war crimes in Nazi Germany. However, Bill Yenne¿s book, ¿Hitler¿s Master of the Dark Arts,¿ has a slightly different purpose than most of these: to show the background and origins of Nazi racial philosophy and how these philosophies made the SS tick. On the positive side, Yenne provides an exhaustive background of the philosophies of Teutonic racial superiority (dating back to the mid-19th century) and an in-depth background of the German philosophers whose belief systems included ¿ among other things -- the embrace of pre-Christian pagan religions (hence the word ¿occult¿ in Yenne¿s title) and whose philosophies young Heinrich Himmler devoured. Yenne shows how Himmler, determined to transform his belief in ¿Aryan¿ superiority into a dogma, promoted archaeological digs and anthropological studies of living Tibetans and created the ¿Ahnenerbe¿, an organization devoted to proving Aryan superiority. The Ahnenerbe¿s sub-organizations (there were more than 50) are listed in a sidebar, which gives the reader a clear sense of how doggedly determined Himmler was to "prove" his point. Speaking of sidebars, there are many extremely informative ones scattered throughout the book and, coupled with the plethora of illustrations also included, they make Yenne¿s book a visual and illuminating treat (if one can use that term when discussing the history of such an aberrant and abhorrent organization). On the down side, however, the text is often peppered with somewhat corny suppositions. That Heinrich Himmler believed himself to be the reincarnation of Heinrich I, the first king of Germany is an interesting fact but Yenne should have let it go after stating it once. He doesn¿t: he keeps bringing it up throughout the text as if he himself believes it. When discussing Himmler¿s marriage, he mentions: ¿As Himmler might have observed, though, this was actually not his first marriage. His first wedding had occurred 1,022 years earlier in 906, when, in his previous life as Heinrich I, he had married a woman named Hatheburg, whose Saxon father was Count Edwin of Merseburg.¿ At the end of this sizeable paragraph, which describes the noble lineage of the Heinrich I¿s bride, Yenne finally provides his reason for including this information: ¿Heinrich Himmler was no doubt pleased to lay claim to such a majestic and most Aryan pedigree through his belief in reincarnation.¿ A paragraph with a fairly interesting dip back into Himmler¿s imagined ancestry, yes, but when the justification for its inclusion rests on phrases such as ¿As Himmler might have observed¿ and ¿Himmler was no doubt pleased¿ the reader can see that Yenne is no longer stating facts. These types of suppositions are located more in the first half of the book, however, and the writing, while occasionally clumsy throughout, also contains some solid information. In spite of the book's flaws, ¿Hitler¿s Master of the Dark Arts¿ manages to clearly illustrate the philosophies of the little man behind the pince-nez who orchestrated the Holocaust and his cadre of Black Knights who carried it out.
This book was truly a fascinating read. Terrifying, yes, but informative and, dare I say, entertaining. My interest in WWII is fairly recent, and therefore, I have been slowly perusing through books and documentaries pertaining to it. Sadly, my knowledge of the War prior to my recent interest was very limited, and therefore, each book I read and each documentary I watch brings new information to me. Believe me, this period of time in the world's history is dark and profoundly sad, but at the same time, it is fascinating to learn how such an advanced nation as Germany was in the 30s could be hypnotized by one man's perverted beliefs. In some ways, I feel that history may be repeating itself in today's world.
I usually approach my history subjects with an open mind and the willingness to belief that no person can be truely deluded by their own fantasies, but in the case of Himmler I am wrong. The author does a very nice job of bringing to the foreground the backstory of how and why the SS and more importantly Himmler became the second most powerful man behind Hitler in the 1930's Germany and there on. For those that are not familiar with SS religion and ideology this a crash course on how it all started ands how it all came crashing down around the Third Reich leading into the Nuremburg Trials and some cases farther than that. Highly reccommended reading if you are wanting to dive in a little farther in your history.