It is the generally accepted wisdom that Heinrich Himmler, leading member of the Nazi Party and former Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), amongst other things, met his end at number 31a Ülzener Strasse in the town of Lüneburg on the 23rd May 1945 as a result of suicide after swallowing a cyanide capsule.
However this version of events has recently been challenged by one Martin Allen in his work, Himmler's Secret War: The Covert Peace Negotiations of Heinrich Himmler, published on the 26th May 2005. In this book Allen contends that Himmler was in fact murdered by the British intelligence service in order to prevent him from revealing the fact that he and the British government had been involved in secret peace negotiations.
This is a prima facie believable allegation as it is already known;
(a) that British Intelligence did indeed draw up plans to assassinate both Adolf Hiltler and Benito Mussolini and,
(b) that there was indeed contact between the Allies and Himmler; specifically that the Americans had been conducting secret negotiations with Himmler through Walter Schellenberg (head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD)) and Felix Kersten who was simply Himmler's physiotherapist, but apparently had a great deal of influence over him.1
This news has generated excitement from some quarters most notably from
David Irving and his International Campaign for Real History, since Mr Irving has always been of the opinion that the British had Himmler killed. He was therefore well pleased with the news that his hunch had been vindicated, describing it as a "war crime".2
The true account of the death of Henrich Himmler
According to Allen's version of events, the British government had been conducting negotiations with Himmler, using as intermediaries Victor Mallet, the ambassador to neutral Sweden, and the aforementioned Walter Schellenberg. However once it became clear in May 1945 that Nazi Germany was close to collapse and that Himmler was in any case no longer in a position to be of any use, the British Government became concerned that their American allies would find out what they had been up to, and decided to silence him before he had a chance to talk. Thus the Political Warfare Executive3 (PWE) arranged for an agent named Leonard Ingrams (incidentally the father of Richard Ingrams, former editor of Private Eye) to travel to Germany and assassinate Himmler.
The evidence supporting these allegations are contained in a number of documents located in the National Archives at Kew.
Firstly there is a letter from John Wheeler-Bennet, the Foreign Office liaison officer to the PWE, dated 10th May 1945 and addressed to Robert Bruce Lockhart of the Political Intelligence Department4 which states that;
"We cannot allow Himmler to take the stand in any prospective prosecution, or indeed allow him to be interrogated by the Americans. Steps will therefore have to be taken to eliminate him as soon as he falls into our hands."
Scribbled at the bottom of this letter is a note by Bruce Lockhart which reads, "I agree, I have arranged for Mr Ingrams to go for a fortnight." dated 12th May 1945.
Secondly there is a copy of a decoded telegram of the 24th May from a Mr Thomas in Bremen (a presumed alias for Leonard Ingrams) which includes the message that;
"Further to my orders we successfully intercepted H.H. last night before he could be interrogated. As instructed action was taken to silence him permanently."
Finally there are three letters from Brendan Bracken, head of PWE as well as Minister of Information, sent to the Earl of Selbourne who headed the was formally head of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The first two refer to the peace negotiations being conducted with Himmler whilst the third, dated 27th May 1945, recommends "a complete news black-out on the exact circumstances of this most evil man's demise" and emphasising that "in no circumstances" should the Americans get any hint of the fact that they had been in communication with Herr Himmler.
Since Brendan Bracken was a cabinet minister and close confidant of Winston Churchill who never did anything without his prior approval and consent, it is thus argued that there is a clear chain of evidence linking the great man and the British Government with the political murder of one of the leading Nazi war criminals.
There is however always a but.
On examining Himmler's Secret War and its references to the documentation referred to above, the staff at the Daily Telegraph noted that the letter by John Wheeler-Bennet mistakenly hyphenated Robert Bruce Lockart's name as Bruce-Lochart and also felt that the language used in these documents seemed suspiciously modern. They felt that all was not as it seemed and that further investigation was necessary.
The Daily Telegraph therefore contacted David Thomas who runs the National Archives and persuaded him to allow the original documents to be subjected to a forensic examination at the Giles Document Laboratory in Buckinghamshire, run by a Dr Audrey Giles, former head of the Questioned Documents Section of the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory at Scotland Yard.
Having examined the three letters written by Brendan Bracken, which were typed on what appeared to be Ministry of Information-headed notepaper, Dr Giles was able to conclude that the letterhead had in fact been produced on a laser printer of recent manufacture. After similarly examining the Wheeler-Bennet letter, the good doctor then formed the opinion that Lochart's note was not in his handwriting and that the original letter had been produced on the same typewriter as the Brendan Bracken letters. It was apparently not possible to form a definitive view of the authenticity of the telegram but Dr Giles believed that there was "strong support" that the telegram had been forged as well.
Dr Giles therefore concluded that these documents were in fact forgeries.
Interestingly enough, Martin Allen's reaction on being told that the documents were forgeries was "Bloody hell, how could that have happened?" before going on to explain that "It's not within my skill 5 to do something like this or in my interest because I'm a bona fide historian with several books behind me. I do my research. I spend a lot of money doing it and I don't expect this. I am absolutely devastated."
Of course although some might naturally Mr Allen appear as the 'prime suspect' in the matter, there is no evidence that he had any prior knowledge of the forgeries. The file containing the Bracken letters was officially made available on the 4th February 2002. They have since been examined by 21 readers including Mr Allen (who did so in the autumn of 2003), and any one of them could potentially have been responsible for the creation of the forged documents.
Despite the security arrangements in place at the National Archives they are, of course, generally intended to prevent people from removing documents from the archive; the notion that someone might wish to add additional material does not appear to have occurred to anyone. The identity and motives of the person or persons responsible are currently unknown. But irrespective of who is responsible, there are forged documents sitting in the National Archives and naturally there is concern that the official archives have been deliberately seeded with false documents in a clear attempt to falsify history.
It remains the generally accepted wisdom that Heinrich Himmler committed suicide.
One noteworthy fact about the whole affair is that not a single British newspaper saw fit to run a story based on the original Martin Allen assassination allegation. In fact the only reference to the story in the papers appears to have been a piece in the Evening Standard, where A.N. Wilson made reference to the assertion that Himmler had been "assassinated by the British, with the full authority of the government" and bemoaned that "no newspaper seems to have picked up on its significance".
The truth was that the rest of Fleet Street was well aware of the Daily Telegraph's investigation and was not about to give room to a story that was shortly to be shot down in flames.
1 Indeed it was because Adolf Hitler became aware of these contacts that he ordered Himmler to be arrested for treason, which was why Himmler was effectively on the run and why he ended up being captured by the British.
2 David Irving is of course the historian who sued for libel when Penguin Books published a book by the American academic Deborah Lipstadt which referred to him as "a propagandist, a polemicist, an apologist for Hitler". He lost and went bankrupt.
3 According to the National Archives, "The Political Warfare Executive was formed in August 1941 to undermine enemy morale and resistance by various forms of propaganda."
4 Again according to the National Archives, "The Political Intelligence Department was established as a secret Foreign Office Department at the outbreak of the Second World War, and provided cover for the Political Warfare Executive."
5 Despite Mr Allen's protestations it is probably worth noting that the degree of skill involved in duplicating headed notepaper is not particularly excessive given the capabilities of the modern personal computer, neither is difficult to acquire and operate a manual typewriter. The primary skill required is sufficient knowledge of the subject matter to get the content right.
6 Mr Allen's previous works include The Hitler-Hess Deception and Hidden Agenda : How the Duke of Windsor Betrayed the Allies; both what might be described as 'revisionist' works of history. Their content is regarded as speculative by other historians of the period and the latter work in particular, which is largely based on the text of a letter supposedly written by Edward to Hitler which made its way via Albert Speer to Mr Allen's father, has not convinced everyone.
- Mainly sourced from the Daily Telegraph 2nd July 2005. The lead story Files on Himmler 'murder' exposed as fake and the double page spread on pages 8 to 9, How Himmler's death was turned into a British Murder Plot, Forgeries exposed by a hunch by a science.
- Private Eye No 1136 8 July 2005
- Heinrich Himmler www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERhimmler.htm
- Background info from http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
- For Dr Audrey Giles see www.expertsearch.co.uk/cgi-bin/find_expert?2175 and her website at www.agiles.demon.co.uk/
- For David Irving's take on the matter see
It's official: British secret service did murder SS chief Heinrich Himmler at www.fpp.co.uk/Himmler/death/PRO_docs_story.html
See also; Martin Allen Himmler's Secret War: The Covert Peace Negotiations of Heinrich Himmler (Robson Books Ltd, 2005)