Propaganda and Control

The Police State

By August 1934 Hitler was a dictator with absolute power. In order to maintain this power he needed organisations that could control the population to ensure absolute loyalty to the Führer. After the demise of the SA on the Night of the Long Knives, there were three main interlinked organisations (in addition to the regular German police force) involved in controlling the German people through spying, intimidation and if necessary, imprisonment.

The organisational structure of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD).
  • Schutzstaffel (SS) - Led by Heinrich Himmler, the SS was the most important of these organisations and oversaw the others. Initially set up as Hitler’s personal bodyguard service, the SS was fanatically loyal to the Führer. It later set up concentration camps where ‘enemies of the state’ were sent.
  • Gestapo - This was the Nazis’ secret police force. Its job was to monitor the German population for signs of opposition or resistance to Nazi rule. It was greatly helped by ordinary German people informing on their fellow citizens.
  • Sicherheitsdienst (SD) - This was the intelligence gathering agency of the SS. It was responsible for the security of Hitler and other top Nazis and was led by Himmler’s right-hand man, Reinhard Heydrich.

Revison tip

A good mnemonic to help you remember some of the key features of this topic is:

  • Himmler’s - Head of the police state
  • Sight – The SS
  • Gradually – The Gestapo
  • Spreads – The SD

Nazi control of the legal system

The Nazis quickly swept away many of the freedoms that Germans had enjoyed under the Weimar constitution. The party’s control of the legal system made opposition to the regime very difficult indeed.

  • Judges had to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler and were expected to act always in the interests of the Nazi state.
  • All lawyers had to join the Nazi Lawyers' Association, which meant they could be controlled.
  • The role of defence lawyers in criminal trials was weakened.
  • Standard punishment for crimes were abolished and so local prosecutors could decide what penalties to impose on those found guilty.

These changes more than halved the number of criminal offences between 1933 and 1939, whilst the number of crimes that carried the death penalty increased from three to 46. Many convicted criminals were not released at the end of their sentences but instead were moved to the growing number of concentration camps being established by the SS.

Concentration camps

The first camp to open was at Dachau, just outside Munich, in 1933. Soon there were others including Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Sachsenhausen. They were explained as places to detain enemies of the state. They were "concentrated" in one place for political re-education.

Prisoners wore a coloured triangle which identified their crime:

  • political opponents
  • criminals
  • gypsies
  • Jews
  • certain religious figures

Life in the concentration camps was extremely harsh. Prisoners were made to live and work in horrendous conditions.

When reports of prisoners' experiences leaked out, it increased the fear of being arrested. This fear helped the Nazis keep control.