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III. The SS and Police System
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Overview   |   I. Building the Nazi Regime   |   II. The Nazi State   |   III. The SS and Police System   |   IV. Organized Resistance   |   V. Racial Politics   |   VI. The Military, Foreign Policy, and War   |   VII. Economy and Labor   |   VIII. Gender, Family, and Generations   |   IX. Religion   |   X. Literature, Art, and Music   |   XI. Propaganda and Public Reaction   |   XII. Region, City, and Countryside   |   XIII. Science

After Hitler was appointed chancellor, Himmler took over Bavaria’s political police and then proceeded, one by one, to seize control of the political police in other German states, retaining a tight grip on the SS all the while. An important leap forward occurred on April 20, 1934, when Göring, acting in his capacity as Prussian prime minister, Himmler deputy chief and “Inspector of the Prussian Political Police”, also known as the Gestapo. At first, Himmler’s right-hand man, Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942), was charged with running the Gestapo. Heydrich was already head of the SD [Sicherheitsdienst or Security Service], the intelligence branch of the SS. Later, he turned the Gestapo over to Heinrich Müller (1900-1945?), an experienced Bavarian police bureaucrat. Müller had joined the SS in 1934 but did not become a party member until 1939.

Ambitious, talented, and driven, Heydrich was a man not easily contained. But he recognized early on that he could – and would – benefit from the expansion and growing influence of the SS and the police apparatus, and this meant serving Himmler. Heydrich did exactly that until he met his death at the hands of Czech resisters in Prague in June 1942. Six months later, in a secret speech delivered to high officials of the Reich Security Main Office [Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA] on January 30, 1943 (the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s appointment as chancellor), Himmler recounted how he first met Heydrich and how the two of them worked together both before and after the Nazis came to power. Although the occasion was the installation of Ernst Kaltenbrunner as Heydrich’s successor as head of the Reich Security Main Office, Himmler used his speech mostly as an opportunity to reminisce about Heydrich and present him as a model for other security officials.

In the mid-1930s, Himmler came into conflict with Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, his nominal superior (the police were but one component of that ministry). Frick complained that the Gestapo, in particular, was infringing upon his policies and jurisdiction by bypassing the legal system and making excess use of measures such as “protective custody” to remove individuals they considered dangerous. In June 1936, Hitler resolved the dispute by issuing a decree “to unify police duties in the Reich,” whereby Himmler was named “Chief of the German Police.” Although Himmler still remained within the Reich Ministry of the Interior, a fact reflected in his cumbersome new title – Reichsführer SS and Chief of the German Police – he gained far more than he lost. Hitler had signaled full confidence in Himmler, and Frick largely abandoned his efforts to curb the police.

From the mid-1930s on, ideological training [weltanschauliche Erziehung] by SS instructors was a regular part of professional training at police schools. Although Himmler brought the SS and the police closer together, they never merged completely. His efforts to maintain strict behavioral standards in both organizations are reflected in Hitler’s decree of November 15, 1941, which imposed the death penalty for members of the SS or the police who engaged in homosexual acts. Both men regarded homosexuality as willful or learned behavior, not a hereditary inclination. Moreover, Himmler had long regarded male homosexuality as a serious threat to Germany’s reproductive capacity. Homosexuality was a crime under Germany’s legal code and could result in a prison sentence. Furthermore, homosexuals were also taken into “protective custody” and sent to concentration camps. The penalties were much harsher, however, for anyone within Himmler’s inner empire. Although leniency was occasionally granted in cases of momentary weakness, Himmler and Hitler used the strongest possible measures to root out homosexuality in the regime’s two interlocking elite male institutions.

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