Decency

This performance of detachment corresponded to one of Himmler’s most perverse convictions, namely that it was possible, while overseeing the slaying of blameless children, women and men, to remain ‘decent’ (anständig). ‘Decency’ was an abiding theme of his letters and speeches. He attributed the stomach pains that plagued him to his untiring efforts to be ‘good and decent’. The ‘decency’ of the SS manifested itself in the priggish honour code that supposedly regulated the daily life of its members, who were informed, for example, that ‘an SS man buys nothing he cannot pay for’ and ‘never buys anything in instalments’, but it also applied to the administration of mass murder, which was to be implemented under the most scrupulous discipline. The idea that SS or police personnel might be stealing watches or jewellery from the people they were killing drove Himmler into a fury. A ‘decent’ killer did his work without relish or the prospect of personal advantage. This, Himmler declared in his notorious ‘Posen speech’ of 1943, was the SS’s greatest achievement: to have seen thousands of corpses ‘lying side by side’, ‘to have coped with this and – except for cases of human weakness – to have remained decent’. 

-Christopher Clark’s review of Peter Longerich’s Himmler biography

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