When the Nazis came to power in January 1933, many policemen remained skeptical of
the party and its intentions. Nazi agitation,
especially in the latter years of the Weimar
Republic, had been subversive and the police
had been investigating both the Nazis and
the Communists with vigor. Nevertheless Hitler posed as a champion of law and order, claiming
he would uphold traditional German values.
The police and many other conservatives looked
forward to the extension of police power
promised by a strong centralized state, welcomed
the end of factional politics, and agreed
to end democracy.
The Nazi state in fact alleviated many of
the frustrations the police experienced in
the Weimar Republic. The Nazis shielded the
police from public criticism by censoring
the press. They ended street fighting by
eliminating the Communist threat. Police
manpower was even extended by the incorporation
of Nazi paramilitary organizations as auxiliary
policemen. The Nazis centralized and fully
funded the police to better combat criminal
gangs and promote state security. The Nazi
state increased staff and training, and modernized
police equipment. The Nazis offered the police
the broadest latitude in arrests, incarceration,
and the treatment of prisoners. The police
moved to take “preventive action,” that
is, to make arrests without the evidence
required for a conviction in court and indeed
without court supervision at all.
Conservative policemen were initially satisfied
with the results of their cooperation with
the Nazi state. Crime did indeed go down
and the operation of criminal gangs ended.
Order was restored. But there was a price.
The Nazi state was not a restoration of the
imperial tradition. It was at its core thoroughly
racist. The Nazis took control and transformed
the traditional police forces of the Weimar
Republic into an instrument of state repression
and, eventually, of genocide.
The Nazi state fused the police with the SS and Security
SD), two of the most radical and ideologically
committed Nazi organizations. Heinrich
head of the SS, also became the chief of
all German police forces. His associate, Reinhard
Heydrich of the SD, became at the
same time the head of the Security Police,
charged with safeguarding the Nazi regime.
Nazi ideology became part of all police activities.
The police were central figures not just
in maintaining public order, but in combating
the so-called racial enemies designated by
the Nazi state. It was in this context that “preventive
police action” took on such terrible
consequences. The SS, SD, and police were
the primary perpetrators of the Holocaust.