Himmler's Posen Speech

“Extermination”

(October 4, 1943)


The following is Nizkor's transcript of approximately five minutes of a speech by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler to a group of SS Gruppenführer, on October 4th, in the city of Posen, in what is now Poland.

This English translation is principally the work of Stephane Bruchfeld, Gordon McFee and Dr. Ulrich Rössler. They and our other translators have spent dozens of emails discussing the merits and demerits of alternative phrasings and word choices, to arrive at what we believe is the finest possible translation of these crucial paragraphs.

Below is the text of the speech. Ellipses (“...”) represent pauses, not omitted text; the text as shown here is complete. Nizkor's comments regarding Himmler's mode of speaking are in [bracketed italics].  One sentence before the section concerning the Jews is provided, to “set the stage” -- it concerns an unrelated economic matter.


What we accomplish in our armaments factories ... even though it will only be at the end of the war when we can first assess it -- prove it ... will be a remarkable and noteworthy accomplishment. [pause]

I want to also mention a very difficult subject ... before you, with complete candor. It should be discussed amongst us, yet nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public. Just as we did not hesitate on June 30 to carry out our duty as ordered, and stand comrades who had failed against the wall and shoot them -- about which we have never spoken, and never will speak. That was, thank God, a kind of tact natural to us, a foregone conclusion of that tact, that we have never conversed about it amongst ourselves, never spoken about it, everyone ... shuddered, and everyone was clear that the next time, he would do the same thing again, if it were commanded and necessary.

I am talking about the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people[1]. It is one of those things that is easily said. [quickly] “The Jewish people is being exterminated[2],” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it's part of our plans, we're eliminating the Jews, exterminating[2] them, a small matter”. [less quickly] And then along they all come, all the 80 million upright Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. [mockingly] They say: all the others are swine, but here is a first-class Jew. [a few people laugh] And ... [audience cough] [carefully] ... none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And ... to have seen this through and -- with the exception of human weakness -- to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. Because we know how difficult things would be, if today in every city during the bomb attacks, the burdens of war and the privations, we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and instigators. We would probably be at the same stage as 16/17, if the Jews still resided in the body of the German people.

We have taken away the riches that they had, and ... I have given a strict order, which Obergruppenführer Pohl[3] has carried out, we have delivered these riches [carefully] to the Reich, to the State. We have taken nothing from them for ourselves. A few, who have offended against this, will be judged[4] in accordance with an order, [loudly] that I gave at the beginning: he who takes even one Mark of this is a dead man. [less loudly] A number of SS men have offended against this order. They are very few, and they will be dead men [yells] WITHOUT MERCY! We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill[5] this people who would kill[5] us. We however do not have the right to enrich ourselves with even one fur, with one Mark, with one cigarette, with one watch, with anything. That we do not have. Because we don't want, at the end of all this, to get sick and die from the same bacillus that we have exterminated[2]. I will never see it happen that even one ... bit of putrefaction comes in contact with us, or takes root in us. On the contrary, where it might try to take root, we will burn it out together. But altogether we can say: [slowly, carefully] We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have suffered no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character.

Notes:

  1. The word translated as “people” is “Volk.” It is similar to English “people” in the sense of “a people,” having the connotations of a race, a nation, a populace. There is, however, no perfect single-word translation. Every occurrence of the word “people” in this text is a translation of “Volk” (and vice versa).
  2. “Ausrotten.”
  3. In postwar trial testimony, Pohl claimed that it was at this speech that he received his “first official notification” that the Final Solution was to be extermination.
  4. Himmler never actually got around to saying the verb, “judged,” in this sentence. The German verb would have appeared at the end of the clause; halfway through, he either lost his train of thought or decided deliberately to change the sentence's grammatical structure.
  5. “Umbringen.”

Source: The Nizkor Project. Himmler, Heinrich. Speech to SS-Gruppenführer at Posen, Poland, October 4th, 1943.