Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and an architect of Nazi genocide.
Heinrich Himmler was born on 7 October 1900 in Munich, the son of a schoolteacher. He served in the German army at the end of World War One and then had a variety of jobs, including working as a chicken farmer. He became involved with the Nazi party in the early 1920s and took part in the 'beer hall' putsch of 1923. Himmler acted as the Nazi party's propaganda leader between 1926 and 1930. In 1929, he was appointed head of the SS, Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard, and the following year was elected to the Reichstag.
After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Himmler became police president in Munich and head of the political police in Bavaria. He used his position to build a state within a state, expanding the SS and establishing its autonomy within the Nazi party and its dominance in Germany. In 1933, he set up Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp. By 1936, he had manoeuvred himself into a position where he was head of a newly unified national police.
Himmler was obsessed with racial purity in Germany and encouraged Aryan 'breeding programmes'. The outbreak of World War Two allowed Himmler to pursue another racial goal - the elimination of Jews and other so-called 'sub-humans'. After Germany's invasion of Poland, Himmler was given total control of the annexed parts of the country. Within a year more than one million Poles and 300,000 Jews had been forced out to be replaced with German settlers. By June 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Himmler controlled not only the police but the political administration of the occupied territories and, through his control of the SS, the concentration camp system. In 1943, Hitler appointed Himmler minister for the interior. In this post he oversaw the 'Final Solution' - the attempt to exterminate all the Jewish people in Europe - and administered the system of forced labour.
After the failed attempt on Hitler's life in July 1944, Himmler's position was strengthened still further. But as Germany's defeat became imminent, Himmler made attempts to negotiate with the Allies. Hitler was furious and stripped Himmler of all his offices. Following Germany's surrender, Himmler tried to escape under a false identity but was captured by the Allies. On 23 May 1945 he committed suicide in custody.