The 'Terror State'

The Nazis and the law

  • Hitler was determined that the Nazi regime would not be bound by law.
  • The Nazis’ concept of authority was based on the leadership principle (do what the leader tells you). As a ‘man of destiny’ who has been chosen to lead the Third Reich, Hitler’s word was law.
  • After 1933, the Nazis didn’t introduce a new legal system, instead they introduced some new laws to deal with political offences and forced the existing justice system to bend to their will.
  • So, the legal principles in Weimar no longer applied - citizens were no longer treated equally under the law and judges/ courts couldn’t make decisions or operate independently of the government. People could be put in prison without trial or without police gathering evidence against them.
  • The law was applied in an arbitrary and inconsistent fashion.
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The police system of the Third Reich

  • Before, individual states would control their police forces. The Nazis didn’t abolish these but created a system of party controlled, political political forces that were answerable to Hitler. These ran alongside the original police forces.
  • This created confusion and competition between the forces and the men who controlled them.
  • These forces existed:
    • ** - controlled by Himmler
    • SD - worked with the ** and gathered intelligence for the **
    • SA - acquired police powers and detained political prisoners
  • Between 1933 and 1936, there was competition and rivalry between Himmler, Röhm and Goering for control over the police. Himmler’s power was strengthened by the Night of the Long Knives when the powers of the SA were reduced. After the Night of the Long Knives, the police system looked like this:
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The police system of the Third Reich

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The **

  • Hitler’s bodyguards - the ** had police functions and these were extended after the Night of the Long Knives. Then, they became involved in the main Nazi Party organisation and arresting political prisoners.
  • Membership in 1933 = 50,000
  • Membership in 1935 = 200,000
  • Membership in 1939 = 240,000
  • Himmler wanted the ** to be highly disciplined, racially pure and unquestionably obedient - people’s personality was assessed to see if they had the right traits.
  • Key values: loyalty and honour.
  • The SA engaged in undisciplined violence and terror, whereas the ** operated in a far more systematic way (leading to their eventual victory over the SA).
  • ** concentration camp guards were brutalised to remove any feelings of humanity towards the prisoners.
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Concentration camps

  • Prisons in which prisoners were forced to work.
  • Many of the first prisoners were political prisoners - communists, socialists etc.
  • By May 1934, many of the temporary camps were closed and there were now only a quarter of the prisoners there had been before.
  • Torture and brutality were used so many prisoners no longer resisted the Nazis and were released.
  • After 1934, all camps were under ** control so the treatment of prisoners became more systematic.
  • After 1936, the camps were more used to deal with ‘undesirables’.
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The SD

  • Established in 1931 as the internal security service of the Nazi Party to investigate the claims that the party had been infiltrated by its political enemies.
  • Led by Heydrich who was answerable to Himmler; the SD was an offshoot of the **.
  • After 1933, their role was extended to intelligence gathering.
  • Most important role: to monitor public opinion, identify those who voted ‘no’ in plebiscites (a direct vote on a political or constitutional issue) and report them to Hitler.
  • Worked independently of the Gestapo - this would often lead to confusion and overlap. Also, this created tension and snobbery of the Gestapo towards the SD, because the SD was staffed by amateurs not professional police like the Gestapo.
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The Gestapo

  • The secret state police which was originally to set up to monitor Prussia - to check their loyalty. But, its role was extended to the whole of Germany.
  • Established a reputation for being all knowing - ordinary Germans believed that there were spies everywhere and it created a culture of fear.
  • But, this was far from true - it was actually quite a small operation with only about 20,000 agents in Germany in 1939 and most of its agents were office based. It contained professional police officers who were not in the Nazi Party; they saw their role as a service to the state.
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The courts and justice system

  • By 1939, the Nazis were controlling the justice system: in 1933, there were 60 death sentences whereas in 1939, there were 140 death sentences.
  • Judges and lawyers were generally very conservative and few belonged to the Nazi Party. The long tradition of freedom from political interference (they should uphold justice and equality despite whose in charge) was a concern for the Nazis.
  • Some lawyers tried to prosecute SA and ** members for their tactics and Hitler was also angered that one of the defendants of the Reichstag was acquitted. So, some judges and lawyers were dismissed and they had to take a pledge of allegiance to the party. Measures were taken to remove their previous freedoms from state interference e.g. in political trials, there would have to be three Nazi Party judges and two professional judgements (the verdict would always swing in the Nazis’ favour).
  • With these measures and threats from the SA and **, these professional lawyers and judges fell into line.
  • Between 1934 and 1939, 3400 people were tried by the People’s Court, most of whom were communists and socialists - many were given the death penalty for their ‘ordinary’ crimes.
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The extent and effectiveness of opposition and non

  • There was a strong base of support for the regime as the majority of people supported the Nazi regime. Through propaganda and Gleichschaltung, they managed to do this.
  • The ** was presented as something which could protect the majority of citizens from the corrupting influence of minorities.
  • Overall, this meant there was very little active opposition and there is evidence of Hitler’s increasing popularity. Life became depoliticised; there was no open free debate about the regime or its politics.
  • Historians believe there was widespread acceptance of the regime and most Germans saw Nazi Germany as preferable to their lives in the final Weimar Republic years.
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The extent and effectiveness of opposition and non

Political resistance

  • It was expected that the parties on the left, the KPD and SPD, would be the most resistant to the Nazi takeover. 
  • Hitler believed that the unions that were strongly linked to the SPD would stage a general strike as they had done in 1920 against the Kapp Putsch.
  • But, the left did not pose a serious threat - this was partly due to the SPD and KPD being divided in their anti-Nazism as the KPD continued to attack the SPD as 'social-fascists'. 


  • They were unprepared for the Nazi takeover. Also, as a constitutional party, they were not prepared to break the law to resist the regime. 
  • The SA used violence against them when they campaigned in the March 1933 election.
  • SPD deputies voted against the Enabling Act but once the Nazis had acquired legal powers, they destroyed the SPD. Thousands were murdered or put into 'preventitive custody', causing the SPD leaders to go into exile. 
  • Ernst Schumacher organised the SPD in exile from a base in Prague in which they established small cells of supporters in factories. There were also city-based groups, like the Berlin Red Patrol. Propaganda pamphlets were smuggled across the border of Czechoslovakia.
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The extent and effectiveness of opposition and non


  • They were better prepared, considering their background in revolutionary politics.
  • But, soon after Hitler came to power, the KPD were destroyed by a wave of repression. 10% of its members were killed in 1933 and it was the first party to be banned. 
  • It established an underground network in industrial areas and it tried to form unions in Berlin and Hamburg to recruit people and publish newspapers. These were broken up by the Gestapo. 
  • But, there was still communist activity between 1934 and 1935. They managed to establish factory cells and contact between members was word of mouth to reduce discovery by the Gestapo. Although, these communist cells mainly worked to survive in Nazi Germany rather than pose a serious challenge to the regime.
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The extent and effectiveness of opposition and non

Resistance by workers

  • Before 1933, the German working class were the largest and most unionised throughout the whole of Europe. These German unions had strong links to the SPD and had been constantly opposed to the Nazis Party. Therefore, it would be expected that there would be a lot of resistance from workers.
  • But, after January 1933, union resistance crumbled surprisingly quickly. Then, after the Nazis came to power, the trade unions were absorbed into the DAF (German Labour Front). Nazi propaganda emphasised the importance of national as opposed to class solidarity as they wanted to remove the class divide and for German workers to lose their ties to trade unions and instead work for a stronger Germany.
  • Strike action was seen as a threat to the regime. Taking strike action was very risky but strikes did occur. In September 1935, 37 strikes took place across the Rhineland, Westphalia and other states. Throughout 1937, 250 strikes were recorded. Most of these strikes were due to poor working conditions or low wages. But, the Nazis treated any strike as a challeng to their authority and so dealt with it accordingly. E.g. after a 17 minute strike at the Opel car factory, the ringleaders were arrested and taken away by the Gestapo. 
  • As a result, workers found other methods: Absenteeism.This was a less overt but effective way workers could show their dissatisfaction. The Nazis were so concerned about Absenteeism that they introduced new labour regulations which meant there would be severe punishments for 'slacking'. E.g. in 1938, the Gestapo arrested 114 workers at a muntions plant for Absenteeism, sabotaging machinery (a big problem) and slow working. 
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The extent and effectiveness of opposition and non

Resistance by the Churches

  • The Christian churches were the only organisation in Nazi Germany that managed to have a different ideology. They were independent of the regime and to some extent they had autonomy. This placed them in a powerful position as in many commuities, the influence of a priest was as important as the Nazi Party.
  • But, the Churches were aware that they would lose if they had a sustained conflict with the Nazis and did not compromise. So, the Churches' leadership were willing to make a compromise - the unspoken agreement to leave each other alone. 
  • There were certain issues where a compromise proved difficult, like when there were calls from the Nazi regime for the Protestant and Catholic churches to conform and come together. This led to resistance.
  • Overal, the response of the churches was complex and fluid - it varied over time and depended on each individual priest's beliefs. 
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The extent and effectiveness of opposition and non

The Protestant Church

  • The Nazis tried to coordinate the Protestant Church into the Volsgemeinschaft - this led to division in the congregation. 
  • In 1933, the Pastors' Emergency League was established and in 1934, the Confessional Church was developed - these were acts of resistance.
  • They refused to accept being part of a Reich Church because:
    • They wanted to protect the independence of the Protestant Church.
    • They resisted the Aryan paragraph (non-Aryan pastors would be dismissed from the Church) being imposed on the Church.
    • They wanted to defend Lutheran theology.
  • During 1934, there was a growing struggle between the Confessional Church and the Nazi regime. Many Churches refused to display Swastika flags. When two Confessional Church bishops were arrested, there were mass demonstrations. The Nazi Party increased repression - many dissenting pastors were arrested and by the end of 1937, over 700 pastors had been imprisoned. 
  • The Nazis failed to silence the Confessional Church but this Church did not form full opposition to the regime, as many of its members were loyal to Hitler. Also, much of their energies were spent fighting an internal struggle against the Reich Church so it became quite inward looking. 
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The extent and effectiveness of opposition and non

The Roman Catholic Church

  • To a certain extent, the Catholic Church was in a better position to maintain its independence from the regime - it was more united, centralised and had more of a tradition of being independent from the State. But, the Catholic leadership tried to come to terms with the Nazi regime so that they could preserve their autonomy. In July 1933, the regim and the Vatican signed a Concordat which stated that the Church would not interfere in politics as long as the nazis would not interfere in the Church. But, the Nazis broke these terms.
  • This caused the Pope to issue 'With Burning Grief' in 1937 - it condemned Nazi repression and hatred against the Church. It was smuggled into Germany and was read out in almost every Church. The regime responded with increased repression e.g. charges against priests for 'abuse of the pulpit' became common. There was some resistance e.g. the arrest of one priest led to noisy public demonstrations at his trial. 
  • Repression and intimidation caused what a local official reported in 1937 as 'cautious restraint' from the clergy. 
  • Individual priests and members opposed aspects of the regime's religious policies but as a whole, the Church did not widen its defence of the preservation of the Church's independence to more general opposition of the regime. 
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Thank you sooo much, I've always had difficulties understanding the terror state

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