<p>German police guard a group of Roma (Gypsies) who have been rounded up for deportation to Poland. Germany, 1940–45.</p>

The Role of the Police

Persecution of Jews and other groups was not solely the result of measures originating with Hitler and other Nazi zealots. Nazi leaders required the active help or cooperation of professionals working in diverse fields who in many instances were not convinced Nazis. The police played a vital role in the consolidation of Nazi power and persecution and mass murder of Jews and other groups.

When the Nazis came to power in January 1933, many policemen remained skeptical of the party and its intentions. Nazi agitation, especially in the latter years of the Weimar Republic, had been subversive. The police had investigated both the Nazis and the Communists with vigor.

Nevertheless, Hitler posed as a champion of law and order. He claimed that he would uphold traditional German values. Police and many other conservatives looked forward to the extension of police power promised by a strong centralized state, welcomed the end of factional politics, and agreed to end democracy. The police appreciated the fuller funding for training, increased staff, and modern equipment to combat criminal gangs and promote security. Under the Nazis the police enjoyed broad latitude in arrests, incarceration, and the treatment of prisoners. Police were empowered to take "preventive action," that is, to make arrests without the evidence required for a conviction in court and indeed without court supervision at all.

Beyond their usual role of maintaining “law and order,” the police, serving a racist state, became instruments of racial persecution. For example, officers of the regular or “order” police often stood aside rather than intervening to protect Jews and non-Jews from Nazi violence and intimidation. Ideological indoctrination became part of police training after the police was fused with the SS and Security Service (SD), two of the most radical and ideologically committed Nazi organizations.

During the war, police units guarded Jews and Roma during deportations and served in units in occupied territories that carried out ghetto liquidations and mass shootings.

German police round up Jews

Discussion Questions

Critical Thinking Questions

  • Consider the role of the police. How might their oaths and traditional responsibilities be tested in times of social upheaval?
  • How were the police involved in preparing and carrying out the laws, orders, and policies which implemented the whole process? What lessons can be considered for contemporary professionals?
  • How can knowledge of the events in Germany and Europe before the Nazis came to power help citizens today respond to threats of genocide and mass atrocity?

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