May 23

This Day in History

World War II

May 23, 1945:

Himmler commits suicide

On this day in 1945, Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, assistant chief of the Gestapo, and architect of Hitler's program to exterminate European Jews, commits suicide one day after being arrested by the British.

As head of the Waffen-Schutzstaffel ("Armed Black Shirts"), the military arm of the Nazi Party, and assistant chief of the Gestapo (the secret police), Himmler was able over time to consolidate his control over all police forces of the Reich. The power he would ultimately wield would rival that of the German army; it would also prove highly effective in eliminating all opposition to Hitler and the party, as well as in carrying out the Fuhrer's Final Solution. It was Himmler who organized the creation of death camps throughout Eastern Europe and a pool of slave laborers.

Himmler's megalomania, which included a plan to surrender to the Western Allies late in the war in order to pursue the fight against Russia unimpeded, caused Hitler to strip him of all his offices and order his arrest. Himmler attempted to slip out of Germany disguised as a soldier, but was caught by the British. He swallowed a cyanide capsule a day later.

Himmler has been portrayed in many films, including The Eagle Has Landed, with Donald Pleasance as Himmler.

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