Gun Control, the Jews, and the Third Reich

American Thinker

In  1996, in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the modern Olympics,  the German government issued a set of four stamps. One of these celebrates Alfred and Gustav Flatow, cousins, who were gold medalists  in the 1896 Olympics. Alfred took the first in the parallel bars and with his  cousin also won gold for the German team’s overall performance. 

In  1932, Alfred Flatow registered three handguns, as decreed by the harsh gun  control laws of the Weimar Republic that were drawn amid the violence and chaos  of the aftermath of World War I. The Weimar Republican grew out of the ashes of  the Great War. Perceived as an institution imposed by Germany’s enemies, Weimar  lacked political legitimacy and was vulnerable to  insurrection.

The  first assault on the Republic, however, came not from the right but from the  communist left. Under the leadership of Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, the  German Communists attempted to overthrow the government by armed struggle. The  fragile government mobilized the Freikorps, undisciplined militias composed  largely of veterans. The Freikorps brutally put down the communist insurrection  and murdered its leaders. The Communists had also seized the government in  Bavaria and the Freikorps succeeded in vanquishing them.

Hoping  to stem further attacks on the state, the liberal Weimar Republic imposed  Draconian gun control laws that made it punishable by death to carry a gun. The  brutal and undisciplined Freikorps were given the task of enforcing these laws  and did so with alacrity, even murdering nurses who carried firearms for  protection against rape amid the post-war chaos.

The  Weimar Ministry of the Interior made gun registration mandatory. The overall  intention of the gun control laws was to disarm those who were making war  against the state and each other. Inspired by gangster violence in Chicago, the  Nazis and the Communists loaded up cars with thugs armed with Tommy guns and  invaded each other’s neighborhoods.


Like  most attempts at gun control, the policy failed. Neither the Nazis nor the  Communists gave up their guns, but law-abiding citizens like Alfred Flatow did  and bore the consequences. Although the Weimar Ministry of the Interior worked  to assure registrants that their information would remain safe, this proved to  be an empty promise. When the Nazis took over in 1933, the information was  culled for registrants who were deemed “enemies of the state,” a euphemism for  Jews, communists, and other political opponents.


Gestapo  legal adviser Werner Best proposed to execute Jews who were found in possession of  firearms.  He had both ample precedent and experience to draw upon from the harsh gun laws  and their brutal enforcement in the Weimar Republic.

In  1938, in preparation for Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938), the Gestapo used the Weimar  gun registration records to disarm Jews and focused on Jewish gun owners for  deportation to concentration camps. Alfred Flatow fled Germany for the  Netherlands, but when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, in May 1940, Flatow was  on the Gestapo’s list.

Flatow  was arrested and sent to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, where he died from  starvation on December 28, 1942. His cousin Gustav died in the same camp three  years later.

Throughout  their conquest of Europe, the Nazis encountered armed resistance by those who  refused to accept defeat. Even the pitifully armed Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto put  up meaningful resistance, as did the Jewish Bielski partisans in the forests of  Byelorussia and Poland. Among the conquered people of Europe, where there were  arms and munitions there were partisans who continued to  fight.

Only  in Germany was there no armed resistance, other than what came from the  military. Would armed resistance on German soil have made a difference? No one  can answer that with any certainty, but clearly it was a formidable concern for  Werner Best and his Gestapo henchmen. Without arms there was no hope of  meaningful resistance.

The  issue of an armed populace resisting tyranny is why the Second Amendment exists.  It was not written to promote hunting or target shooting. It was written to keep a check on tyrants both foreign and  domestic.

A  new book, Gun  Control in the Third Reich, analyzes the manner in which the Nazis  capitalized on the strict gun control policies of the Weimar Republic and used  those policies to consolidate power and render the political opposition  defenseless and the Jews hopeless.

It  is far too facile to dismiss any comparison between the rise of Hitler and a  threat from analogous policies in a viable democracy. As scholar  Stephen P. Halbrook notes, historians have failed to see gun-control  policies as the prelude to the rise of tyranny, even in Nazi  Germany.

The  Weimar Republic, despite problems in legitimacy and economic strangulation by  the victors of World War I, was a struggling democracy with liberal principles.  Its leaders thought that their policies of gun control would end the street  violence between radical groups and promote political stability. The Weimar  ministers did not comprehend that their gun control policies would pave the way  for tyrants to direct and remove the political opposition.

Hitler  came to power without ever winning a majority vote. His own electoral results  paled in comparison to those garnered by President Paul von Hindenburg, and the  Nazi party itself never received more than 37% of the vote. In the last free and  fair German parliamentary elections of November, 1932, the Nazis actually lost  34 seats. Through orchestrated chaos and the incompetence of others, Hitler was  appointed Chancellor of Germany. He stayed in power by eliminating future  elections and preventing armed struggle against the regime. The fragile  democracy of the Weimar Republic had created a tyrant, who now abused the pledge  Weimar had made on the secrecy of gun registration.

Any  real analysis of the rise of the Third Reich should contribute to our own debate  over gun control, but of course, that is a pipe dream. When it comes to guns,  the lines are tightly drawn. If you are among those who believe that you do not  need a gun and no one else should have one, then there really is no room for  debate. In this country, John Lott, Jr., through decades of exhausting empirical research,  has shown that guns save lives. Yet, Lott’s work hardly gets mentioned in the  policy debate.

Jews,  who should look at the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto and understand the value of  resistance for the sake of preserving the dignity of the human spirit, are all  too prone to utter the fatalistic Yiddish adage that translates as — if it comes to this, nothing will help. In other words, when I will need a  gun it will not do any good.

Such  sentiments, in the light of Jewish history, are appalling, as are the attitudes  that liberal Jews generally bring to the gun control debate. I am reminded of my  great aunt Sifra, who stood nearly six feet tall and fought with the  Bielski partisans. She died fighting; it was a noble death. She died a  warrior’s death, not an anonymous death as a nameless, faceless victim. That is  what separates a hero from a victim. That is the difference a gun  makes.

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