How this was possible can be seen through the eyes of one of the countless victims, who happened to be a renowned German athlete. Alfred Flatow won first place in gymnastics at the 1896 Olympics. In 1932, he dutifully registered three handguns as required by a decree of the Weimar Republic. The decree also provided that, if “public safety” so required, the guns could be confiscated. Officials gullibly neglected to consider that only law-abiding citizens would register, while political extremists and criminals would not. But the interior minister warned that the gun registration records must be carefully secured so they would not fall into the hands of extremist elements.
The ultimate extremist group led by Adolf Hitler seized power just a year later, in 1933. The Nazis immediately used the firearm registration records to identify, disarm, and attack “enemies of the state,” a euphemism for Social Democrats and political opponents of all types, who were invariably castigated as “Communists.” Search and seizure operations were conducted for guns and “subversive” literature in Jewish communities and working class neighborhoods.