“The potency of the SS Gestapo as a tool of repression explains why there was so little opposition to the Third Reich between 1939 and 1945”. How far do you agree with this statement?
According to American historian Benjamin Sax, “the SS was not merely a police, surveillance and paramilitary organisation. Its main objective, from which it derived its ‘legitimate’ use of force, was to create the racially pure Volksgemeinschaft”. This description of the SS Gestapo incorporates many opinions revolving around its position in the Third Reich; he infers that its use of ‘legitimate force’ had an impact on how society behaved, which suggests that Hitler used this force as a tool of repression. However Volksgemeinschaft was an ideology respected by the masses of Germany’s ‘Aryan race’, particularly after the ‘stab in the back’ myth of 1918. Therefore, Sax may also be inferring that the SS Gestapo had little opposition due to the shared support of what they stood for: Hitler’s propaganda fuelled vision of his German Empire. This divided view is supported by the ‘alltagsgeschichte’ approach (the study of everyday life) in which the Third Reich can be seen as based partly on popular support, as well as an intrusive and arbitrary terror.
“What we have written and said is in the minds of all of you, but you lack the courage to say it aloud”; Sophie Scholl’s statement during her trial in 1943 raises a key question about the opposition to the Third Reich from 1939 to 1945 – was fear the main reason for the lack of resistance? Scholl seems to suggest that either limited opposition or even mass German cynicism never rebelled due to lack of courage, which may stem from fear of the SS Gestapo. It is also interesting to note that the only successful opposition to the regime came in 1945 by the military might of the Soviet Union, the United States of America and their allies showing that internal forces of resistance to the police were either unproductive or weaker than the SS Gestapo.
In this totalitarian regime, opposition could be considered anyone non-compliant; resistance was therefore seen in hundreds of sub-groups and thousands of individuals. Although these statistics seem quite extensive, they all had different aims for Germany, and methods of fulfilling them. The differing groups were from: the Churches, youths, the Army, members of Government, the Judiciary, the workers, opposition parties and traditional elites. Some of these groups actually led quite strong movements against the regime; one in which members spanned across the sub-groups was the ‘Kreisau Circle’ which was formed by church-men, scholars and politicians who did not par-take in active resistance, but only planned an alternative future for Germany. The main focus of active resistance came from the military, a few individuals in the church, and male working class youths. One of the most famous attempts to oppose the regime was the 1944 ‘July Bomb Plot’, an attempt to assassinate Hitler, led by Former General Ludwig Beck, Head of the Military Intelligence Wilhelm Canaris and Chief of Staff Army Reserve Claus von Stauffenberg. A number of movements arose by young males, such as the Edelweiss Pirates (edelweisspiraten) and the White Rose movement (WR -weisserose) were met with sheer force by the SS Gestapo, and the WR leaders, the Scholls were trialled and executed. Even all the members of the silent Kreisau Circle were executed, as well as 175 Protestant pastors were arrested for not recognizing the Nazi Church as a legitimate church. It is evident that any organisation that opposed the regime was repressed by the SS Gestapo, and it could be considered that any other attempt to rebel was quashed by fears of their violent, repressive nature.
However, the phrase ‘so little opposition’ should be questioned; although it is clear that active resistance was repressed historians have been observing ‘alltagsgeschichte’ to see other methods of citizen opposition, such as...
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