Reichsfuhrer SS Himmler was the highest-ranking Nazi captured by the British at the end of the Second World War. Spotted at a British control post near Luneberg Heath in western Germany, he was interviewed and examined at the British Second Army headquarters nearby where he supposedly and suddenly bit down on a cyanide capsule hidden in his mouth and promptly died in agony.
The suicide story is still the most widely-accepted view of what happened on May 23, 1945. For example, the lengthy Wikipedia article on Himmler accepts it without reservation and most histories of the war and of the history of Nazism follow suit. Even Himmler’s devoted and ever-faithful daughter Gudrun Burwitz (1929-2018) never promoted conspiracy theories about her father’s death even as she sought to defend his SS record and to deny his reputation as a mass murderer.
Even so, doubts do persist as to the veracity of the suicide claim. Some writers have stressed that Himmler lived for over a day before voluntarily biting on the poison capsule. During that period, he was searched several times, though not apparently in the mouth, by British doctors who failed to find any capsule. Himmler is also known to have eaten a British army-style thick cheese sandwich and drunk a mug of hot tea. So how did he succeed in hiding the capsule between his back molars whilst hungrily devouring his food?
There is also the odd business of Himmler’s autopsy report which reveals that his body, particularly his face and legs, showed signs of bruising. Some writers have leapt on this fact to argue that he was beaten to death by his captors who were disgusted by the man who had controlled the infamous concentration and death camps. This theory seems unlikely as there are no signs of extensive bruising or beatings on the photos of the dead Himmler. It also seems unlikely that British army officers would have permitted an obvious murder to occur in such circumstances.
So why would the British authorities even want the death of Himmler at that early stage of his capture? The conventional view is that they would have wanted him to stand trial and then be executed for his wrongdoing. On the other hand, Himmler was a man who knew too much. For example, he knew the truth about Rudolph Hess’ flight to Scotland in 1940 (whatever that was), the peace moves by Lord Halifax at roughly the same time and, more significantly, the secret negotiations to bring about peace in 1943. There is some evidence, not accepted as genuine by everyone, that Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted Himmler out of the way before he could reveal all manner of sensitive details which were not in the British government’s public interest.
There is no direct evidence that Himmler was murdered by British doctors who forced his teeth down on a cyanide capsule placed there by interrogators. Equally, if Himmler wanted to commit suicide on his capture why did he wait so long? He is known to have chatted informally with his captors and to have readily eaten a meal. We shall never know for sure.