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Photograph of Berlin Police Deputizing Members of the SS

Berlin Police Deputizing SS Members
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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tags: collaboration law enforcement

type: Photograph

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

These attacks on the Nazis’ political opponents were often committed independently by the rank-and-file without direction from leadership. See, for example, Timothy Scott Brown, "The SA in the Radical Imagination of the Long Weimar Republic," Central European History 46, no. 2 (June 2013), 270-1. 

Magnus von Levetzow, quoted in “Storm Troopers as Police," The Guardian, February 25, 1933, 18. 

When Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in January 1933, Göring was placed in charge of the Prussian Ministry of the Interior. This appointment gave him authority over the police forces of Germany’s largest state.

The Stahlhelm was a German nationalist paramilitary veterans' organization that would later be reorganized as part of the Nazi paramilitary system.

To learn more, see Daniel Siemens, “Terror, Excitement, and Frustration,” in Storm Troopers: A New History of Hitler’s Brownshirts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017): 117–56.

Nazi propaganda often tried to link German police and the Nazi Party through the idea of a shared struggle against Communism, but German police and Nazi paramilitaries had often clashed before 1933. To learn more about Nazi efforts to overcome these tensions and encourage a sense of camaraderie between the German police and Nazi Party organizations, see the related Experiencing History item, Dedication of a Memorial to German Police.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Source Number 24540
Date Created
1933
Location
Berlin, Germany
Still Image Type Photograph
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