This week in Jewish history | SS leader Heinrich Himmler commits suicide in British custody - World Jewish Congress

This week in Jewish history | SS leader Heinrich Himmler commits suicide in British custody

This week in Jewish history | SS leader Heinrich Himmler commits suicide in British custody

On 23 May 1945, Chief of German Police Heinrich Himmler committed suicide, one day after being arrested by British authorities. 

As Reichsführer (National Leader) of the SS, Himmler was the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany by the end of World War II. He was responsible for conceiving and directing the implementation of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” The German secret police, security police, and criminal police all reported to him through his chief lieutenants Reinhard Heydrich and Ernst Kaltenbrunner. He also oversaw and controlled the vast Nazi concentration camp system, including the economic exploitation of prisoner labor as a means of extermination. 

In the final months of the war, Himmler suffered increasingly from psychosomatic illnesses. Realizing the imminent defeat of Germany, Himmler, who hoped to succeed Hitler, attempted to negotiate a peace deal with western Allies without Hitler’s knowledge. Outraged, Hitler promptly stripped Himmler of all offices and ordered his arrest. While Himmler attempted to disguise himself as a soldier to avoid arrest - his familiar mustache had been shaved off, a black patch covered one eye and his rimless glasses were replaced by thick horn-rimmed glasses - his forged identification papers aroused suspicion of a British patrol unit. 

His disguise was strong enough that the British unit was initially unaware who they were holding in custody; but under interrogation, Himmler soon revealed himself as one of the key masterminds in the destruction of European Jewry. Shortly after that, a medical officer went into the interrogation room to inspect Himmler from head-to-toe. When he reached Himmler’s mouth, Himmler swallowed a capsule of cyanide capsule and was pronounced dead minutes later.  

British authorities buried Himmler in a secret location, so that Nazi sympathizers could not use his burial location as a gathering spot and place of inspiration.