The Decent One: The Gripping Yet Disturbing Documentary About Hitler’s Henchman, Heinrich Himmler

“The Decent One”, the story of SS Officer Heinrich Himmler’s life told through his many letters and authentic WWII-era footage, is described as disturbing yet gripping, fascinating.

If Adolf Hitler was the Fuehrer of Germany, then, Heinrich Himmler was known as the Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel [SS], the major paramilitary organization most responsible for the Holocaust. Simply put, Himmler was not just of the most powerful men in Germany’s Nazi Party, he was also one of those directly responsible for the implementation of the Jews’ genocide during the Second World War.

Understandably, a peculiar interest surrounds the life of Himmler. Was he really a killing monster? How was he able to order the killing of thousands of lives during the Holocaust? Was he that soulless?

For “The Decent One”, director Vanessa Lapa used a cache of personal letters written by Himmler himself. These collection of personal correspondence to his family was first found in his home in 1945 but were hidden in Tel Aviv throughout these years. The collection eventually ended up with the father of the Israeli documentary director.

Miss Lapa used this letters as well as the diaries and pictures that came with it to her advantage. She went on to develop her docu-film “The Decent One” composed entirely of these personal correspondence by one of Hitler’s top henchmen to his family. And in that presentation, Vanessa Lapa’s documentary had that strange disconnect to it that makes “The Decent One” fascinatingly disturbing.

Excerpts from Himmler’s diaries and letters were all that were used to compose the movie’s soundtrack — of course, with the exception of the background music and some English parts in the beginning and the end of it. Words that, we can say came from the “heart of hearts” of this man, were read aloud by actors.

Through “The Decent One”, through Miss Lapa’s way of delivering Himmler’s life to the viewers – using his own personal words instead of having the usual narration most often employed in documentaries, Heinrich Himmler was presented the way that he was — he was this ordinary and rather dull man capable of killing scores of men, women and children all to please “Uncle Adolf”.

His own words picture him out as a man in the middle willing to do anything to appease the boss. And that he did by working hard, or we can say, killing hard. In his letters, he repeatedly said that he wanted to be seen as the decent type of person, hence, the title of the documentary.

In “The Decent One”, viewers can see how Heinrich Himmler, who was from a lower middle-class family, longed to fight in the Great War but to his great disappointment, it ended. He was the classic nerd snubbed by the members of an organization he longed to enter in the university he was attending, a club that had Jewish members in it.

Eventually, he fell in love and married a woman older than him and had a daughter he so loved. Climbing up the Nazi party, his wife supported him every step of the way even going as far as entertaining the big bosses though she wasn’t comfortable mingling with the higher society given that she was a nurse coming from a modest background, like him.

However, as WWII broke out and intensified, Himmler began to be away for long periods of time from his family. He had an affair with his secretary and they had two children together. Like any ordinary cheating men, he promised his mistress that he would divorce his wife so he could marry her which he didn’t do. End came too soon — he was captured by British soldiers and eventually committed suicide.

This seemingly ordinary story, along with the doting letters he sent to his family, some signed off lovingly, “Going off to Auschwitz. Kisses, Your Heini”, is a far cry from his deeds during the Holocaust.

At one point in the movie, his words said: “We will never be cruel when it is unnecessary” and that “whether other nations die from hunger or live in prosperity, my interest in them is how we will need them as slaves to our culture”. These, coupled with the authentic pictures and videos all dating to the WWII-era, gives off a disconnection that is both gripping but disturbing.

The Decent One Trailer

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE