Eighty years ago, an obscure, former lance corporal in the Bavarian army named Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, beginning one of the bloodiest periods of human history.
In January 1933, deep in the global economic depression, still psychologically wounded from the devastating defeat in the Great War, Germany arose as a military power to challenge the world and again thrust itself into another global war.
By 1945, Hitler and his dream of global conquest were dead, along with untold millions of others.
Hitler, who reportedly married his longtime companion, Eva Braun, just prior to their suicide in an underground Berlin bunker, never had any children. But many of his top lieutenants did.
So, whatever became of the descendants of the top Nazi command?
More than 67 years after the fall of the Third Reich, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people who engineered the Holocaust walk among us -- some live in obscurity, some changed their surnames to avoid shame and notoriety, others renounced their parents’ ideology and some remained loyal to Nazism, while still others have attempted to live ordinary lives.
Heinrich Himmler, reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, later head of the fearsome Gestapo police, one of the most powerful members of the Nazi machinery and a man directly responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people, had a daughter named Gudrun, born in August 1929, to his wife, Margarete.
Himmler and Margarete also had a foster son named Gerhard von Ahe.
In later years, after his marriage faltered, Himmler had two children with his mistress, Hedwig Potthast -- a son named Helge (born in 1942) and a daughter, Nanette Dorothea (1944).
Despite the family’s internal turmoil, Gudrun remained close to her father and now (at the age of 83) remains a die-hard Nazi who has spent her entire adult life defending his image and reputation.
Himmler adored his young, blue-eyed, blonde-haired daughter, even bringing her to official state functions, including a visit to the Dachau death camp.
As a 12-year-old, she wrote in her diary: "Today, we went to the SS concentration camp at Dachau. We saw everything we could. We saw the gardening work. We saw the pear trees. We saw all the pictures painted by the prisoners. Marvelous. And afterwards we had a lot to eat. It was very nice."
Gudrun’s devotion to her father stemmed from her perception that he was mistreated, even by his former boss, Der Fuhrer. In April 1945, after Hitler realized that Himmler had attempted peace talks with the allies, he was dismissed from all his offices. Following his arrest by British forces, the former SS chief killed himself on May 23, 1945. (Gudrun stubbornly believes the British murdered him while in captivity.)
Upon learning of her father’s death, Gudrun reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown.
After the end of the war, Gudrun and her mother were detained and even testified at the Nuremburg trials.
As a young woman, Gudrun married the journalist Wulf Dieter Burwitz and gave birth to two children. But she remained a committed Nazi, joining the Stille Hilfe ("Silent Help") -- a group that assisted former SS officers and other Nazi fugitives -- in 1951. The next year, she formed Wiking-Jugend, an organization patterned on the Hitler Youth program of the 1930s.
She also assisted a number of high-profile Nazi war criminals, including Anton Malloth, a former supervisor of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and Klaas Carel Faber, a convicted Dutch Nazi.
Not surprisingly, as the daughter of the legendary Himmler, she is revered in Neo-Nazi circles.
Regarding Gudrun’s fanatical devotion to Stille Hilfe, journalist Andrea Roepke told the Daily Mail in 2011: “The Silent Help is not only about former National Socialists. It collects money, too, for the neo-Nazi movement.”
Speaking of Gudrun’s attendance at Neo-Nazi rallies and reunions of SS Waffen officials, Roepke noted: "Everyone was terrified of Gudrun. All these high-ranking former officers lined up and she asked, 'Where did you serve?' showing off her vast knowledge of military logistics.”
Gudrun, described as a “dazzling Nazi princess” by author Oliver Schroem, told the Mail herself: “I never talk about my work. I just do what I can when I can.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.