One of the most challenging questions raised by the Holocaust is that of what made someone a perpetrator. The SS leader Heinrich Himmler, shown here with his daughter Gudrun, was the chief organiser of the Holocaust. In October 1943 he delivered a speech to senior SS officers in Poznań in Poland.

I also want to speak to you here, in complete frankness, about a very grave matter. We can talk about this openly amongst ourselves, yet we will never talk about it in public...

I mean the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people... Most of you will know what it means when 100 corpses lie together, when 500 lie there or when there are 1000. To have seen this through, and – except for cases of human weakness – to have remained decent, that has made us hard. This is an unwritten and never to be written page of glory in our history, since we know how difficult it would be for us today if – with the bombing raids, the burdens and deprivations of the war – we still had the Jews in every city as secret saboteurs, agitators and troublemakers…

Overall, we can say that we have fulfilled this most difficult of tasks for the love of our people. And we have suffered no harm to our inner being, our soul, our character.

The fact that Himmler and other leading Nazis who orchestrated the Holocaust genuinely believed that they were serving the cause of humanity through mass murder is one of the most challenging and troubling aspects of the history of the Holocaust.

Photo: Heinrich Himmler with his daughter Gudrun, 1932; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of James Blevins

Speech: Trials of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal, XXIX (International Military Tribunal, 1947)