Determining the significance of Hitler’s security system requires examining several measures of significance, in order to fully address the given question. Examining the width and depth of significance, that is, how many people it affected and how deeply did it affect their daily lives and beliefs will be considered. I must also take into account the perspective of who it’s affecting, by this I mean what social background and age category they came from however, my main measure will be width and depth of impact. This will determine the most significant impact or outcome that Hitler’s security system had.
Hitler had an expansive security system, however I am going to split it into four sections for analysis. These are propaganda, concentration camps, the Gestapo and the Sturmabteilung (SA), even though the latter is not always recognised as part of Hitler’s formal security system. Arguably, propaganda was the most significant aspect of Hitler’s security system as it targeted the greatest span of people. Most people never came into contact with the Gestapo and concentration camps, unless they showed any signs of doubting or undermining Hitler’s authority or policies. Propaganda was viewed by all whether it was by choice or not. However, concentration camps ended the most lives.
Propaganda and censorship was debatably the most influential aspect of Hitler’s security system. In Hitler’s rise to power which began in 1919 propaganda was used to gain support up until 1933 when The Enabling Act was passed. After this propaganda was more so used as part of his security system, as it was used to prevent any ideas emerging from German citizens. It was led by Goebbels, the Minister of popular enlightenment and propaganda. It targets many age categories from young school children right up to the elderly. They started getting children on their side as soon as they went to school. They taught students antisemitism, love for Hitler and most important to his security system, blind obedience. It did not punish opposition but gained their trust, before they became a potential threat. Their textbooks where replaced to ingrain an anti-Semitism mind-set. It significantly altered the structure of the children’s everyday lives. After school, boys would attend the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls for girls. Through this Hitler managed to gain their faithfulness through play and enjoyment. The width of impact spread from old to young and covered many genres including radio, press, newspapers, film, music, literature and art. In the opinion of Goebbels, radio and press were the most important forms of media. This is because he recognised that spoken word was much more powerful than the written word. By March 1933 Goebbels had bought up all radio broadcasting stations and replaced 13% of staff with his own men. He realised this would have no effect if people were not listening or had access to the radio, as in 1932 less than 25% of German households owned a wireless. So the government created the ‘Volksempfänger’. This was a cheap set accessible with all. As a consequence, over 70% of German households were listening to the pro-Nazi broadcasts. This cut off the chances of them hearing opposition ideas and potentially becoming a threat to Hitler. It is hard to measure its effectiveness in quantity however, it affected roughly 70% of Germans which is a large width of impact. Although it did not physically harm anybody, it was a form of preventing opposition by quietly making slight changes to the average citizens day to day life. In conclusion, propaganda was a highly significant aspect of Hitler’s security system. However, it was only effective when used alongside Nazi organisations like the Gestapo, as this caused the fear that prevented citizens from disagreeing with the propaganda.
The ‘Gestapo’ (Geheimstaatspolizei) played a significant role in generating fear of the Nazis. They were also known as the ‘Secret State Police’. It was officially established on April 27th, 1933 by Hermann Göring. The law establishing it stated its mission was to ‘assure the effective battle against all endeavours directed at the existence and security of the state.’ It did not have as great direct width of impact, compared to propaganda. This is because most ordinary ‘pure’ Germans were never directly confronted by the Gestapo as they didn’t dare query Hitler’s authority or policies. However, it could be said that they didn’t dare question him, only because they had seen what the Gestapo were capable of doing to those that did doubt Hitler. As a Jew you may believe they had a huge width of impact as nearly every Jew was effected. However, as a ‘pure’ German devoted to the Nazis, you may still have seen their impact on others, but not a direct impact on yourself. It wasn’t until 1941 that the Gestapo focussed on rounding up all Jews. At the start they intended to take down any political or physical threats to Hitler and the party. According to the deputy chief it was to ‘ruthlessly’ take down anyone with ‘different ideas’. Debatably, what made the Gestapo so significant was their ability to use ‘protective custody’. In other democratic countries ‘protective custody’ is when someone is taken into custody for their own personal safety. The Nazis interpretation was that enemies of state were so hated that they must be confined and protected from the ‘righteous anger of good German citizens’.
One of Hitler’s security objectives was to eliminate opposition. This directly allowed him to control anyone who he feared could be opposition to himself or the country. It had a large depth of impact however the width of impact is not as significant compared to propaganda. Further, the concentration camps held great significance in eradicating any form of threatening opposition and it generated fear of, or more so obedience to the Nazis within the public. It had a huge width of impact, totalling 4 million deaths. This figure is not taking into account victims killed by the Einsatzgruppen or any other German army unit. This was predominantly Jews, Sinti and Roma, prisoners of war, political opposition and any members of resistance groups, to name a few. Protective custody was when they made an arrest supposedly for the culprits own safety. It was used in a different sense to ‘protective custody’ with the Gestapo. This came into play in March 1937 when the ‘antisocial operation’ began. This increased the width of impact as prostitutes, mentally ill and unemployed were taken into ‘protective custody’. Prisoner numbers rose form 7,500 up to 24,000 October 1938, after the ‘antisocial operation’. By the Summer of 1942 there were already about 60,000 prisoners in the camps. In the Autumn of 1944 camps started to close down, so prisoners were moved to other camps on ‘death marches’. After this there were still 700,000 prisoners in the camps located inside Germany’s pre-war boundaries (Germany and Austria).
The depth of impact was also vast. For the categories of people previously mentioned, the camps often lead to their deaths. It robbed their lives by taking them out of their homes and completely changing their way of living. For the rest of the public whom the Nazis had nothing against, they never had to deal with living in a concentration camp. It would be expected that seeing their neighbours being taken away would have generated fear of the Nazis, however, it seemed to drive public obedience. People were disturbingly happy to turn in their neighbours and ‘snitch’ on friends. This changed the nature of their living and broke down neighbourly trust. This was also significant to Hitler’s security system as it reduced the amount of work the Gestapo and SS had to put in, seeing as they could rely on people turning each other in. Relative to other events at the time the concentration camps had the highest death rates. Two thirds of people deported to camps between 1933-45, did not survive. It can be hard to match up the death tally to the total of prisoners, as on many accounts victims were killed before they officially entered the camp as a prisoner. Due to these horrifically huge figures, it can be concluded that concentration camps were very significant, potentially the most significant aspect of Hitler’s security system when measured on the width and depth of impact seeing as it accumulated the most deaths.
The significance of the Sturmabteilung (SA), is difficult to determine. Firstly, they are not viewed as part of Hitler’s formal security system, yet they collaborated with other aspects of the security system, indicative that they played a part in helping Hitler to maintain tight control over Germany. For example, one of their roles was the guarding of concentration camps, previously concluded to be very significant. The view can be taken that without the SA concentration camps would not have worked to their desired effect. Further still, members of the SA also made up the ‘shock units;” they carried out the first anti-Semitic Pogroms. Yet, as an isolated body, the SA are not important enough in themselves, comparatively speaking to the other elements of the security system to be argued significant. Their only use is that they facilitated the aims and targets of the other organisations. The SA was dissolved in May 1945 and Hitler decided that the army should hold precedence, as the two could not work alongside each other. From Hitler’s perspective the SA was only of great significance to him prior to 1934. A possible interpretation is that Hitler recognised the power which the SA held and he felt that he must take down the leaders once they went astray as they held all this power. Hitler said the SA were ‘unusable in times of peace, but in troubled times it’s quite different.’ In the early days Ernest Röhm had been one of Hitler’s closest supporters. By 1934 Röhm was a potential opponent to Hitler. Röhm wished for the Nazis to take over big businesses and for the SA to take over the Army. As previously quoted Hitler appreciated the significance the SA held, and had to get rid of Ernest Röhm, as they no longer saw eye to eye. If the SA were not significant there would be no issue with who was in charge. The execution of Ernest Röhm during the night of long knives (30th June 1934) proves that the SA were still quite significant.
On evaluation, all three sections of Hitler’s security system were significant as overall they achieved what they set out to do. Going by numbers the Nazi camps system caused the most deaths, eliminating inferiors as a scape goat and potential oppositions. The gestapo was successful in creating fear. This prevented rising opposition and took down existing opposition, to consolidate Hitler’s safe position in power. The concentration camps had a wide impact accumulating over four million deaths which also shows the depth of the impact.
For particular groups like Jews, Romas and ‘antisocials’ concentration camps would have been the most significant at the time. This is due to the fact that it often led to their deaths. It did not have such great an impact on the general public. Whereas propaganda effected almost everyone in one way or another. Either by what they didn’t see and would have without Goebbels, or what they did hear on their Nazi controlled radios of which 70% of households owned by 1939. This is why propaganda was the most significant aspect of Hitler’s security system. When all these elements merge together to form one system, they cover a huge width of impact. This varies from the innocent ‘pure Germans’ to the Jews or handicapped. It is especially significant when we look back on it in hind sight. He won blind obedience and it eliminated the chance of any opposition getting close to reducing Hitler’s power. Meanwhile the SA over saw the running of these organisations.
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