Soon after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in January 1933, the new Nazi regime and its supporters began persecuting Communists, Socialists, and other political opponents. Nazi authorities directed German police departments to raid Communist and Socialist political gatherings, offices, and publishers for allegedly plotting against the government. Members of Nazi paramilitary organizations continued committing assaults and acts of vandalism, but now German police did little to interfere in the violence.1 Nazi authorities began appointing politically reliable police chiefs to ensure that German police departments supported Nazi goals. For example, the newly appointed Nazi police chief in Berlin urged the officers under his command to think of the SA and the SS “as comrades and as faithful helpers in your efforts to keep down unrest.”2
The image of Nazi paramilitaries as “faithful helpers” of the police received official status in February 1933, when Nazi leader Hermann Göring ordered the swearing-in of thousands of SA and SS members as auxiliary police officers in Prussia.3 Other German states soon took this step as well. In Prussia alone—Germany’s biggest state—roughly 50,000 auxiliary police were recruited from the SA, the SS, and the Stahlhelm.4 These forces typically served in their paramilitary uniforms with a white armband to identify them to the public. Armed and placed under the command of German police officers, these auxiliary police soon developed a reputation for brutality and abuse.5
The featured photograph shows a group of SS men being sworn in as auxiliary policemen by members of the Berlin Order Police sometime in February or March 1933. It appears to depict part of a swearing-in ceremony, as the members of the SS and the police are shaking hands. Although the photograph is framed closely around the men themselves and holds few clues to the wider context of the event, it appears that they are assembled in a courtyard or street rather than on a stage or public square. What might this indicate about these ceremonies? What can be inferred from the men’s facial expressions, body language, or uniforms?
Traditional lines of authority became heavily blurred as German police ignored Nazi acts of political violence—and many members of the SA and the SS were granted the powers of the police. Deputizing tens of thousands of SA and SS men as auxiliary police officers created a highly visible link between the Nazi Party and the German police. The Nazi regime tightened its control over German police forces throughout the 1930s and early 1940s as Nazi propaganda promoted the idea that German police and the Nazi Party shared a common enemy in the struggle against Communism.6