By Vincent Reynouard
Translated by C.W. Porter
What they tell us about the Gestapo
The Gestapo — Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police) — was created on 26 April 1933. It remains the symbol of the”police terror” which is said to have existed under Hitler from the moment of his accession to power -- and, later -- in all the German-occupied countries. Modern school books and the various documents distributed to young people are unanimous. The Gestapo was a”Nazi” organisation which spied on everyone:
The National Socialist Party became the only party and Nazi organisations kept the entire population under the surveillance of the State Police (or Gestapo) [See F. Lebrun and V. Zanghellini, Histoire, terminales (ed. Belin, 1983), p. 13, col. B].
It had thousands of agents at its disposal, who, throughout the day, arrested and tortured people and sent them to concentration camps.
The Nazis create a racist police state; denunciation is encouraged; the S.S. and thousands of Gestapo agents, directed by Himmler, arrest and torture political opponents and send them to concentration camps [Voy. J.-M. Lambin, Histoire/geographie, 3e (Hachette, 1989), p. 72.].
So much so that, starting in 1933, Germany experienced an era of increasingly serious chaos and savagery:
“The State is just a facade and the numerous security forces (Gestapo, SD, SS, etc.) rival each other in zeal, plunging Germany into chaos, but also causing an escalation in savagery” [Voy”Le train pour la memoire et l’égalité, 12 - 21 February 1999” (plaquette published upon the initiative of the “Coordination PACA de SOS Racisme ”, 1999), p. 12].
At the International Military Tribunal, the Gestapo -- or Secret State Police – was one of the numerous National Socialist organizations collectively indicted by virtue of the principle of collective guilt. Articles 9 (§1) and 10 of the “Statutes of the International Military Tribunal” state:
Article 9. At the trial of any individual member of any group or organization the Tribunal may declare (in connection with any act of which the individual may be convicted) that the group or organi zation of which the individual was a member was a criminal organ ization” […].
Article 10. In cases where a group or organization is declared criminal by the Tribunal, the competent national authority of any Signatory shall have the right to bring individuals to trial for membership therein before national, military, or occupation courts. In any such case the criminal nature of the group or organization is considered proved and shall not be questioned” [IMT I, 12].
These two articles made it possible to accuse the following organisations: the Reichs Cabinet, the Corps of the political heads of the NSDAP, SS, SA, SD, the Gestapo, the General Staff and High Command of the German armed forces [unnumbered page, beginning of IMT volumes; see also appendix B of the Indictment; IMT, I, 85]. The indictment is dated 18 October 1945, date of the first hearing of the Nurember Trial. One month later, in his opening address, the American prosecutor Robert Jackson declared:
“Through the police formations that are before you accused as criminal organizations, the Nazi Party leaders, aided at some point in their basic and notorious purpose by each of the individual defendants, instituted a reign of terror. These espionage and police organizations were utilized to hunt down every form of opposition and to penalize every non-conformity” [IMT II, 128].
Shortly afterwards, one of Jackson’s assistants, Commander Frank B. Wallis, declared:
The formations of the Party, the SA, SS, as well as the SD and the Gestapo, were the vicious tools used in the extermination of all opposition, real or potential” [IMT II, 193].
The Gestapo was defended by Rudolf Merkel. Today, historians recall that at the end of the trial, the Gestapo was finally declared a”criminal organization”. This is partially true (I will return to this point). But the remarks heard during the hearings largely disprove the official story.
Political police forces already existed in Germany before 1933
It is very often stated -- or we are often given the impression, for example -- that no political police force existed in Germany before Hitler’s accession to power. In its issue of 15 December 1939, the French weekly Notre Combat wrote:
The Weimar Republic had thought it needless to create political police. Hitler’s first concern, upon his accession to power, on 30 January 1933, was to repair this error [see: Notre combat, n° 13, 15 December 1939, issue entitled: « La Gestapo: ses origines, ses chefs, son organisation”, p. 1].
This is completely false. Under Weimar, a very active and effective police existed, the”Ia service” of which was exclusively concerned with political matters. On 3 January 1946, Merkel interrogated Otto Ohlendorf, former head of the SD. Here are the results:
DR. MERKEL: Do you know whether before 1933, in the area which then constituted the Reich, there had existed a similar institution, a political police force?
OHLENDORF: Yes, that existed, as far as I remember, at Police headquarters in Berlin, for instance; and I believe it was Depart ment IA. At any rate political police organizations did exist.
DR. MERKEL: Do you know anything about the sphere of activ ities of this organization which existed before 1933?
OHLENDORF: Yes. They were the same; at any rate their activivities were fundamentally the same” [IMT IV, 344].
Three months laters, the former head of the RSHA, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, confirmed the above. Taking January 1933 as his point of departure, he stressed:
There was a State Police in existence prior to that time; to be sure, they were not called the State Police at that time, but the Political Police Department [IMT XI, 309].
On 31 July 1946, finally, a former head of the Gestapo, Karl Best, explained what happened before Hitler’s arrival in power:
In the individual German states, political police systems were set up which were created by the various state governments concerned” [IMT XX, 124].
It is therefore incorrect to believe that Hitler – through Hermann Göring -- set up a political police force ex nihilo in April 1933. Such a political police already existed, in all the German states under the Weimar Republic, even if it was not called the”Gestapo”.
The Weimar political police force was employed to combat the rise of National Socialism
At the Nuremberg Trial, the principal defendant, Hermann Göring, also mentioned the existence of political police forces in Prussia before 1933. Under examination by his lawyer, he declared:
Before our time there was also a political police in Prussia. That was Police Department Ia, and its task was first of all the super vision of and the fight against the National Socialists, and also, in part, against the Communists” [IMT IX, 256].
Many examples could be given of the use of the political police force to combat National Socialism. I shall quote only a few, which received a great deal of publicity at the time.
On 25 November 1930, following the revelations of a newly-elected National Socialist movement elected to the Landtag (Deputy Schäfer), multiple searches were conducted of a villa owned by Dr Wagner, counsellor of the Hessian district of the NSDAP. The searches resulted in the discovery of a document listing measures to be taken to restore order if the National Socialists came to power following a Communist uprising. The news was widely commented upon at the time [see the Bulletin Periodique de la presse allemande, n° 407, 30 December 1931, pp. 24-25]. The paper had been drawn up by a National Socialist magistrate, substitute Best, and bore several signatures, including that of the secretary of the district head, Stavinoga. It should however be noted that it was not signed or initialed by any high dignitary of the NSDAP. Immediately after the discovery, Hermann Göring took steps before the Minister of the Interior to inform him that the Party was respectfuly of legality, that it had not been aware of this draft, drawn up at Boxheim , and that he disapproved of it. Legal proceedings were brought against the NSDAP, which lasted nearly two years. Finally, on 20 October 1932, the Supreme Court of Leipzig dismissed the case.
At the beginning of 1932, the German authorities gathered “concordant information […]. originating from Schleswig, Hannover and Saxony, with regards to the movements of armed SA troops” (proof that the Weimar Republic disposed of an efficient intelligence network). In reaction, on 17 March 1932, the Weimar political police conducted a vast raid of 170 offices of the SA units of the NSDAP, confiscating large numbers of documents and weapons at Berlin, Hamburg, Oldenburg, Pinneberg etc.
According to these documents, the National Socialists are alleged to have prepared to march on Berlin and take power if Hitler won the Presidential elections. The SA were said to have been alerted, and provided with food and weapons. A motorcycle transmission network was said to have been set up. The marching order was allegedly to have consisted of the following telegram:”Grandmother has died. Max”.
Despite the importance of the confiscations, the Tägliche Rundschau considered this action as”an act of revenge, rather than a political necessity”. As a whole, moreover, the press treated this information”quite reservedly”, since it was difficult to tell whether these preparations related to a coup d’état or a counter-attack in the event of a Communist uprising [source of information: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 411, 15 April 1932, pp. 14-15]. In any case, legal proceedings were taken before the High Court of Leipzig. In the following days, moreover, an important conference was held between General Grœner and the Ministries of the Interior of Prussia, Bavaria, Wurtemberg, Hessen and Baden. According to the Bayerischer Kurier:
It had reportedly been decided to reinforce the surveillance of the actions of the National Socialists and to intervene at the slightest act of illegality [Ibid., p. 15, col. B].
Less than one month later, on 13 April, President Hindenburg signed a Decree-Law outlawing the SA, SS, their joint staffs and all dependent organisations, and the entire administrative apparatus of the National Socialist private army. In 1946, Franz von Papen qualified this action as an”obvious injustice on the part of the Brüning government”, since it struck only against the militia of the NSDAP, sparing, without justification, those of the socialists and Communists:
“…the ban of the SS by the Briining Government was an obvious injustice. The SS, or rather the SA, had been prohibited; but the uniformed forma-tions of the Socialists and tihe Communists, that is, the”Rotfront" and the”Reichsbanner,” had not been prohibited” IMT XVI, 246].
The Storm Troops were later re-legalized by a decree-law dated 17 June 1932. But the governments of Bavaria and Baden maintained the prohibition.
These few facts show that, under the Weimar Republic, the struggle against National Socialism was a reality, thanks to the existence of a highly efficient corps of political police.One cannot blame the Weimar Republic for acting in this manner [which would have been a matter of course under any system]. In most cases, in fact, the Weimar political police only acted if Hitler’s followers were suspected of jeopordizing the security of the State.
Now let us return to our topic.
The objectives of the Gestapo were those of all political police all over the world
Two German laws
When the centralization of the Gestapo became more or less fully completed, in early 1936, a new law was promulgated setting forth the responsibilities of the Gestapo. Published on 10 February, paragraph I stipulated:
"The Secret State Police has the task of investigating all tendencies dangerous to the State and of combating them, of collecting and exploiting the result of such investigations, of informing the Reich Government and other authorities of findings important to them, of keepirig them informed and supplying them with suggestions" [IMT XXI, 509].
This law was introduced into evidence at Nuremberg under reference number Gestapo-7.
Four months later, the Preamble of the decree reorganizing and unifying the German police declared:
[The police] is there: […]. 2°) to protect the German people from any attempts at destruction by interior and exterior enemies [See Notre Combat, op. cit, p. 1].
Statements made before the Nuremberg Tribunal
All the above was perfectly normal for any political police force. On 12 April 1946 Ernst Kaltenbrunner stressed that the main mission of the Gestapo was the same as all police forces in the world:
“The State Police had for their main function, as in every other country, the protection of the State from any attack coming from within” [IMT XI, 309].
A few months later, on 31 July 1946, defence counsel for Kaltenbrunner, Dr. Merkel, interrogated K. Best as follows:
“DR. MERKEL: Were these new authorities charged with new tasks?
BEST: No. No, they were charged with the same duties as the political police had been given in the past.
DR. MERKEL: What were these duties?
BEST: On the one hand, the prosecution of political crimes, that is to say, for actions which were committed for political reasons or motives in violation of the criminal law, and, on the other hand, the taking of police measures for the prevention of such crimes” [IMT XX, 124].
The Gestapo was not responsible for conveying the”Nazi” ideology.
In particular, the Gestapo was not responsible for conveying the dominant ideology. At Nuremberg, a former local Gestapo head, Karl Hoffmann, was categorical:
“DR. MERKEL: Was it not the task of the Gestapo to further the ideological aims of the Party?
HOFFMANN: No. The tasks of the State Police were purely counterintelligence against attacks directed against the State, and that within the legal provisions and regulations” [IMT XX, 157].
A well-manned corps of political police was already active under the Weimar Republic
Today, many people believe that the National Socialists hurried to”nazify” the country by dissolving all the ancient assemblies and by creating new ones composed of convinced National Socialists as soon as they took power. This is incorrect. The German Academy of Law is a very good example. This organization was founded in 1933 by Hans Frank; its mission consisted of preparing the laws (particularly in the social or economic field); like all assemblies of this type, its role was chiefly consultative. At Nuremberg, H. Frank explained:
“FRANK: The Academy of German Law was the meeting place of the most prominent legal minds in Germany in the theoretical and practical fields. Right from the beginning I attached no importance to the question whether the members were members of the Party or not. Ninety percent of the members of the Academy of German Law were not members of the Party” [IMT XII, 4].
The same applies to with the Gestapo. In the indictment drawn up at Nuremberg, the prosecution claimed that the functionaries and agents of this newly created police force were”selected in accord ance with Nazi biological, racial, and political theories, completely indoctrinated in Nazi ideology” [IMT I, 82].
It is true that, K. Hoffmann admitted during the trial that newly appointed functionaries and those who obtained a promotion were”appraised from a political point of view” in the years following the taking of power.
“HOFFMANN: Each official who entered was examined regarding his political attitude, and each one who was promoted was screened again” IMT XX, 168].
But it would be wrong to assume that the Gestapo was recruited chiefly from Party members. Determined that the Gestapo should be an authentic, effective and immediately active police force, Göring selected, first of all, officials known, not for their National Socialist sympathies, but solely for their professionalism. The immense majority had never belonged to the NSDAP.
Göring’s statements at Nuremberg
At Nuremberg, Göring, former no. 2 man of the defeated regime, explained:
“I took in a great number of political officials [into the newly created Gestapo]. who were experienced, and at the beginning took fewer people from the Party circles because for the time being I had to attach importance to professional ability” [IMT IX, 256].
As head of the Gestapo in Prussia, Göring chose M. Dielhs, a former high police official under the Weimar Republic:
“The leader whom I selected for this police force was not from the Party but came from the former police. He, Diels, was already there at that time as Oberregierungsrat and later as Ministerialrat, and likewise the main chiefs of the Gestapo were officials who were not from the Party” [IMT IX, 256].
Confirmation from a former legal expert…
Göring was not lying. Interrogated on 18 April 1946, a former RSHA expert on legal matters affecting the police, Rudolf Bilfinger, declared:
“The former officials, the officials of the former political department of the headquarters of the Comrnissipner of the Police, constituted the nucleus of the membership of the Secret StatePolice. The various local police head offices were created from these former political departments of the central police headquarters, and at the same time practically all the officials from these former political departments were taken over. In Berlin, for example, it was Department I, A of the central police headquarters” [IMT XII, 49].
… and a former local Gestapo head
In support of these declarations, K. Hoffmann, stated that “most” of the members of his service were”employees who had entered the police before 1933 and had been detailed or transferred to the State Police”. The proportion of volunteers who entered after 1933 only reached “at most 10 % or 15 %” of effective staff:
“DR. MERKEL: Was the employment of all these people on a voluntary basis in general or not?
HOFFMANN: On the whole, they were employees who had entered the police before 1933 and had been detailed or transferred to the State Police. According to my recollection, there were at the most 10 to 15 percent of them who had entered the organization voluntarily after 1933” [IMT X, 158].
Why such a small proportion? Quite simply because that sector of the police was not very well-paid, and was therefore not very much sought after.
“DR.MERKEL: Were people taken on from the Party, from the SS, and the SA?
BEST: Only relatively few, as service in these police agencies was not highly paid and therefore was not very much sought after” [IMT XX, 126].
Let us add that all these volunteers coming from the Party, SS or SA remained obscure subordinates within the Gestapo. They were hired…
“Only to a small extent, and only as employees and workers for technical duties, such as drivers, teletype operators, and office help, were persons from the Party, the SS, and the SA taken on”[IMT XXI, 507].
During the war years, wounded members of the Waffen SS who could no longer serve at the front were assigned to the Gestapo; to me, it seems logical to assume that they, too, were assigned to lower ranks, as they were not professional police.
The Gestapo was not an annex of the NSDAP
This is why it is incorrect to say that the NSDAP created a political police force consisting exclusively with its own members, immediately after the appointment of Hitler to the position as Chancellor. Starting on 30 January 1933, moreover, during a meeting with representatives of the German press, the new director of the German press, Walter Funk, had given an assurance hat “there was no question of incorporating Hitlerin formations into the police of the Reich” [source: the Bulletin Periodique…, n° 421, 2 March 1933, p. 17, col. A].
Thirteen years later, at Nuremberg, K. Best was categorical on this point, as shown in the following exchange:
DR. MERKEL: Did the NSDAP establish a political police any- where in the German Reich?
BEST: No, nowhere.
DR.MERKEL: Was there anywhere an establishment or an organization of the Party- taken over by the State as a political police system?
BEST: No, nowhere.
DR. MERXEL: Were the political police posts of the German states occupied by Party members in 1933?
BEST: No, those posts were occupied by former police. Only a few officials were newly taken on at that time.
DR. MERKEL: Were the leading officials members of the Party? BEST: That varied in the various states. There were even in part officials who had formerly held quite different views and belonged to other parties.
DR. MERKEL: Can you give an example of this?
BEST: There are several well-known examples. It is well known that Herr Diels, the chief of the Prussian Secret State Police, had formerly held other political opinions; the closest collaborators of Himmler and Heydrich from Munich, who were then assigned to the office of the Secret State Police in Berlin-such as Muller, who later was head of Amt IV; Huber, Fresch, Beck-they were formerly adherents of the Bavarian People's Party, and even the chief of my small Hessian state police office was a former democrat and Freemason, whom I considered qualified for this post.
DR. MERKEL: Why then did these officials continue in the police service under National Socialist rule?
BEST: For a German official it was a matter of course to keep on serving the State, even though the government changed-as long as he was in a position to do so.
DR. MERKEL: Were these officials removed and later on replaced by National Socialists?
BEST: No, these gentlemen had mostly a very successful career and obtained good posts” [IMT XX, 125-6].
As stressed by Dr, Merkel, starting after January 1933:
Those officials, who had been employed in part even before 1914 and currently up to the year 1933 in combating the various political opponents of the various governmental systems, and the govern- ments which came into power through them, were almost without exception absorbed by the political police of the new regime. The only exceptions were those officials who had been particularly active as opponents of National Socialism. But even those were only dismissed in rare cases. For the most part they were trans-ferred to the Criminal Police” [IMT XXI, 342].
Best also stated that, at least until 1940, police officials received no political or ideological training:
“DR. MERKEL: Were the officials who were in office indoctrinated and influenced politically?
BEST: No. It may well have been a plan of Himmler in 1939 or so for the Main Office for Race and Settlement of the SS to undertake a unified political training program for all the agencies and departments subordinate to Himmler. As long as I was in office, that is, until 1940, this was not done however” [IMT XX, 131].
The Gestapo: a perfectly ordinary State police force
We must conclude that, far from being an arm of National Socialist struggle, the Gestapo was, above all, a State police force, such as existed — and still exist — all over the world. As Göring put it:
“DR. STAHMER: can one say that the Gestapo in the year 1933, when it was created by you, was a National Socialist combat unit, or was it rather a state organi, zation such as, for example, the criminal police or other state and Reich authorities?
GORNG: I have already emphasized that this was a purely state organization built around the already existing political police force, which was merely being reorganized and brought into line with the new state principles. At this time it ha, d not even the slightest connection with the Party. The Party had no influence, or authority to give orders or directives of any sort; it was exclusively a state institution. The members who were in it already, or who came into it, were at this time officials with all the rights and duties of such” [IMT IX, 412-413].
A view confirmed by the witness Best
Later, K. Best, interrogated by Dr. Merkel, confirmed:
“DR. MERKL: What was the Gestapo?
BEST: The Gestapo was a group of State authorities” […]. The officials of the Secret State Police were officials employed by the State, and they occupied a public position. An organization sets its own aims. The officials of the Secret State Police received their orders from the State and from the State leaders.
DR. MERKEL: Did the Gestapo belong in any way to the NSDAP or to the National Socialist organization? BEST: No, the officials of the Gestapo were purely and simply State officials” [IMT XX, 123].
Reply to the allegation that Gestapo members belonged to the SS
To this, some people will say that a large majority of Gestapo members were SS members [“Its officials and operatives were selected on the basis of unconditional acceptance of Nazi ideology, were largely drawn from members of the SS, and were trained in SS and SD schools” [IMT I, 83]., assuming that the new secret police force was indeed a National Socialist structure. This is an error.
SS men admitted into the Gestapo were considered officials
When SS men applied to join the Gestapo, they had to pass an examination to which all candidates were subjected. If they were accepted, these SS men became Gestapo officials. Of course, they remained SS men, but within the framework of their new activity, they were considered ordinary officials:
[“Until 1934 it was exactly as I described it. Then with the further expansion, the SS element did certainly become stronger and perhaps more people from this sector were brought in, but even these- -at that time they all had to pass an examination -- became and remained officials” [IMT IX, 413].
Starting in 1939, the assimilation remained “purely formal”
On the eve of the beginning of the war, some members of the Gestapo received a post somewhere in the SS, with the corresponding rank and uniform. The objective was solely to reinforce the authority of ordindary acting officials:
[“The reason for this assimilation was the following: The system of professional civil servants had been introduced and maintained in the Gestapo. But civil servants were, in part, not particularly respected by the Party because of their political or nonpolitical past. In order to strengthen their authority in the discharge of their duties, in particular when acting against National Socialists, they were to appear in uniform” [IMT XXI, 506].
So much so that the SS ranks conferred upon members of the Gestapo had no practical consequence: membres of the Gestapo remained ordinary officials and their tasks were in no way modified.
As Göring explained:
“[…]. gradually in the course of years all officials, whether they wanted to or not, had, I believe, to take on some rank in the SS, so that a Gestapo official, who perhaps until the year 1939 or 1940 had had nothing to do with the SS, and whose employment dated from the old days-that is, he had been a police official of the Weimar Republic-as automatically given some rank or other in the SS. But he remained an official, that is, the Gestapo was an apparatus for officials in the German police force” [IMT IX, 413].
Later, the witness K. Hoffmann confirmed this by stating that the “integration into the SS was purely a matter of form”. This is the passage, from 1 August 1946:
“DR. MERKEL: […].
Did the members of the Gestapo who had been assimilated into the SS by the assimilation decree come under the orders of the SS or the SD and did they perform their duties there?
HOFFMANN: No. The registration in the SS was merely a theoretical measure, and after my formal entry into the SS in the year 1939 I did not perform any service with either the SS or the SD” [IMT XX, 178].
An opportunism which changed nothing in fact
Of course, a few agents joined the SS voluntarily, but these candidates acted purely out of opportunism, since when it was time for promotion, Himmler granted promotion more readily if the official had also been a member of the SS. Thus, a certain proportion of all enlistments may be assumed to have been motivated simply by a desire for advancement . At Nuremberg, E. Kaltenbrunner put it:
“It was, if I may characterize it in these words, the straining of our utmost and our last reserves of strength” [IMT XI, 311].
Here again, these enlistments changed nothing in practice; they merely permitted – perhaps -- more rapid advancement in the ranks of the Police.
Consequently, one can only reject the argument that the Gestapo was merely a branch of the SS, and therefore a National Socialist combat organisation. This assimilation of Gestapo members into the SS was not only late and very incomplete, it also remained “a matter a pure form”, dictated by necessity or opportunism. In his final address, Dr Merkel stressed this fact:
“With this assimilation the Gestapo officials […]. were formally listed among the SD formations of the SS, though they remained solely under the jurisdiction of their own superiors without doing any SS or SD service. Besides, the assimilation was only carried out slowly and to a negligible degree. At the outbreak of war in 1939 only approximately 3, 000 members of the Gestapo and the Criminal Police out of a total of 20, 000 had been assimilated” [IMT XXI, 506]” […].
“During the war even nonassimilated persons had to wear the SS uniform on certain assignments, even without being members of the SS. Apart from that the SS did not control the Police or exert any type of influence upon its activities; it was only in Himmler's person that there was personal union in the leadership of the two” IMT XXI, 508].
Why create the Gestapo ?
Naturally, some people might answer: If the Gestapo was not, in reality, a new agency, why change the structure and why give it a new name?
To understand this, one must understand the context of Germany in 1931-1932.
The domestic situation in Germany in 1932
At this time, the country was experiencing a frightful economic crisis. In an article published as early as 28 September 1930, Josef Eberle wrote:
“… of a people [the Germans]. pushed to the limits of despair, a people drained of its blood to the limits of what is possible and which had nothing left to lose” [see Schönere Zukunft, 28 September 1930, article entitled: “Zum Ausgang der deutschen Reichstagwahlen” (On the German Elections to the Reichstag). Let us recall that these elections had brought 107 National Socialists into the Reichstag, as against 12 beforehand.
Since the history of the frightful German economic crisis is relatively well-known, I mention it only once, recalling only the most important events of the period following the publication of the above mentioned article. On 29 May 1931, when a new decree-law was in preparation to attempt to fill the financial defict reaching 1, 250 million marks, the Deutsche Tageszeitung spoke of “an impending economic and financial catastrophe”. New budgetary cuts were planned, associated with new taxes. The Kölnische Zeitung declared: “the current sacrifices are as far-reaching as could be […]. With them, the nation has reached the limit of efforts for financial restructuring”.
The situation was such that in the decree-law, published shortly afterwards, the government took draconian measures, including 4-8% pay cuts for State agents and officials, a 50% reduction in the first child allowance, increases in existing taxes on sugar, mineral water and turnover, and the creation of a “crisis tax” on income. Referring to the text, the Berliner Tageblatt commented:
“A government has recourse to the most extreme measures to evade acute dangers […]. The means to which it is taking recourse exceed mere financial measures. They reach many things which were thought of as established or sacrosanct”
For its part, the Leipziger Volkszeitung wrote:
“What is indisputable is that the blackest pessimism has been once again exceeded from what one knows of the decree-law…”
But in view of the seriousness of the moment, the Vössische Zeitung of 7 June advised: “in the current general political situation, the lesser evil is still to tolerate this decree-law”.
At the same time, according to one report, after the drop recorded since February 1931, the number of unemployed was expected to rise to a probable total of 4.5 million jobseekers in 1932 [In February 1931, unemployment peaked at 4, 972, 000 job seekers. Since that time, the number had dropped to reach 3, 962, 000 in June 1931. On 15 July, it reached its lowest level: 3, 956,000. But starting on this date, it began to rise again. On 31 August 1931, there were 4, 195, 000 unemployed (source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 404, 28 September 1931, p. 24, col. A)]. The government was now announcing that these unfortunate people would receive less assistance than ever! For example, seasonal workers could claim unemployment insurance if they were employed for 30 weeks, as against 20 weeks under the previous scheme; an allowance would be paid for 20 weeks, as against 29 before. For their part, persons working at home and those employed in family workshops were to be excluded from employment insurance. As for the “crisis allowance” reserved for unemployed persons at the end of their entitlements -- while they were not reduced -- the waiting periods ere extended: from 14 to 21 days for unemployed without dependent families, and from 7 to 14 days for unemployed with more than four dependents. These families would now be totally deprived of resources for perhaps two weeks… Not surprisingly, the press greeted this report with disappointment. The Berliner Volkszeitung wrote:
“Now that the Commission has reached the end of its work, we are unfortunately obliged to observe that it was useless. What has been achieved? The long reports have changed nothing in the misery due to the crisis, the work arrangement plans and hirings remain on paper, even the shortening of the working day, was not approached by the government… Hence the drafts of the Commission showed a tendency to reduce the rights of the insured and social security” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 401, 17 June 1931, pp. 12-15].
Despite the above, the German governments expected to dispense 2 billion marks for the unemployed between 1 September 1931 and 31 March 1932: 500 millions for housing and 1, 200 million for food and coal [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 404, 28 September 1931, p. 24, col. A].
On 20 June 1931, President von Hindenburg launched a desperate appeal to the President of the United States to save the country from bankruptcy. Shortly afterwards, on 13 July, one of the most powerful banking institutions in Germany, the Darmstädter und Nationalbank, announced that it was about to be compelled to suspend payments, triggering a wave of public panic: purchases of foreign currencies soared; stores were taken by storm for fear of a general food shortage. In order to calm overheated minds, the government decreed the closure of the stock market and the banks until further notice. It also drew up severe controls on the purchase of foreign currencies and decreed a tax of 100 marks on all trips abroad. Finally, it announced that salaries for the month of July were assured and that those for the month of August would be paid in three installments. In its evening edition, the Leipziger Volkszeitung wrote:
“What we are seeing in Germany is the catastrophic collapse, not only of a great undertaking, but an entire regime” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 403, 20 August 1931, p. 18, col. A].
On the 15th of the same month, the German Reichschancellor and his minister, M. Curtius, left for Paris to “undertake an action to obtain foreign assistance” (Ibid., col. B). But this attempt was in vain; no assistance could be hoped for at the immediate moment: “Germany should first make an effort on her own behalf” (Ibid., p. 19, col. A). So the government created a new bank, the Guarantee Acceptance Bank, with a capital of 200 million marks, and took steps to refloat the other struggling financial institutions.
On 4 August, in a reassuring speech, Chancellor Brüning announced the resumption of payments for the next day. The crisis had been overcome, but if left Germany even weaker than before…
On 11 August, an agreement suspending all war debts and reparations was signed in London. Four months later, on 8 December, President von Hindenburg signed the fourth (!) “great distress decree” containing cuts in wages, rents and measures affecting social security insurance. On 16 December, metal workers’ salaries in Berlin industry fell 10 - 15 %. The next day, it was decided that the salaries in the mines of the Rhur would be reduced 10 % on 1 January. In his response of 1 January 1932 to the wishes of the diplomatic corps, President von Hindenburg declared:
“All branches of our economy are languishing, millions of our compatriots, despite their ability and desire to work, are being robbed of the basic elements of their existence.Even those segments of the population condemned to unemployment are suffering the effects of the serious material and moral depression” [source: Documentation catholique, n° 595, 16 January 1932, col. 145].
One week later, on 9 January 1932, Brüning informed the British Ambassador that Germany would henceforth be unable to continue to make reparations payments. In a declaration to the Wolff Agency, the Chancellor explained:
“It is obvious that the situation in Germany makes it impossible for the country to continue to make payments of a political nature” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 408, 25 January 1932, p. 8, col. A].
The next day, Germania said:
“Germany does not refuse to make payments because it does not wish to pay, but because it cannot pay” […]” [Ibid., p. 9, col. A].
Two months later, a new “distress decree” was published, to fill the gaps in the preceding one. On 4 September, a new decreee-law appeared in order to revive the moribund economy. In 1946, F. von Papen declared that the decree involved a “supreme mobilisation of our last energy reserves”:
“It was, if I may characterize it in these words, the straining of our utmost and our last reserves of strength” [IMT XVI, 254].
A few immediate successes were recorded (particularly, a drop in unemployment; 123, 000 fewer unemployed in a month). But later, the situation got even worse. At the end of 1932, the total debt amounted to 12.26 billion marks, an increase of 11 million compared to the month of March [source Bulletin Periodique…, n° 420, 30 January 1933, p. 17, col. B]. The number of unemployed therefore totaled approximately 5.5 million people — which meant that”one German in three was unemployed” [Walter Funk at Nuremberg, IMT XIII, 89.]. According to one expert, August Rosterg, the ambitious government project intended to combat the problem was to create a maximum of 67, 000 jobs [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 420, 30 January 1933, p. 19, col. A]. As for agriculture, the distress was total. On 11 January 1933, The Agrarian League — which did not represent the totality of the peasant world, but just the same … — published a manifesto beginning as follows:
“The misery of German agriculture, that of peasant exploitations of selected products, has, with the tolerance of the present government, acquired proportions which one would not have believed possible, even under a Marxist government. They are continuing to loot agriculture to the benefit of all-powerful monied interests in the processing industries and their satellites” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 420, 30 January 1933, p. 19, col. B].
This manifesto implied the immediate breakdown between the government and the Agrarian league.
Germany was truly fighting an “inextricable mass of problems” [according to the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten, issue of 2 February 1933, cited in Bulletin Periodique…, n° 421, 2 March 1933, p. 18, col. A].
Chronic political instability
This economic distress reinforced the political stability. On 5 October 1930, Josef Eberle complained that there had been no fewer than seventeen governments in Germany since 1918, declaring, quite accurately:
“Truly that which seems the most important thing in Germany seems to be to endow the Constitution with those elements of authority and stability capable of rendering largely possible this certitude in conduct and policy. Only such certitude can lift a nation from the debacle and misery and restore its former greatness” [source: Schönere Zukunft, 5 October 1930, article entitled:”Was nun in Berlin?” (What will Berlin Do Now?)].
Subsequent events, however, failed to bring any perceptible improvement. The opening sessions of the Reichstag under the Brüning Cabinet were held on 13 October 1930. Less than one year later, on 7 October 1931, Brüning resigned. The Chancellor was charged with forming a new one, which was done in 48 hours. But this Cabinet lasted even less time than the last: on 30 May 1932, the Reichs President, who wished for a more right-wing policies, appointed Franz von Papen as Chancellor and charged it with forming a new government. In twenty months, thus, three Cabinets had succeeded each other…
The perceptible progress of Marxist ideas
The economic distress and political instability naturally favoured the development of Marixst ideas, or ideas linked to Marxism. One symptom among others: in Germany, the number of members of the proletarian and free-thinker movement exploded. Rising from 3, 322 in 1918, their numbers reached 59, 829 in 1920, 261, 565 in 1922, 464, 728 in 1926, 581, 059 in 1928 and approximately 700, 000 at the end of 1930, following the split in the movement into a Socialist wing and a Communist wing [source: Documentation catholique, n° 558, 21 March 1931, col. 704 et 705, note].
In the schools (including confessional schools), the Communists were circulating pamphlets encouraging children to join the Jungspartakusbund. To become a Pioneer in this organisation, a young person had to commit himself to unconditional support of the Communist party, to organizing the “struggle against reactionary teachers”, creating cells in classes, etc. In sum, the objective was to form Communist young people’s shock troops. Organised in a climate of general poverty, this propaganda experienced such success that, on 14 December 1931, Cardinal Bertram, on behalf the entire Prussian episcopate, begged the authorities to take “whatever measures might be necessary to remedy the agitation” [source: Documentation catholique, n° 596, 23 January 1932, col. 210-1.].
At the same time, the communists never ceased making progress at the polls, even though they were gaining support less rapidly than the National Socialists.The following are only a few examples:
- 17 May 1931, Landtag elections at ldenbourg. The Marxists received 19, 389 votes, as against 8, 470 three years beforehand [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 401, 17 June 1931, p. 19. It should be noted that the National Socialists for their part rose from 17, 457 votes to 101, 490].;
- 27 September 1931, elections to the Hamburg parliament. The Marxists won eight seats, increasing from 114, 257 votes (in 1928) to 168, 618 [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 405, October 1931, p. 23, col. B. The National Socialists won 40 seats, increasing from 14, 760 to 202, 465 votes;
- 15 November 1931, elections to the Hessen Landtag. The Marxists obtained 106, 775 votes as against in 41, 280 in 1927 [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 406, 27 November 1931, p. 24].;
- 14 March 1932, Landtag elections at Meckelbourg-Strelitz. The Marxists won nearly 8, 000 votes, increassed from 10, 634 to 18, 469 [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 411, 25 April 1932, p. 22. The National Socialists, for their part, lost more than 12, 000 votes].;
- 24 April 1932, elections in Bavaria. The Marxists doubled their voting strength, from 125, 842 to 259, 400 [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 412, 16 May 1932, p. 24. The National Socialists, for their part, won six times as many votes, increasing from 203, 115 to 1, 270, 602].;
- 25 April 1932, Landtag elections in Prussia. The Marxist won 9 seats compared to 1928, increased from 2.2 to 2.8 million votes [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 412, 16 May 1932, p. 21. Over the same period, the National Socialists won 153 seats, increasing from 0.8 to 8 million votes].;
- 25 April 1932, election to the Landtag of Wurtemberg. The Marxists won 34, 000 voix, increased from 82, 525 to 116, 644 [Ibid. p. 25. At these elections, the National Socialists gained over 300, 000 votes, increased from 20, 432 to 328, 188.
On 31 July 1932, general elections to the Reichstag. The Communists came in third, with 5, 278, 094 votes, or an increase of nearly 700, 000 votes compared to 1930. They came behind the Social Democrats, who gathered nearly 8 million votes (a drop of approximately 600, 000 votes compared to 1930) and the National Socialists got 13.7 million votes (an increase of 7.4 million votes in two years). Commenting on these results, the Deutsche Tageszeitung declared in its edition of 2 August 1932:
“One must unfortunately observe that the strong pressure of the Communists, a dangerous phenomenon for the State in itself, means that Marxism as a whole had renewed its march forward. The percentage of Marxist votes is, in effect, 36.5 % against 34.5 % in the elections of May 1914”[source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 415, 18 August 1932, p. 16].
The domestic situation justifyies Hitler‘s intransigence
What were Hitler and his collaborators to do in this situation of chronic crisis? In 1946, at Nuremberg, Franz von Papen declared that at the end of 1932, even the Centre party wished “a majority goverment with Hitler” [“The Center Party took an adverse position. They desired a majority government with Hitler… [IMT XVI, 256].
The former Chancellor was not lying. Once the electoral results for the Reichstag were published (1 August 1932), most of the newspapers insisted on the fact that the National Socialists should enter the government. In its edition of 1 August 1932, the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung wrote:
“The election results attest to the desire of the German people to see the National Socialists share in the responsibilities of government. One could split hairs on the other aspects of the voting results of 31 July, but no doubt is possible on this point” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 415, 18 August 1932, p. 17, col. A].
For its part, a Protestant paper, the Kölnische Volkszeitung, stated unambiguously:
“A government which expressly calls upon the will of the people cannot fail to take account of that will afterwards” […]. The Centre will be obligated to demand that National Socialism no longer evade its responsibilities. When one has boasted of being a saviour to this extent, one no longer has the right just to talk. One must share the responsibilities of power. There are very simple ways to bring the National Socialists into power” [Ibid., p. 17, col. B.].
Even more surprisingly, this message was also expressed by part of the Left-wing press. On 2 August 1932, the Frankfurter Zeitung declared:
“After these elections, people will demand that account be taken of the responsibility to no other party than the National-Socialists. And one must take account today of this expression in its literal sense. The National Socialists have the imperious duty to participate in governmental responsibility. There is no shortage of work to do. But the time has passed for threshing about” [Id].
To these appeals, the National Socialists reponded through the pen of Alfred Rosenberg in the Völkischer Beobachter:
“We hear it said that we should be obliged to share the responsibilities of power […]. It is however quite clear that we do not dream of accepting any form of ‘participation’, but that we will remain free as until now or that will assume the management of affairs in an indisputable manner, leaving others with the care to recognize us or not” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 415, 18 August 1932, p. 18, col. A].
For its part, Der Angriff wrote:
“Either the National Socialist Party will receive the management of the government of the Reich, or else, if this is refused, it will respond by a struggle without mercy” [Ibid., p. 18, col. B].
Why this intransigence ? Quite simply, because, in view of the frightful crisis which was ruining the country, the National Socialists were opposed to half-measures. As recalled by W. Funk at Nuremberg:
“[In 1932].The Government, or rather the governments, had no authority. The Government, or rather the governments, had no authority. The parliamentary system was played out…[…]. the Government itself had neither the power nor the courage to master these economic problems. And these problems could not be solved by means of economic measures alone. The first essential was the presence of a government pos-sessing full authority and responsibility…” [IMT XIII, 79-80].
The National Socialists therefore wished for radical change in the institutions and methods of government in order to put an end to the political instability and, thus, to initiate a long-term job to lift the country out of its misery. It is clear that they wished full power to sweep away the Weimar Republic, parliamentarianism, democracy… and thus to get seriously to work without being annoyed by the opposition, constant elections and changing majorities caused by the frivolity of the masses.
In this, they did nothing else than follow the advice of the”moderate” J. Eberle. In an article published on 28 September 1930, he had written:
“That which the people demand, is not the illusory democratic right, but assistance, help, a true direction. Let us recall the words of Reichs President [from 1919 to 1925], [Friedrich] Ebert, to Minister Gessler: ‘Mr. Gessler, we will one day be faced with the following dilemma: Germany or the Constitution. When that day comes, we will throw our people to the dogs just the same to save the Constitution’. If the Social-Democrat Ebert could speak this way, is it really true that Christian politicians must, much more yet, find in themselves the courage of the same profession of faith and, beyond words, the courage to act?.. Give the people of Germany that which Rudolf of Habsburg offered in past centuries after the “terrible period without Emperors”, and the people will carry you in triumph without asking whether or not you respected the ideas and paragraphs of the Weimar Constitution” [Voy. Schönere Zukunft, 28 September 1930, op cit].
Hitler’s demand to govern for four years without hinderance
This is why:
- on 13 August 1932, during discussions with General von Schleicher and Chancellor von Papen, Hitler categorically refused the position of Vice-Chancellor, thus precipitating a new political crisis;
- after finally being called, as Chancellor, to form an initial government (30 January 1933), the Führer, in his first speech as Chancellor, announced:
“The national government wishes to realise the great work of the reorganisation of the national economy according to two four year plans: the first, to save the German peasant in such a way as to preserve the food supply, and later the life, of the German nation; the second to save the German worker through a violant and massive attack on unemployment”
“For fourteen years, the ‘November Parties’ [= those originating with the November 1918 revolution] have ruined the agricultural profession of Germany. For fourteen years, they created an army of millions of unemployed.
“With an iron energy and tenactious endurance, the national government will realize the following plan: in four years, the German peasant should be torn out of his misery; in four years, unemployment will be definitively overcome.
“The conditions of lifting the other parts of the economy will be realised at the same time” [source: “Declaration of the National Government to the German people”, pronounced 1 February 1933 by A. Hitler (reproduced in full in Documentation Catholique, n° 656, 29 April 1933, col. 1044)].
Hitler finished as follows: “German People, give us four years, and then judge”, which clearly announced the determination to remain in power for four years, at whatever cost, without being bothered by the institutions and the opposition. The next day, moreover, the Hamburger Nachrichten declared:
“Those who do not wish to rally [to the plan of national elevation]. will not participate in the reconstruction of the Reich either, and will remain outsiders for four years. But they must not imagine that they will be permitted to disturb the work of the government”[source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 421, 2 March 1933, p. 18, col. A].
This was unambiguously confirmed by Hermann Göring at Nuremberg thirteen years later. Under direct examination by his attorney, he simply declared:
“GÖRING: It was a matter of course for us that once we had come into power we were determined to keep that power under all circumstances. We did not want power and governmental authority for power's sake, but we needed power and governmental authority in order to make Germany free and great. We did not want to leave this any longer to chance, to elections, and parliamen- tary majorities, but we wanted to carry out the task to which we considered ourselves called” [IMT IX -250].
The danger of Bolshevism
Only it was not very likely that the other moving force in the Reich, the Communist party, would accept this situation. It should be recalled that, commenting on the results of the elections to the Reichstag of 31 July 1932, the Deutsche Tageszeitung had referred to the “severe repression of the Communists” as a “dangerous phenomenon to the State itself”. The daily paper knew in fact that, in keeping with its habits, the Communist party was already prepared for a revolutionary uprising. The preceding months had demonstrated this once again. At the end of 1931, shortly after the bloody disorders in Saxony, it was reported that the police had discovered stocks of weapons and had closed a Communist school preparing for a civil war. Without waiting, the Central Committee of the Communist Party published a communique stating that it did not approve of political terrorism. But the disclaimer convinced no one. On 14 November 1931, a”moderate” daily paper like Germania had written:
“We believe that the platonic declarations of this type do not mean a great deal and that they are insufficient to ‘legalise’ a party capable of acts of terrorism”
Three years later, during a conference between the Ministers of the Interior of the different States, General Grœner, had “called particular attention to the attempts of the Communist party to break up the police and army” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 406, 27 November 1931, pp. 21-22].
On 19 April 1932, police raids were conducted of the headquarters of all Communist organisations. Two days later, a police press release announced that the raids had established the illegal survival of Red combat organizations dissolved several years before, such as the Red Front or the Communist Youth Front (Jungfront) [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 412, 16 May 1932, p. 16, col. A].
On 9 July 1932, the Supreme Court of Leipzig sentenced thirteen Communists to up to eight years of forced labour for plotting against the security of the State and illegal possession of explosives.
Shortly afterwards, Chancellor von Papen received information on a concerted plan of”co-operation of the police department of the Prussian Ministry of the Interior with the Communists [IMT XVI, 250]. Proof that underground cells in the service of Moscow had penetrated top levels of the machinery of State.
It was therefore to be feared that owing to unforeseen events, the Reds, equipped with widespread, powerful underground organisations and confident of support from a sizeable proportion of the population, would try to overthrow the new regime, representing an ideology of which had been sworn and bitter enemies for more than ten years.
The Reds had been fighting the National Socialists for years
Let us recall in fact that from the beginning the Communist shock troops wished to crush National Socialism. In Mein Kampf, Chapter VII of volume II is entitled: “The Struggle against the Red Front”. Hitler tells of the first attempts of the Reds, starting in 1919, to smother a growing movement the danger of which they sensed immediately. He writes in particular:
“On the other hand the National Socialist meetings were by no means 'peaceable' affairs. Two distinct outlooks enraged in bitter opposition to one another, and these meetings did not close with the mechanical rendering of a dull patriotic song but rather with a passionate outbreak of popular national feeling.
“It was imperative from the start to introduce rigid discipline into our meetings and establish the authority of the chairman absolutely. Our purpose was not to pour out a mixture of soft-soap bourgeois talk; what we had to say was meant to arouse the opponents at our meetings! How often did they not turn up in masses with a few individual agitators among them and, judging by the expression on all their faces, ready to finish us off there and then.
“Yes, how often did they not turn up in huge numbers, those supporters of the Red Flag, all previously instructed to smash up everything once and for all and put an end to these meetings. More often than not everything hung on a mere thread, and only the chairman's ruthless determination and the rough handling by our ushers baffled our adversaries' intentions. And indeed they had every reason for being irritated.
“The fact that we had chosen red as the colour for our posters sufficed to attract them to our meetings”
Further on, Hitler tells of the memorable meeting of 4 November 1921, which the Communists had chosen to settle their account with the enemy once and for all. Several hundred of them were there. At an agreed signal, while the meeting was proceeding normally, they started an assault:
“In a few moments the hall was filled with a yelling and shrieking mob. Numerous beer-mugs flew like howitzers above their heads. Amid this uproar one heard the crash of chair legs, the crashing of mugs, groans and yells and screams. It was a mad spectacle” […].
“The SA who assured the security counterattacked furiously. The brawl lasted twenty five mintues, and, after some shooting, the enemy were finally expelled:
“About twenty-five minutes had passed since it all began. The hall looked as if a bomb had exploded there. Many of my comrades had to be bandaged and others taken away. But we remained masters of the situation”
Although this victory had permitted the gaining of about two years resting time [“Up to the autumn of 1923, the Münchener post did not again mention the clenched fists of the Proletariat” (Hitler, op. cit), the fierce struggle recommenced starting at the end of 1923. In its edition of 8 November 1931, the Völkischer Beobachter announced that, since 1923, not counting the Munich uprising, 91 National Socialist militants had been killed in street fights. A few days later, the same paper wrote of 14 deaths and more than 200 wounded, in no more than the month of October, which had just drawn to a close [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 406, 27 November 1931, p. 21, col. B].
On 17 July 1932, pitched battles between National Socialists and Communists at Altona, Hambourg and other localities caused 19 deaths and 285 wounded [source: Documentation catholique, n° 624, 10 September 1932, col. 382]. Between 1 June and 20 July alone, there were 322 political incidents and brawls in Prussia (with the exception of Berlin), causing 72 deaths and 497 wounded (ibid., col. 384).
The”symbolic” assassination attempt of 30 January 1933
In the night from 30 - 31 January 1933, the Communists carried out a “symbolic” assassination indicative of their determination: the murder of police agent Zaunitz and the commander of the 33rd assault company of Berlin Maïkowicz, who were returning from a “victory parade”. The two victims were buried on 5 February 1933; an immense cortege followed the coffins, including the ex-Crown Prince Wilhelm [source: Documentation catholique, n° 656, 29 April 1933, col. 1040]. In response, Hitler announced in his speech of 1 February 1933:
[The national government] will conduct […] a pitiless war against nihilist tendencies in the moral, political and cultural sphere. Germany must not sink, and will not sink into anarchic communism [source: “Declaration du government national…”, op cit.].
For the National Socialists, whose grip on power was still weak (many people thought they would not last more than a few weeks), the danger was therefore real of seeing the Reds attempt a revolutionary uprising as a result of an economic crisis. Starting on 16 February, moreover, a daily paper not widely suspected of fanaticism, the Hamburger Nachrichten, had written:
“The agglomeration of great masses of men found in the large cities and industrial regions requires, from the point of view of the Security of the State, police organizations particularly prompt to react. The struggle against a danger threatening the State, such as Bolshevism, cannot be abandoned to the local police, but must be placed in one single hand” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 421, 2 March 1933, p. 23, col. B].
The calls were all the more pressing since at the time the German army and police were so weak that they were known to be incapable of maintaining order in the event of trouble and civil war. On 24 November 1932, during a conversation with Franz von Papen on measures to be taken in the event of popular uprising, von Schleicher summoned an officer from the general staff. According to the officer:
“Then, the same evening, I started discussions with several ministers with regard to the formation of a new government. These ministers told me, ‘The plan is excellent, but Herr Von Schleicher has told us that we will have a civil war and in that case the Reichswehr will not be in a position to keep law and order in the country.’" [IMT XVI, 259].
This is why only a few hours after the Reichstag fire (on 27 February 1933 [seeThe Reichstag Fire, by Fritz Tobias, 1965]., the National Socialists chose to deal a heavy blow to the Left: between 28 February and 5 March , they supressed the entire Communist press, both daily newspapers and periodicals, and ordered the arrest of 5,000 Communist leaders, including their leader, Ernst Thälmann (which still did not discourage 4.8 million Germans from voting Communist in the elections of 5 March).
And this is why Göring was anxious to dispose of a reliable secret police. At Nuremberg, he approached this topic without any embarrassment. After recalling the existence of a political police under the Weimar Republic, he stated:
“GÖRING: I could have simply put new people into this political police and let it continue along the old lines. But the situation had changed because of our seizure of power, for at this time, as I have mentioned before, the Communist Party was extraordinarily strong. It had over 6 million voters, and in its Red Front Organization it had a thoroughly revolutionary instrument of power. It was quite obvious to the Communist Party that if we were to stay in power for any length of time, it would ultimately lose its power.
“Looking back, the danger positively 'existed at that time of polit- ical tension, and with atmosphere of conflict, that revolutionary acts might have taken place on the part of the Communists, particularly as, even after we came to power political murders and political shootings of National Socialists and policemen by that party did not stop, but at times even increased. Also the information which I received was such that I was made extremely fearful of a sudden swing in that direction. Therefore with this department as it was, I could not ward off that danger. I needed reliable political police not only in the main office, but also in the branch offices” […].
“I also wanted this police to be concerned exclusively with pro- tecting the State, first of all against its enemies” […]. Their mission was first of all to create as quickly as possible all assurance of security against any action from the left.
“I know -- as was afterwards proved -- that the headquarters of the Communists in Berlin, the Liebknecht House, was strongly fortified 'and contained very many arms; we had also at that time brought to light very strong connections between the Russian Trade Delegation and the German Communist Party. Even if I arrested, as I did, thousands of communist functionaries at one blow [reference to the arrests carried out from 28 February to 5 March 1933]., so that an immediate danger was averted at the outset, the danger as such was by no means eliminated. It was now necessary to disclose the secret connections, the network of these secret connections, and to keep them constantly under observation. For that purpose a police leadership would have to crystallize. The Social Democratic Party […] seemed to me not nearly so dangerous, especially as far as its members were concerned. But of course they were also absolute opponents of our new State. A part of their functionaries were radical, another part less radical. The more radical I likewise placed under observation, while a whole number of former Social Democratic ministers, heads of Prussian provinces and higher officials, as I said before, were quietly dischargkd and received their pensions, and nothing further was undertaken against them. Of course there were also other functionaries of the Social Democratic Party whom we definitely had to watch carefully. Thus the Secret State Police was created by me for these tasks” [IMT IX 2456-257].
The Gestapo: a defense organisation
As we see, if the National Socialists hurried to create the Gestapo, it was not to impose a reign of police terror over the whole country: it was, above all, to equip themselves with to protect itself against political enemies with a very violent recent history. At Nuremberg, the witness Karl Hoffmann recalled this unambiguously:
“DR. MERKEL: Was the basic tendency of the Gestapo's work therefore aggressive or defensive?
HOFFMANN: It was defensive and not aggressive” [IMT XX, 157].
The deceptive figure of 75, 000 Gestapo agents
I know that at this point, some will reply:”Of course, but it is very well known that the best defence is attack. To defend the Nazi state, the Gestapo set up networks of informants who constantly spied on the population and instituted a reign of terror”. These are the famous”thousands of Gestapo agents, directed by Himmler” mentioned in the 3rd years secondary school textbooks mentioned above.
80 % of the Gestapo personnel did not participate in the investigations
It is true that, according to Dr. Merkel himself, the Gestapo consisted”during the period when it was numerically strongest, [of] approximately 75, 000” (IMT XXI, 543). This number sounds impressive. Of course. But it must be placed in context. Since of these 75, 000 member, the executive officials amounted to approximately 20% of the total, i.e., about 15, 000 persons (Id.). This total included: officials from the superior service (from the Regierungsrat and Kriminalrat); service officials (starting with the inspector of police) and service officials (starting with police assistants) (IMT XXI, 505). The other members of the Gestapo were divided into three groups: administrative personnel (20 %); auxiliary technical personnel (30 %) and office personnel (30 %) [source: testimony of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, IMT XI, 309-310]. Of course, these proportions varied, particularly during the war. In 1944, thus, the execution officials represented 40 to 45 % of all regular personnel (IMT XXI, 505); but at the time, the Gestapo had no more than approximately 30, 000 persons [IMT IV, 351]. There were therefore no more than 13, 500 members of the executive, i.e., less than before the war]. One would therefore be incorrect to consider the Gestapo as a group consisting solely of investigators, trackers and informants. In peacetime, the greatest proportion of the personnel (80 %) in no way participated in police work properly speaking. They were stenotypists, typists, drivers (IMT XX, 130].), workers responsible for the installation, maintenance and service of the telephone and telegraph installations, administrative personnel who supervised staff matters and economic matters such as budgetary drafts, lodgings, uniforms, cash assets and accounting:
“The activities of administrative officials consisted of personnel matters; economic matters, such as setting up budgets, housing, clothing, cashiers' office duties, e t c e t e r a. The adrninistrative officials had the same duties abroad. They were what would be called in the Armed Forces, on the front ai well as in task forces, quartermasters and pay-masters. Towards the end of 1944 the number of administrative officials amounted to approximately 3,000, which was roughly 10 percent of the total regular personnel of the Gestapo” [IMT XXI 504-505.
At Nuremberg, these people were excluded from the indictment on the proposal of the prosecution itself
“At the suggestion of the Prosecution the Tribunal does not include persons employed by the Gestapo for purely clerical, stenographic, janitorial, or similar unofficial routine tasks” [IMT I, 267]. (judgement of 1 October 1946.
Only 9 to 10, 000 investigators worked on political affairs
Let us add to that that the investigators did not concern themselves with political affairs at all, since from the beginning the Gestapo included the counter-espionnage police and border police:
“BEST: Besides the Political Police, strictly speaking, there were the Defense Police and the Border Police [IMT XX, 129, testimony of K. Best at Nuremberg. See also Doc. Gestapo-18, dealing with the border police as a branch of the Gestapo , IMT XLII, 293-295].
The counter-espionnage officials investigated on “cases of high treason, which, after investigation, were returned without exception to the courts” (Id.). This was a very stable group, isolated from the other services, so as to avoid any “leaks”.
"At the end of 1944 the Gestapo consisted of approximately the folowing: administrative officials, 3, 000; executive offi- cials, 15, 500; employees and workmen, including 9, 000 emer- gency draftees, 13, 500. Grand total, 32, 000. These members of the Gestapo may be considered to be the permanent ones inasmuch as they made up the normal staff. In addition to these persons, there were the following groups: detailed from the Waffen-SS, 3, 500; taken over from the Secret Field Police, 5, 500; taken over from the military counter-intelligence of the OKW, 5, 000; personnel of the former military mail censorship, 7, 500; members of the customs frontier guard, 45, 000" [IMT XXI, 294].
As for the border police, it:
-carried out the passport controls at the border, also controlled what was called the minor traffic along the border. It lent assistance to foreign police in receiving deported persons, etc. this police also contributed to the international struggle against drugs, and also proceeded with criminal inquiries along the border, which concerned persons and also certain fields:
“The Border Police were active at the border, checking passports. They controlled the so-called small border traffic. They lent legal assistance to the neighboring foreign police by receiving expelled people, they repressed international traffic of narcotics and carried out searches for criminals and goods at the border” [IMT XXI, 129, testimony of K. Best].
Together, counter-espionage and border surveillance employed 5 to 6, 000 personnes. The number of officials occupying themselves with political affairs in the strict sense of the word amounted therefore to 9 or 10, 000 agents, or 13 % of the total:
“I estimate the number of its staff, during the period when it was numerically strongest, at approximately 75, 000. The executive officials, numbering approximately 15, 000 men, therefore constituted only 20 percent of the total strength. If we deduct from that the 5 or 6 thousand men belonging to the Counter-Intelligence and Frontier Police, there remain 9 or 10 thousand executives, or 12 to 13 percent of the total strength” [IMT XXI 543, final summation of Dr. Merkel].
It should be noted that Germany had approximately 72 million inhabitants in 1937 (not counting the Austrians). This means one political police agent for every 7, 200 persons.
The Gestapo had no surveillance network
As a result, it is completely false to say that the Gestapo set up a tight surveillance network for the purpose of spying on the whole population. According to K. Best at Nuremberg:
“BEST: It is not true, as it often has been and still is being asserted, that the Gestapo had a net of spies and information agen- cies which kept track of the entire people. With the few officials who were always busy, anything like that could not be carried out” [IMT XX, 128].
The witness explained that information services were set up solely
“[…] where organized grouns were suspected of carrying out their activities, such as the illegal Communist Party or in the case of espionage of enemv intelligence” [IMT XX, 127].
This surveillance also included telephone tapping:
“[I had erected a technical apparatus which […]. monitored the conversations of important foreigners. It also monitored telephone conversations within Germany […] of: […] persons who for any reason of a political or police nature were to be watched” [IMT IX, 441-442, testimony of Herman Göring at Nuremberg].
Apart from these cases, the Gestapo had no intelligence service. In particular, it had no service covering the entire German territory. Its services worked solely based on denunciations received directly from or communicated by other police services. And nine times out of ten, no follow-up was given to these denunciations:
“Such individual charges about inopportune political remarks came to the Police from outside, and were not sought for, for 90 percent of these cases were not worth dealing with” [IMT XX, 128, testimony of K. Best at Nuremberg].
These explanations, it might se said in passing, agree perfectly with Göring’s reply to Robert Jackson, who accused him of having suppresed “all individual opposition”:
“GÖRING: Insofar as opposition seriously hampered our work of building up, this opposition of individual pefsons was, of course, not tolerated. Insofar as it was simply a matter of harmless talk, it was considered to be of no consequence” [IMT IX, 420].
Gestapo and concentration camps
The law on “preventive detention”
To this one will reply that by a law passed on 28 February 1933, the National Socialist authorities laid the legal foundations for “preventive detention”, which permitted the sending of mere suspects to concentration camps (this was the case for thousands of Communists). At Nuremberg, the indictment declared:
“In order to make their rule secure from attack and to instil fear in the hearts of the German people, the Nazi conspirators established and extended a system of terror against oppo- nents and supposed or suspected opponents of the regime. They imprisoned such persons without judicial process, holding them in”protective custody" and concentration camps” [IMT I - 32].
Shortly afterwards, R. Jackson, said:
“Concentration camps came to dot the German map and to number scores” [IMT XX, 128].
Thus it was claimed — incorrectly — Hiterlian Germany as a country of policemen who tracked, arrested, and interned all citizens declared suspicious without any other form of process.
What was the real situation? If it is undeniable that the law of 28 February 1933 was indeed promulgated, let us first listen to Dr. Merkel. In his final summation, he recalled:
“In Germany, too, protective custody existed prior to 1933. At that time both Communists and National Socialists were arrested by the Police” [IMT XXI, 518].
See also Göring’s statement: ”Protective custody […] was nothing new and it was not a National Socialist invention. Already before this such protective custody measures had been carried out, partly against the Communists, and chiefly against us, the National Socialists” [IMT IX -257].
The National Socialists invented nothing new.
The camps were not a National Socialist invention
The only difference lay in the place of detention: before 1933, the citizens arrested were put in prison; after 1933, they were sent to camps. Why the camps ? Quite simply because, in February 1933, prisons could not be made available to Göring to intern the Communist leaders whom he intended to arrest:”The prisons were not available for this purpose” [IMT IX – 257, testimony of Hermann Göring at Nuremberg].
In consequence, the National Socialists took up the old idea which consisted of enclosing populations considered hostile in concentration camps. At Nuremberg, H. Göring said:
“I have stated my opinion with regard to the question of concentration camps and I should like to point out that this name was not created by us, but that it appeared in the foreign press and was then adopted” [IMT IX, 258].
“We had decided, on 15 September 1914, that the Austro-Germans [resident in France]. would be interned in concentration camps. There were 35, 000 of these people by the beginning of October” [Voy. L. Malvy, Mon Crime (ed. Flammarion, Paris, 1921), p. 43].
Let us recall finally that starting in 1923:
The Reichs Ministry of Justice had created camps and prisons in the agglomeration [of Papenburg] in the Emsland [source: Catalogue alphabetique des concentration camps et de travaux forcés assimilés et de leurs commandos et sous-commandos ayant existé en Allemagne pendant la guerre 1940-45 (ed. by the [Belgian] Ministry of Public Health and the Family, 1951), p. 308].
In opening the camps, the National Socialists invented nothing: they were preceded by the Engish, the French and the Republicans of Weimar. Let us not moreover that at the same time,”democratic” Austria published an order authorizing”preventive detention” (Anhaltehaft) of political adversaries:
“Austria introduced in 1933 protective custody as so-called”Anhaltehaft" and used it widely against Communists, National Socialists, and Social Democrats” [see final pleading by Dr. Merkl, IMT XXI, 518]. The latter were imprisonered in the various concentration camps, the best known of which was located at Kaisersteinbruch. In 1946, Kaltenbrunner recalled:
“The Government was in the hands of a group of men who had very few followers among the people. There were two large groups of size which did not participate in the Government; the first being the leftist group, that is, the Social Democrats and Austro-Marxists, and the second being the National Socialists, which was at that time a very small group. The Government, then [1933-34]., did put not only the National Socialists but also Social Democrats and Communists into their detention camps in order to eliminate any political strife originating from meetings or demonstrations. I was one of those National Socialists who were arrested at that time, whose number was approximately 1, 800” [IMT XI, 234].
The membres of the Gestapo had no power to send a suspect to the camps
Having said this, let us get to the main point. Under Hitler, could just any agent send a suspect to the camps? Absolutely not! Of course, article 1 of the Law of 28 February 1933 stipulated:
"Protective custody can be ordered for any person as a coercive measure of the Secret State Police in order to combat any activities hostile to the State and the people…” [source: document Gestapo-36, Nuremberg; see also document SD-31, IMT XXI, 336 ].
However, one would be mistaken to believe that just any agent could take such a decision. As remarked by Dr. Merkel:
“The activities of the Gestapo had been regulated by legal instructions issued by the State. Its tasks consisted, in the first place and mainly, of the investigation of politically illegal activity in accordance with the general penal code, in which connec- tion the officials of the Gestapo became active as auxiliary officials of the public prosecutor's department; and it further consisted in warding off such activity through preventive measures.
“Now, of course, the methods of the Gestapo are made the basis of serious accusations against it in three ways, and even held against it as crimes. One method is the protective custody and transfer of persons to concentration camps. I realize that the mere mention of ihe name sends a cold shudder down one's spine. Nevertheless, even the imposition of protective custody was governed by exact regula- tions. Protective custody, which in addition is not a specifically German or specifically National Socialist invention, was recognized as legal in several findings of the Supreme Reich Court and the Prussian Supreme Administrative Court, that is, fully constitutional courts” [IMT XXI, 509].
[…]. The individual member of the Gestapo was concerned only with the investigation. After the completion of the investigation, it was deter-mined whether the files were to be sltbmittud to the public proiecutor, or whether an application should be made for an order for protective custody” [IMT XXI, 517].
In the case that the second option was chosen, the file was sent to the central headquarters in Berlin (which later became Amt IV of the RSHA) which alone could take a decision (simple referral to a court of placement in preventive detention). Article 2 of the Law of 28 February 1933 stipulated:
"The ordering of protective custody is exclusively the right of the Secret State Police [which later became Amt IV of the RSHA at Berlin]. Applications for such orders are to be directed through the offices of the State Police to the Gestapo. Detailed reasons must be given with each application" [IMT XXI, 517. Source: document Gestapo-36, op cit].
This article of law and all the application decrees which followed permitted the avoidance, insofar as possible, arbitrary action. In his final summation, Dr. Merkel stressed:
“Certainly protective custody was attended by shortcomings. Above all it could not be examined by the regular courts. Nevertheless, the many orders issued in this field by the RSHA demonstrate that there was an endeavor to establish a well-ordered and legally-6xed procedure for cases of protective custody and that-arbitrary acts were to be excluded. The strict enforcement of the protective custody procedure certainly could not create the impression on the Gestapo officers .that they were confronted with illegal measures of an arbitrary nature. Besides, the application of the protective custody procedure was a relatively infrequent one” IMT XXI, 517-518].
Proof by figures
To prove his assertions, Dr Merkel recalled that in 1939, in the camps, there were 20, 000 inmates in preventive detention, approximately half of whom were”politicals”; the others were common criminals (criminals, thieves, rapists, etc. Id.).
At the same time, of 300, 000 persons in prison, one tenth of them were there for political offencese (Id.). We arrive at a total of (10, 000 + 30, 000 =) 40, 000”political” prisoners for a total population of approximately 80 million people, i.e., 0.05 % of the population.
Let us go a bit further by admitting that these figures are underestimated. Let us multiply them arbitrarily by two (+ 100 %). Let us suppose that in 1939, there were 80, 000 political prisoners in Germany. Let us compare this estimate with the official results of the plebiscite of 19 August 1934, when the German population was invited to pronounce on the law of 2 August 1934 merging the powers of the Reichs President with that of Reichs Chancellor. At the time, there were 4, 294, 654”no” votes and 872, 296 blank or spoiled ballots. Or 5, 166, 950 persons qualified as “opposed” to the National Socialist regimie [“More than five million people were opposed, despite official pressure” (voy. Albert Rivaud, Le relèvement de l’Allemagne, 1918-1938 [Librairie Armand Colin, 1939]., p. 243)]. Jean Daluce adds that according to the “Nazis themselves”, “a plebiscite without pressure and without manipulation in which the secret ballot had been completely respected could give, for the totality of the country, from 30 to 40 % NO votes instead of 12 %” [Voy. J. Daluces, Le Troisieme Reich (ed. Andre Martel, 1950), p. 138]. OK, let’s admit that. It is deduced that in 1934, there were not just five, by approximately 15 million”opposed” to the Hitler regime.
As a result, if, truly, the thousands of Gestapo agents (police, informants…) had pitilessly tracked and sent to the camps all those opposed, even individuals, the persons held in 1939 in the prisons and camps would have numbered several hundred thousand, even millions (and in this case, they would have needed dozens of concentration camps). Now, we have seen that even adding 100% to the official figures (which is a lot) we arrive at less than 100, 000 “political” prisoners.
It is therefore completely incorrect to claim that under Hitler, the mere fact of having expressed opposition to the regime of having criticized it in a conversation on the street would have have you sent to a concentration camp on the order of an all-powerful Gestapo [In his opening summation, one of the assistant prosecutors at Nuremberg, Commander Frank B. Wallis, dared to declare:
“Any act or statement contrary to the Nazi Party was deemed to be treason and punished accordingly” [IMT II, 193].
Within the Third Reich, one could be in the opposition and remain free; all that was demanded of you was — as in all countries, not to disturb the peace or jeopardize the security of the State.
At Nuremberg, Göring declared:
“GÖRING: It is true that everyone knows that if he acts against the state he will end up in a concentration camp or dl1 be accused of high treason before a court, according to the degree of his crime” [IMT IX 424]. .
The former no. 2 of the regime was indeed speaking of an “action” against the State; there could be no question of interning every big mouth drinking in a cafe [of course, an article published in a reputed newspaper could be considered an action against the State; on 14 July 1933, thus a press communique announced, as the result of the publication of an article harmful to Germany signed by the emigre Scheidemann, the Gestapo “had taken the defence measure required by arresting and sending to a concentration camp five members of the Scheidemann family resident in Germany” (source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 427, 10 August 1933, p. 12, col. A). As far as I know, however, such measures were an exception].
The Gestapo was not above the law
Let us add that, like all administrations, the Gestapo was not above the law. Appeals could be filed against its methods. In 1935, an administrative journal of the Reich wrote:
"Since the Law on the Gestapo of 30 November 1933 became effective, orders of the Gestapo Office can no longer be con tested according to the provisions of the Law on Police Ad-ministration. The only remedy against them is a complaint through investigation channels" [IMT XXI, 283].
We understand that Dr. Merkel who, in his final summation, stressed:
“These tasks of the Gestapo had the same character as those of the Political Police before 1933, and as those of any other political police force in foreign countries. What is to be understood by”tendencies hostile to the State" depends upon the respective political structure of a state” [IMT XXI, 509].
“I believe I can state that the duties ind methods of the Gestapo before the war were a manifestation of a State institution existing in all civilized countries […]. The individual Gestapo official fulfilled his duty as he had learned to do as a civil servant” [IMT XXI, 538]” […].
Before 1939, many policemen from all over the world collaborated with the Gestapo
During the trial, Dr. Merkel introduced two sworn statements (Gestapo affidavits nos. 26 and 89) which recalled that before the war, very many police organisations had collaborated with the Gestapo and that delegations from other countries had undergone periods of practical training in their premises. In his final summation, he declared with good sense:
“It never even occurred to Gestapo officials, at least not before the war, that they might be accused from abroad of acting arbitrarily. The tasks and methods, which were well-known and legally defined-not only for the members of the Gestapo but for all the world-cannot be considered criminal by the world, a world which not only formally recognized the German Reich Government, which bore the sole responsibility in this matter, but also repeatedly gave visible evidence of its recognition to the German people.
“If foreign countries had objected to the aims pursued by the Gestapo, it would not have been conceivable for numerous foreign police systems to have worked in close collaboration with the Geir- man Gestapo, a colbaboration which was not negotiated through diplomatic circles, but obviously with the intention of learning from it” [IMT XX, 510].
The Nuremberg Tribunal vindicates Dr. Merkel
Despite all its attempts, the Nuremberg prosecution was incapable of refuting these arguments. If, at the end of the trial, the Tribunal naturally declared the Gestapo a criminal organisation, but only starting on 1 September 1939. In the judgement, on reads:
“…this group declared criminal cannot include, therefore, persons who had ceased to belong to the organizations enumerated in the preceding paragraph prior to 1 September 1939” [IMT X, 273].
And, once again, in the judgement:
“The Tribunal includes all executive and administrative officials of Amt IV of the RSHA or concerned with Gestapo administration in other departments of the RSHA and all local Gestapo officials serving both inside and outside of Germany, including the members of the Frontier Police” [IMT I, 267].
Proof that the Tribunal did not consider the activities of the Gestapo criminal in peacetime. It cannot be repeated often enough: until 1939, the Gestapo was a perfectly ordinary political police, as exists in all so-called”civilized” countries. It contented itself with pursuing those jeopardizing the security of the State. If one suspected the existence of armed clandestine networks or espionnage groups, its methods of investigation were minimal; out of ten denunciations, nine were tossed into the waste paper basket…
The real reasons for the concealment of these facts
The decision of the juges at Nuremberg is very rarely mentioned correctly. Most of the time, writers content themselves with saying that the Gestapo was declared criminal, without elaboration, as if this statement were valid for the period between June 1933 and September 1939. For example, in his work entitled The Nuremberg Trial, Arkadi Poltorak declared that one must not underestimate:
“The political and legal scope of the Nuremberg judgment, which declared criminal organisations of Hitlerian Germany as the summit of the Nazi Party (NSDAP), the SS, SD, and GESTAPO” [Voy. A. Poltorak, Le Procès de Nuremberg (ed. du Progres, Moscou, 1987), p. 375].
Jean-Marc Varaut, for his part, mentions a restriction in the condamnation, but he describes it as follows:
“[…]. the tribunal excluded groups declared criminal — Gestapo, SS, SD and the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party […]. — persons whose membership was compulsory and”those who did not know” that the organisation was being used to commit the acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the Charter [see: Jean-Marc Varaut, Le procès de Nuremberg (Librairie academique Perrin, 1992), p. 382].
Beneath a veneer of great exactitude, he, too, conceals the fact that the Gestapo was declared a “criminal organisation” only from 1 September 1939.
Why hide this fact? Because this decision disproves once again the notion that the National Socialists plunged Germany into terror starting in February 1933, prohibiting the German people from going back once they had seen their error.
Of course, Hitler was the head of a totalitarian regime which wished to work without being impeded by the institutions and the opposition; of course, it hit hard against the Communist leaders; of course, the preventively interned persons suspected of being political enemies. But as usual, these facts are presented out of context. People “forget” to describe the political situation in Germany in 1932: the total paralysis of the institutions caused by political party divisions, the division of the people due to the class struggle, the failure of parliamentarianism, the impossibility of carrying out any long term plan. They also”forget” to point to the Bolshevik danger which was increasingly dangerous insofar as it aggravated the crisis… In sum, it is “forgotten” to say that at this time, the health of Germany required a shock treatment. There was no question of replastering the walls, it was necessary to rebuild on a new foundation, that is, sweep away Weimar, put an end to political quarrelling, unify the people, crush the Red Front and take the measures required to carry out a task of lifting Germany up over several years.
This is what Adolf Hitler did. From 1 February 1933, he announced:
Every class and every individual must help us to found the new Reich.
The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life.. Turbulent instincts must be replaced by a national discipline as the guiding principle of our national life. All those institutions which are the strongholds of the energy and vitality of our nation will be taken under the special care of the Government.
The National Government intends to solve the problem of the reorganization of trade and commerce with two four-year plans:
The German farmer must be rescued in order that the nation may be supplied with the necessities of life..
A concerted and all-embracing attack must be made on unemployment in order that the German working class may be saved from ruin..
The November parties have ruined the German peasantry in fourteen years.
In fourteen years they have created an army of millions of unemployed. The National Government will, with iron determination and unshakable steadfastness of purpose, put through the following plan:
Within four years the German peasant must be rescued from the quagmire into which he has fallen.
Within four years unemployment must be finally overcome. At the same time the conditions necessary for a revival in trade and commerce are provided.
The National Government will couple with this tremendous task of reorganizing business life a reorganization of the administrative and fiscal systems of the Reich, of the Federal States, and the Communes.
Only when this has been done can the idea of a continued federal existence of the entire Reich be fully realized..
Compulsory labor-service and the back-to-the-land policy are two of the basic principles of this program.
The securing of the necessities of life will include the performance of social duties to the sick and aged.
In economical administration, the promotion of employment, the preservation of the farmer, as well as in the exploitation of individual initiative, the Government sees the best guarantee for the avoidance of any experiments which would endanger the currency.
As regards its foreign policy the National Government considers its highest mission to be the securing of the right to live and the restoration of freedom to our nation. Its determination to bring to an end the chaotic state of affairs in Germany will assist in restoring to the community of nations a State of equal value and, above all, a State which must have equal rights. It is impressed with the importance of its duty to use this nation of equal rights as an instrument for the securing and maintenance of that peace which the world requires today more than ever before.
May the good will of all others assist in the fulfillment of this our earnest wish for the welfare of Europe and of the whole world.
Great as is our love for our Army as the bearer of our arms and the symbol of our great past, we should be happy if the world, by reducing its armaments, would see to it that we need never increase our own.
If, however, Germany is to experience this political and economic revival and conscientiously fulfill her duties toward the other nations, one decisive step is absolutely necessary first: the overcoming of the destroying menace of communism in Germany. We of this Government feel responsible for the restoration of orderly life in the nation and for the final elimination of class madness and class struggle. We recognize no classes, we see only the German people, millions of peasants, bourgeois, and workers who will either overcome together the difficulties of these times or be overcome by them. We are firmly resolved and we have taken our oath. Since the present Reichstag is incapable of lending support to this work, we ask the German people whom we represent to perform the task themselves.
Reichspräsident von Hindenburg has called upon us to bring about the revival of the German nation. Unity is our tool. Therefore we now appeal to the German people to support this reconciliation. The National Government wishes to work and it will work. It did not ruin the German nation for fourteen years, but now it will lead the nation back to health. It is determined to make well in four years the ills of fourteen years. But the National Government cannot make the work of reconstruction dependent upon the approval of those who wrought destruction. The Marxist parties and their lackeys have had fourteen years to show what they can do. The result is a heap of ruins.
Now, people of Germany, give us four years and then pass judgment upon us. In accordance with Field Marshal von Hindenburg's command we shall begin now. May God Almighty give our work His blessing, strengthen our purpose, and endow us with wisdom and the trust of our people, for we are fighting not for ourselves but for Germany.
At the time, this declaration was ridiculed by the press violently hostile to National Socialism. In its issue of 2 February, the Vössische Zeitung wrote:
“This verbose and ampulous proclamation is a product of Hitler’s embarrassment. People only speak this way when they don’t know what they want” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 421, p. 18, col. B].
For its part, the Vorwärts wrote:
“Some people have believed that Adolf Hitler is the turning point, that if he were Chancellor, that everything would be better. Here he is in front of us, his hands empty, without a programme, without visible measure, and for consolation, a promise to fail in four years. Four years, four winters. Four years: that means: they don’t know anything, they can’t do anything, they are no good for anything!” [Id.].
But the truth is, in speaking like that, Hitler answered the choice of the German people. The more objective press could not dispute that he had the vast majority behind him. The Lokal-Anzeiger (morning edition of 31 January) noted: “The new cabinet has great forces [at its disposal or loyal to it]. which will follow it”. More clearly yet, the Deutsche Zeitung stressed:
“[…]. never, since the crime of November ., has a government been in office which enjoyed, even approximately, such great authority, and which had at the same time roots as deep in the people as the government appointed yesterday by Hindenburg” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 421, p. 16, col. A].
In 1933, the immense majority of the German people cared little for the Constitution, democratic rights and invididual liberties. Since when they were living in a slum without a penny to their name and with their stomachs empty, they didn’t care about being “free” (in the”revolutionary” sense of the word). What they demanded was an orderly society, a society offering a true future for its children. This is why the first acts of cleaning up the society undertaken by the National Socialists (including the internment in Dachau of the principal Communist leaders) didn’t cause a revolution, quite the contrary. At the elections of 5 March 1933 for the Reichstag, most of the parties received stable results compred to the month of November 1932. And while the Communists lost 1.1 million votes, the National Socialists, for their part, gained … 5.5 millions, increasing from 11.7 to 17.2 million votes, far ahead of the Socialists (7.2 million).
To those who invoke an alleged”terror” carried on in Germany against all citizens, I will recall that at these elections, the Germans in foreign countries could vote from abroad. Now these votes were in their immense majority favourable to the NSDAP. On 6 March 1933, the Bayerischer Kurier insisted on the fact that in southern Germany, the major success of the list supported by Hitler had been from “the contribution of votes of Germans living in adjacent foreign countries” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 423, p. 8, col. A]. But it was not just the adjacent foreign countries. In Spain, for example, Germans living in Barcelona went to vote using the steamship Helle. Of the 746 who did so, 508 voted for the National Socialist list, or 68 %. Now, in Germany, this list received 44 % of all votes. If a climate of “terror” really existed inside Germany, so as to influence the voting results, not only should the list supported by Hitler have obtained 80% in the Reich (and not 44 %), but also it should have received miserable results in foreign countries…
Let us add that at these elections, the “Black Red Front”, officially allied with Hitler, won approximately 150, 000 votes, receiving 3.1 million votes. In total, therefore, 20.4 million citizens voted for the parties of the real right, or nearly 52 % of all voters as against 41 % four months before.
It is obvious that the results of the 5 March election show that the majority of the German people accepted the measures taken by the new government, including the exceptional measures taken against the Communists. There again, moreover, the press of the time could confirm. In its evening edition of 6 March, the Berliner Börsen-Zeitung ecrivit:
“The majority of the German people pronounced for the Hitler-Papen government and gave its consent so that the government might continue to proceed in the same direction to which it had committed itself in the first few weeks of its existence, taking a certain number of measures to combat Marxism” [source: Bulletin Periodique…, n° 423, 1 April 1933, p. 2, col. A].
For its part, the Kreuz-Zeitung stressed:
“Democracy is beaten with its own weapons. The German people have confirmed and continue from the bottom the revolution begun by von Papen at the top. Thus the road of the future is traced out. The national government will not be a Weimar of the right […]. It will build an original and vigorous German state” [Id].
Same message from the Deutsche Tageszeitung, which stated:
One decisive consequence of this 5 March, is that one can finally get rid of the habit of thinking in parliamentary terms. The time when head-counting of representatives of the people, in the parliamentary cloakroom, to see if, in each particular case, they would barely obtain a majority or whent they would not obtain it, is over once and for all [Id].
Finally let us cite a Centre-Party (Protestant) newspaper, the Kölnische Zeitung, which wished good luck to the new government in declaring:
The age of perpetual elections is over and one can wish the government good luck in starting the work of the national elevation of Germany in the four years available to it [Id].
All these quotations show that the National Socialist was popular and remained popular, even after the adoption of its first "anti-democratic" measures. Since the German people knew that these measures were dictated not against the masses, but against individuals, who, incapable of overcoming their ideological or philosophical prejudices, risked impeding the promised work of national elevation. In this climate, the Gestapo was a simple tool of protection of the State against subversive minorities. It did not think of sending hundreds of thousands of people to the camps, or of instituting a reign of terrror, for the good and simple reason that the immense majority of people followed Hitler voluntarily. Hence the fact that at Nuremberg, the judges gave up attempting to declare the Gestapo criminal before 1939. It was impossible since the evidence showed that the prosecution evidence was fallacious.
All this, however, must be hidden from the masses. This is why sixty years after the verdict at Nuremberg, our public controllers continue to conceal the fact that at the end of the Nuremberg Trial, the Gestapo was never declared “criminal” for the period from 1933 to September 1939.
Excerpt from Vincent Reynouard Gestapo Articles
Introduction to Gestapo Articles
Summary of Gestapo Cases
Post-War French Gestapo Trials