Once upon a time the Himmlers were just a normal German family, middle-class, hard-working, well-educated. There were three brothers, Gebhart, Heinrich and Ernst. Heinrich grew up to become the head of Hitler’s SS, mastermind of the concentration camp system and chief perpetrator of the Holocaust.
When Katrin Himmler, Heinrich’s great-niece, was fifteen, one of her school mates asked during a history lesson if she was related to the Himmler. ‘Yes’, she stammered, at which there was a deathly hush in the classroom and the teacher, embarrassed and unsure, quickly moved the lesson on. As she grew older, Katrin gave her family history a wide berth, but married to an Israeli whose family was confined to the Warsaw Ghetto and with a young, half-Jewish son, she realizes that she cannot evade the past so easily. Katrin Himmler’s cool but meticulous examination of the Himmler story reveals – in all its dark complexity – the gulf between the ‘normality’ of bourgeois family life and the horrors perpetrated by one member and a more nuanced portrait of Heinrich himself emerges – not a lone evil executioner, but a middle-class family man, loved and fully supported by his respectable German family.