We’ve all heard of Heinrich Himmler. We’ve seen his images, a weak rather nondescript looking man. He had one of those faces that just blended into a crowd. In most circumstances he would have been the quiet, frustrated and angry man who never quite accomplished much who seethed at imagined enemies. He might have simply been an unhappy crank or perhaps he would have one day become unhinged, perpetrating a one time shocking, violent deed. That is, however, not what happened to Heinrich Himmler. He lived during a time when his decidedly sick views were shared by people in power. His adherence to racist theories and unyielding allegiance to Adolf Hitler provided him with a prominent place among the dangerous rogues who held sway over Germany. He became one of the major architects of a profane attempt to purify the world by exterminating Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Communists and anyone deemed to be infirm in body or mind. He was a cold calculating killer, an evil individual with psychopathic tendencies.
Heinrich Himmler appeared to be a sweet little boy but even in his earliest days there were signs that something was not quite right in his temperament. He struggled in school claiming that he was simply bored and lazy. He was sickly. He penned journal entries speaking of his strong desire to return to a time of “Germanic glory.” He was sad that he was not old enough to go to war for his country and longed for the time when he might fight. He wrote of his many grievances and tended to blame everyone but himself for the troubles that seemed to dog him. His hatred for the Jews was particularly vile but he railed against homosexuals as well. He somehow believed that his country would be a better place without such people.
Heinrich eventually fell in love with an older woman. His correspondence with her was as strange as his diary entries. He wanted her to be both pure and naughty at the same time. He demanded her subservience to him. She demurred and eventually they wed at a time when he was ascending the ranks of the Nationalist Party. Much of the couple’s time together would be brief. He was busy building a new Germany and a house for his family. He believed it to be the duty of all good Aryan citizens to populate the world with their strong and racially perfect children. Sadly his wife was only able to have one baby, a girl. The couple adopted a boy to be an example for their fellow German citizens. He then proceeded to have a secret affair with a younger woman who gave him yet another child.
Himmler was cold and evil and yet he doted on his little girl, sending her loving letters and extravagant gifts. He showed her a side of himself that was incongruous with the horrific deeds that he sanctioned. He thought of his ability to view the bodies of the individuals who had been murdered in the concentration camps as a sign of courage. He spoke of being able to do what he believed to be right and necessary for the good of the country as though he were a great hero. He celebrated the callous research of doctors intent on sterilizing the unwanted. He felt great accomplishment when methods of extermination became more effective. He spoke of the importance and difficulty of his work, patting himself on the back for being so devoted to making the fatherland a better place.
In the end he left his wife and children to fend for themselves, committing suicide when he was ultimately captured. He was a coward with visions of grandeur. A megalomaniac who insisted that he and his fellow savages were really decent men who did what they did out of love of country. He hoped that one day the world would realize the necessity of their actions and judge them in a favorable way.
What force of nature or environmental mistake creates such individuals? How does hate become so embedded in a person’s soul that he or she becomes blinded to the need for human decency? Why do we continue to see such dark souls living in our midst? Are such people cursed with a genetic flaw or does their upbringing play into their evil? These are questions that have daunted civilized society for centuries. We would desperately like to be able to fix those with broken deviated minds but we neither have the means to accurately identify them before they stalk us nor the knowhow to help them change. Their very existence remains a mystery to us and we generally only stop them once they have committed their horrific deeds.
As an educator I have once in a great while seen youngsters who seemed destined for grave trouble. It is difficult to be the person to identify such children. It hardly seems right to label them when they are so young and yet they do stand out from the rest of the little ones. I once had a student who was a twin. He was only ten but he had already demonstrated tendencies that were frightening. He regularly beat and berated his sibling. His mother was afraid to sleep at night lest he murder her while she slumbered. He tortured younger students and seemed to greatly enjoy his conquests. His father almost celebrated his deeds as evidence that he was strong. He was the classic bully but he also attempted to hide his evil. He cooperated fully in class, even appearing to be polite and quite intelligent. His were classic signs of a sociopath and yet the hands of those of us who worried about him were mostly tied. His father was unwilling to allow him to undergo counseling. His mother eventually ran away, leaving a note outlining her fears and her inability to cope with what she saw as a threatening storm inside her family. Years later this boy would commit crimes that sealed his fate. He became a resident of the state prison population. Thankfully he was incarcerated before he did too much harm. Still, I wonder to this very day if there might have been some form of intervention that might have helped him when we observed his tendencies so long ago.
Psychologists define sociopaths as having certain characteristics. They possess intelligence and a charm which they use to manipulate those with whom they interact. Their thinking is not psychotic or delusional but they are able to lie without signs of guilt. They show little remorse or shame for misdeeds, often attempting to cover themselves by parsing the truth. Their judgement is faulty and they appear to make similar mistakes over and over again which they often blame on outside forces. Their personal relationships are shallow and they often trivialize others. I have read that there is little that can be done for them. At least we have yet to unlock the key to helping them. Sometimes society manages to channel their tendencies into successful careers in politics or business. They seek power in acceptable ways. Some even manage to do good in order to achieve the notice that they desire. They appear to be truly decent people who tirelessly pursue laudable goals but their relationships with others are superficial and unreal. They operate out of selfishness, not a true concern for others. If only society were able to redirect those who show the tendencies that often lead to psychotic behaviors of grandiosity and violence. Sadly there is a very thin line between actually helping such people and performing heinous acts on them much as Heinrich Himmler and his henchmen did. We always have to be very careful when we embark down a road of changing minds.
Most of the world is indeed peopled by decent men and women but we all realize that we must be wary. There are those among us who would charm us into thinking that we are safe with them but whose ideas are dark and filled with great danger. We must be careful that we do not mistake them for heroes and then provide them with the power to do horrible things. Perhaps we should remember Heinrich Himmler just as he hoped we would, not as a decent man but as the frightening madman that he was. He among others has taught us that there are monsters under the bed that we must challenge before they have the power to overtake us. The trick is in knowing who and where they are.