In 2006, a cache of letters and diaries written by Heinrich Himmler and his family came into the hands of Israeli documentary maker Vanessa Lapa, herself the grandchild of four Holocaust survivors. Himmler joined the Nazi Party in 1923 and from the beginning was one of Adolf Hitler’s most passionate, organized, and ambitious followers. He rose to direct the S.S., to organize and oversee the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) as well as the building and running of the extermination camps, to become both the chief of German Police and the head of the Gestapo. He was the worst of the worst.
I met Lapa when she showed her film in Los Angeles and subsequently conducted this interview with her via email.
LAURIE WINER: Can you describe some of the emotions you felt while sorting through Heinrich Himmler’s love letters and his loving letters to his daughter, Gudrun?
ANESSA LAPA: First, discomfort, as it meant peering into someone else’s private love letters, which I do not like to do in general. But, because the letters were written by Himmler, I of course felt a sense of curiosity. Then helplessness. Then I tried to disassociate the letters from the man I knew, namely “The Architect of the Final Solution” – how is one to understand a man who discussed gardening and the childrens’ schooling with his wife while he was at the same time planning the slaughter of millions of human beings? I tried to understand his psychology: is it possible that he was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? I realized that the answer is NO. He is the same man in private and in public. He manages to twist and pervert every value, even in his love letters to his wife while he is courting her. He tells her he loves her but feels compelled to say there is something he may love more: the Nation.
Conclusion: I do believe that in the process of trying to understand we all may become better human beings. We often try to learn by studying people who changed history in a positive way. I think we also need to overcome the discomfort it causes us to try and enter the minds of those who changed history in a negative way. It is an intellectual challenge, but one we should practice more often.