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HimmlerSelkirk Panton was a Daily Express journalist who covered Berlin, like Louis Lochner and William Shirer, for twelve years. His papers are in the National Library of Australia. Attached to the British Second Army HQ, he witnessed the events after Himmler's death in May 1945.



Sydney, Australia, May 1954



The Man who killed Millions


by Selkirk Panton

THE Brigadier, with a nonchalant gesture, pulled back the grey British Army blanket and said: "There he is -- he's very dead!" There was no doubt about that.

The man lay flat on his back on the bare boards of the suburban parlour. The red plush furniture had been pushed back to make space in the small room. Religious oleographs of angels hung, crooked, on the walls. A half-empty bucket of dirty water stood near the body.

He was naked except for British Army socks, and an army shirt hastily put on him after his death and pulled only over his chest. His eyes were closed, but someone had placed a fine pair of pince-nez on his nose, giving the body a rakish but obscene air.

He was clean-shaven, though a thick stubble showed dark against his putty-coloured skin and around the blue, swollen lips. A thick trickle of congealed blood ran from the right corner of his mouth down to his neck.

He was not a pretty sight. There was little dignity of death in the tubby, flaccid body lying on the floor in that cluttered bourgeois parlour. And certainly no pomp. Yet pomp had been his life.

The Brigadier threw the blanket carelessly across the body. "That's him, all right," he said.

There was no doubt about that. either. This was the innocent-looking little failure, the bankrupt poultry-farmer, who had risen with Hitler to become the Scourge of Europe.

This was Heinrich Himmler on the floor, most wanted man in the world, Chief of the Nazi SS. Head of the dreaded Gestapo, Lord of the Concentration Camps, Architect of Mass Murder, whose orders had sent millions on millions of men, women and children to their death in gas-chambers and camps, before "extermination squads" in "guinea-pig" experiments, and by every device of torture known to devilish human ingenuity.

He was probably responsible for the death of more people than any other man in history -- not hot-blooded massacre, but cold-blooded, inhuman extermination of fellow human-beings, just as a herd of cattle is wiped out because it has foot-and-mouth disease.

It was hard to believe that this paltry, obese figure lying debased and deserted on the bare floor was the man who had cast a nightmare of terror and horror over the civilized world, wielding a power second only to his Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler.

But I had known him for thirteen years and I had no doubts. I recognised him even in death and without his stubby, clipped little moustache.

He was dead in his 45th year -- on 23rd May, 1945, two weeks after the German capitulation and three weeks after the alleged suicide of his Führer whom he had betrayed in the last days of his life.


I FIRST met Himmler at a dinner party in Berlin in 1932-and hardly noticed him.

Hitler and his Nazis were still in opposition, but obviously a coming power. And we in the Berlin Office of the London "Daily Express" were keen to contact them and learn their plans.

We invited Captain Ernst Röhm, Hitler's all-powerful chief of the million-strong Nazi private Brown-shirt army of S A (Storm Troopers). He arrived with adjutants and toadies, all brown shirted with their Swastikas and jack-boots.

"I've brought a friend," Röhm said. "I hope you don't mind? May I Introduce Herr Heinrich Himmler?" He added with almost a snigger: "He's the chief of the SS -- they call it the 'elite guard.'"

The grey-looking, medium-sized man with the grey eyes enlarged by strong pince-nez glasses, and the mousy moustache, clicked his heels and bowed stiffly from the hips to each of us.

After that, nobody paid any attention to him. He was insignificant, obsequious, subservient. The mighty Röhm snubbed him several times.

He spoke only when spoken to. He smiled all the time. And he remained in the background until they left.

When they left, Röhm said: "Himmler-he's the Führer's 'treuer Heinrich' ('loyal Henry')." And he laughed.

A year later Hitler came to power and Röhm's SA army of Brown-shirts waxed to two million strong-and became a danger to Hitler. Another year passed and on June 30th, 1934, came the Great Purge, the Blood-bath, the "Night of the Long Knives."

Boisterous, blustering adventurer Ernst Röhm and his chief supporters, accused of "treachery" and "perversities," were summarily executed. So were many of Hitler's non-Nazi political opponents. Foxy von Papen escaped death as narrowly as he escaped the noose at the post-war Nuremberg War Criminal trial.

And, of course, it was the SS men of despised, sell-effacing Heinrich Himmler, Loyal Henry, who bathed Hitler's young Third Reich in blood. Himmler had arrived.

For the next five years I watched him grow from power to power, always surrounded by more pomp and greater bullies. Yet when I met him, as I frequently did, he was still the little man. affable, smiling, heel-clicking, over-courteous.

It was difficult to believe that this man was Chief of the Gestapo and the budding Concentration Camps which were then holiday camps compared with the horror they became -- the mass-extermination centres of Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz and scores more.

Of course, he was a crank. He really believed the mumbo-jumbo of "pure Aryan blood," of the "Herrenvolk," that the blonde Nordics were really the "Master Race."

But it was not until the war broke out in 1939 that he could put into effect his spine-chilling, cold-blooded policy of genocide -- the extermination of whole races.

Yet there is little evidence that he was a sadist, that he actually enjoyed this mass-murder of millions or the tortures inflicted on his Gestapo victims to get secrets and admissions from them.

But, throughout the war, he blackened Germany's name for centuries to come. He thrived on it.

He became loaded with power. Towards the end, he was not only SS Chief, Gestapo Chief, and Supreme Police Chief, but Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, head of all espionage and counter-spy services at home and abroad, and Minister of the Interior.

Then in early 1945, with the East-West Allied nut-crackers squeezing the Nazi Third Reich to death, Himmler broke.

With Hitler preparing for a Wagnerian death in his Bunker in Berlin, his "treuer Heinrich" betrayed him. That was the final blow to Hitler.

Himmler, through Count Bernadotte of Sweden, made peace overtures to

the Western Allies. He proposed a conditional surrender, leaving part of northern Germany unoccupied as a seat for the new German government, of which, naturally; he was to be head.

Living in the vacuum of his mad Nazi ideas which he believed excused his monstrous crimes, Himmler still cherished the illusion that the Allies would agree to this.

Their answer was, of course, a categorical No!

Even then Himmler could not believe that he had hit rock-bottom.

Events swept over him and left him wandering round northern Germany, still with pomp and long escorts, but without any power.

He wrote a letter to Field-Marshal Montgomery. There was no answer.

Then Grand-Admiral Doenitz, now serving a ten-year sentence as a Nazi War Criminal in Spandau Gaol, Berlin, wrote to the once-mighty Himmler. He told him that Hitler was dead and that, as his appointed successor, he had no further need of the Herr Reich Minister's services.

He added: "I now regard all your offices as abolished. I thank you for the service which you have given the Reich!"

Doenitz then set up his puppet government at his headquarters at Flensburg, on the Baltic near the Danish frontier, and surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. The War in Europe was over the last action of the war on the Continent, swept on Flensburg and arrested Doenitz and his "government."

The British knew that Himmler was in the area. They confidently expected to find him in the Doenitz "bag."

But there was no sign of him. They were told that Himmler, stripped of his power, had moved like a lost soul on the outskirts of the new "government" during the first few days of peace, still with his retinue, his bodyguards, his fleet of cars.

Then, a few days before, accompanied only by his chief adjutant and secretary, he had disappeared. Nobody had seen him since.

The British at once ordered a renewed man-hunt for Himmler. They alerted every Intelligence man. They warned the Russians and Americans that the Nazi arch-fiend had escaped through their net. But they were wrong.

Himmler was already in British hands. He had been two days in a British P.O.W. cage at the time of the British action against the Doenitz "government."

The trouble was that the British did not know it.


ON Monday, 21st May, 1945, men of the famous Black Watch Regiment were screening a mixed crowd of people surging towards the West across a small bridge over the Oste River near Bremervoerde, North Germany.

Among the foreign slave-laborers and other DPs they noticed three men in civilian clothes trying to cross the bridge.

One was over six feet, burly and the "killer" type, arrogant and swaggering. The second was small, slightly-built and quiet. Both had flaxen hair. But it was the third man that attracted their attention.

He was medium height, tubby, clean-shaven. And over his right eye he had a big black patch. Except for that theatrical touch, the three men might have got across. But the Black Watch men were intrigued.

They asked for the men's papers. These showed they were discharged Wehrmacht men. The man with the patch said his name was Hinziger. The guards said they did not think their papers were in order. They lifted "Hinziger's" patch and saw that his eye was uninjured.

The three Germans then made another mistake. They began to bluster. The burly one began to shout and threaten. That was enough for the men of the Black Watch. They weren't standing this from any Kraut, Heinie or Hun.

"All right! All right!" one said. "In you go! Come along!" The three men were put in a truck and driven to the prison camp at Barnstedt. ten miles from 2nd British Army Headquarters at Lüneburg.

There they were stripped and their clothing taken away to he searched. No sign of any poison vial leading Nazis were known to carry was found, either in their clothing or on their bodies.


THEY were questioned several times. And they made their third mistake. They told different stories each time. And their individual stories did not tally.

After two days of this, "Hinziger's" nerve gave. It was a few hours after the capture of the Doenitz "government."

He turned to the British sergeant interrogating him and said arrogantly: "You don't seem to realise who I am."

"No?" said the sergeant.

"I am Reich Minister Heinrich Himmler, Reich Fuehrer of the SS!" he said proudly.

"Oh, yeah?" said the sergeant. "Well, I'm Winston Churchill!"

"Hinziger" screamed with rage. "I am Himmler, you fool!" he shouted. "I demand to be taken to General Eisenhower or Montgomery."

The sergeant later told me that he looked at him and tried to imagine what he would look like with a moustache and with all the trappings he had seen in photographs of Himmler. He thought, "Maybe he is Himmler, at that."

He called a guard and sent for Captain Sylvester, the Camp Commandant.

"Hinziger" repeated his claim to be Himmler and Sylvester telephoned Colonel Murphy, Chief Intelligence Officer at 2nd British Army HQ at Lüneburg. Murphy said: '"Send him in."

Sylvester gave Himmler a British battle-dress to put on. But Himmler refused after he had put on the khaki socks. I won't wear a British uniform!" he stormed.

"You can't have your own clothes," Sylvester. "You'll wear that uniform or nothing!" Still Himmler refused.

So they wrapped a grey army blanket around him. Wearing this like a dirty toga and still in his socks, Himmler was put in a jeep and driven the ten miles to British HQ. at Lüneburg.

They stopped at 31a Uelzenerstrasse, an ivy-clad, red-brick suburban villa, which British Intelligence officers had turned into a local interrogation centre.

The still dazed and bomb-happy Germans in the street paid no attention to the strange figure as their former Prince of Terrorism was hustled up the front steps into the building.

He was pushed into the ornately furnished parlour, crowded with British officers, among them an army doctor. There is some evidence that they baited and jeered at the queer figure clutching the blanket to him.

The doctor examined him minutely for any sign of concealed poison -- the "SS Cough Drops." This was the tiny vial of paper-thin glass, just under half-an-inch long and a quarter-inch wide, filled with deadly cyanide of potassium which all top Nazis and SS men carried. At one end it had a purple seal.

The doctor even looked in Himmler's mouth He turned to the others. "Nothing!" he said.

They started to question Himmler. '"What were your plans?"

Despite his lack of attire, Himmler was truculent and haughty. "I planned to lie low for several weeks until the search for me had relaxed and you had got over your first flush of victory."

He added: "If I had been in Berlin when the Fuehrer died, I would have died with him!"

He did not know that Hitler had learned of his betrayal in negotiating with the West. Hitler would have shot his "treuer Heinrich" like a dog, just as he had shot Himmler's henchman Fegelein just before his own end, though the obnoxious little ex-jockey was brother-in-law to Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress.

Himmler would not submit to detailed questioning.

"I have a right to an interview with General Eisenhower," he demanded pompously.

He added, with deliberate insult: "I won't talk to underlings!"

Every chance he got he went into a long Nazi diatribe about the menace to the West of Communism and Soviet Russia. "Relations between East and West are already explosive. You will soon have to fight Russia, too," he prophesied.

His words today do not sound so funny as they did to those British officers in the first few happy days of peace eight years ago.

They asked him to sign his name. Eager to prove his identity, he took a proffered pen and wrote in harsh, strong up-and-down strokes in letters nearly half-an-inch high. He handed the piece of paper to Colonel Murphy.

But, with the ink still wet, he snatched it back and tore the paper into tiny pieces. He was afraid, perhaps, that they might write some "confession" above the signature-as he would have done.

Later the scraps were pieced together. There was no doubt it was Himmler's signature.

The British doctor had been watching Himmler. He said later that he was not satisfied. The former SS chief seemed too smug and self-assured, as though he held some last trick.

"Come over to the light," he told Himmler. '"I want to have another look at you. Open your mouth."

He bent Himmler's head back and with his forefinger, moved his tongue so he could see better. He saw the purple seal of the poison vial, no bigger than a man's little fingernail, tucked away in a cunning niche between two back molars.

The doctor made the mistake of uttering some exclamation. Himmler knew his sure way out had been discovered. The game was up. It was now or never.

He clamped his jaws hard on the doctor's finger. The doctor gave a startled cry of pain and jumped back. And Himmler took his last decision.

With a swift movement of his tongue, he dislodged the poison vial and crushed it between his teeth. He gave a gasp of agony as the searing liquid burned away his life. Then, slowly, he crumpled up and collapsed on the floor.

Several British officers dashed forward. They seized him and held him head down. Others brought a nearby fire bucket with water. They held Himmler's agonised body by the ankles and doused his head in and out of the water for nearly 15 minutes.

It was too late to save Himmler, but they felt they had to do something. All they succeeded in doing was to prolong his agony from what should have been seconds into several minutes.

When there was no doubt that he was dead, they put his body on the bare boards. The doctor examined him. They threw the grey blanket over him, locked the building, posted guards round the villa and went to their quarters.

There was no mood of victory and triumph among them. On the contrary, they were subdued. They had let a major prize slip through their fingers.

For Himmler knew more than any other man about the plans for German underground resistance to the Allies. And that, in those early days with Germany still in turmoil, was of supreme importance.

But Himmler at the last, had chosen to live up to the code of his own agents. He had given nothing away. He took all his information and secrets with him.

Still, there were his two companions, the burly adjutant and the slight secretary, in British hands in the Barnstedt prison cage. They might talk.


WHILE Colonel Murphy waited for orders for Himmler's disposal, Captain Sylvester, Commandant of the Barnstedt cage, was told to treat the two Nazis with kid-gloves. "We don't want any more accidents," he was told. "We want information."

So a cat-and-mouse game began with them.

They did not know that the British had discovered Himmler's identity, the secret of tho hidden poison vial, or that their Nazi idol was dead.

The British did not know whether they, too, had the "SS Cough Drops" concealed between two molars. And they did not know how to find out without alarming the Germans by revealing their knowledge. They thought of quick knock-out drops. But gave up the idea for in the last moments of consciousness the SS men would know-and be able to crush the vial.

Captain Sylvester said: "I don't know what we are going to do about them. There doesn't seem any safe solution."

Next day the two men were put on an R.A.F. transport 'plane for 21 British Army Group H.Q. at Bad Oeynhausen, main British Zone Army base.

As they flew westward they did not know that a number of bundles lying in the 'plane near them contained the clothing, intelligence file and other records of their demi-god chief who, they thought, was still alive.

The mystery of the two SS men was never solved: whether or not they did have the poison vials. But it is known that they did not commit suicide and that they did talk.

It is known, too, that their R.A.F. pilot gave them deliberately the roughest ride he could. And that the two men were very, very airsick. The R.A.F. man had, perhaps, found the solution denied to the army men.


WHILE the cat-and-mouse game with them was still going on at Barnstedt, back in Lüneburg British Intelligence officers and other experts were preparing the last chapter in the story of Heinrich Himmler.

They had two aims: to prove beyond any doubt that the dead man was Himmler; and to prevent any "Himmler Cult" growing among the defeated Nazis.

For more than a day they worked on Himmler's body. They took prints of every finger and each thumb. They measured each limb and every part of the body. They noted every mark, mole or other disfigurement.

They took plaster casts of his teeth, hands and feet.

And finally they made a death-mask.

Then they had finished with the body of the once most feared man in Europe. But where to put it so that its last resting place should not become a shrine for neo-Nazis?

The order came to bury it secretly "somewhere" in the vast Lüneburg Heath, since used as the main training area for the British Army in Germany. Only four men were to do the job and only they were to know where the body was put.

Early in the morning a British major and three sergeants entered the parlour at 31a Uelzenerstrasse. They wrapped Himmler's stiff body in a shroud of two grey blankets. They tied cords round the ankles, the waist and the neck.

Two sergeants picked up the body and carried it to the back entrance where the army truck was waiting.

They stopped well inside the deserted Heath. They unloaded Himmler's body and left it lying on the leaves as they dug his grave.

When it was deep enough, they threw the body in. They put back the earth and scraped leaves over the spot.

The man who had killed millions had been buried much as one might bury a mongrel dog killed on the road.


EIGHTEEN months later, British Intelligence agents reported that a cross had been set up at a spot in the Lüneburg Heath and flowers strewn around it.

They said they thought that Nazis had discovered Himmler's secret grave and that the "'Cult" had started. Orders were at once given for the whole area to be dug up. But no body was found.

Then the British Authorities asked themselves: "Well, where is Himmler buried?" They realised that nobody then in Germany knew. Only the major and the three sergeants, who had all long left Germany, had any idea. The major was back at his civilian job. One sergeant was in Malaya, another in the Suez Canal Zone. There was no trace of the third sergeant. He had been demobilised and had emigrated.

The two sergeants were flown home and then, joined by the major, flown to Germany.

They took bearings on the Heath and finally decided on the spot. A working party dug all day in the area.

But they found no body. The search was given up.

And today nobody knows whether they had picked the wrong spot. Or whether fanatical Nazis had dug up the body and entombed Heinrich Himmler in some secret SS shrine.

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