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The Police State

Last Update 28 January 2006

Hermann Göring
The Oxford Encyclopedia defines a police state as "(that) in which a national police organization, often secret, is under the direct control of an authoritarian government, whose political purposes it serves, sometimes to the extent of becoming a state within a state." The Nazi police state was to develop far beyond this definition. It became not only an instrument of repression and control in Germany, but also a continent-wide system of terror and murder.

The creation of a Political Police force was an early objective of National Socialism. Prussia was the largest state in Germany, including as it did the capital, Berlin, as well as other major cities. On 26 April 1933, Hermann Göring, initially acting as Prussian Minister of the Interior and then as Prussian Minister President, established the Secret State Police Office (Geheimes Staatspolizeiamt - Gestapa), which evolved into the Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei - Gestapo). The Prussian police force had consisted of the uniformed or Order Police (Ordnungpolizei - Orpo) and the plain clothed Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei Kripo) which included the Political Police (Staatspolizei Stapo). It was the political sections of the Kripo, together with the Stapo that were taken over and became the Gestapo, headed by Rudolf Diels.

At the same time as Göring was creating the Gestapo in Prussia, Heinrich Himmler was consolidating power as Police President of Bavaria, a position to which he had been appointed on 9 March 1933. Reinhard Heydrich occupied the position of chief of Department VI of the Bavarian Police, the political division. Heydrich was also head of the Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS (Sicherheitsdienst - SD), the intelligence branch of the SS, an office he had effectively created in 1931. The SD was intended to keep the opponents of the NSDAP under surveillance, to provide protection for the leadership and to fend off possible dangers from within the Party. As Himmler stated:
"The SD will discover the enemies of the National Socialist concept and it will initiate countermeasures through the official police authorities."

Heinrich Himmler
Throughout 1933-34, Himmler gradually gained control of all of the German States' police forces, except for that of Prussia, which remained under Göring's jurisdiction, until on 1 April 1934, Diels was removed as head of the Gestapo, signalling the accession of Himmler on 20 April as head of a unified national police force. Heydrich was appointed head of the Gestapo and immediately began a programme of drastic reorganisation.
With effect from the summer of 1934, the SD was declared the sole intelligence service of the Party. Whilst the other branches of the police were employees of the State, members of the SD were employed by the Party, which paid their salaries. Most senior Gestapo men were recruited from among professional police officers; in contrast, the SD attracted an elite of ambitious intellectuals lawyers, economists, professors of political science and the like. Although Heydrich now controlled both the SD and the Gestapo there was considerable overlapping in the areas of responsibility of the two organisations. This could sometimes lead to bewildering conflicts of interests. The SD had a monopoly of political intelligence, whilst only the Gestapo had the authority to carry out arrests or interrogations and send people to concentration camps. But the Gestapo still carried out its own intelligence work, which it could only do with information supplied by the SD. Both the Gestapo and the SD were responsible for "churches, sects, other religious and ideological associations, pacifism, Jews, right-wing movements, other anti-State groups, economics and the press".

Reinhard Heydrich
Clearly, some kind of rationalisation was required in the interest of greater efficiency. This was achieved when on 17 June 1936, the Party post of the Reichsführer-SS was amalgamated with the government office of Chief of the German Police, providing Himmler with the title of Reichsführer-SS und Chef der Deutschen Polizei (RFSS u ChDtPol).
Technically, Himmler was subordinate to Wilhelm Frick, the Minister of the Interior, but in practice he acknowledged only one superior Adolf Hitler. The police were divided into two main branches: the "Main Office of the Security Police", (Sicherheitspolizei Sipo) headed by Heydrich, included the Gestapo and the Kripo. The "Main Office of General Police" (Ordnungpolizei - Orpo) headed by Kurt Daluege was responsible for the Municipal Police (Schutzpolizei), the Rural Police (Gendarmerie) and Local Police (Gemeindepolizei).

Despite their all-seeing, all-knowing reputation, compared to other police departments neither the Gestapo nor the SD was ever numerically great. Post-war research has revealed that in the typical German city of Krefeld, between 1937-41 there were no more than 12-13 Gestapo officers for 170,000 inhabitants, a ratio of one officer for every 10,00015,000 citizens.
Outside of major conurbations there were often no Gestapo personnel at all. In such localities, the Gendarmerie or the Schutzpolizei conducted the police work performed by the Gestapo in the cities. The SD were even fewer in number. Both organisations relied upon a network of agents and informers to maintain their terrifying character. To a large extent, therefore, it could be said that the German population policed itself.

The final major reorganisation of the police occurred on 27 September 1939, when Himmler issued a decree creating the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt RSHA), fusing the Sipo and SD, with Heydrich as head of the new organisation. Thus was created a monstrous bureaucracy that was to oppress and terrorise Europe.
Heinrich Müller was placed in charge of the Gestapo, with Arthur Nebe as head of the Kripo. The headquarters of the RSHA were situated at the former Gestapo building at the Prinz-Albrecht-Straße 8 in Berlin, with other offices spread across the city and branches throughout Germany. Much to the displeasure of Heydrich, who wanted to control of all of the police forces, the Orpo remained outside of the ambit of the RSHA.

Police Battalion
Police Battalion
The completed police state was now in place and ready to begin its campaign of wholesale atrocity and murder. Six Einsatzgruppen, numbering some 1,800-2,250 SD, Sipo and SS members, followed closely in the wake of the Wehrmacht as it invaded Poland. Selected by the RSHA, they were responsible for killing some 15,000 Jews and members of the Polish intelligentsia during the months following the invasion. With the commencement of "Unternehmen Barbarossa" in June 1941, this figure was to be dwarfed by the activities of the four Einsatzgruppen and their assistants in eastern Poland and the Soviet Union. As in so many other cases of Nazi genocide, the precise number of victims will never be known, but it has been estimated that by spring 1943, as many as 1,250,000 Jews and hundreds of thousands of other Soviet Nationals had been murdered by the Einsatzgruppen.
A typical Einsatzgruppe of this period might consist of about 1,000 personnel, made up of 100 Gestapo, 30-35 SD, 40-50 Kripo, 130 Orpo, 80 auxiliary policeman, 350 Waffen-SS, 150 drivers and mechanics, plus interpreters, radio operators, clerks, and some female staff. The various police branches involved in the Einsatzgruppen became largely indistinguishable.

Kurt Daluege
The activities of the Einsatzgruppen were supplemented by the police battalions and reserve police battalions of the Ordnungspolizei. These had been created by Daluege from a pool of reservists, volunteers and Volksdeutsche.
By mid-1940, the number of Ordnungpolizei had grown to 244,500. 101 police battalions had been created, each consisting of about 500 men. As has been well documented, they were to play a significant role in the shooting and deportation to extermination camps of the Jews of Poland and the Soviet Union. However, the Einsatzgruppen and police battalions were only one aspect of the Nazi police state. Responsible for the surveillance and control of the local populace everywhere, the Sipo-SD acted to ruthlessly crush any sign of opposition to the regime or act of resistance. They were an essential component in the establishment, administration and eventual liquidation of the ghettos. Their record of brutality throughout Europe is without equal.

Unlike the other torturers and executioners, most of the camp staffs of Aktion Reinhard had been recruited from the T4 euthanasia operation. Although some, like Franz Stangl and Christian Wirth had once been career policemen, they were now employed not by the RSHA or the Orpo, but by the "Führer Chancellery" (Kanzlei des Führers KdF). All those serving in the death camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka were given a minimum SS rank of Sergeant (SS-Unterscharführer) and came under the command of Odilo Globocnik as Lublin SS and Police Leader (SS- und Polizeiführer - SSPF). Yet in the labyrinthine world of the Nazi police state, it was Wirth who dictated the modus operandi of Aktion Reinhard and Wirth, whilst subordinate to Globocnik, was simultaneously taking instructions from Viktor Brack and Philipp Bouhler of the KdF and thus providing a direct route to Hitler that bypassed Himmler and the RSHA.

The trainloads of victims to Auschwitz - Birkenau earmarked for "special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung) were designated "RSHA Transports." The RSHA was also responsible for organising transports from outside of the Generalgouvernement to the transit ghettos of Izbica, Piaski, Rejowiec and to the camps at Sobibor and Trawniki, amongst other destinations. Although transports from within the Generalgouvernement to the death camps were planned and coordinated by the Aktion Reinhard headquarters in Lublin and arranged by the German railroad authorities in Poland (Generaldirektion der Ostbahnen), the RSHA in Berlin were kept informed about them and of the progress of Aktion Reinhard. Recently discovered in the former Soviet archives in Moscow, the 1941 index of files for Adolf Eichmann's Department IVB4 of the RSHA clearly indicates the extent of the complicity of the RSHA in all aspects of "The Final Solution."

The overall number of victims of the Nazi police state is incalculable. In the Reich and in every occupied country, it left a trail of death, destruction and misery behind it. By the war's end, many of the perpetrators were dead. Some faced justice in post-war trials, often many years after their crimes had been committed. Others simply disappeared. The majority were never called to account or at most received lenient sentences, particularly from West German courts, and lived out the remainder of their lives in freedom.

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