Nazis and the Law
Hitler was determined that the Nazis not be bound by the law and legal systems. HItler’s word became law, and they found that they did not need to introduce a new constitution or legal system, they just passed laws to make the justice system work to their will. Citizens were no longer considered equal before the law, and judges were no longer permitted to work independently of government. People could be arrested, locked up and sent away without a trial, and the law was very inconsistent.
Controlled by Himmler, the SS were seen as Hitler’s bodyguard. After the Night of the Long Knives, they became the main police force involved in arresting political prisoners. By 1936 the SS were in charge of the police force and concentration camps. The use of the SS was controlled and systematic, and was a key way of keeping Nazi control.
The SD was established in 1931 as an offshoot of the SS. It was led by Heydrich and was the internal security of the Nazi Party. Once in power, the SD was used to gather intelligence and monitor public opinion, report on dissidents, and report back to Hitler. It worked separately to the Gestapo and was not staffed by police officers, but committed Nazis.
Concentration camps were essentially prisons which the prisoners were forced to work in. They are not the same as extermination camps which came in after 1942. THe first concentration camp was Dachau, near Munich, and the majority of prisoners were political opponents. The Nazis brutally tortured inmates, which made them less likely to continue resistance once released. After 1934 all concentration camps were under SS control and the treatment of prisoners became systematised. Once the political opponents were dealt with, they moved on to dealing with undesirables and asocials. Camp guards were given immunity from persecution by Himmler.
The Gestapo were the secret state police, dealing with intelligence and had a reputation for being all knowing. Although ordinary Germans believed that there were agents everywhere, it was actually a relatively small organisation. Most agents were based in the office and were professional police rather than Nazi members. They depended on information supplied by informers, people who spied on neighbours and workmates for example. The Gestapo received an overwhelming volume of information from informers so couldn’t act on all intelligence. People adjusted their behaviour, so criticism was stifled and many lived in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.