Gudrun Burwitz, dubbed the 'Princess of Nazism', keeps the Holocaust mastermind's ideals alive by helping other Nazis evade justice.
She could be anyone’s lovable granny, waving goodbye on a sunny afternoon to her children who have been visiting to brighten up her day. But her arm raised high in farewell could also be seen in a more sinister light.
For in her heart Gudrun Burwitz remains Gudrun Himmler, the beloved daughter of Nazi Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, the lord of death in the Third Reich who ran the Gestapo, the SS and the entire extermination programme which murdered six million Jews.
It is 70 years since her beloved “Papi” killed himself with a cyanide tablet hidden in his mouth, after being captured by British troops.
In his last week, one of Adolf Hitler’s most senior lieutenants was on the run, hiking around northern Germany disguised as a soldier, his moustache shaved off and a patch on one eye.
Many children of Nazi monsters – Rudolf Hess, Hans Frank, the brutal governor of Poland, Martin Bormann – turned their backs on their fathers and their sins when adulthood made them aware of their crimes. But Gudrun is different.
She has preserved and nurtured the memory of her father, believing him to be a good and worthy man.
She was 14 when he died and, far from disowning her father, she remained as fiercely devoted to him as he was to Hitler, keeping a scrapbook of every newspaper picture she could find of him.
In her house in a leafy Munich street lies a manuscript to his memory. It “demolishes the lies” the Allies told about her father after the war. Not surprisingly, it has never been published.
Worse, while cherishing the memory of Himmler, she still works to this day, despite her advanced age, helping the survivors of Nazism try to evade justice.
As the leading figure in the shadowy and sinister support group Stille Hilfe – Silent Help – she brings succour and financial help to the monsters still at large.
Two years before he died in his bed, she came to the defence of Klaas Carel Faber, 90 – a Dutchman who served with the SS in Holland where he murdered Jews – to prevent his being extradited to his homeland from Germany, where he lived in peace and quiet.
During Gudrun’s time with Stille Hilfe the group has eased the way into society for many Nazi war criminals, including Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo Butcher of Lyon, and Erich Priebke, SS murderer of Italian partisans.
It also helped Anton Malloth, a brutal guard in a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, who was sentenced to death in his absence before finding refuge in Germany.
“You need building up,” she would tell the weak sadist as she stroked his hands.
Although legal, the organisation she runs operates in a moral grey zone.
It has just 40 members but gets money from rich industrialists sympathetic to the Nazi cause and an estimated 1,000 others from Europe’s rag-tag far right.
Tracked down to the Munich suburb of Furstenried, where she lives in a maisonette with her husband Wolf-Dieter, Gudrun Burwitz is as reticent now as she has been ever since becoming the “Princess of Nazism”, as a leading historian has called her.
“I never talk about my work,” she said outside No 3 Blaichacher Strasse. “I just do what I can when I can.” Her husband was more forthright. “Go away – you are not welcome,” he said.
Gudrun, now 85, knows it well, for she used to visit it as a child with her father, who called her “Puppi”, meaning Doll.
One picture has her laughing and joking as he looks on adoringly. When it was taken, men and women were dying just yards away. Himmler was like that – he regularly took his child on the plane with him on his murderous travels around Germany and its conquered lands.
Puppi’s world collapsed when her father committed suicide in the Allied interrogation centre near Luneburg, on May 23, 1945.
She believes the British murdered him and pledged her life to helping his comrades whenever she could.
German journalists who write about Stille Hilfe remark on the power she now wields in the organisation. Often quoted is a rally of neo-Nazis she attended in Ulrichsberg, Austria, several years ago, where she was idolised by SS veterans.
“They were terrified of her,” said Andrea Ropke, an authority on neo-Nazism who was there. “All these high-ranking former officers lined up and she asked, ‘Where did you serve?’ showing off a vast
knowledge of military logistics.”
She and her group are monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence service.
One official said: “She is over 80 but pin sharp. She likes it if you think of her as some Mrs Doubtfire figure but that is not the case. She has a genuine love for these men and women who served the worst parts of the Nazi regime from 1933 until 1945. She is a true believer and, like all zealots, that makes her dangerous.”
She has become the godmother to far-right women’s groups. They are infiltrating kindergartens, schools and other organisations. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state, there is a screening programme to try to stop them working in nurseries.
But for all her work in the present, the past is the place where she chooses to dwell with her beloved father.
“On December 24 each year I used to drive with my father to see Hitler at the Brown House in Munich and wish him Merry Christimas,” she has said. “When I was little he used to give me dolls. Later he always gave me a box of chocolates.”
She had job after job in shattered post-war Germany and lost them all when people learned who she was. Once in a hotel a Jewish guest thundered: “My wife died in Auschwitz and you employ HER?” She was dismissed the same day.
Gudrun spoke in the 1950s of her intention to travel to America “where the documents are” that would clear her father. It is understood she has never been, perhaps even doubtful that the Americans would grant an entry visa to the daughter of the man who gave the world Auschwitz.
“I don’t believe he swallowed that poison capsule,” she said. “My mother and I never had official notification of his death. To me, the photo of him dead is a retouched photo of when he was alive.”
Denial is obviously a comfort zone for Gudrun Burwitz. It is not a place that she is ever likely to leave.
Disguised beast's trek to dodge the Allies
He and his aides traipsed from farm to farm seeking shelter for a night at a time, trying to avoid Allied soldiers.
He started at Schloss Kalkhorst on the Baltic on April 30, 1945, the day his Fuhrer killed himself in Berlin, according to research by Professor Gerhard Paul, of Flensburg University. First by car and then on foot, they desperately tried to avoid capture.
On May 3 in Flensburg, the Third Reich’s final capital, Himmler shaved off his moustache, put on an eyepatch and adopted the name Heinrich Hitzinger, a sergeant executed for “disloyalty”.
Between May 3 and 11 the group moved south, sleeping in barns, fields and deserted stations.
Locals recognised him and sent him and the group packing. Then on May 21 they ran into a patrol of freed Russian PoWs checking people on the road.
The Russians did not recognise him and turned Himmler over to a British patrol which ferried him to Luneburg where his identity was revealed.
Himmler was to have an examination of his mouth on May 23. That day he bit on his concealed cyanide capsule and was dead within two minutes.
He is buried in an unmarked grave on Luneburg heath.