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Gun Control… Always best to disarm your victims first. Just ask the Germans… | Excerpt: NAZI FIREARMS LAW AND THE DISARMING OF THE GERMAN JEWS





17 Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, No. 3, 483-535 (2000)

Stephen P. Halbrook*


We are in danger of forgetting that the Bill of Rights reflects 

experience with police excesses.  It is not only under Nazi rule that 

police excesses are inimical to freedom. It is easy to make light of 

insistence on scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties 

when invoked on behalf of the unworthy. It is too easy. History 

bears testimony that by such disregard are the rights of liberty 

extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the 


Justice Felix Frankfurter1


The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow 

the subject races to possess arms.  History shows that all 

conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms 

have prepared their own downfall by so doing. 

Adolph Hitler 2


Gun control laws are depicted as benign and historically progressive.3


Disarming political opponents was a categorical imperative of the Nazi

regime.4  The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 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.”5  This right, which reflects a universal and

historical power of the people in a republic to resist tyranny,6 was not recognized in

the German Reich.


This article addresses German firearms laws and Nazi policies and practices 

to disarm German citizens, particularly political opponents and Jews.  It begins with

an account of post-World War I chaos, which led to the enactment in 1928 by the 

liberal Weimar republic of Germany’s first comprehensive gun control law.  Next, the 

Nazi seizure of power in 1933 was consolidated by massive searches and seizures of 

firearms from political opponents, who were invariably described as “communists.


After five years of repression and eradication of dissidents, Hitler signed a new gun

control law in 1938, which benefitted Nazi party members and entities, but denied

firearm ownership to enemies of the state.  Later that year, in Kristallnacht (the Night

of the Broken Glass), in one fell swoop, the Nazi regime disarmed Germany’s Jews.

Without any ability to defend themselves, the Jewish population could easily be sent

to concentration camps for the Final Solution.  After World War II began, Nazi

authorities continued to register and mistrust civilian firearm owners, and German

resistence to the Nazi regime was unsuccessful.7




Germany’s defeat in World War I heralded the demise of the Second Reich

and the birth of the Weimar republic.  For several years thereafter,  civil unrest and

chaos ensued.  Government forces, buttressed by unofficial Freikorps (Free Corps),

battled Communists in the streets.9  The most spectacular event was the crushing of

the Spartacist revolt in Berlin and other cities in January 1919, when Freikorps

members captured and murdered the Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl

Liebknecht.10   This coincided with the passage of the Verordnung des Rates der 

Volksbeauftragen über Waffenbesitz (Regulations of the Council of the People’s

Delegates on Weapons Possession), which provided: “All firearms, as well as all kinds

of firearms ammunition, are to be surrendered immediately.”11  Whoever kept a firearm

or ammunition was subject to imprisonment for five years and a fine of 100,000

marks.12  That decree would remain in force until repealed in 1928.13


Carrying a firearm required a Waffenschein (license to carry a weapon).  The

issuing authority had complete discretion to limit its validity to a specific occasion or

locality.37  “Licenses to obtain or to carry firearms shall only be issued to persons

whose reliability is not in doubt, and only after proving a need for them.”38  Licenses 

were automatically denied to “gypsies, and to persons wandering around like 

gypsies”; persons with convictions under various listed laws, including this law (i.e.,

the 1928 Gesetz) and the 1920 Law on the Disarming of the Population; and “persons

for whom police surveillance has been declared admissible, or upon whom the loss of

civil rights has been imposed, for the duration of the police surveillance or the loss of

civil rights.”39


The above categories of persons who were disqualified from obtaining an

acquisition or carry license were prohibited from possession of a firearm or

ammunition.   Persons not entitled to possess firearms were ordered to surrender them

immediately.40  Further, a license was required to possess a firearms or ammunition

“arsenal,” which was defined as more than five firearms of the same type or more than

100 cartridges.41  (These quantities would have been very low for collectors or target

competitors.)  Also included in the definition was more than ten hunting arms or more

than 1000 hunting cartridges.42  Licenses were available only to “persons of

unquestioned trustworthiness.”43


It was forbidden to manufacture or possess firearms which are adapted for

“rapid disassembly beyond the generally usual extent for hunting and sporting

purposes.”44  Firearms with silencers or spotlights were prohibited.45

The penalty for willfully or negligently violating the provisions of the law

related to the carrying of a firearm was up to three-years imprisonment and a fine.46


The same penalty applied to anyone who inherited a firearm or ammunition from a

deceased person and failed to report it in a timely manner.47  Three years imprisonment

was also the penalty for whoever deliberately or negligently failed to prevent a

violation of the law by a member of his household under 20 years of age.48  Other

violations of the law or implementing regulations were punishable with fines and

unspecified terms of imprisonment.49



Adolph Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.  The

Nazi regime immediately began a campaign to disarm and obliterate all enemies of the

state, who were invariably designated “Communists.”  The following describes this

process from contemporaneous sources.

On February 1, in the Charlottenburg area of Berlin, a large police


Socialist officers by “Communists” the night before.  “The police closed off the street

to all traffic while at the same time criminal detectives conducted extensive raids in the

houses. Each individual apartment was searched for weapons. The raid lasted several

hours.”80  Countless reports of this type would appear in the coming months.

It took about a month for the Nazi party to consolidate its power over the

central government.  On February 28, the Hitler regime persuaded President Paul von 

Hindenburg to issue an emergency decree, based on Article XLVIII of the 

Constitution (a provision passed by the Weimar republic), suspending constitutional 

guarantees and authorizing the Reich to seize executive power in any State which 

failed to take “the necessary measures for the restoration of law and order.”81  The

official explanation was that evidence of  “imminent Communist terrorism” was

discovered in a search of the Karl Liebnecht House, Berlin’s Communist headquarters,

and that Communists were responsible for the Reichstag (German Parliament) fire of

the night before.  The decree was adopted after Hermann Göring, Minister without

Portfolio and chief of the Prussian Interior Ministry, reported on the Reichstag fire and

plans for Communist terror.  It was claimed that, on the coming Sunday election day,

the Communists intended to attack Nazi party members and “to disarm the police by

force.”82  It is widely believed that the Nazis themselves set the Reichstag fire in order

to justify the repressive measures which followed.83


The decree authorized the government to suspend the constitutional 

guarantees of  personal liberty, free expression of opinion, freedom of the press, and 

the rights to assemble and to form associations.  Secrecy of postal and telephonic 

communication was suspended, and the government was authorized to conduct 

search and seizure operations of homes.84  It provided that whoever commits the

offenses defined in the Penal Code as “severe rioting” or “severe breach of public

peace” by “using weapons or in conscious and intentional cooperation with an armed

person . . . shall be sentenced to death or, if the offense was not previously

punishable more severely, to the penitentiary for life or to the penitentiary for up to

detachment arrived to investigate the alleged shooting deaths of two National

15 years.”85  Since the terms “riot” and “breach of peace” could be applied to a protest

march by political opponents, the mere keeping or bearing of a weapon might have

become a capital offense.


It was reported that measures to suppress “subversive activities” took place

throughout Germany.  Hamburg, Dresden, Hanover, Stuttgart, and numerous other

cities “reported bans on Communist activities and the searching of houses for

Communist literature and illegal weapons.”86  Police were put on constant alert until

after the election.87  As Communist members of the Reichstag fled, a government

spokesman noted that votes for Communists would not be counted because they

were “non-German.”88


Meanwhile, non-Nazis throughout Germany were disarmed as

“Communists.”  “Party headquarters throughout the country were raided and

subversive literature and weapons were seized.”89 At the same time, even more Nazis

were armed by the government.  “Throughout Prussia some 60,000 Nazi storm

troopers and members of the Stahlhelm have been enrolled as auxiliary police and

have been armed with revolvers and truncheons.”90  The outcome of the “election”

could not be in doubt.


The Reich Minister of the Interior, on March 1, sent an urgent, secret

memorandum to the governments of the German states regarding the KPD, the German

Communist Party, which stated:


The Police Headquarters in Berlin has established that the 

KPD intends to conduct systematic attacks against members of the 

national units, especially the SA and the SS, and by doing so to 

recklessly neutralize any armed members of those units by force of 

arms. The plan is to conduct the action in such a way that their 

authors will, if possible, not be recognized as Communists. The 

plan is also to compel patrolling policemen by force of arms to give 

up their weapons. 


I am informing you of the above with the request to take


further action.91 


While Communists may have been capable of such attacks, this language is

consistent with Nazi assaults on democrats and other opponents of the Nazis who

might “not be recognized as Communists” and whose mere possession of firearms

was evidence of the conspiracy.


The term “Communist Underground” took on a dual meaning in the

following report: “Searches of houses of Kottbus Communists uncovered, among

other things, numerous weapons and illegal flyers and also improved catacombs

similar to those found in Berlin. The catacombs served as hiding places for the

Communists and their weapons.”92


Scores were being settled for anti-Nazi activity that took place before Hitler’s

ascension to power.  The Völkische Beobachter (People’s Observer), Hitler’s

newspaper, reported:


Following the conclusion of the preliminary investigation, the

Office of the Public Prosecutor I in Berlin has now filed charges

against nine Communists for severe breach of peace of the land,

attempted murder and offenses against the Firearms Law committed

during the assault conducted in the night of December 28, 1932 on

the National Socialist meeting room at Landwehrstrasse which

severely injured three National Socialists.93


The above reports indicate the use of the “Communist gun owner”

bogeyman as a propaganda tool, the extensive searches and seizures being conducted

by the police to confiscate firearms and arrest their owners, and the use of the

Firearms Law against Nazi opponents.  It is clear that firearms were being seized from

persons of all types, not just “Communists.”  For example, Wilhelm Willers, an

apparently prominent citizen of Munich, complained to authorities that “the SA

members took several things when they searched my apartment, such as several

bottles of mineral water and from my living room a box of cigarettes.  A flashlight was

lent, but not returned. I ask that my flashlight and the above-mentioned pistol which

belongs to me personally be returned to me.”94


Not surprisingly, the Nazis won the election, leaving the Hitler regime with

executive power in all the German States.95  The repression continued unabated.  Anti-

Semitic actions began to be reported.  One account noted, “The Produce Exchange in

Breslau was entered today by Nazi storm troops, who searched the place for arms and

ousted the occupants.  Several Jewish-owned department stores there were forcibly

closed, and the storm troopers ejected Jewish judges and lawyers from the courts.”96


In another incident, six Nazi storm troopers raided the apartment of the

widow of former President Friedrich Ebert.97  They demanded her “mustard flag,” the

Nazi term for the republican black, red, and gold emblem.98  When her son protested

that they had no flag on the premises, they conferred among themselves on whether

to search the apartment anyway.99  “They decided finally to look for hidden arms, but

found only a revolver belonging to Herr Ebert, which he handed to them together with

a permit that had expired.  With these the Nazis marched off.”100


By this point in time the Nazis had foisted a totalitarian regime over all of

Germany.  Not only had the Socialist and Communist presses been shut down, but

also Centrist and neutral presses were subject to immediate suppression should

anything objectionable to the regime be published.101  Germans were forbidden to

reveal any information to foreigners.  To enforce this repression,  telephones were

tapped and informants lingered in cafes.102  The police and the courts were

instruments of the dictatorship.  Jews were fleeing persecution.103


Despite the repression, foreign presses continued to report the news.  The

following New York Times account demonstrates that the Nazi drive to seize arms was


in part a ruse to conduct searches and seizures and to harass selected persons:




Only a Bread Knife Rewards Brown Shirts’ 

Search for Alleged Huge Cache 



BERLIN, March 20. – Charging that Professor Albert 

Einstein had a huge quantity of arms and ammunition stored in his 

secluded home in Caputh, the National Socialists sent Brown Shirt 

men and policemen to search it today, but the nearest thing to arms 

they found was a bread knife. 


Professor Einstein’s home, which for the present is empty, 

the professor being on his way back to Europe from the United 

States, was surrounded on all sides and one of the most perfect 

raids of recent German history was carried out.  The outcome was 

a disappointment to those who have always regarded Professor 

Einstein’s pacifist utterances as a mere pose.104 


If one could find humor in the above, the reality was not humorous.  The 

above report also described the elimination of Jews from the professions.  Jewish 

physicians were being dismissed from the hospitals, Jewish judges in criminal court 

were removed and placed in civil court, and Jewish prosecutors were terminated.105 





Having disarmed and mopped up the “Communists,” at times a euphemism

for citizens who were not National Socialists, and having prohibited possession of

“military” firearms to citizens who were not members of Nazi-approved organizations,

the Nazis now turned their attention more toward the Jews.  Apparently hoping to

depict Jews as subversive by proving them to be in possession of illegal firearms,

search and seizure operations were executed on April 4, 1933.124  The New York Times



Raid on Jewish Quarter


A large force of police assisted by Nazi auxiliaries raided 

a Jewish quarter in Eastern Berlin, searching everywhere for 

weapons and papers.  Streets were closed and pedestrians were 


halted.  Worshipers leaving synagogues were searched and those 

not carrying double identification cards were arrested.  Even flower 

boxes were overturned in the search through houses and some 

printed matter and a few weapons were seized.125 


The Völkische Beobachter contained a revealing account of the raid on the

Jewish quarter under the headline: “The Time of the Ghetto Has Come; Massive Raid

in the Scheunenviertel;126 Numerous Discoveries of Weapons–Confiscation of

Subversive Material; Numerous Arrests of ‘Immigrants’ from East Galicia.”127  The

article included a dramatic and lengthy description of how the police, supported by

the SS and criminal detectives, approached the Scheunenviertel (“Barn District”) of

Berlin and searched the houses and basements of the Jewish inhabitants.  It reported:


During the very extensive search, the search details found a whole

range of weapons. Further, a large amount of subversive printed

material was confiscated. 14 persons who did not have proper

identification were detained. Most of them were Jews from Poland

and Galicia who were staying in Berlin without being registered.128


Despite the headlines, the article does not state how many or what types of

arms were seized or whether they were even unlicenced or otherwise illegal–as will be

seen, no prohibition on Jewish possession of firearms was enacted until 1938.  The

article does expand on the “subversive material” discovered.  It includes two

illustrations: first, the assemblage of SS and police on the street, and second, a

pathetic picture of an elderly Jewish man in front of a microphone explaining to Nazi

radio broadcasters on the scene that he did not know why he was being searched.

Beobachter readers were apparently supposed to “get it,” but the picture and

statement evokes sympathy for the old man.



Nazi repressive measures against Jewish firearms owners were facilitated by

the 1928 Weimar gun control law, which banned firearms from “untrustworthy”

persons and allowed the police to keep records on who acquired or carried firearms.129

As the New York Times reported:


Permission to Possess Arms Withdrawn From Breslau Jews 

Breslau, April 21.  The Police President of the city has 

decreed that “all persons now or formerly of the Jewish faith who 

hold permits to carry arms or shooting licenses must surrender 

them forthwith to the police authorities.” 

The order is justified officially on the grounds that Jewish 

citizens have allegedly used their weapons for unlawful attacks on 

members of the Nazi organization and the police. 

Inasmuch as the Jewish population “cannot be regarded 

as trustworthy,” it is stated, permits to carry arms will not in the 

future be issued to any member thereof.130 


Meanwhile, Wilhelm Frick, the Reich Minister of the Interior, wrote to

Hermann Göring, Minister of the Interior of Prussia and head of the police of that

state, that pistol imports had increased tenfold, and that “for reasons of public

security we cannot tolerate the unrestrained import of such huge amounts of

weapons.”  While the 1928 law already restricted firearm acquisitions, “the rules will

not be observed by all of the weapons dealers, [and] that unauthorized persons will

obtain foreign weapons flowing into the country . . . .”131  Accordingly, on June 12,

Frick decreed a prohibition on the importation of handguns.132  Handgun ownership

by German citizens, including Jews and political opponents, was apparently

subversive to the Nazi regime.


Historians of the period have shown little or no interest in the above demonstrates the Nazi’s manipulative hysteria about firearms owners in 1933.133


As Allen demonstrates, the town’s citizens found “that it was extremely unhealthy to 

have any sort of weapon around the house.”134  Discovery of firearms by the police

“was a first-class justification for the repeated police raids and arrests.”135

Allen observes that the town’s Reichsbanner (armed section of the Social

Democratic party) awaited orders from party headquarters in Berlin to fight the Nazis,

but the order never came.  “Had it been given, Northeimer’s Reichsbanner members

would have carried out the tested plan they had worked on so long–to obtain and

distribute weapons and to crush the Nazis.”136  Social Democrats were “the only

defenders of democracy in Germany, the men who should have been gathering guns

and calling the general strike,” but instead their homes were being raided in midnight

arms searches and they were being hauled off to concentration camps.137

In any event, the Nazi seizure of power was complete.  It remained to

consolidate this power for the aims of National Socialism.




On seizing power, as the above demonstrates, the Nazis were well served by

the 1928 Firearms Law.  However, leisurely discussions on possible amendments were

held over a five-year period.  The discussants included Wilhelm Frick, the Reich

Minister of the Interior; Hermann Göring, who as Minister of the Interior of Prussia

controlled the police of that State; Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer SS and Chief

of the German Police; the Head Office of the Security Police (Hauptamt 

Sicherheitspolizei); and other members of the Nazi hierarchy.138

The result was the Nazi Waffengesetz (Weapons Law) of March 18, 1938.139




Although Jews were to be explicitly excluded from the firearms industry, the

draft did not propose that they be prohibited from firearm possession or acquisition.159

However, the latter would be assumed, given that the police could simply declare that

a person was an enemy of the state and bar firearm possession.160 Indeed, the 1928

Weimar firearms law that was still in place empowered the police the discretion to

issue or refuse to issue permits to acquire or carry firearms.  As the following 1936

memorandum from the Bavarian Political Police to all subordinate police reveals, in late

1935 the Gestapo had ordered that no weapons permits would be issued to Jews

without Gestapo approval:


Pursuant to an order of the Political Police Commander of the States [Länder] 

of December 16, 1935, No. I G – 352/35, the police authorities always have to obtain the 

opinion of the Geheimen Staatspolizei [Gestapo or Secret State Police] authorities on 

the political reliability of the individual requestor, before any permits to carry weapons 

are issued to any Jews. 


Requests by Jews for the issuance of weapons permits therefore have to be 

sent to the Bavarian Political Police, II/1 for special disposal, so that it can state its 

opinion about the political reliability of the requestor. 



In general, the following has to be taken into account with regard to the 

issuance of weapons permits to Jews: 


In principle, there will be very few occasions where concerns will not be 

raised regarding the issuance of weapons permits to Jews.  As a rule, we have to 

assume that firearms in the hands of the Jews represent a considerable danger for the 

German people.  Therefore, in the future, an extreme measure of scrutiny will have to 

be applied to the question of political reliability of the requestor in all cases where an 

opinion needs to be given about the issuance of weapons permits to Jews.  Only in 

this way will we be able to prevent numerous Jews from obtaining firearms and 

causing danger to the German population. 


Most likely, the forwarding of applications will come into consideration only 

in special cases.161 









On November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year old German Jewish

refugee whose father had been deported to Poland, went to the German Embassy in

Paris intending to shoot the ambassador.  Instead he shot and mortally wounded

Ernst vom Rath, the third secretary in the Embassy, who ironically was being watched

by the Gestapo because he opposed anti-Semitism and Nazism.198  As the following

demonstrates, the Nazi hierarchy recognized the incident as creating a favorable

opportunity to disarm Germany’s Jewish population.


On the morning of November 9, German newspaper headlines reported

variously “Police Raid on Jewish Weapons,”199 “Armed Jews,”200 “Berlin’s Jews were

Disarmed,”201 “Disarming the Berlin Jews,”202 and “Surrender of Weapons by Jews in




Berlin, A Measure by the Police President.”203  The articles all contained substantially

the same text as follows:


In view of the Jewish assassination attempt in the German 

Embassy in Paris,  Berlin’s Police President made known publicly 

the provisional results so far achieved, of a general disarming of 

Berlin’s Jews by the police, which has been carried out in recent 



The Police President, in order to maintain public security

and order in the national capital, and prompted by a few individual

incidents, felt compelled to disarm Berlin’s Jewish population.  This

measure was recently made known to Jews by police stations,

whereupon–apart from a few exceptions, in which the explicit

nature of the ban on possession of weapons had to be articulated–

weapons until now found by the police to be in the possession of

Jews who have no weapons permit were voluntarily surrendered.


The provisional results clearly show what a large amount

of weapons have been found with Berlin’s Jews and are still to be

found with them.  To date, the campaign led to the taking into 

custody of 2,569 stabbing and cutting weapons, 1,702 firearms, and 

about 20,000 rounds of ammunition. 


Upon completion of the weapons campaign, if a Jew in

Berlin is found still to possess a weapon without having a valid

weapons permit, the Police President will, in every single case,

proceed with the greatest severity.204


The Berlin Police President, Count Wolf Heinrich von Helldorf, apparently

announced the above results the day before.205  As noted, the disarming had been

carried out in “recent weeks” and had been “prompted by a few individual incidents”

which were not specified.  Was the disarming an attempt to control any resistance to

the repressive measures currently underway which motivated Grynszpan?  Or was it

in anticipation of a major pogrom against Jews just waiting for the proper incident to




exploit, which now existed from the shooting at the Paris embassy?  The disarming

meant that Jews could not protect themselves from attacks.206


The New York Times reported from Berlin that “Nazis Ask Reprisal in Attack

on Envoy,” and that “Berlin Police Head Announces ‘Disarming’ of Jews–Victim of

Shots in Critical State.”207  Its account repeated the above statistics from Police

President von Helldorf of weapons seized and the announcement that “any Jews still

found in possession of weapons without valid licenses are threatened with the

severest punishment.”208


The attempted assassination was called “a new plot of the Jewish world

conspiracy against National Socialist Germany,” and the German press called for

retaliation.  Recalling David Frankfurter’s shooting in 1936 of Nazi leader Wilhelm

Gustloff in Switzerland, the Börsen Zeitung declared: “International Jewry and foreign

Jews living in Germany as well will soon feel the consequences that the Reich will

draw from the fact that for the second time in three years ‘a Jew has shot.’”  The

Angriff asked for “the sharpest measures against Jews.”209


Vom Rath died on the 9th, which by coincidence was the “Tag der 

Bewegung” (Day of the Movement), the anniversary of Hitler’s failed 1923 Beer Hall

Putsch in Munich.  Hitler gave his annual speech in the Bürgerbräukeller to

commemorate and remember the “fallen heroes” who died in the shootout with the

police.210  Vom Rath’s death was reported to Hitler early that evening while dining at

Munich’s town hall chamber.  Hitler turned and spoke quietly to Propaganda Minister 

Joseph Goebbels.211  Mentioning localized anti-Jewish riots the night before, the 

Führer stated that the Nazi party was not to initiate such demonstrations, but would 

not intervene to halt “spontaneous” pogroms.212  Hitler was also overheard to say that

“the SA should be allowed to have a fling.”213  Goebbels gave a speech calling for

revenge with such vehemence that the party and police leaders would discern that

they should take an active role.214



The telephone orders between chief of staff of the SA Group Nordsee,

Roempagel, and his superior, were included in a secret SS report prepared the

following year.215  Among the instructions Roempagel received were:  “All Jewish

stores are to be destroyed immediately by SA men in uniform”; “Jewish synagogues

are to be set on fire immediately, Jewish symbols are to be safeguarded”;  “the police

must not intervene.  The Führer wishes that the police does not intervene.”  The

following instruction would ensure the success of the attacks as well as achieve an

ultimate goal: “All Jews are to be disarmed.  In the event of resistance they are to be

shot immediately.”216


After 11:55 p.m. on November 9, SS Standartenführer (Colonel) Heinrich

Müller sent an urgent teleprinter message from Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin to

every state police bureau in the Reich, alerting them that “demonstrations against the

Jews, and particularly their synagogues, will take place very shortly.”  The Gestapo

was not to interfere, but was to cooperate with the regular police to prevent looting

and other excesses.217  The last paragraph of Müller’s message read:


If, during the actions about to take place, Jews are found in 

possession of weapons the most severe measures are to be applied. 

The special task units of the SS as well as the general SS may be 

employed for all phases of the operation.  Suitable measures are to 

be taken to ensure that the Gestapo remains in control of the 

actions under all circumstances.218 


While Müller ordered “severe measures” against Jews who possessed arms,

the SA ordered them to be shot.219   Müller also ordered the arrest of twenty to thirty

thousand German Jews, which was not mentioned in the SA instructions.220

As an example of an official communique, the Mayor of Nauen, which is near

Berlin, reported that at 6:00 a.m. on November 10, the Staatspolizei (Gestapo)

communicated the following by telephone:


Secret: in consequence of the assassination in the German Embassy 

in Paris, actions against Jews are shortly expected to take place 

throughout Germany.  These actions are not to be interfered with. 

However, looting and theft are not to take place.  If Jews are found 

to be in possession of weapons during these actions, these Jews 

should be arrested.  I request that the chief administrative officers 

of the States and the majors contact the district committees in order 

to agree on the implementation of the demonstrations.  Only such 

measures as will not endanger German lives or property are 

permissible.  Arson is not permitted on any account.  Jewish 

businesses and apartments may be destroyed but not looted.  The 

police should be instructed to monitor the implementation of this 

disorder and to arrest any looters.  Jews of foreign nationality 

should not be affected by the actions.  All existing archive material 

should be confiscated from synagogues and business premises 

belonging to the Jewish religious community.  Male Jews who are 

of a fairly young age in possession of assets should be arrested. 


 Arrested persons should not be mistreated.  The actions are to 

begin immediately.  I expect an immediate report by telephone.221


On the morning of November 10, the following decree appeared in

newspapers throughout Germany:


Jews Forbidden to Possess Weapons 

By Order of SS Reichsführer Himmler 


Munich, November 10 [1938] 


The SS Reichsführer and German Police Chief has issued 

the following Order: 


Persons who, according to the Nürnberg law, are regarded as Jews, 

are forbidden to possess any weapon.  Violaters will be condemned 

to a concentration camp and imprisoned for a period of up to 20 




All hell broke loose.  The New York Times reported: “Nazis Smash, Loot and

Burn Jewish Shops and Temples Until Goebbels Calls Halt.”223  In Berlin and

throughout Germany, thousands of Jewish men, particularly prominent leaders, were

taken from their homes and arrested.224  The Angriff, Goebbel’s organ, implored that,

“For every suffering, every crime and every injury that this criminal [the Jewish

community] inflicts on a German anywhere, every individual Jew will be held



The Times account reported the arms prohibition as follows:


Possession of Weapons Barred


One of the first legal measures issued was an order by 

Heinrich Himmler, commander of all German police, forbidding Jews 

to possess any weapons whatever and imposing a penalty of 

twenty years confinement in a concentration camp upon every Jew 

found in possession of a weapon hereafter.226 


The destruction was carried out by Rollkommandos (wrecking crews) under

the protection of uniformed Nazis or police.227  However, the people at large generally

did not participate, and most appeared to be gravely disturbed by the attacks.228  Some

members of the public helped Jews leave their stores unmolested, but citizens who

protested against the attacks on Jews were threatened and silenced by the



Some personal reminiscences relate experiences on November 10.  Yitzhak

Herz was in charge of the children at the Orphanage in Dinslaken.  Early in the

morning Herz opened the door to two Gestapo officers and a policeman, who

announced:  “This is a police raid!  We are looking for arms in all Jewish homes and

apartments and so we shall search the orphanage too!”  They also searched for

money, but found nothing, and departed with the order: “Nobody is to leave the

house before 10 a.m.!  All the blinds of the building which face the street must be

drawn!  Shortly after 10 a.m. everything will be over.”230


Living in a large apartment in Uhlandstrasse in Berlin were the Sinzheimers,

a Jewish family with two children.  The pogrom began while Mr. Sinzheimer was in

Paris on business.  On the evening of November 10, Mrs. Sinzheimer heard shouting,

glass being smashed, and shooting.231   At around 6:00 a.m., she heard over the radio

an announcement that any Jew found in possession of a firearm would be shot at

once.  Mrs. Sinzheimer recalled that her husband had a handgun, but the fact that he

also had a license for it would not placate the SA if they found it.  She called a friendly

repairman to break open the secret drawer where the firearm and license were hidden.


She then placed the handgun and license in a box of cigars and carried it to the local

police station on the Kurfüstendamm.  She asked to see a sergeant who she knew well

and presented him with the box of cigars.  When he discovered the contents, he

exclaimed:  “Hurry home, Frau Sinzheimer, before you give me a heart attack!”232

Victor Klemperer served honorably in Germany’s armed forces during World

War I and retired as a university professor in 1935.233   A resident of Dresden, his

acclaimed diary includes the following entry concerning Kristallnacht:


On the morning of the eleventh two policemen 

accompanied by a ’resident of Dölzschen.’  Did I have any 


weapons?— Certainly my saber, perhaps even my 

bayonet as a war memento, but I wouldn’t know where.— 

We have to help you find it. — The house was searched 

for hours. . . . They rummaged through everything, chests 

and wooden constructions Eva had made were broken 

open with an ax.  The saber was found in a suitcase in the 

attic, the bayonet was not found.  Among the books they 

found a copy of the Sozialistische Monatshefte (Socialist 

Monthly Magazine—an SPD theoretical journal) [ . . .] this 

was also confiscated.234 


A “good natured and courteous” young policeman took Klemperer’s

statement and stated that they would have to go to the court building, adding:

“There’s nothing to fear, you will probably (!) be back by evening.”235  Klemperer

asked if he was under arrest.  “His reply was good-natured and noncommittal, it was

only a war memento after all, I would probably be released right away.”  At the court

building, a policeman copied Klemperer’s statement.  After some waiting, a magistrate

with a Party badge made out a certificate of discharge, without which Klemperer would

be arrested again.  “At four o’clock I was on the street again with the curious feeling,

free–but for how long?”236


Some of the Jews whose homes were searched for arms and ransacked were

foreign nationals, leading to diplomatic protests.  The following Gestapo report

concerning the complaint of Mrs. Gertrude Dawson, a British citizen residing in

Döbling, did not deny the systematic vandalism:


Given the sometimes high degree of agitation of the national 

comrades during the action against the Jews it is no longer possible 

to determine which persons participated in the riots.  That also 

explains why there was little success in the clarification of the facts, 

even though the investigations were conducted with vigor.  Several 

persons who were in Mrs. Dawson’s apartment explained that they 

had orders to search for weapons.  But it is impossible to determine 

the details about the damage to the furniture, etc.237 


The anti-Jewish pogrom extended into Austria, which Germany had annexed

earlier that year.  Arson was committed against Vienna’s temples, and Nazis attacked

Jewish businesses.  The New York Times reported: “Thousands of Jews had their

dwellings searched for concealed arms, documents and money.  The police claim to

have found quantities of them . . . .”238


An incident in Vienna became the subject of a Gestapo report, which alleged

the following about Henry Coren, a British citizen:


During the action of 10 November 1938 against Jews, the apartment 

of stateless retiree Hermann . . . was searched and a loaded revolver 

belonging to his son in law, Henry Coren, who was living with him, 

was found.  The weapon was hidden in a suitcase belonging to 

Coren.  Based on these facts, three SA men belonging to the local 

group Fuchsröhren of the NSDAP took Mr. and Mrs. Coren, as well 

as Hermann, to a collection point at Rinnböckstrasse.  There, their 

personal information, etc. was written down.  When it was 

determined that Mr. and Mrs. Coren had British citizenship, they 

were released immediately. 


After the SA men had taken Mr. and Mrs. Coren and 

Hermann to the collection point, the local group asked them to also 

fetch Mrs. Hermann who had stayed back in the apartment. The 

men therefore returned to the Coren apartment and asked Mrs. 

Hermann to get dressed to go out and be interrogated.  Mrs. 

Hermann then went to a room on the side for about 2 minutes and 



Coren claimed that SA men stole 3,400 Reichsmark from the apartment, and

the British Consulate General filed a protest.  The Gestapo found the suspicion


unfounded because the SA men “adamantly deny the allegation” and because “it was

not possible to interrogate Coren about the matter because he fled the Reich on 30

November 1938.  This fact also is an indication that Coren was not saying the

truth.”240  For Coren, however, discretion must have been the better part of valor.


On November 11, Interior Minister Frick promulgated the Verordnung gegen 

der Waffenbesitz der Juden (Regulation Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons).241


Its preamble recites that it was issued pursuant to § 31 of the 1938 Weapons Law,

which in turn empowered the Interior Minister to issue “the necessary legal and

administrative regulations for the implementation and fulfillment of this Law.”  § 1 of

the new regulation provided:


Jews (§ 5 of the First Regulations of the German 

Citizenship Law of November 14, 1935 . . .) are prohibited from 

acquiring, possessing, and carrying firearms and ammunition, as 

well as cutting or stabbing weapons.  Those now having in their 

possession weapons and ammunition must at once surrender them 

to the local police authority.242 


Foreign Jews could be exempted by the Interior Minister or delegate.243


As to the property, § 2 stated: “Weapons and ammunition found in a Jew’s

possession will be forfeited to the Reich without compensation.”  As to the person

in violation, § 4 provided: “Whoever willfully or negligently violates the provisions

of § 1 shall be punished with imprisonment and a fine.  In especially severe cases of

deliberate violations, the punishment is imprisonment in a penitentiary for up to five

years.”  The regulation was applicable in Germany, Austria, and the Sudentenland.244


There were about 550,000 Jews in those jurisdictions.  The number of Jews

arrested during the rampage was approximately 30,000 males aged 16-80.245





The Berliner Börsen Zeitung published the regulation under the headline:


“The Weapons Ban for the Jews: A National Law–Imprisonment and Penitentiary

compared with Protective Custody.”246  Referring respectively to Himmler’s earlier

decree and to Frick’s new regulation, it stated: “According to the SS Reichsführer and

Chief of the German Police in the National Ministry of the Interior, Jewish possession

of Weapons, already ended abruptly by police regulations, is now immediately

followed by a legal ban.  The National Minister of the Interior yesterday issued the

following Regulations against weapons possession by the Jews . . . .”247  Following

the text of the regulation, the article noted:


“National Minister Dr. Goebbels has made known, as we already 

reported, that the final answer to the Jewish assassination attempt 

in Paris would be given to Jewry in the form of legislation or in the 

form of regulations.  For the first of these replies it has not been 

necessary to wait long!”248 



The Völkische Beobachter published a lengthy official commentary on the

new prohibition against firearm possession by Jews and its relation  to the 1938

Weapons Law.  The author was a Dr. Ehaus, a Senior Executive Officer

(Regierungsrat).  It is reproduced in full below.249



Explanation of the Ordinance against the Possession of Weapons 


The preliminary police decree issued by the Reichsführer SS and the Chief 

of the German Police in the Reich Ministry of the Interior, which immediately after the 

assassination in Paris had prohibited persons considered Jews under the Nürnberg 

laws to possess any weapons, has been followed within a very short period of time 

by an ordinance which settles the prohibition of weapons for Jews for good. In order 

to make those concerned understand the extent of this law, it is necessary to explain 

the few paragraphs of the ordinance of November 11, 1938 in more detail. 

To begin with, we need to note that the preventive activity of the Security 



Police will not be limited by the rules prohibiting Jews from possessing weapons. The 

security measures ordered by the Reichsführer SS and the Chief of the German Police 

in the Reich Ministry for the Interior will remain in force.  § 1 prohibits any and all 

Jews from acquiring, possessing or carrying firearms or ammunition, as well as 

weapons for hitting or stabbing. § 5 of the First Ordinance to the Reich Citizen Law 

of November 14, 1935 is mentioned in parentheses. That is only meant to point out 

that the issue of who is Jewish should be settled by using the standard of the 

Nürnberg law. Of course, not only German Jews of the Reich, but also all foreign Jews 

(Jews with foreign citizenship and Jews without citizenship) are subject to the 



The new ordinance makes reference to § 31 of the Weapons Law of March 

18, 1938.  From that it can be concluded that the definitions for firearms, ammunition, 

and weapons for stabbing or hitting of § 1 of the Weapons Law apply. According to 

that, firearms are weapons that allow a projectile to travel through a barrel propelled 

by gas or air pressure; weapons for hitting or stabbing are weapons that by their 

nature are meant to inflict injuries by hitting or stabbing. 


It is remarkable that muzzle loaders, rifle models of antique design, blank 

cartridge firearms, gas, stun and dummy weapons [Scheintodwaffen], gallery rifles, 

parlor rifles, small caliber rifles, small caliber sports rifles and spring guns fall under 

the term “firearm.”  Ammunition means not only finished ammunition for firearms, but 

also gunpowder of any kind.  In order to prevent any circumvention of the Weapons 

Law, finished or pre-fabricated essential parts of firearms or ammunition are given the 

same status as finished firearms or finished ammunition (§ 1, paragraph 3 of the 

Weapons Law). 


We have already mentioned what the term “weapons for hitting or stabbing” 

means. Even though the legal provisions are clear enough, we shall list such 

individual weapons one more time: daggers and stilettoes; swords, sabers, bayonets, 

fencing foils and students’ rapiers; sword canes and defense canes (canes with metal 

spirals, wire cable or truncheon); clubs, steel rods and horsewhips; brass knuckles, 

iron rods and fighting rings; weapon rings, deer knives, and hunting knives.  It will 

depend on each individual case whether lockable folding knives or fixed knives that 

cannot be folded have to be considered weapons. Knives with a handle will then have 

the nature of a weapon when their size and design show that they were meant to serve 

the purpose of a dagger. 


The Jews must be warned that they should interpret the new ordinance and 

the already existing Weapons Law strictly. Otherwise they will have to expect severe 

penalties pursuant to § 4 and, if applicable, protective custody. When following the 

order spelled out in § 1 of the new ordinance to immediately turn over all of the


weapons and ammunition to the local police authority, the Jews must  make sure that  no weapons whatsoever are left behind with them. 




One thing in particular should be pointed out: Any Jew who, after this 

ordinance forbidding the possession of weapons by Jews has become effective, 

destroys, gives away or otherwise disposes of a weapon, that action violates § 1, 

sentence 2, and § 4 of the ordinance. He should have turned in the weapon 

immediately. As for the rest, he did not have the right to dispose of the weapon 

anymore because pursuant to § 2 weapons and ammunition in the possession of a Jew 

become the property of the Reich, without compensation. That means that with the 

entering into force of this ordinance all of the weapons in the possession of Jews 

have become the property of the German Reich. 


§ 3 of the aforesaid ordinance provides exceptions for Jews with foreign 

citizenship.  Of course, those Jews too must immediately fulfill their duty to turn in 

their weapons.  Their weapons too have become the property of the Reich. Should 

their request to be exempt from the prohibition be granted, the property they lost will 

be returned to them. 


The punishment provided by the ordinance against weapons possession by 

the Jews goes beyond that provided by the Weapons Law.  As the assassination in 

Paris shows, the German ethnic community has a strong interest in disarming all Jews 

living within the boundaries of the Reich. By providing for severe prison and 

penitentiary terms, the State will discourage all Jews from violating its laws enacted 

to protect the German people.  Where even such punishment has no effect, the 

authorities of the Security Police will ensure full compliance with the authority of the 



It is particularly encouraging that today, when we are reaching the end of the 

year 1938, we were able to extend the prohibition of weapons possession by the Jews 

to the Ostmark and the Sudetenland regions. The protection that we are able to offer 

to our German brothers in the regained regions becomes particularly clear in § 6 of the 

ordinance of November 11, 1938. 


Dr. Ehaus, Senior Executive Officer 





Berlin Jewish scientist told a reporter how at 6:00 a.m. on November 12, a

Nazi official in a brown uniform and four assistants in mufti took him from his home,

only to order him back home.250  Many of his friends who were arrested were not so


lucky.  The home of one friend was searched for weapons by six men, who broke the

china and smashed furniture.  The scientist related: “Only one thing they had missed–

an old army revolver which was lying in a drawer of a table in my friend’s bedroom.

That rusted weapon, probably fired for the last time in 1918, might have gotten him

twenty years in a concentration camp.”251


The American Consulate in Stuttgart reported to U.S. Ambassador Hugh R.

Wilson in Berlin on November 12 that “the Jews of Southwest Germany have suffered

vicissitudes during the last three days which would seem unreal to one living in an

enlightened country during the twentieth century . . . .”  The Consulate’s office was

flooded with Jews begging for visas or immigration assistance for themselves and

families.  He wrote: “Men in whose homes old, rusty revolvers had been found during

the last few days cried aloud that they did not dare ever again to return to their places

of residence or business.  In fact, it was a mass of seething, panic-stricken



Searches for weapons in Jewish homes and arrests generally continued.

Jews who still had wealth, despite the recent campaigns to deprive them of their

property, were pinpointed.253


The Decree on an Atonement Fine for Jews with German Citizenship

(November 12, 1938) levied Jews with one billion reichsmarks as payment to the

German Reich for the destruction caused by the Nazis.254  Ordered by Field Marshal

Göring in his capacity as Commissioner for the Four Year Plan, this was enforceable

because a registry of all Jewish property had been compiled six months previously.255

(Similarly, the order prohibiting Jews from possession of arms under penalty of

imprisonment and “protective custody” was more enforceable because of the firearms

registry laws.)256  Jews were ordered to repair all damage that had been done to

businesses and homes on November 8-10, and the Reich confiscated Jewish insurance



claims.  Jews were excluded from economic activity in the Reich by the year’s end.257

A Swiss newspaper reported from Berlin on November 11 under the headline

“Numerous Arrests?” the following:


Last night the Gestapo started to arrest Jews in Berlin and in other 

German cities.  Most of those arrested were respected Jewish 

personalities.  At a reception for the press, the Reich Minister for 

Propaganda [Goebbels] denied that there had been any arrests; 

when asked again later, however, [his office] said that the arrests 

had been made in connection with Himmler’s decree prohibiting 

Jews from owning arms.  The explanation given was that the Jews 

had retained weapons even though the Chief of the German police 

in his latest decree had threatened to punish them with protective 

detention of 20 years.258 


Reporting from Frankfurt, the British Counsel observed that for several days

beginning on the evening of November 10, SS troopers and Gestapo agents intruded

into Jewish homes to conduct searches and seizures.  If any arms or a large sum of

money were found, the occupants were arrested for illegal possession of arms or for

hoarding funds.259


French and Swiss newspapers saw Kristallnacht as the culmination of

earlier anti-Semitic measures of the Reich and as “premeditated destruction”:


To illuminate the recent events one now better 

understands the special liabilities imposed on the Jews in recent 

times.  Events since last June make clear the obvious methods of 

their measures.  They have simplified the destruction.  One method 

was to confiscate their arms from them, rendering the operation 

without danger.  The other demanded from them a formal 

declaration of assets (currency, jewelry, pieces of furniture, 

carpets), which facilitated the confiscation thereof.  All was 






As for the shooting in the German Embassy in Paris which was the excuse

for the rampage and the disarming of the Jews, the father of vom Rath, the deceased

diplomat, said to his Jewish neighbor: “My dear Reverend, neither you nor any other

Jew is responsible for this.  I think my son was assassinated on orders.  He spoke too

much and a hired assassin killed him.”261


A month after the pogrom, the Gestapo in Munich issued a memorandum to

the police, commissars, and mayors concerning the regulation requiring Jews to

surrender all weapons.  It also explained how the regulation was to be implemented:



All weapons of all kinds in the possession of Jews are forfeited to 

the Reich without payment of compensation and must be 



This includes all firearms including alarm (starter) pistols 

and all cutting and stabbing weapons including the fixed blade if 

like a dagger. 


Requests by emigrating Jews to have their weapons 

returned to them shall not be granted. 


A list shall be made of all weapons that belonged to Jews 

and the list shall be sent to this office by January 5, 1939.  The 

weapons shall be well packaged and, if in small numbers, sent as 

parcel, and if in larger numbers, by freight. 


Because this will have to be reported to the Gestapo office 

in Berlin, this deadline will absolutely have to be observed.262 




Thus, over a period of several weeks, Germany’s Jews had been disarmed.


The process was carried out both by following a combination of legal forms and by

sheer lawless violence.  The Nazi hierarchy could now more comfortably deal with the

Jewish question without fear of resistance.






The disarming of the Jews made individual or collective resistance in the

future impossible.  After Kristallnacht, the historical record does not reflect that

German Jews unlawfully obtained or used arms as tools of resistance.  In fact, the

Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland (National Representative Organization

of Jews in Germany), the German-Jewish leadership,  insisted that Jewish activities be

legal.  Militant resistance was rejected as futile and provocative of reprisals.263  The

Reichsvertretung did sanction the financing of escapes by opening illegal bank

accounts,264 but it also helped to register Jews selected for deportation and to ensure

transportation arrangements for deportees.265


Yet it is a myth, observes Arnold Paucker, that Jews did not resist Nazism.

Most Jews capable of bearing arms came forward, wherever possible, to fight either

in regular armies or as partisans in every European country.266  The exception was in

Germany, where “there was virtually no armed resistance of any sort, and thus no

armed Jewish resistance either.”267  German Jews could not be faulted for not

instigating military adventurism.268  Paucker does not speculate on how the course of

history could have been altered had German opponents of Nazism, including both

Jews and non-Jews, been better armed, more unified, and ideologically more inclined

to resistance.


After Hitler launched World War II by attacking Poland in 1939, many

Germans blamed him for failing to spare Germany an armed conflict.  Anti-Nazi

sentiment existed.  Opined the London Times: “All this does not imply that Germany

is ready for a revolution.  Civilians are disarmed, and so powerless . . . .”269 Germans

generally longed for, it was asserted, the return of legality, freedom, and human



When the Nazis conquered France (as in other countries), they proclaimed

that failure of civilians to surrender all firearms within twenty-four hours would be

punishable with the death penalty, and they executed many who failed to comply.271


The New York Times observed:



The best way to sum up the disciplinary laws imposed 

upon France by the German conqueror is to say that the Nazi 

decrees reduce the French people to as low a condition as that 

occupied by the German people.  Military orders now forbid the 

French to do things which the German people have not been 

allowed to do since Hitler came to power.  To own radio senders or 

to listen to foreign broadcasts, to organize public meetings and 

distribute pamphlets. to disseminate anti-German news in any form, 

to retain possession of firearms–all these things are prohibited for 

the subjugated people of France, as they have been verboten these 

half dozen years to the people of Germany.272 


Even with the glorious victory over France, it could not be that the German people

were fully behind the Führer, as the negative answer to the following rhetorical

question made clear: “will Hitler now abolish the Gestapo and set up a free press?”273

Nor would the Nazis trust ordinary German firearm owners.  In addition to the

law and regulations already in place, a secret Gestapo order in 1941 established a

system of central registration of persons obtaining firearms other than military


officers, police, and political leaders.  An implementing directive stated:



On order of the Reich Security Main Office, Berlin, the Head Office of the 

State Police in Munich is in charge of the supervision and control of the sale of 

weapons and ammunition in your district. 


The Rural District Administrators, as well as the Mayors and Mayors of 

former primary district towns in Upper Bavaria shall therefore record 


1. Monthly (beginning on February 10, 1941), all persons who have acquired 

firearms from arms dealers requiring a permit or who have submitted a request for a 

permit to acquire firearms if the request was granted by the responsible authority. This 

also applies to cases where the firearm was not acquired from an arms dealer. The 

record shall contain first and last names (for women also their maiden name), 

occupation, date and place of birth, as well as exact street address; further, the type 

and serial number of the weapon. 


2. All persons who purchased ammunition for firearms from weapons dealers 

requiring a permit.  Besides the personal information required, the type of the 

ammunition shall be listed. 


Exempt from the compulsory registration are persons acquiring firearms or 

ammunition or submitting requests for weapons permits, if they are members of the 

military with the rank of officer, leaders of SS Verfügungstruppe [SS Special 

Assignment Troops], police officers, or political leaders beginning with the rank of 

Ortsgruppenführer [community group leader] and up; likewise, persons who acquire 

hunting weapons or ammunition are not subject to compulsory registration. 

It appears advisable to have the weapons dealers monitored and checked by 

the executing police.  Separate records shall be kept for each kind of weapons 





The existence of firearms regulations providing for records on all individuals 

lawfully possessing firearms, coupled with searches and seizures of firearms from the 

houses of potential dissidents, guaranteed that firearms would be possessed only by 

supporters of Nazism.  These firearms policies made it far easier to exterminate any 

opposition, Jews, and unpopular groups. 



German resistors were different than their European counterparts in that

there was no maquis or partisan force.275  The German resistance to Hitler was not

characterized by any armed popular movements or uprisings against the Nazi regime.

Lone individuals or small military cliques with firearms or bombs sought to kill Hitler

himself.276  Heroic as these attempts were, how might the course of history been

different had Germany (not to mention the countries Germany would occupy) been a

country where large numbers of citizens owned firearms without intrusive legal

restrictions and where the right to keep and bear arms was a constitutional



Instead of an armed partisan opposition, there were only individual attempts

on Hitler’s life, three of them in 1939.  Colonel-General Franz Halder of the Chief of

Staff repeatedly visited Hitler with a pistol in his pocket to shoot the dictator, but

Halder could not bring himself to do it.278  Georg Elser, a private citizen, set off a bomb

at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich, but Hitler finished his speech and left before the

explosion, and Elser was apprehended while attempting to escape over the Swiss

border.279  Swiss theology student Maurice Bavaud got almost close enough to shoot


Hitler with a handgun, but was caught and executed.280



Then there was the White Rose, a student resistance group that had no

ambition to take arms.  However, member Sophie Scholl told a school friend in 1942

that, “If I had a pistol and I were to meet Hitler in the street, I’d shoot him down.  If

men can’t manage it, then a woman should.”281  The friend replied, “[b]ut then he’d be

replaced by Himmler, and after Himmler, another.”282  Scholl rejoined, “[o]ne’s got to

do something to get rid of the guilt.”283  Before long, the White Rose students were

rounded up by the Gestapo and guillotined.284



On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg set off a bomb to kill Hitler

at Wolf’s Lair.  The plan was to mobilize the Reserve Army and stage a coup in Berlin

against the Nazi regime.  Hitler survived the blast and the plotters were executed.285


Thousands more would be rounded up and killed.286


In May 1944, Nazi radio broadcasted that 1,400,000 German civilians had

been trained in the use of rifles and revolvers to defend the Reich.  The New York 

Times quipped: “It is significant that the guarded statement by the German radio does

not admit that civilians have been armed, but merely that they have been instructed

in marksmanship and the handling of small arms.”287  A totalitarian police state would

never trust the people with arms.


Three million Germans were imprisoned for political reasons in the years 1933

to 1945, and tens of thousands were executed.  “These numbers reveal the potential

for popular resistance in German society–and what happened to it.”288  The same

could be said about the far larger numbers of victims of the Holocaust and the mass

killings of unarmed peoples of the countries occupied by the Nazis.  Once again, what

might have been the course of history had firearm ownership been more prevalent and

protected as a constitutional right?


Such questions have never been discussed in scholarly publications

because the Nazi laws, policies, and practices have never been adequately

documented.  The record establishes that a well-meaning liberal republic would enact

a gun control act that would later be highly useful to a dictatorship.  That dictatorship

could then consolidate its power by massive search and seizure operations against

political opponents, under the hysterical ruse that such persons were “Communist”

firearm owners.  It could enact its own new firearms law, disarming anyone the police

deemed “dangerous” and exempting members of the party that controlled the state.

It could exploit a tragic shooting of a government official to launch a pogrom, under

the guise that Jewish firearm owners were dangerous and must be disarmed.  This

dictatorship could, generally, disarm the people of the nation it governed and then

disarm those of every nation it conquered.


The above experiences influenced perceptions of fundamental rights in both


the United States and Germany.  Before entering the war, America reacted to the

events in Europe in a characteristic manner.  Seeing the Nazi threat and its policies,

Congress passed the Property Requisition Act of 1941 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.”289


Today, Germany’s Grundgesetz (Basic Law) includes the following

provision: “When other avenues are not open, all Germans have the right to resist

attempts to impose unconstitutional authority.”290  If the Nazi experience teaches

anything, it teaches that totalitarian governments will attempt to disarm their subjects

so as to extinguish any ability to resist crimes against humanity.