The Reichstag Fire Decree of 28 February 1933 abolished basic civil rights. Nazi officials often used it to confine opponents, circumventing the courts. In Prussia, the largest German state, around 25,000 prisoners were placed in “protective custody” in March and April 1933, and held in early camps. Other Nazi troops ignored even the flimsy ‘protective custody’ regulations, and abducted political opponents on a whim. The growth of arbitrary arrests is illustrated by the following complaint from an unusually upright SA leader.
Everybody is arresting everybody, bypassing the prescribed official procedure, everybody threatens everybody with protective custody, everybody threatens everybody with Dachau […]. Down to the smallest gendarmerie station a veritable uncertainty about who is responsible for what has gripped the best and most reliable officials; this, quite simply, is bound to have devastating and state-eroding effects.
Surely I cannot be counted among the pussy-footers, which is precisely why I have to point out that, if the revolution is to be transformed into an orderly relationship of state and people, the state apparatus must be kept entirely safe from all revolutionary interference by the street. Both in the practical and the personal regard it must absolutely be left to the responsibility of the state ministries alone on how the revolutionary ideas are transformed into action for the national community […]. Every last street sweeper nowadays feels responsible for things whose connections he had never understood at all.
Source: SA-Gruppenführer Schmid to the Bavarian Minister-President Siebert, 1 July 1933, in P. Diehl-Thiele, Partei und Staat im Dritten Reich (Munich, 1971), p. 95
Translation: Ewald Osers