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Gerhard Fürmetz, Herbert Reinke, Klaus Weinhauer (Eds.), Nachkriegs­polizei. Sicherheit und Ordnung in Ost- und Westdeutschland 1945-1969

[Forum Zeitgeschichte, Band 10] Hamburg (Ergebnisse Verlag), 2001, ISBN 3-87916-058-9, 358 pp
Guus Meershoek
p. 136-139
Référence(s) :

Gerhard Fürmetz, Herbert Reinke, Klaus Weinhauer (Eds.), Nachkriegs­polizei. Sicherheit und Ordnung in Ost- und Westdeutschland 1945-1969. [Forum Zeitgeschichte, Band 10] Hamburg (Ergebnisse Verlag), 2001, ISBN 3-87916-058-9, 358 pp.

Texte intégral

1In most European countries, historians of the post-war years are concerned with demarcating change from continuity: which developments were accelerated by the German occupation, what was destroyed in politics and society and what remained unchanged or re-emerged apparently unchanged. In Germany itself, answering this perennial question of the historians profession is more complicated. After the defeat of National-Socialism, the four Allied armies that occupied the country tried not only to dismantle its political structures but also to impose their own conception of normal governance. The police was a key object of their efforts. As a result, four different conceptions of policing, some widely differing from the indigenous Continental tradition in policing, competed with the remnants of Himmlers unified political police, with the broken tradition of Weimar policing and even with some remainders of a much older German tradition in policing. The twelve essays in this book give much insight into this complicated struggle and into the subsequent efforts of the German police itself to adapt to modern society, its high speed traffic and its unruly youth, in the very different political and social environments of the BRD and the DDR.

2Nachkriegspolizei is a landmark in the flourishing German police historiography. The essays, written by participants in the Polizeigeschichtlichen Arbeitskreis, have a high quality. Thanks to a sound introduction and a common focus on institutional developments and changing conceptions of policing, their diversity in approach makes the reading only more fascinating. New (East-German) archives are used and new themes (the position of women and volunteers in the police, the regulation of traffic) are fruitfully integrated into the traditionally politically biased police historiography.

3The first four essays concern the restructuring of the German police in the British and Russian zone in the immediate post-war years; case-studies concerning the police in the French and American territories during this period are lacking. In the Russian zone, a moderate institutional reform that preserved a central, political direction of the police, was combined with a large-scale change of personnel. Herbert Reinke shows how in two East-German cities the resulting loss of expertise burdened a police force that was additionally loaded with fighting new kinds of crime like slandering the communist rulers. The more ambitious British approach, consisting of a moderate change of personnel, a radical institutional reform and a large curtailment of police powers, ran into other problems. Frank Liebert relates how the discriminatory cleansing process got stuck in widespread self justifications by the sitting police personnel. Stephan Linck, who concentrates on the cleansing of the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt, stresses that a British lack of background information enabled detectives who had been involved in war crimes, to remain in office and later even to spread the myth that the Kriminalpolizei hadn’t been involved in war-crimes at all. To my opinion, they value actual dismissals too much in their judgements on the effectiveness of the cleansing processes, to the neglect of changes in attitude that – I admit – are difficult to reconstruct. Jeffrey Richter, who concentrates on institutional reform, argues that the British effort to transfer the administrative police to the local governments only succeeded because it concurred with the objectives of re-established German institutions and that the effort to curtail police powers failed for lack of such concurrence. These four essays are all fine examples of political analysis, that carefully discriminate the forces of renewal and conservation in the responses to reform. Maybe more attention should have been paid to the influence of changes in the international relations and changes in the (German and British) public opinion on the policies of the supervising bodies.

4Ursula Nienhaus and Richard Bessel explore the position of women in the
­post-war German police, but their findings have a wider relevance. In the Soviet zone, women were in a large majority after the German military defeat. Bessel demonstrates with detailed statistics how an unprecedented amount of women entered the Volkspolizei in 1945. However, they remained in subordinate positions, just like women in other parts of the East-German administration; new reforms in the following years only strengthened the dominant position of their male colleagues. Nienhaus writes about policewomen in post-war Berlin. After 1945, women continued to work in the so-called Weibliche Kriminal Polizei, that was among other issues concerned with juvenile crime and prostitution, but they had great trouble to enter other branches, in spite of the interventions of the female British supervisor Sophie Alloway. Thanks to her extended archival research and especially an interview with one of the female detectives, Nienhaus succeeds in reconstructing police practice at the shop-floor and traces among other things the re-emergence of Weimar-policing in the department, however fragile that tradition proved to be. Her findings are a strong argument for a more extended use of interviews in German police historiography.

5The next three essays concern the period when foreign interference with and supervision of the German police was terminated. In 1963, rumours about illegal telephone-tapping by the German intelligence agency (Bundesamt für Verfassungs­schutz) raised heated political debates, in which remnants and the remembrance of the Nazi-past played a key-role. Patrick Wagner describes the controversy in detail, using public documents and press-reports; apparently the archives of this Bundesamt are not yet available for researchers. In their well-written essays on the traffic police in Bayern and the voluntary police in East Germany, Gerhard Fürmetz and Thomas Lindenberger explore the persistence of endogenous authoritarian traditions. In contrast to Wagner, they were able to use primary documents. In the fifties, high speed traffic was a great problem for a German police force that was self-enclosed and lacked authority among the public. In Bayern, its efforts led nowhere. In an often hilaric exposition Fürmetz shows how much these efforts reveal about persisting frames of mind in the police. Lindenberger describes the suppositious position of the volunteers (Freiwillige Helfer) in the East-German Volkspolizei in the same period. A good sense of communist politics enables Lindenberger to read in between the lines of documents full of communist jargon and to trace the futile efforts of the volunteers to get the position, the uniforms and the equipment they longed for. Unfortunately, he only interviewed one activist. I wondered if renewal and successful adaptation to the new circumstances were as absent in these years as these three authors suggest. When did the economic recovery result in more spending on the German police?

6The last three essays concern the difficulties in policing the unruly youth. Tobias Mulot describes the wide powers of the police to protect youth (Jugendschutz) during and after the Second World War. He concentrates on formal rules and regulations and shows some remarkable continuities, but indiscriminately condemns all pedagogical activities of the police and, apart from his introduction, does not enter into police-practice. Compared to this rather old-fashioned exposition, the contribution of Thomas Grotum about the ‘Halbstarken-Krawalle’ in the fifties has all the virtues of the new historiography. Just like its counterparts in other West-European countries the police in Niedersachsen had much difficulty in policing the unruly young males that were influenced by American popular music. Grotum carefully describes the background and attitude of the policemen concerned, the protests and provocation’s of these Halbstarken and the police response. Klaus Weinhauer writes about the police response to the student protests in the sixties. He argues that large-scale riot-policing not only strengthened the defensive attitudes among established members of the German police, but accelerated reform as well. Reading his essay, I wondered whether the origins of these reforms can be found in the political changes in the sixties or whether they should be searched in the leadership of the police. Is it possible to trace some influence from the foreign interference in the post-war years? It is remarkable that in spite of these reforms there was a strong reaction on the radical leftwing youth in the seventies.

7When I try to strike a balance, admiration for the quality, variety and open-mindedness of this collection of essays prevails. In almost all of them the traditional political-legalistic approach has made way for broad institutional analysis. Much attention is paid to the background and attitudes of police personnel, but in spite of the proclaimed social-historical approach, most essays focus on institutional affairs and do not touch on the informal reality of day-to-day policing, the men and women on the beat. A more extensive use of interviews might help. Although important areas of research (changes in criminal investigation practices, trade-unions in the police and police-schools and academies) remain to be explored, reading these case-studies I really longed for a assessment of the general development of the German police. I missed a concluding chapter containing for example a comparison of the differences and (why not) similarities of the police in East- and West-Germany. Is there a common German tradition in policing that remained more of less unchanged after the dictatorships of the twentieth century?

8Two final minor remarks. An index is lacking and twice the reader is suddenly confronted with a strong condemnation of nowadays zero-tolerance policing in New York, a cri de cœur that doesn’t belong in a book like this.

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Guus Meershoek, « Gerhard Fürmetz, Herbert Reinke, Klaus Weinhauer (Eds.), Nachkriegs­polizei. Sicherheit und Ordnung in Ost- und Westdeutschland 1945-1969 », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, Vol. 6, n°2 | 2002, 136-139.

Référence électronique

Guus Meershoek, « Gerhard Fürmetz, Herbert Reinke, Klaus Weinhauer (Eds.), Nachkriegs­polizei. Sicherheit und Ordnung in Ost- und Westdeutschland 1945-1969 », Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [En ligne], Vol. 6, n°2 | 2002, mis en ligne le 19 février 2009, consulté le 18 juin 2018. URL :

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Guus Meershoek

International Police Institute (IPIT), Twente University,

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