An important tool of Nazi terror was the Protective Squad (Schutzstaffel), or SS, which began as a special guard for Adolf Hitler and other party leaders. The black-shirted SS members formed a smaller, elite group whose members also served as auxiliary policemen and, later, as concentration camp guards. Eventually overshadowing the Storm Troopers (SA) in importance, the SS became, after 1934, the private army of the Nazi party.
SS chief Heinrich Himmler also turned the regular (nonparty) police forces into an instrument of terror. He helped forge the powerful Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei), or Gestapo; these non-uniformed police used ruthless and cruel methods throughout Germany to identify and arrest political opponents and others who refused to obey laws and policies of the Nazi regime.
In the months after Hitler took power, the SA and Gestapo agents went from door to door looking for Hitler's enemies. Socialists, Communists, trade union leaders, and others who had spoken out against the Nazi party were arrested, and some were killed. By the middle of 1933, the Nazi party was the only political party, and nearly all organized opposition to the regime had been eliminated. Democracy was dead in Germany.
Many different groups, including the SA and SS, set up hundreds of makeshift "camps" in empty warehouses, factories, and other locations all over Germany where they held political opponents without trial and under conditions of great cruelty. One of these camps was set up on March 20, 1933, at Dachau, in an abandoned munitions factory from World War I. Located near Munich in southwestern Germany, Dachau would become the "model" concentration camp for a vast system of SS camps.
FEBRUARY 22, 1933
SS AND SA BECOME AUXILIARY POLICE UNITS
Less than a month after Adolf Hitler is appointed chancellor of Germany, he calls on elements of the Nazi party to act as auxiliary police. The SS, initially Hitler's bodyguards, and the SA, the street fighters or Storm Troopers of the Nazi party, now have official police power. This further increases the power of the Nazi party in German society.
FEBRUARY 28, 1933
REICHSTAG FIRE DECREE EMPOWERS POLICE
An emergency decree following the burning of the Reichstag (German parliament) on February 27, 1933, grants the police almost unlimited power of arrest. This power is known as "protective custody." In National Socialist terminology, protective custody means the arrest of potential opponents of the regime without benefit of a trial or judicial proceedings. Protective custody prisoners are confined not in the normal prison system but in concentration camps. These camps were initially established by the Storm Troopers (SA) and later came under the exclusive authority of the chief of the SS (the elite guard of the Nazi state).
MARCH 20, 1933
HEINRICH HIMMLER ANNOUNCES THE OPENING OF DACHAU
The Dachau camp, located near Munich in southern Germany, is one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazis. SS chief Heinrich Himmler announces its opening on March 20, 1933. The first prisoners arrive on March 22. They are mainly Communists and Socialists. Dachau is the only camp to remain in operation from 1933 until 1945.
JUNE 17, 1936
HEINRICH HIMMLER BECOMES CHIEF OF THE GERMAN POLICE
Adolf Hitler appoints SS chief Heinrich Himmler chief of all German police units. All police powers are now centralized. The Gestapo (German secret state police) comes under Himmler's control. Responsible for state security, it has the authority to send individuals to concentration camps. Members of the Gestapo are often also members of the SS.