Episode 66 – Vlad Dracul versus Heinrich Himmler

The Villains bracket hands us a pair that would likely be first ballot inductees into the evil hall of fame. The first, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire Count Dracula, the man who made impaling his enemies a shocking part of warfare, Vlad Dracul. His opponent, a man who had no compunction ordering the extermination of millions of people during World War II, the right-hand man of Adolph Hitler, Heinrich Himmler.

My main source of information on Vlad Dracul is the book In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu. These two are academics who have long researched the myths, legends and true history of Vlad Dracul.  As for Heinrich Himmler, I leaned on Heinrich Himmler by Peter Longerich, and A Guest of the Reich by Peter Finn.

Vlad Tepes
Vlad Tepes Dracul

Vlad III Dracul, which translates into Vlad of the House of Dragons or belonging to the Order of the Dragon, was born in December somewhere between 1428 and 1431 to Vlad II Dracul and his second wife, a Hungarian noblewoman. In order to avoid confusion moving forward, I will refer our contestant as Vlad Dracul and his father as Vlad II. Vlad II was the illegitimate son of Mircea I of Wallachia which would cloud the legitimacy of the inheritance of the lands of Wallachia for the Dracul family. 

The Dracul name began with the Society of the Dragonists which was a chivalric order for selected nobility of Europe, particularly the eastern lands. It was founded in 1408 by Sigismund von Luxembourg who was King of Hungary at the time and later became the Holy Roman Emperor. Vlad II was given the honor and hence the sobriquet in 1431. While the Order lost a lot of its luster over the following years, it had a resurgence in the east after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, an event we covered in episode 23. The reason being, it was in Eastern Europe that the Ottoman Empire focused on in its expansionist forays.

The Ottoman Turks was to be the aim of Vlad Dracul’s life. The Ottoman sultans sowed the seeds of discontent and jealousy among the monarchs, princes and dukes among the countries of Hungary, Croatia, Albania, Serbia and Romania. Hungary, would be the most contentious of the regions and this is where our challenger, Vlad Dracul would spend most of his life.

Vlad II was not the most honorable man you would ever meet, quite the opposite. He had no problems switching from one side, the Ottoman’s, to the other, the Holy Roman Empire, in order to further his fortunes. This is a lesson he taught his sons quite expertly. Vlad II also taught his sons brutality and abject cruelty, even to his own peoples. 

The Dracul’s considered themselves Transylvanians above all. Still, they had no compunction, in joining with the Ottoman’s as they stormed through their lands, raping, pillaging and murdering anyone in their way. One town, Sebes, wanting to avoid the fate of others in the region, decided to surrender, but only to Vlad II and not directly to the Turks. The year was 1438, and the Dracul’s protected the Christian village, per the oath Vlad II took. This caused Sultan Murad II to begin to grow suspicious of his supposed ally.

Sultan Murad II
Sultan Murad II

In 1442, the Ottoman’s took Vlad Dracul and his brother Radu as hostages in order to guarantee the allegiance of their father. This was a common practice for thousands of years, and it worked, unless you really didn’t care about your sons. Vlad II did, so he kept his word. The boys lived a pretty good life in Constantinople and were educated by the Turks. Radu would take to the life whereas Vlad Dracul would appear to, but deep inside he hated his captures. Vlad also developed his lifelong devaluation of human life from his time with the Ottoman’s, and as McNally and Florescu put it in their book, In Search of Dracula, “… morality was not essential in matters of state.”

We’ve asked the question many times in the Villains bracket, how did they become such evil people. With Joseph Mengele, we so no hints in his childhood or upbringing. With Vlad Dracul, we see early on how little life meant to him, due to how he grew up. We also have to understand the time in which he lived in. It was a period of Eastern European history where territory was being pulled apart from two directions; the Ottoman’s to the south and the Holy Roman Empire to the north.

In 1447, Vlad II, Vlad Tepes’s father, was murdered by the invading forces of Hungarian military leader, and Voivode of Transylvania, John Hunyadi. Hunyadi, would be a thorn in the side of Vlad Dracul and the Ottoman’s until his death in 1456. With the support of the Ottoman’s Vlad invaded Wallachia, a region then controlled by the Hungarians and laid waste. The first group to feel his wrath and the technique of torture murder that was to become his sobriquet, were the Transylvanian Saxons. After sacking their villages, Vlad would have the townspeople impaled, carrying little if they were old, female, or children. Very much like how Pompey crucified the slaves who participated in the Spartacus rebellion to make them a symbol, so too did Vlad the Impaler.

By now tires of paying tribute to his former captures, Vlad decided to attack the Ottoman’s beginning in 1462. He was successful in defeating and then slaughtering the armies of the Turks, coming close to capturing their sultan, Mehmed II in the summer of 1462. Later that year he went to Hungary to try for an alliance with the new king, Matthias Corvinus, but instead was imprisoned, where he would be held until 1475.

Vlad Dracul was released in order to gather forces loyal to him to help with another war against the Ottoman’s at the behest of Stephen III of Moldavia. While his allies fought with ferocity, Vlad Dracula’s armies were savage and continued the practice of impaling anyone the captured. 

Impaling sounds like a quick death. Insert a sharp stick in the persons bottom and push it up through their bodies until the pole sticks up through their shoulder. Instead, it was a gruesomely, sometimes slow death. Some would die almost immediately; others would take between one to three days to die. Over time, Vlad Dracul would become so “good” at impalement that he could either delay the poor soul’s death for days or kill them quickly. It is said that he actually enjoyed watching people suffer due to his hand.

Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, would die in battle in either December of 1476 or January 1477. Tales of his cruelty would be chronicled by German-scribes of the time. As for his legacy, it wasn’t dredged up until the late 19th century. Another more sinister revisit to his barbaric life occurred during the reign of Communist strongman Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania in the 1970’s and 80’s. 

Now is the time to move on to our other villain, the head of the SS during the time of Nazi Germany, Heinrich Himmler.

Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S72707

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler, was born on October 7, 1900, in the city of Munich to the deeply Catholic parents, Joseph Gebhard Himmler and Anna Maria Heyder. While the family was considered solidly middle-class, his godfather was Prince Heinrich of Bavaria, a member of the royal family of Bavaria, hence his given first name.

When we look at villains, we tend to want to uncover the reasons for their evil behavior as adults and how their childhood may have influenced this turn to the dark side. With Himmler, we see a young, insecure child, sickly and very socially awkward. This insecurity was to manifest itself in adulthood, with his brutish, egomaniacal mannerisms and need to control everything around him. Additionally, Himmler needed to find someone to blame for all the problems he faced as a child and teenager. 

With the onset of World War I, Heinrich was too young to fight, but he enlisted with the reserve battalion of the 11th Bavarian Regiment in December 1917. His older brother Gerhard, served with distinction in the war, winning the Iron Cross. Himmler yearned to fight for his country, but the war ended in November 1918, before he was able to exit training.

Heinrich went back to school, first to finish his primary school education, then to study agronomy at the Munich Technische Hochschule. Post-war Germany became a hot bed of antisemitism, something that the young Himmler had acknowledged in his writings, but not something he was fervent about yet. In his school, he belonged to a group called the League of Apollo, whose president was Jewish. Although he tolerated his Jewish fellow student, slowly, Himmler became more and more antisemitic, as did many of his German compatriots.

In 1920, Heinrich met Ernest Rohm, one of the co-founders of the Sturmabteilung or Storm Battalion, known better as the SA. They were virulently anti-Jewish which fed into Himmler’s insecurities and need to blame others for his problems, as well as Germany’s. The right-wing, many of whom were in the German military, used the Jews as a scapegoat for their loss in World War I. It could not have been the brave German soldier, or the mighty German war machine that lost the war, it was an internal mole or cancer that must have done this. It had to be the Jews.

Germany in the early 1920’s was in terrible economic shape. Hyperinflation set in, joblessness was rampant, and a feeling of hopelessness was everywhere. People wanted to have answers and wanted to find someone to blame for their misery. Fringe parties like the NSDAP, better known as the Nazi Party, began to rattle their sabers. In August 1923, Heinrich Himmler joined the Nazi Party as member number 14,303. In November, he was part of the infamous Beer Hall Putsch, an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government on November 3-6, 1923. After interrogation, it was determined that Himmler was a minor actor in the putsch, and he was released. Adolph Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison for his part, a time he would write his book, Mein Kampf.

Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf

From mid-1924 on, Heinrich Himmler would work as a party secretary and propaganda assistant for Gregor Strasser of the SA. He would give speeches, primarily throughout Bavaria as well as distributing propagandist literature. In 1925, he joined the paramilitary group known as the Schutzstaffel or SS as an SS-Führer or leader.  Himmler’s Schutzstaffel number was 168.

The SS was, at first, an organization under the auspices of the SA, created to protect the new head of the Nazi Party, Adolph Hitler. By 1926, it was more of an independent organization which Himmler saw as a way of keeping tabs on those who he felt, along with Hitler, as enemies of the state. Of course, this meant the Jews as well as Freemasons, gypsy’s and communists. In 1927, Heinrich shared with Hitler his vision for the SS, a vision that included a racially pure organization, without any taint of Jews or other lesser races. Hitler immediately endorsed his ideas making Himmler, Deputy Reichsführer-SS, with the rank of SS-Oberführer. This was to be the highest position of the SS until the end of the war in 1945.

It is in 1933, when Hitler gained total power in Germany that the evil that Himmler was to unleash on the people of Europe began in earnest. Hermann Goering had established the Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo, appointing Rudolf Diels as its leader. Diels proved to be a somewhat weak person for the position so on April 20, 1934, Goering handed over the organization to Heinrich Himmler. It was also the date that Hitler gave Himmler the control of all police outside of Prussia. Quickly, he named Reinhard Heydrich, to head the Gestapo, a man many view as one of the cruelest and most evil person to don a Nazi uniform.

In 1933, Himmler created the first concentration camp at Dachau. Initially, these prisons were meant to be places where criminals and other so-called deviants were sent to. We now know that they would be the place where millions of people, mainly Jews, would be murdered. It wasn’t until 1937 that this would begin in earnest.

The first major operation that Himmler and his henchmen carried out was against fellow Germans, and in particular, the leadership of the SA. Known as Operation Hummingbird or more popularly, the Night of the Long Knives, Ernest Rohm, Gregor Strasser and about 200 other members of the SA were killed. This removed a potential rival of Hitler and freed Himmler to wrest complete control of all police and paramilitary organizations. On July 20, 1934, Himmler was named Reichsführer-SS, answerable only to Hitler.

It wasn’t until September 15, 1935 that the evil that was to be unleashed under Himmler came into effect. It was when Hitler pushed the Nuremberg Laws into effect. It would ban Jews from being employed as well as stripping their German citizenship. 

While many are well aware of Himmler’s anti-semitism, he also had a deep dislike for Christianity. Himmler was quoted as saying, “We live in an era of the ultimate conflict with Christianity. It is part of the mission of the SS to give the German people in the next half century the non-Christian ideological foundations on which to lead and shape their lives. This task does not consist solely in overcoming an ideological opponent but must be accompanied at every step by a positive impetus: in this case that means the reconstruction of the German heritage in the widest and most comprehensive sense.” Himmler felt that Christian mercy would hinder his planned attacks on Jews, gypsies, and communists that was to come. 

In 1939, Operation Himmler was begun which would precipitate the beginning of World War II. Planned by Himmler, Heydrich, and Heinrich Müller, it would dress German soldiers as their Polish counterparts and make it look like Poland was attacking Germany. The Nazi propaganda machine used this ruse to convince the German people that war was not of their doing but that of the Polish government. This was a necessary ploy as the German people were not too keen on starting another war as they had suffered greatly during World War I. The extreme nationalism that was promoted by the Nazi’s gave them the support of their countrymen. 

Himmler began to recruit what he thought were Germanic peoples from the countries the Nazi’s conquered to his Waffen-SS units. They would come from the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and Finland as well as volunteers from Italy and Spain. 

The construction of dozens of concentration camps would begin with the invasion of Poland, many in the countryside of the now devastated country. About the time that the United States declared war on the Axis, the plan of Hitler’s to exterminate the Jews was hatched. At Wannsee on January 20, 1942, the “final solution to the Jewish question” was planned. Heydrich was the lead in the discussions where he shared that Himmler would be the head of operations. They estimated that they would have to kill about 11 million Jews to complete the task. An estimated six million would perish at the hands of Himmler and his troops.

The invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 gave Himmler another group to carry out his murderous plans on, Soviet soldiers. Approximately 2.8 million would die of starvation or execution at the hands of the SS Einsatzgruppen. 

We could go on to further detail the murderous rampage that Himmler and Hitler would unleash from 1941 to 1945, but that is pretty much unnecessary. It happened and this evil person was more than happy to carry out the carnage. This is a true definition of what it is to be a villain. 

When Himmler committed suicide in May of 1945, he did so after being captured by the Americans. Defiant to the end, Himmler committed the ultimate cowardly act by biting down on a cyanide capsule, one hidden in his mouth. 

No to head on over to the scorer’s table. Before we begin, I’d like to say that it is hard to give away points to people like these two as it might send out a message that one wins over the other. Neither is deserving of any accolades, or for that matter, any of the members of the Villains bracket. The scoring is purely in an historical setting.

We begin with the 15 points on how long they were evil. With Vlad Dracul, we start in 1456 with his army’s invasion of Wallachia and the subsequent butchering of the inhabitants. It ends with his death in 1476 for a total of twenty-years. As for Himmler, we begin in 1934 with the destruction of the SA and murder of two hundred of its leaders. We end his murderous life in 1945 with his suicide for a total of eleven-years. Fifteen points for the Impaler with the head of the SS receiving eight.

Next up is the twenty-points for how they affected the rest of the world in their time. This one goes to Himmler as his reign of terror would cover all of Europe including the Soviet Union while Dracul’s evilness was contained mostly in a small part of eastern Europe. For this reason, I’m giving twenty points to Himmler and ten to Vlad.

We now will give out the twenty-five points for their lasting effect on world history. This one is a bit more challenging as Vlad Dracul has influenced a whole new generation of interest due to the vampire connection, but Himmler and his despicable actions still reverberate today, 75 years after his death. For these reasons, the Nazi receives 25 points with the Transylvanian gets twenty.

Last up is the forty-points for how evil they were to their country. Both of these men were brutish mass murderers. They brought down a reign of terror, destruction and evilness that is almost unimaginable. It is Himmler’s complete disdain for any group other than his Aryan’s brethren and the shear numbers of those slaughtered by his command that I give him the forty points with Vlad Dracul receiving thirty-five.

The score is 93-80 for the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. He moves on to the second round where he will face off against the Butcher of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.

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