Law Enforcement and the Holocaust

Article excerpt

Law enforcement agencies in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area recently have begun a training program drawing upon the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as a resource to explore a variety of issues relevant to law enforcement today. (1) This program, cosponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, has provided law enforcement officers with a unique opportunity to witness the dangers and horrors that can occur when law enforcement abdicates its role as a protector of citizens' liberties and rights and, ultimately, becomes a tool of a government involved in a systematic genocidal program. As a result of the success of this program, the museum also has instituted other educational programs for law enforcement officers, such as traveling exhibits from the museum that move to various cities within the United States. (2)


The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, chartered by a unanimous Act of Congress in 1980 and opened in 1993, is America's national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. The public's response to and interest in the museum, which annually hosts over 2 million visitors to its permanent exhibits in Washington, D.C., has surpassed the expectations of those involved in its planning.

The museum's collaboration with law enforcement began in 1999 when the chief of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department began using the museum as a learning resource and tool for his agency. Since then, many Washington, D.C.-area law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have incorporated a tour of the museum as a regular part of recruit training. In addition, law enforcement in-service training programs and the FBI National Academy have integrated tours and subsequent discussions about the Holocaust into ethics and other general police training.

The permanent exhibit at the museum provides a unique opportunity to experience images and artifacts dating from the period 1933 to 1945. The museum's exhibits include displays and videos on the Nazi's rise to power; Nazi programs and policies to control and manipulate the German people; Nazi schemes to create a master race; Nazi persecution of Jews, Romas (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and political opponents; and the "Final Solution" (the systematic extermination of Jews in Nazi-controlled territory). Also, the museum's displays and videos provide insight into individual stories of Holocaust victims and rescuers and events at the end of World War II in Europe,

such as the Nuremberg trials of accused Nazi war criminals.

Contemporary Implications

Material prepared by the museum staff and distributed to law enforcement officers provides interesting information concerning the state of law enforcement in Germany prior to the Nazi assumption of power and the eventual involvement of German police in Nazi programs and policies. The material also includes explanations on how the Nazis assumed control of local and state police and integrated them into the Nazi's plans to control all aspects of German society.

Because Nazi programs were so extensive, they necessarily involved the control and use of German law enforcement authorities. However, it is often noted during tours that individuals from all professions in Germany played a role in supporting and furthering Nazi goals, including teachers, doctors, and judges. For example, doctors and scientists helped eliminate undesirables in society through euthanasia. This primarily involved killing individuals with mental and physical handicaps. Also, scientists and researchers assisted in programs to create a master race through the use of eugenics and the promotion of selective breeding.

Because Nazi programs were carried out by a modem technologically advanced society, it is interesting to compare and contrast the activities of German law enforcement in the 1930s and 1940s and challenges facing American law enforcement officials today. …