Geheime Staatspolizei

How far is too far?

If you know enough German to recognize this title, you know where this is headed. And we certainly hope it isn’t.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1933Here is a theme people have been eying nervously for over 50 years: the omnipotent and unaccountable state, flanked by its unassailable secret police. It is easy to over-sell. We don’t advocate Chicken Little histrionics. But the twenty-first century Big Brother model sports not only omnipotence, but the electronic and digital wherewithal to become omniscient. Are we closer than ever before? Just how close to the edge are we?

At what point does “too far” actually go over the top? I was reading about Patriot Act II. The curtailment of civil liberties in the original Patriot Act is now up for renewal. This alone is cause for some measure of alarm. I hope the concerns for constitutional freedoms are well known.

More than ever, the total disconnect between suspicious activity and police state investigatory powers has thinking Americans concerned.

Yet we know: we’re law-abiding citizens; we support vigilance in guarding against threats to the people; we have nothing to hide.

At what point does our concern begin that the trap set for the bad guy can be sprung on us? My take: at what point has the snake swallowed the hamster? When the last constitutional checks and balances are removed from federal police authority, it’s already way too late. Muzzling or hamstringing the courts and the process of judicial review would be the last straw.

(1) Today: One invasive piece of legislation being stealthily pushed through the House would enhance the government’s secret power to obtain personal records without judicial review. It would also limit judicial discretion over the use of secret evidence in criminal cases and allow the use of secret intelligence wiretaps in immigration and possibly other civil cases without notice or an opportunity to suppress illegally acquired evidence.

This proposed legislation would allow government agents to gather information about you even if they have no reason to believe you were involved with the commission of a crime. And, if your banker or travel agent told you that the FBI had requested your private information, they could be imprisoned.

(2) Then: The Geheime Staatspolizei, or GESTAPO, was first established in Prussia on 26 April 1933 by Goering, with the mission of carrying out the duties of political police with or in place of the ordinary police authorities. The GESTAPO chief was given the rank of a higher police authority and was subordinated only to the Minister of the Interior, to whom was delegated the responsibility of determining its functional and territorial jurisdiction.

In Das Archiv, January 1936, the duties of the GESTAPO were described in part as follows: “Since the National Socialist revolution, all open struggle and all open opposition to the State and to the leadership of the State is forbidden, and a Secret State Police as a preventive instrument in the struggle against all dangers threatening the State is indissolubly bound up with the National Socialist Fuehrer-State.”

The GESTAPO was not restricted to the limitations of written law. The Nazi jurist, Dr. Werner Best, states:

“As long as the ‘police’ carries out the will of the leadership, it is acting legally.”

The actions and orders of the GESTAPO were not subject to judicial review. The decision of the Prussian High Court of Administration on 2 May 1935 held that the status of the GESTAPO as a special police authority removed its orders from the jurisdiction of the Administrative Tribunals. The court said that under the law of 30 November 1933 the only redress available was by appeal to the next higher authority within the GESTAPO itself.

I was curious whether there came a point in prewar Germany where ordinary citizens began to feel uncomfortable with the police apparatus being set up by Hitler and Goering. I did not find an answer in a brief web search.

I have little doubt the answer was: “we’re law-abiding citizens; we support vigilance in guarding against threats to the people; we have nothing to hide”.

How far is too far? Here is our 2004 checklist. Use it as your own personal barometer of current events.

Weimar Constitution, February 28, 1933

President Hindenburg and Chancellor Hitler invoke Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which permits the suspension of civil liberties in time of national emergency. This Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and State abrogates the following constitutional protections (3) :

Article 48. If any state does not fulfill the duties imposed upon it by the constitution the laws of the Reich, the Reich president may enforce such duties with the aid of the armed forces.

In the event that the public order and security are seriously disturbed or endangered, the Reich president may take the measures necessary for their restoration, intervening, if necessary, with the aid of the armed forces. For this purpose he may temporarily abrogate, wholly or in part, the fundamental principles laid down in Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153. . . .

Article 114. Personal liberty is inviolable … Persons who have been deprived of their liberty must be informed at the latest on the following day by whose authority and for what reasons …

Article 115: The home of every German is his sanctuary and is inviolable. Exceptions are permitted only by authority of law.

Article 117: The secrecy of letters and all postal, telegraph, and telephone communications is inviolable.

Article 118: Every German has the right, within the limits of the general law, to express his opinion freely by word, in writing, in print, in picture, or in any other way. Censorship is forbidden.

Article 123: All Germans have the right to assemble peacefully and unarmed without giving notice and without special permission.

Article 153: The right of private property is guaranteed by the Constitution. Expropriation of property may take place only….by due process of law

A supplemental decree creates the SA (Storm Troops) and SS (Special Security) Federal police agencies.

Alex Forbes copyright May 7, 2004

Sources:(1) National Security : General Patriot Act II: ACLU: Stop Congress From Rolling Back Key Privacy Safeguards

(2) A Brief History of the Gestapo, Extracted from the Nurenberg Charges. Source: Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Vol. II. US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1946

(3) Florida Holocaust Museum

Photo credit: Brandenburg Gate, verschiedene Postkarten aus dem jeweiligen Jahr

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