Reengineering the Weimar Republic (3)

HindenburgThere was, however, one more problem that neither Reichsstatthalters nor the national police force (nor even the Enabling Act) could solve. Adolf Hitler still did not have the absolute power in Germany.

Yes, he was the head of the government who now had both executive and legislative powers (the latter meant that rather sooner than later he would acquire a judicial power as well).

However, there was still one man in Germany who could put an end to that almost instantly – by dismissing Hitler from the position of Reich Chancellor. That man was President of the German Reich Generalfeldmarschall Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg.

Given that Hindenburg was still a popular war hero and a revered figure in the Reichswehr, there was little doubt that the Reichswehr would side with Hindenburg if he ever decided to sack Hitler. And despite its 20:1 numerical superiority, the SA was no match for a well-trained and superbly commanded professional army.

Despite the solid support that he got from Hindenburg after becoming Chancellor, Hitler had no illusions about his future. He knew that he needed a genuine miracle to avoid being sacked by the Reich President.

First, Hindenburg being an aristocrat and the German (actually, Prussian) general of the highest rank, fundamentally disliked Hitler whom he considered plebeian. True, he approved of Hitler’s efforts to create the volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”) in Germany – his dream since 1914 and viewed Hitler’s “Government of National Concentration” the fulfilment of his dream.

Hindenburg did sign the “Reichstag Fire Decree” almost instantly – but only because he hated Communists far more than he disliked Hitler. A diehard monarchist, he forced Hitler to make a solemn promise that after Germany “regained full sovereignty” (i.e. returns all its lands and frees itself from the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles), the latter would restore monarchy in Germany.

Hitler had no desire to do so and knew that von Hindenburg ultimately would figure that out – with disastrous consequences for his Chancellor. He also knew that rather sooner than later his brutal, criminal and murderous methods will become unacceptable for the Prussian aristocrat.

It did happen – and, indeed, very soon, barely a year after the Enabling Act gave Hitler almost absolute power in Germany. During the summer of 1934, Hindenburg grew increasingly alarmed at Nazi excesses (which for that time became evident even for those willing to give Hitler enormous benefit of the doubt).

With President’s support, on June 17th, Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen gave a speech at the University of Marburg calling for an end to state terror and the restoration of at least some freedoms. Which for all practical purposes would have been the end of “Nazi revolution”.

When Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels got wind of it, he (wisely) not only canceled a scheduled tape-delayed broadcast of the speech, but ordered the seizure of newspapers in which part of the text was printed (another wise move).

Von Papen was furious, telling Hitler that he was acting as a “trustee” of Hindenburg (which was formally true), and that a “junior minister” like Goebbels had no right to silence him.

Hindenburg was equally outraged, and ordered Minister of Defense Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg to give Hitler an ultimatum: unless Hitler took steps to end the growing tension in Germany and rein in the SA, Hindenburg would sack Hitler, declare martial law and turn the government over to the army.

The Night of the Long Knives did rein in the SA and earn Hitler the personal thanks of Hindenburg. The crisis was defused, but Hitler knew that it was only a matter of time before the President figured out that it was not the SA that was a problem – it was Hitler.

Fortunately for Hitler (for whom it was another Act of Providence), von Hindenburg time was what von Hindenburg did not have. On August 2nd, two weeks after the Marburg speech which almost cost Hitler his job, Reichspräsident von Hindenburg died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 86 from lung cancer at his home in Neudeck, East Prussia.

The day before, Hitler had got word that Hindenburg was on his deathbed. He then had his cabinet pass the “Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich,” which stipulated that upon Hindenburg’s death, the offices of president and chancellor would be merged under the title of Leader and Chancellor (Führer und Reichskanzler).

Two hours after Hindenburg’s death, it was announced that as a result of this law, Hitler was now both Germany’s head of state and head of government, thereby eliminating the last legal instrument by which he could be legally dismissed and  making him the absolute ruler of Germany.

In reality, Hitler correctly predicted that von Hindenburg would not survive a year (this time his intuition – or his mystical powers – served him well) four months earlier, in April of 1934.

He prepared the abovementioned law and got the Reichswehr the only force in Germany powerful enough to remove him with Hindenburg gone to support his bid to merge the offices of President and Chancellor (and thus become the Führer of Germany) after Hindenburg’s death.

On April 11th, on board of the brand-new heavy cruiser Deutschland (it was commissioned just ten days earlier) he met with top Reichswehr commanders – Minister of Defense von Blomberg, army commander Generaloberst (four-star general) Werner von Fritsch and Head of the Naval Command Admiral Erich Raeder.

Hitler offered them a deal. In return for the armed forces’ support for him becoming the Führer of Germany, he will suppress the SA (alleviating the topmost concern of Reichswehr brass) and solemnly promised that the armed forces would be the only military force in Germany under his watch.

Raeder agreed right away, but Blomberg and Fritsch withheld his support until May 18th, when all senior generals of the Reichswehr unanimously agreed to back Hitler as Hindenburg’s successor. Hitler did not forget their hesitations and three years later orchestrated the infamous forcing both to resign in disgrace from their posts in early 1938.

However, it was still not enough – Adolf Hitler still had to overcome one more obstacle on his path to absolute power in Germany. Weimar Constitution had been amended in 1932 to place the president of the High Court of Justice, not the chancellor, first in the line of succession in the event of President’s death and even then, only on an interim basis pending a new presidential election.

Which made the “Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich” and thus the assumption of the office of the President by Hitler plainly unconstitutional and therefore invalid.

To overcome this obstacle, Hitler ordered a plebiscite held on August 19th, 1934 thus going directly to the German people. By that time Hitler managed to radically improve the German economy (unemployment went down 40%) and conducted several popular reforms.

Consequently, it is not a surprise that over 88% of the votes were in favor of his proposal (by that time already a reality). While under the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act (and Gestapo and special political courts working at full power) the referendum could hardly be called free and fair, there is no doubt that the majority of the population supported his becoming the Führer of Germany.

However, Hitler had no desire to keep the promise made to the military. On September 24th, 1934 (five months after making his solemn promise to Reichswehr commanders) he ordered establishment of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) – the military wing of the Nazi Party. Which in a few years became Waffen SS – the most fearsome military force in modern history.

Hitler’s ultimate objective was to ultimately incorporate Wehrmacht into Waffen SS and into the State Protection Corps devised by Heinrich Himmler. This was the only way he could become genuinely absolute ruler of Germany as the Wehrmacht still had a certain degree of independence from The Führer.

After the beginning of the World War II this objective became clear to Wehrmacht top brass. They had no desire to do away with their commander-in-chief during the war (big mistake after 1941) but after the victory Hitler had a snowball-in-Hell chances of political (and even physical survival).

Top Wehrmacht commanders (even loyal to Hitler) had no desire to become victims of the Night of the Long Knives II, which was the only way for Adolf Hitler to replace the Wehrmacht generals with the ones from Waffen-SS and incorporate the former into the latter.

Thus the military coup after Hitler’s victory in World War II was inevitable. Consequently, the Third Reich (and personally Adolf Hitler) were doomed either way, regardless of whether they won or lost the war.

However, in March of 1933 the Great War II was not even on the horizon. Hitler knew how to establish a firm administrative control over Germans and achieved this very ambitious objective in just three years (no small feat).

But the administrative control was not enough. To fulfil his enormous responsibilities and to achieve his grandiose objectives, he needed a firm control over the hearts, minds and souls of his subjects.

Which required a mighty and a very efficient machine. Nazi propaganda machine.


Reengineering the Weimar Republic (2)

SiPoHis responsibilities were so enormous and his objectives were so grandiose that Adolf Hitler simply could not afford any political opposition. Consequently, he needed a powerful national political police force that will make sure that all political opposition is eliminated in the shortest possible and never ever “returns from the dead”.

One of his enormous responsibilities was to radically increase material and emotional well-being of Germans. To achieve this objective, he obviously had to radically bring down street crime and ideally to eliminate organized crime altogether. And keep it that way, of course. Which required a very powerful national criminal police force.

He faced a very serious obstacle – traditionally, law enforcement functions in Germany were relegated to local, municipal and state (Land) governments. This tradition was so entrenched that it took him more than three years to establish the genuinely national police force that will combine political, criminal and order police.

On June 17th, 1936, Hitler signed into law the decree of the unification of all police forces in Germany and appointed SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to the position of Chief of German Police.

In this position Himmler was nominally subordinate to Wilhelm Frick (Reich Interior Minister), but as Reichsführer-SS, he answered only to Hitler personally. By that time the SS was already far more powerful than the Interior Ministry (the latter being just a typical civilian bureaucracy) so it is no surprise at all that in no time all German police forces (all three of them – political, order and criminal) – were de-facto absorbed into the SS.

Himmler divided his police empire into two components – Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei – SiPo) that united Gestapo (political police) and Kripo (criminal police) into a single organization and Order Police (Ordnungspolizei – OrPo).

SiPo was functionally identical to the FBI (which was rumored to be Himmler’s inspiration); only in Nazi Germany, unlike in the United States there was no local, municipal or even state police force after 1936. OrPo included not only uniformed police, but also all emergency response organizations, including fire brigades, coast guard, factory security guards, civil defense, etc.

In addition, Himmler had under his command another organization that performed security functions, only for the SS and NSDAP, not the Nazi State. It was the SS Intelligence Service (Sicherheitsdienst – SD).

It had two branches. The first one was domestic intelligence (Inland-SD), a rough equivalent of present-day BfV (German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (German – Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz). The second one was foreign intelligence (Ausland-SD), a rough equivalent of present-day CIA or MI-6.

The most “functionally rich” (by far) was Ordnungspolizei (OrPo). It performed thirteen police and related functions and thus included the following components (departments):

  1. Administration was (among other responsibilities) the command authority for civilian law enforcement groups, which included the Gesundheitspolizei (health police), Gewerbepolizei (commercial or trade police), and the Baupolizei (building police).
  2. State protection police was state uniformed police in cities and most large towns, which included police-station duties and barracked police units for riots and public safety.
  3. Municipal protection police was a municipal uniformed police in smaller and some large towns. Although fully integrated into the Ordnungspolizei-system, its police officers were municipal civil servants. The civilian law enforcement in towns with a municipal protection police was not done by the Verwaltungspolizei (central OrPo office), but by municipal civil servants. Until 1943 they also had municipal criminal investigation departments, but that year, all such departments with more than 10 detectives, were integrated into the Kripo.
  4. Gendarmerie (state rural police) were tasked with frontier law enforcement to include small communities, rural districts, and mountainous terrain. With the development of a network of motorways or Autobahnen, motorized gendarmerie companies were set up in 1937 to ensure the traffic safety.
  5. Traffic police (was the traffic-law enforcement agency and road safety administration of Germany. The organization patrolled Germany’s roads (other than motorways which were controlled by Motorized Gendarmerie) and responded to major accidents. The traffic police was also the primary escort service for high Nazi leaders who usually traveled (often covering great distances) by automobile rather than by train or by aircraft.
  6. Water police was the equivalent of the coast guard and river police. Tasked with the safety and security of Germany’s rivers, harbors, and inland waterways, the group also had authority over the SS-Hafensicherungstruppen (“harbour security troops”) which were Allgemeine-SS units assigned as port security personnel.
  7. Fire police consisted of all professional fire departments under a national command structure.
  8. Freiwillige Feuerwehren, the local volunteer civilian fire brigades. At the height of the Second World War, in response to heavy bombing of Germany’s cities, the combined fire police and Freiwillige Feuerwehren numbered nearly two million members.
  9. Fire Departments – volunteer fire departments, conscripted fire departments and industrial fire departments were auxiliary police subordinate to the Ordnungspolizei.
  10. Security and Assistance Service – emergency response force, roughly equivalent to FEMA in the United States if viewed together with Technical Emergency Corps (TeNo) – a corps of engineers, technicians and specialists in construction work that in 1937 became a technical auxiliary corps of the German police.
  11. Radio protection (Funkschutz) was made up of SS and Orpo security personnel assigned to protect German broadcasting stations from attack and sabotage. The Funkschutz was also the primary investigating service which detected illegal reception of foreign radio broadcasts.
  12. Postal protection (Postschutz) comprised roughly 45,000 members and was tasked with the security of Germany’s Reichspost, which was responsible not only for the mail but other communications media such as the telephone and telegraph systems.
  13. Railway police (Bahnschutzpolizei) tasked with ensuring the security of passenger and freight railway traffic and railway infrastructure.
  14. Factory protection police (Werkschutzpolizei) were the security guards of Nazi Germany. Its personnel were civilians employed by industrial enterprises, and typically were issued paramilitary uniforms.

The only problem with thus structure was that it artificially separated Gestapo and Kripo with the SD intelligence agency. Although the latter was formally the Party, not the state organization, in reality it served both supplying both components of SiPo with vital domestic and foreign intelligence information.

Hence, it was not a surprise at all that on September 27th. 1939 Himmler combined Gestapo, Kripo and SD into Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt – RSHA). Gestapo became Amt IV (Department IV), Kripo Amt V, Inland-SD Amt III and Ausland-SD Amt VI.

The RSHA was often abbreviated to RSi-H in correspondence to avoid confusion with the SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (RuSHA; “SS Race and Settlement Office”) which was established earlier – in 1931 (even before Nazis came to power).

Reengineering the Weimar Republic (1)

IMG_0671On March 23rd, 1933, the German parliament (both Reichstag and Reichsrat chambers) passed the Enabling Act. After it was signed into law by President Paul von Hindenburg on the same day, it gave Adolf Hitler enormous, almost absolute power in Germany.

With this power came enormous responsibilities. Not just do away with unemployment, but guarantee every able-bodied man the job that will earn sufficient income to provide for himself, his homemaking wife and children.

Radically improve financial, material, emotional and spiritual well-being of Germans, making German people a genuinely happy nation. Provide German workers with a solid “safety net” of unemployment, disability, health insurance and sufficient retirement income.

And, of course, make sure that the horrors of hunger of 1917-19, hyperinflation of 1921-23 and the Great Depression of 1929-33 never happen again.

Restore the power and the glory of Germany by making it again an economic, political and military superpower. Return territories taken at gunpoint by the “Versailles criminals” in 1920. Unite all German lands (including Austria) into Ein Reich.

Transform German people into a nation of Übermenschen – “superhuman beings”. Make Germany self-sufficient in foodstuffs, natural and financial resources. Provide the German people with economic, social and political stability. Make Germany a genuine “equal opportunity nation” where anyone can achieve anything regardless of which class or social group one has been born into.

But, first and foremost, fight and win the existential war with the Bolshevist Soviet Union and thus save Germany, Europe and the whole Western civilization from being conquered and destroyed by the “Red Plague”.

Adolf Hitler incorrectly believed that this existential war was the “racial war” with the “Jewish race” (that existed only in his imagination). Consequently, he sincerely (and incorrectly) believed that it was his responsibility to make Germany and all German-controlled territories Judenrein – “clean of Jews”.

To fulfil these enormous, mind-boggling responsibilities and achieve these grandiose objectives, he had not only to transform a tiny Reichswehr into a mighty Wehrmacht making the latter the most powerful, efficient and fearsome military force in the entire world, but to transform the German state and the German society into a mighty and invincible army based on the omnipresent and all-important Führerprinzip.

In other words, he had to radically reengineer the Weimar Republic into the army-style Führerstaat. Not an easy job to do as the former in 1933 was very much a federative state where the governments of the Lands (German states) possessed significant political and economic powers. For starters, there was no national police force – all law enforcement functions were performed by local, municipal and Land police agencies.

To remedy that unacceptable situation, on April 7th, 1933 (just two weeks after the Enabling Act was passed), Adolf Hitler re-established the Office of Reichsstatthalter (Imperial Governor), radically expanding the functions bestowed on this office in the Imperial Germany.

This law was established by the Second Law for Synchronization of the States with the Reich (Zweites Gesetz zur Gleichschaltung der Länder mit dem Reich) which assigned one Reichsstatthalter (governor) to each German states.

Doing away with the state, local and municipal political freedoms and powers and essentially transforming the federative Weimar Republic into a centralized Third Reich. For all practical purposes, killing the former.

In Prussia, the largest of the German Lands, Hitler took direct control by appointing himself as Reichsstatthalter. However, he delegated his authority to Hermann Göring, who had been installed as Prussian prime minister without an election. The Prussian provinces were administered by an Oberpräsident, usually the local Gauleiter (the provincial NSDAP leader).

Formally, the Reichsstatthalters had purely political, not administrative, functions. According to the abovementioned law, they were tasked to “carry out the general policy of the Chancellor” (i.e. Adolf Hitler).

In reality, they were given complete administrative powers over the state governments: appointing and dismissing the state minister-president (head of state government); dissolving the state parliament and calling new elections; issuing and announcing state laws (making the abovementioned law the “Enabling Act” for the state level); appointing and dismissing key state officials and judges; and even granting amnesty.

Thus, the Enabling Act and the Second Law for Synchronization of the States with the Reich de-facto transformed Germany from a federal republic into a highly centralized state.

To make it de-jure, on January 30th, 1934 (exactly a tear after he was appointed Chancellor) Adolf Hitler signed into law the Law for the Reconstruction of the Reich (Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiche).

This law – for the first time in German history – formally de-federalized the Reich. The state parliaments were abolished, and their powers were transferred to the Reich government. The Reichsstatthalters were made responsible to the Reich Minister of the Interior. For all intents and purposes, the once powerful and semi-autonomous states were reduced to mere provinces.

To expand and strengthen his control over the state governments, exactly a year later (it appears that he really liked that date), Adolf Hitler signed into law The Reich Governors Law (Reichsstatthaltergesetz).

This law essentially stripped the heads of state governments of just about all their executive powers transferring the latter to the Reichsstatthalters. Formally, the governors the authority only to “inform” the heads of provincial governments about the guidelines and the recommended measures to fulfill them. In practice, this “information” was an order – cut and dry, loud and clear, plain and simple.

For all practical purposes, this law resulted in Reichsstatthalters taking over just about all functions of state government, and gave the governors power to appoint the mayors of all towns and cities with populations fewer than 100,000. Giving them (and thus the Reich Interior Ministry) almost total control over local government as well.

The Interior Minister directly appointed the mayors of all cities with populations greater than 100,000 (though Hitler reserved the right to appoint the mayors of Berlin and Hamburg himself if he deemed it necessary).

After the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, the latter (at that time also a federal republic) was incorporated in a centralized totalitarian Ein Reich using the same system of Reichsstatthalters and the corresponding laws which now were in force in the formerly Austrian territory as well.