Gudrun Burwitz

Although having been a central figure in the German far right, Heinrich Himmler's only daughter, Gudrun Burwitz, has appeared more or less in the shadow. It appears that there are far more details available about her childhood and adolescence than in regards to her activities after WWII. This may be attributed to the fact that her and her mother’s diaries later appeared, which shed light on their life during the Third Reich and on Heinrich Himmler as a “family man”.

Throughout her life she had only given a single interview to the press, in which she stated: "Today my father is hated as the greatest mass murderer of all times. I see it as my life's goal to present my father in a different, true light to the world.”1 However, the book she had announced at the time to accomplish that aim never appeared. Despite the very secretive life that Gudrun led after 1945, the scarce biographical details available point to a central but elusive role in the post-war neo-Nazi scene.

Gudrun Burwitz (1929-2018), née Himmler, was the only child of Heinrich Himmler with his wife Margarete, who after the birth of her daughter could not conceive anymore. Subsequently the family adopted an orphaned boy, Gerhard von der Ahé (1928-2010). Himmler had another two children with his secretary and lover Hedwig Potthast, a son Helge (*1942) and a daughter Nanette Dorothea (*1944),2 but their existence was kept secret at the time.

When the collapse of the Third Reich was imminent, in the night of April 19, 1945 a close colleague of Himmler's staff organized the escape of his family from Gmund to the Valepp valley in South Tyrol.2 On May 13, American soldiers arrested Margarete and Gudrun, and took them to a detention center in Italy, where they learned that Himmler had died in British captivity. At the end of 1946, she and her mother were released from custody. Gudrun was about 18 around that time.

First she lived with her mother in a facility of the “Von Bodelschwingh Bethel Institutions” in Bielefeld. Under the pretence of Christian charity many Nazis received help or were even hired by the organisation,3 amongst them Nazi war criminal Ernst Gerke.4 After WWII, the Bethel Institution, led by Friedrich von Bodelschwingh Jr., set up the Bethel Search Service (1945-1950), ostensibly to locate missing family members,5 but also for re-establishing contact with members of the old Nazi networks. In Bielefeld Gudrun began an apprenticeship as a tailor, which she completed in 1951.

Stille Hilfe

Although a collaboration between the Bethel Search Service and Gudrun Himmler is not established, up from the 1950s she worked for a similar organisation called “Silent Assistence for Prisoners of War and Interned People” („Stille Hilfe für Kriegsgefangene und Internierte e.V.“), a “relief organization" for arrested, condemned and fugitive SS members, similar to the Nazi veterans' association HIAG.  Stille Hilfe was officially founded in 1951 by Helene Elisabeth Princess von Isenburg (1900–1974), but the organisation had already been assisting in escape missions of Nazi war criminals as early as 1946, and can thus be considered as part of the ratline network.

It is still unclear in how far Stille Hilfe was part of the escape route that, according to Uki Goñi, Heinrich Himmler's secret service had set up in Madrid in 1944.6 By 1946 that operation was mainly coordinated from Argentina (División Informaciones, SARE),7 and at the time “stretched from Scandinavia to Italy, aiding war criminals and bringing in gold that the Croatian treasury had stolen from 600,000 Jewish and Serb victims of the Ustasha regime."8

To place Gudrun’s affiliation with Stille Hilfe into additional context: the organisation had assisted the escape of i.a. the “Butcher of Lyon," Klaus Barbie, and helped mass murderers Martin Sommer, otherwise known as the “Hangman of Buchenwald," as well as Hildegard Lächert, a concentration camp guard known as “Brigitte la Sanglante”, with their legal proceedings.9 Barbie and Lächert would later work for the BND and the CIA.10

For old comrades Stille Hilfe collected money, smuggled messages into prisons and lobbied with politicians for the release of still interned Nazi war criminals. To this end, the organisation used dubious channels as well as prominent CDU/CSU politicians, such as Franz-Josef Strauss and Alfred Dregger. Also the Catholic Church was harnessed. On November 4, 1950, Princess Isenburg had personally appealed to Pope Pius XII, to release the Nazi war criminals still interned in Landsberg, with the message: “In all confidentiality, Holy Father, I beg you, the mother of the Landsbergers.” Her appeal did not fall on death ears since six days later, on November 10, Pius XII promised the princess "that Rome would do its utmost to save the life of the Landsbergers”.11 When asked, who had helped him escape after the war, Nazi war criminal Josef Schwammberger replied succinctly: "The Pope." In this regard, it may not come to a surprise that Stille Hilfe was until 1998 recognized as a non-profit organisation, and was never banned.12 Until at least the end of the 1990s, the association received between 60,000 and 80,000 euros of donations per year, enough to allow for expensive travel arrangements.13

Later on Gudrun supported a Protestant nursing home affiliated to Stille Hilfe in Pullach near Munich, where the headquarters of the Gehlen Org and later of the foreign intelligence service BND were located. There i.a. Nazi war criminal Anton Malloth, Gestapo supervisor at Theresienstadt, was taken care of.14 As a thank-you gift Gudrun received all the personal items of Malloth from his family.

Viking Youth

In 1952, Gudrun was involved in the foundation of the Viking Youth (Wiking-Jugend, VY),15 a post-war neo-Nazi organisation based on the model of the Hitler Youth, although there are no details what her involvement in the organisation practically entailed. The Viking Youth, named after the SS Viking Division, emerged when the youth organization of the Socialist Reich Party, the “Reich Youth” (Reichsjugend), was outlawed. Founder and first federal chairman became former Reich Youth leader Walter Matthaei, who during the Nazi era had been an official in the ministry for the occupied eastern territories under Alfred Rosenberg.16

Matthaei left Germany shortly after the foundation of the VY, probably to escape prosecution. He settled in Francoist Spain, from where he acted until his death as one of the leading figures in the European neo-Nazi network, and cooperated with his successors at the head of the VY.17 Subsequently the organisation was led for three generations by the sons of the Nahrath family. First by Raoul Nahrath, then up from 1967 by his son Wolfgang Nahrath (1929-2003), and finally up from 1991 by Wolfgang’s son Wolfram Nahrath (*1962).

Burwitz’ other affiliations

Next to her activity in the Viking Youth, Gudrun Himmler enjoyed great popularity in far-right circles, where she often was invited to the scene’s relevant events. In 1955, together with Adolf von Ribbentrop, son of the executed Minister of Foreign Affairs, she followed an invitation to London by Sidney Proud, British fascist and Oswald Mosley supporter, where she spoke in front of a group of Union Movement members. At the event Himmler reportedly said, her “father was a great man but has been gravely misunderstood”. Furthermore she noted that “his name has been destroyed by the Jews."1819

Although there are no details available, the BND recently admitted that Gudrun Himmler had worked for the agency as secretary from 1961 to 1963 under an assumed name.20 It could well be that this was in the framework of the Organisational Unit 85 (Organisationseinheit 85), which ran from 1961 to 1966, a project aiming to identify BND personnel that could be blackmailed by Soviet secret services on the base of their Nazi past.

In the 1970s she married Wulf-Dieter Burwitz, a local NPD functionary in Bavaria and one of the leaders of the NPD's "historical-cultural working group,"2122 and finally changed her name from Himmler to Burwitz. The couple had two children.

Florentine and Meinoud Rost van Tonningen at their wedding ceremony

That Gudrun Burwitz was clinging on to her Nazi past is also shown by her choice of friends. Amongst them were Ursula Haverbeck (*1928), nicknamed “Nazi Granny", who has been repeatedly convicted for Nazi revisionism after publicly denying the reality of gas chambers in Nazi extermination camps.23 For decades Burwitz was also friend of the Dutch Florentine Rost van Tonningen, deceased on March 24, 2007. Van Tonningen was the wife of Meinoud Rost van Tonningen, the second leader of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB) and President of the National Bank during the German occupation (1941–1945). Because she continued to support and propagate the ideals of National Socialism after WWII and the death of her husband, she became known in the Netherlands as the "Black Widow". In the Dutch villa of van Tonningen meetings of the neo-nazi “Community of Convictions of the ‘New Front’” (Gesinnungsgemeinschaft der Neuen Front, GdNF), loyal to well-known neo-Nazi Michael Kühnen, have been held for years during the 1990s.22

Michael Kühnen and the Action Front of National Socialists

Kühnen was at the heart of the radical neo-Nazi scene throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The people and organisations he was involved with constitute a telltale example of the interconnections of European right-wing terrorists at that time.

Initially involved in the NPD youth group, Michael Kühnen (1955-1991) quickly dropped out of politics and joined the neo-Nazi movement. In 1977, after a short stint at the army, from which he was expelled because of spreading Nazi propaganda, he founded the Action Front of National Socialists (ANS). The group soon became notorious for its violent activities, which included bank robberies and armed raids, often working in tandem with similar groups, such as the Viking Youth. Known as the leader of the group, Kühnen was arrested in 1979 and sentenced to three and a half years in prison for inciting violence and racial hatred. After his release, with the ANS being banned, Kühnen turned his attention to the fledgling Free German Workers' Party (FAP), and encouraged his supporters to infiltrate and take over the group. With rumours spreading that he was to be arrested Kühnen fled to Paris in early 1984 and sought refuge with the neo-Nazi group Fédération d'action nationale et européenne (FANE). Whilst working with FANE, he visited Spain together with Walter Matthaei,17 founder of the Viking Youth, who in the early 1950s had left Germany seeking protection in Francoist Spain. There, Kühnen met with Léon Degrelle, the former Waffen-SS member, who had become a central player in the Spanish Circle of Friends of Europe (CEDADE) (see below). Kühnen was finally arrested in Paris and extradited to Germany to face trial on a number of charges related to neo-Nazism. He was sentenced to a further four years in prison. Kühnen died prematurely of AIDS in 1991.

"HIAG Ostsachsen" at the Ulrichsberg meeting at Ulrichsberg mountain in 2003

Gudrun Burwitz also participated several times in the yearly procession of the “Freikorps Fellowship and Alliance Oberland" (Kameradschaft Freikorps und Bund Oberland), the so-called "Annaberg Commemoration”, celebrated with a Christian field mass in Schliersee near Munich. The event commemorates the recurrence of the storming of Mount Annaberg in 1921 in former Upper Silesia by the right-wing terrorist "Freikorps Oberland", the battle league of the infamous Thule Society.22

Burwitz attended other relevant meetings of former members of the Waffen-SS. For example she appeared at the Ulrichsberg Meetings (Ulrichsbergtreffen) in Austria, where she was received like a star and authority of the brown scene. The Ulrichsberg Meetings seem to be a rally point for old Nazi networks, since e.g. members of the HIAG organisation were spotted.