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Authors: Stephen P. Halbrook

Gun Control in the Third Reich

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Gun Control
in the
Third Reich

Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State”

STEPHEN P. HALBROOK

All Rights Reserved. Copyright © Stephen P. Halbrook, 2013

May not be copied, reproduced, or distributed without written permission.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Halbrook, Stephen P.
Gun control in the Third Reich : disarming the Jews and “enemies of the state” / Stephen P. Halbrook.
      pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-59813-161-1 (hardcover : alk. paper) —

ISBN 978-1-59813-162-8 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Firearms—Law and legislation—Germany—History—20th century. 2. Gun control—Germany—History—20th century. 3. Jews—Legal status, laws, etc.—History—20th century. 4. Germany—Politics and government—1933–1945 I. Title.

KK6010.H35 2013

363.330943'09043—dc23                                               2013022225

Cover Design: Denise Tsui
Cover Image: Peter Zelei/iStockphoto

 
Contents

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

Introduction

 
 

PART I

Dancing on a Volcano:
The Weimar Republic

1

Insurrection and Repression

2

The 1928 Law on Firearms

3

Keeping Firearm Registrations out of the Wrong Hands?

 
 

PART II

1933:
Enter the Führer

4

The Nazi Seizure of Power

5

Disarming the Politically Unreliable:
The Case of Brandenburg

6

Defining Enemies of the State

 
 

PART III

Gleichschaltung:
Forcing into Line

7

From the Night of the Long Knives to the Nürnberg Laws

8

The Gestapo

9

Hitler's Gun Control Act

 
 

PART IV

Reichskristallnacht:
Night of the Broken Glass

10

October Prelude:
Arresting Jewish Firearm Owners

11

Goebbels Orchestrates a Pogrom

12

Jewish Victims Speak

 
 
 

CONCLUSION

 

Whither the German Resistance?

 
 
 

Bibliography

 

Credits for Illustrations

 

Index

 

About the Author

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

ILLUSTRATIONS

 
Acknowledgments

THIS WORK WOULD
not have been possible without assistance by others, in particular the research in numerous German archives by Sebastian Remus and Katya Andrusz. Therese Klee Hathaway assisted with numerous translations, helped along by Oliver Harriehausen and David Moses. I also am grateful to Stefan Grus, Jay Simkin, Lisa Halbrook Hollowell, Heather Barry, Dave Fischer, and Joshua Prince for their research assistance.

The author published some preliminary research for this study in “Nazi Firearms Law and the Disarming of the German Jews,” 17
Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law
483 (2000), and “‘Arms in the Hands of Jews Are a Danger to Public Safety': Nazism, Firearm Registration, and the Night of the Broken Glass,” 21
St. Thomas Law Review
109 (2009). He is grateful to the editors of those journals for their insights and suggestions.

Once the manuscript was created, Alice Rosengard provided invaluable advice in helping to make it more readable, and Professor Alexander Tabarrok, Independent Institute Research Director, challenged me to address hard questions about the thesis. Gail Saari and Anne Barva greatly assisted in smoothing out the text. Thanks are due to Independent Institute President David Theroux and Acquisitions Director Roy M. Carlisle for bringing the book to publication. I alone am responsible for the interpretations given here as well as for any errors.

 
Introduction

ALFRED FLATOW WAS
a German Jew who won first place in gymnastics events at the 1896 Olympics. In 1932, he registered three handguns as required by a decree of the liberal Weimar Republic. The government had warned that the police must carefully store the registration records so that no extremist group could ever obtain them. That fear was realized, however, when an extremist group led by Adolf Hitler seized power the following year and used those very same registration records to disarm “enemies of the state.” In 1938, the records were used to disarm Jewish gun owners such as Flatow, whose arrest report stated: “Arms in the hands of Jews are a danger to public safety.”
1
He would later die in a concentration camp.

Shortly after confiscating firearms from Flatow and numerous other Jews, the Nazis instigated the pogrom know as the Night of the Broken Glass (Reichskristallnacht) against a defenseless Jewish population, who were threatened with twenty years in a concentration camp for possession of a firearm.

Countless studies have documented how the Nazi dictatorship repressed its political opponents, Jews, and other “enemies of the state.” For whatever reason, historians have paid no attention to Nazi laws and policies restricting firearms ownership as essential elements in creating tyranny. A skeptic might surmise that a better-armed populace might have made no difference, but the Nazi regime certainly did not act on that premise. While many historically unique factors ultimately led to the Holocaust, Nazi policies prohibiting possession of firearms helped to consolidate Hitler's power at home, exacerbated
persecution of the Jews, aiding their arrest and deportation, and foreshadowed some of the more severe policies undertaken during the war.

In those days, as now, controversy has raged about whether civilians should have a right to possess firearms at all and, if so, should register with the government any firearms they do possess or whether firearms should be prohibited except to the military and police. Prohibitionists contend that firearms harm civilians who possess them in crimes, suicides, and accidents. Governments must disarm civilians for their own good.

The Nazis had policies to eliminate social ills of many kinds, from guns to cancer.
2
They did not have in mind the good of the people they disarmed, however. They were not concerned with Jews whose children might have accidents with firearms, who might commit suicide, or who might have a gun taken away by criminals when trying to defend themselves. Instead, the Nazis confiscated firearms to prevent armed resistance, whether individual or collective, to their own criminality.

With selective memory of the historical events, a movement currently exists in the United States and Europe that denies the existence of any right to keep and bear arms and argues that firearms should be restricted to the military and the police. Yet considering the premises of that movement, it can hardly be argued that the Nazis disarmed Germany's Jews for benign reasons or that the Jews were better off without firearms in their homes on the basis that firearms are allegedly more dangerous to their owners than to any aggressor. Nor would it be rational to contend that only the discrimination in the Nazi case was wrong and that not just Jews and other persona non grata, but all citizens, should have been disarmed for their own good. The paradigm that government should have a monopoly of small arms implies the surreal normative postulate that citizens—or, rather, subjects—should be treated as the Jews were in Nazi Germany.

Germany had no constitutional tradition similar to that expressed in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which declares: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This is part of the Bill of Rights,
which Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter wrote “reflects experience with police excesses. It is not only under Nazi rule that police excesses are inimical to freedom.”
3
The right to have arms, which reflects a universal and historical power of the people in a republic to resist tyranny, was not recognized in Hitler's Third Reich.

Reacting to the Nazi experience, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation in 1941, just before Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, authorizing the president to requisition certain property for defense but prohibiting any construction of the act to “require the registration of any firearms possessed by any individual for his personal protection or sport” or “to impair or infringe in any manner the right of any individual to keep and bear arms.”
4
A sponsor of the bill explained: “Before the advent of Hitler or Stalin, who took power from the German and Russian people, measures were thrust upon the free legislatures of those countries to deprive the people of the possession and use of firearms, so that they could not resist the encroachments of such diabolical and vitriolic state police organizations as the Gestapo, the Ogpu, and the Cheka.”
5

What seemed obvious then was no longer so in 1968 when Congress debated whether to include a national firearms registration system in the Gun Control Act. Opponents raised the specter of the—at that time—more recent Nazi experience,
6
and proponents denied that the Nazis made any use of records to disarm enemies.
7
It would have been curious, however, had the Nazis, who had detailed blacklists on political enemies, not used registration and licensing records to disarm anyone perceived to be an “enemy of the state.” Although a
1968 Library of Congress study focused on Nazi policies in the occupied countries, it was “unable to locate references to any German use of registration lists to collect firearms.”
8
Its research was obviously minimal.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether the Second Amendment guaranteed only government-approved militias or an individual's right to possess firearms. Arguing the former, a friend-of-the-court brief by pacifist Jewish and Christian organizations faulted Nazi Germany only for “discriminatory laws that barred Jews from having firearms,” referring to “the myth that arming everyone might allow an oppressed minority” to resist.
9
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership argued the latter, focusing on the Holocaust and other genocides against unarmed populaces.
10
The Supreme Court agreed with this approach, noting that “when the able-bodied men of a nation are trained in arms and organized, they are better able to resist tyranny.”
11

During World War II, Great Britain supplied its citizens with arms contributed by the United States and private American citizens to fight an anticipated Nazi invasion,
12
but it now bans most guns. In 2011 in Switzerland, whose traditional militia army consisting of a populace with arms at home helped to dissuade a Nazi invasion, more than 56 percent of voters rejected an initiative to require registration of all firearms and to prohibit many firearms.
13
A proposal
to ban civilian possession of firearms in Brazil in 2005 initially seemed headed to victory but was defeated near the end of the campaign.
14
The United Nations holds that whereas governments should be armed, individuals have no right to armed self-defense, and it seeks to repress private firearms ownership at the international level.
15

Just a year before Hitler took power in 1933, the German interior minister directed “the secure storage of the lists of persons who have registered their weapons. Precautions must be taken that these lists cannot…fall into the hands of radical elements.”
16
As examined in this book, the minister's caution was well founded: those records would fall right into the hands of the Nazi Party, which used them to disarm its political enemies and the Jews. In 2013, the eightieth anniversary of the Nazi seizure of power, Germany implemented a central database of all registered, lawful firearms, which is required of all European Union countries by the following year.
17
The German interior minister was said to have “promised to guarantee a very high level of security of the data,” although one skeptic noted that “everything that is registered can be taken away by the government.”
18

In the wake of the domestic and international controversy about whether to require registration of firearms or even to prohibit civilian firearms ownership, interest by U.S. legal scholars on the subject of Nazi firearm policies has
emerged.
19
In response to the theses they present, firearm prohibitionists have minimized the significance of Nazi firearms policies, contending that Hitler wished only to disarm and kill Jews.
20
Yet that would seem to be the most critical issue in the debate.

This book seeks to highlight hitherto unknown historical facts to advance the scholarly literature on the development of Nazism, particularly before World War II, which was the prelude to the Holocaust, with respect to the repression of civilian firearm ownership. Given the enormous literature in the related fields, it seems incredible that the disarming of the German Jews is rarely if ever mentioned. Virtually none of the many tomes on the Third Reich so much as hints at the role that Weimar-era legislation and decrees were used by the Hitler government to consolidate power by disarming political enemies, Jews, and other “enemies of the state.”

Gun control laws are depicted as benign and historically progressive. However, Nazi firearms laws and policies, together with hysteria created against Jewish firearm owners, played a unique role in laying the groundwork for the eradication of German Jewry. Disarming political opponents was a categorical imperative of the Nazi regime. National Socialist leaders and police officials saw the disarming of such “enemies of the state” as an essential component of the consolidation of Nazi power. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Werner Best, Wilhelm Frick, and other members of the Nazi hierarchy were deeply involved in this process. This is the first book to address Nazi firearms laws
and policies that functioned to disarm German citizens, in particular political opponents and Jews.

The book does not crudely argue that gun control led inexorably to the Holocaust, nor does it claim an intrinsic connection between firearms restrictions and genocide or Nazism, as some polemicists would have it. Of course, the Holocaust itself was in many respects a singular event that was only possible due to a very large number of factors that historians are still attempting to understand.

This book does present the first thorough treatment of Germany's gun control policies before the Second World War, and the first extensive exploration of how Hitler used these policies in coordination with his persecution of Jews and political opponents. Some polemicists might overstate the relationship between gun control and genocide, but what is worse is the failure of scholars to come to terms with the real connection between disarming policies and oppression.

The book is divided into four parts representing distinct historical periods from 1918, at the birth of the Weimar Republic, through 1938, at the time of the Night of the Broken Glass.
Part I
, “Dancing on a Volcano: The Weimar Republic,” describes the post–World War I chaos, in particular the repression of Communist insurgency and the rise of the Nazi Party. In 1928, the liberal Weimar Republic adopted Germany's first comprehensive gun control law. The era ended with a decree requiring registration of all firearms and authorizing officials to confiscate all firearms, which could only have been enforced against persons who had registered them. Officials warned that the registration records must not fall into the hands of an extremist group.

Part II
, “1933: Enter the Führer,” describes how just such an extremist group seized power. Chapters tell about the massive searches for and seizures of firearms from Social Democrats and other political opponents, who were invariably described as “Communists.” Nazi raids on Jewish quarters to search for firearms also took place in this period, and Nazi power was consolidated in part by disarming “the politically unreliable” and the “enemies of the state.”

Part III
, “Gleichschaltung: Forcing into Line,” concerns the next five years of repression. Nazi leaders leisurely conferred on amendments to the Weimar Firearms Law, which could be revised as society was cleansed with National Socialism. But that theoretical legal discussion was a sideshow. The significant events were the Night of the Long Knives (Nacht der langen Messer), which verified that Hitler could murder any opponent, and the Nürnberg Laws, which reduced
the rights of citizenship from Jews. The Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo) banned independent gun clubs and decreed against issuance of firearm permits to Jews. In 1938, Hitler signed a new gun control law that benefitted Nazi Party members but denied firearm ownership to the perennial “enemies of the state.”

Part IV
, “Reichskristallnacht: Night of the Broken Glass,” sets forth how the groundwork for the pogrom against the Jews was laid weeks beforehand by the systematic disarming of Germany's Jews. With the shooting of a German diplomat in Paris by a teenage Polish Jew, Hitler approved and Joseph Goebbels orchestrated a massive search-and-seizure operation, allegedly for weapons, entailing the ransacking of homes and businesses. Himmler decreed the punishment of twenty years in a concentration camp for possession of a firearm by a Jew. Diaries and other sources record how the Jewish victims themselves, including gun owners as well as those not remotely connected to gun ownership, described the onslaught.

The book's conclusion presents a potpourri of events during World War II, the second half of the “thousand-year Reich,” to explore effects of the disarming policies of the previous two decades. Why was there no armed partisan movement in Germany against Hitler? Did the prior disarming of the Jews facilitate his widening aggression against them? In the occupied countries, the Nazis decreed the death penalty for possession of a firearm, but there were instances of heroic resistance, from various resistance movements to the heroic Warsaw ghetto uprising.

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