The Architect of Genocide

Himmler and the Final Solution

Richard Breitman

Among the Nazi leaders, Heinrich Himmler was, as Richard Breitman observes in this ground- breaking study, an easy man to underestimate—short, pudgy, near-sighted, chinless. Yet Himmler holds a peculiarly memorable place in the roster of Nazi war criminals: he was the man most closely associated with the creation and operation of the Final Solution, the programme of formal mass murder responsible for the deaths of six million Jews in death camps. Thus, to understand the Holocaust it is first necessary to understand Himmler, and it is this The Architect of Genocide at last permits us to do. Drawing on thousands of published and unpublished sources—ranging from the Nuremburg War Crimes trial records to papers held in the Central State Archives of the October Revolution of the Ukrainian SSR in Kiev—Breitman shows us the man himself, growing from unlikeable boyhood to be the perfect bureaucrat, seemingly the antithesis of the mad policies he espoused. At the same time, with unchallengeable authority, he presents us with the hitherto mysterious and much—debated facts about the origins of those policies, establishing among other things that before the war, Himmler had plans to murder all German Jews who would not- or could not—leave the country and that as early as 1939, Himmler was considering the use of gas chambers and crematoriums.

Paper: $40 | E-book: $39.99
ISBN-13: 9780874515961
Pages: 348 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: September 1, 1992

“Breitman’s book is decisively important… [It] should serve for years to come as required reading for all who wish to make sense of the Holocaust.”

The New Republic


  • A truly path-breaking book, one of the few that will have a lasting impact on historical research of the period. It shows both the primacy of Hitler as the motivating force in the mass murder, and the way in which his initiatives were accepted and internalized by the SS, on the basis of ideology.

    Holocaust and Genocide Studies
  • Breitman's book is decisively important... [It] should serve for years to come as required reading for all who wish to make sense of the Holocaust.

    The New Republic
  • Breitman's research [is] meticulous. Especially valuable are his novel insights into the full and frequent communication between Himmler and Hitler, who, it is known, seldom signed an order.

    New York Times Book Review
  • Breitman’s book is a historian’s carefully researched work, based on a vast array of sources, documenting Hitler’s and Himmler’s responsibility for the murder of European Jewry. The book details the planning and the improvisations, but emphasizes the former and Himmler’s fanatical hatred of the Jewish race as the determinative cause of the Holocaust. Dealing with a charged controversy, Breitman makes a powerful case that by March 1941 ‘the Final Solution was just a matter of time — and timing,’ i.e., that the Holocaust was not a reflex of Hitler’s fear that the war in Russia could not be won. Breitman argues that the Wannsee Conference merely ratified the plans and instructed other agencies to cooperate. Breitman records the instances of resistance or opposition, but notes that of course the cooperation of thousands (many still alive and never tried) and the complicity or silence of millions were needed to carry out the murder... the book concludes that Himmler’s ‘brutality was more learned than instinctive or emotional’ — a methodical murderer impelled by racist dogma.

    Foreign Affairs
  • Chilling, expert history.

  • [A]n eminently sensible and judicious study that could well serve as a textbook on the topic.

    The Historian
  • An absorbing, important book [that] addresses the sequence of steps leading to the Final Solution.

    Financial Times
  • Breitman is on the hunt for smoking guns. He finds the goods littered throughout Himmler’s speeches and conversations... Breitman shows that people knew.

    Washington Post Book World
  • The book is chillingly good on the uses and abuses of language to mask atrocity.

  • Richard Breitman’s study is an important addition to [the] literature [on the origins of the Nazi genocide], one that provides the most likely scenario and settles important disputed questions... Breitman’s study is a major step forward in our understanding of how the Nazis initiated mass murder.

    German Studies Review
  • [An] important book... I much admire this work, particularly for its resourceful combing of primary material... there is much to learn from this book about the Final Solution, its origins, its implementation, and its hate-inspired architect.

    American Historical Review
  • A convincing portrait of a man who would lose his repressive composure over the theft by his men of cigarettes, money, or watches but not over the thousands of dead to whom these things had once belonged.

    Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Richard Breitman

Richard Breitman is the author or co-author of twelve books and many articles in German history, US history, and the Holocaust. His books The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution (New York: Knopf, 1991) and Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and Americans Knew (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998), were translated into five foreign languages. FDR and the Jews, co-authored with Allan J. Lichtman, won the 2013 National Jewish Book …

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