The Criminal Underworld in Weimar and Nazi Berlin
‘Whatever bad things Hitler and the Nazis did, at least they clamped down on crime.’ This Nazi myth on crime was so powerful that many Germans still believed it many decades after the Third Reich’s downfall in 1945. First, I deconstruct this potent legend through a critical examination of the Berlin Ringvereine (gang associations) which had a central place in German debates on the criminal underworld. Writing the history of organized crime is difficult; in this specific case, it appears even more problematical. For only a little archival evidence, archived by the Nazis after 1933, has survived on Ringvereine activity. The second aim of my article is to challenge the notion, articulated by existing studies, that the Nazis completely repressed the Ringvereine upon coming to power. In reality, underworld syndicates continued to operate beyond the Nazi capture of power in 1933. All in all, through an examination of this fractured and complex material, I suggest a way to write the history of organized crime. I also hope to initiate a conversation about the limits of Nazi control of German everyday life and the Nazi state’s monopoly of violence, highlighting some continuities between Weimar and the Third Reich.