'We should have called them education camps.'
April 20, 2017 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Late in the evening, early in the morning, really, on this day, at just about this time, 72 years ago, Norbert Masur, a Swedish volunteer from the World Jewish Congress sat down to talk to Heinrich Himmler in hopes of freeing and bettering treatment of Jews still remaining in concentration camps. Himmler was meant to arrive on the evening of the 20th, but was held up late celebrating Hitler's birthday and did not arrive until 2:30AM on the 21st. This is his first-hand account.
posted by maryr (24 comments total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
One other detail must be mentioned: Norbert Masur was Jewish.

He left a place of safety to enter Nazi Germany, in full knowledge of the death camps and what they were, while the camps were still in operation, to talk, as an openly Jewish representative of a Jewish organization, to Nazi high command about their policy of murdering Jews. In an act of supreme diplomatic self restraint, he framed an argument that persuaded a megalomaniaical pathological liar to release at least a few prisoners. He saved thousands of lives.

All that and he could write! The first hand account is evocative and humane - read the whole thing.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:13 PM on April 20, 2017 [32 favorites]

One of the most powerful things I've ever read. How is this not better known?
posted by AbnerDoon at 5:21 PM on April 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Powerful, but painful. I got to the discussion of Hungary and had to stop. But I will finish reading it, and share it. It must not be bullshitted away.
posted by tilde at 5:23 PM on April 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is an incredible act, and encounter. And one month later, Himmler killed himself.
posted by SNACKeR at 5:38 PM on April 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Thanks for sharing this.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:45 PM on April 20, 2017

It is sickening to see here the origin of many of the lies that Holocaust deniers still promulgate today.
posted by thelonius at 6:00 PM on April 20, 2017 [13 favorites]

This is incredible.
posted by Jimbob at 6:04 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know, thelonius. I found myself physically shaking as I read that entire page where each paragraph was a lie Himmler had made up yet seemed to believe.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:07 PM on April 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Bravery and Heroism.
posted by lalochezia at 6:12 PM on April 20, 2017

Thank you, maryr. Not only for this brilliant account that Masur shared, so full of his humanity and the perils of the task, but also for the reminder of the denial that such monsters as Himmler hide behind. Amazing that this hasn't been more widely known.
posted by pt68 at 6:41 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm really confused. After reading that pdf I thought I'd see what else was on the site hosting the pdf. If you shorten http://harmonium.org/Annelies_MeetingWithHimmler.pdf to http://harmonium.org you wind up on the homepage of a choral society? How did you ever find this maryr?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:32 PM on April 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Harmonium Choir did a Cantata about Anne Frank.
posted by drjon at 8:13 PM on April 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

A Jew talks to Himmler is an article by historian Frank Fox that gives more of the background and context to this compelling story.
posted by storybored at 8:20 PM on April 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

There we go! Thanks.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:21 PM on April 20, 2017

How did you ever find this maryr?

Twitter! I came across this after @RealTimeWWII tweeted about it this morning. I asked "How'd that go?" sort of as a joke and another Twitter follower of the account linked me to this on the Harmonium web page. I don't know how he found it, but his original link had a bunch of random characters appended to it like a search result.

I found reading this very eerie - first the mention of the Americans refusing to take in Jewish refugees, then the argument that the Jews were the ones causing problems and stirring up "partisans", and especially Himmler's insistence that the Jewish women to be rescued by the Swedish Red Cross be referred to as "Polish" so as not to upset Hitler... That last bit especially made me think of the current administration's refusal to use to refer to Judaism in their Holocaust remembrance statement. As noted above, so much of Himmler's explanation sounds like the politically sanitized reasoning behind not accepting refugees, not acknowledging prejudice, and not confronting our own past and present denials of the basic humanity of others...

Himmler at no point sounds crazed or evangelical or guilty in this. He isn't obsessed with killing the Jews like Hitler, but he doesn't much see them as people either, not his people. He knows the war is over, so he is willing to free the enemy. This isn't Hitler refusing to acknowledge the truth. This is, in some ways, scarier. This is a rational man who has justified the means for his end. He has "punished the guilty." He's just getting rid of the filth. The bad hombres. If some innocents were in there too, well, they shouldn't have been in Germany or Poland or Hungary or France in the first place.

I've never seen so much of Nazi Germany in my own world before. It's frightening. I'm glad I read this. I wanted to share it. It's important and powerful and frightening.
posted by maryr at 8:51 PM on April 20, 2017 [46 favorites]

Well said. I just wish more people were educated enough to see how dangerous the present situation is.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:18 PM on April 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Looks like the document is located (though not available online) at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: My meeting with Heinrich Himmler - April 20/21, 1945:
"Consists of three versions of Norbert Masur's report regarding his meeting with Heinrich Himmler as a member of the Swedish section of the World Jewish Congress on April 20/21. Includes a photocopy of Masur's original German report, a photocopy of a published version of "En Jude Talar Med Himmler" which was published in Swedish in 1945, and an English language translation completed by Henry Karger, Masur's nephew. At his meeting with Himmler, Masur negotiated the release of 7,000 Jewish women, who were able to leave Ravensbrueck for Sweden in April 1945.
Provenance: The memoir was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Henry Karger in 1993."
However, I was unable to find the account of Masur in German anywhere on the web, only parts of it on the website of a Swiss holocaust denier who uses the account to corroborate his agenda (which I'm not going to link for obvious reasons).

The masseur of Himmler, Felix Kersten, seems to be a controversial figure because while he and Masur saved a lot of Jews in this instant, he later made up stories about saving thousands more:

Himmlers Leibarzt: Masseur des Massenmörders.
"Heilen, helfen, heucheln: Im Zweiten Weltkrieg rettete Felix Kersten Tausende vor den Nazis. Für seine Heldentaten wurde der Masseur des SS-Chefs Himmler später mit Ehrungen überhäuft. Erst nach seinem Tod kam heraus, dass Kersten seine größten Coups erfunden hatte - und trotzdem ein Held war."
My translation:
"Heal, help, pretend: Felix Kersten saved thousands from the Nazis during World War 2. Later the masseur of SS leader Himmler was showered with distinctions for his heroic deeds. But after his death it emerged that Kersten invented his biggest coups - but he was a hero nevertheless."
posted by amf at 2:26 AM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

A Jew talks to Himmler is an article by historian Frank Fox that gives more of the background and context to this compelling story.

This is compelling reading too. Some terrifying passages, including this:

Kersten recorded that one of the last conversations he had with Himmler was about a "secret weapon," more powerful than the V-1 and V-2 rockets, that was to end the war." One or two shots and cities like New York or London will simply vanish from the earth." He was told of a village built near Auschwitz where the new weapon was tried out. Twenty thousand Jewish men, women and children were brought to live there. A single shell according to Himmler caused 6,000 degrees of heat and everything and everybody there was burned to ashes. Kersten assumed that the Germans had nearly completed constructing an atomic bomb.

Surely an actual German atomic test would be more widely known? Well, there's this (apologies for the Daily Mail link):

The statement of the German test pilot Hans Zinsser in the file is considered evidence: the missile expert says he observed in 1944 a mushroom cloud in the sky during a test flight near Ludwigslust.

Ludwigslust isn't near Auschwitz, but it did have the Wöbbelin concentration camp. And then there's this.

Frank Fox's article also mentions an archive at the University of Lund of accounts from Ravensbruck survivors, which was slowly being translated into English. The link given is dead, but the archive now appears to be here, and has over 100 PDFs of English translations so far.
posted by rory at 5:43 AM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

And one month later, Himmler killed himself.

Nine or ten days later, Hitler killed himself.

Were there previous such meetings, or attempts at such meetings?
posted by IndigoJones at 8:07 AM on April 21, 2017

However, I was unable to find the account of Masur in German anywhere on the web

Google led me to a book Hitler's Intelligence Chief: Walter Schellenberg with a footnote that references a published version of this account in German with this comment:
The German editors state that a German translation was not available before 2006, which would suggest that Karger did not translate from "the original German."
Given the title of the document, it seems likely the original version of the account was in Swedish.
posted by straight at 8:22 AM on April 21, 2017

archive.org also has a copy of this same PDF that was uploaded by a user named "wikileaks" in February of 2017, which I'm also not going to link to because it looks maybe related to white-supremacy stuff (other stuff as well, so it's possible the user is documenting some of these things rather than a proponent).
posted by straight at 8:33 AM on April 21, 2017

...the missile expert says he observed in 1944 a mushroom cloud in the sky during a test flight near Ludwigslust.

You don't have to have an atomic explosion to create a mushroom cloud.

Twitter! I came across this after @RealTimeWWII tweeted about it this morning.

I'm glad to see someone else is following @RealTimeWWII! I've been with it since the beginning (well, since virtual 1940, anyway). They're almost to the German surrender now. I'm a history buff, but I feel like I've learned so much from this project. Plus, it really gives you a sense of the time scale involved. A lot happened in those five years.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:51 AM on April 21, 2017

Himmler's argument that the Nazi's had to build the crematoriums to prevent the spread of disease. That just got me.
posted by vignettist at 9:04 AM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, he seems to have no compunctions moving back and forth between
  • It didn't happen;
  • It did happen, but it wasn't us;
  • It was us, but it wasn't what you think;
  • OK, it was what you think, but the Jews deserved it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:02 PM on April 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

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