Gestapo (German pronunciation: [ɡeˈstaːpo,
ɡəˈʃtaːpo] ( listen)), abbreviation of Geheime
Staatspolizei (Secret State Police), was the official secret
Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe.
The force was created by
Hermann Göring in 1933 by combining the
various security police agencies of
Prussia into one organisation.
Beginning on 20 April 1934 it passed to the administration of
Schutzstaffel (SS) national leader Heinrich Himmler, who in 1936 was
appointed Chief of German Police (Chef der Deutschen Polizei) by
Gestapo at this time becoming a national rather than a
Prussian state agency as a suboffice of the
(Security Police). Then from 27 September 1939 forward, it was
administered by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) (Reich Main
Security Office) and was considered a sister organisation to the SS
Sicherheitsdienst (SD) (Security Service). During World War II, the
Gestapo played a key role in the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews of
3.1 Religious dissent
3.2 Student opposition
3.3 General opposition and military conspiracy
4.1 Department A (Political Opponents)
4.2 Department B (Sects and Churches)
4.3 Department C (Administration and Party Affairs)
4.4 Department D (Occupied Territories)
4.5 Department E (Security and counterintelligence)
4.7 Pay grades
5 Population ratios, methods and effectiveness
7 Principal agents and officers
8 See also
10 External links
Rudolf Diels, first Commander of the Gestapo; 1933–1934
Heinrich Himmler and
Hermann Göring at the meeting to formally hand
over control of the
Gestapo (Berlin, 1934).
As part of the agreement in which
Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of
Germany, Hermann Göring—future commander of the
Luftwaffe and the
number two man in the Nazi Party—was named
Interior Minister of
Prussia. This gave Göring command of the largest police force in
Germany. Soon afterward, Göring detached the political and
intelligence sections from the police and filled their ranks with
Nazis. On 26 April 1933, Göring merged the two units as the Geheime
Staatspolizei, which was abbreviated by a post office clerk for a
franking stamp and became known as the "Gestapo". He originally
wanted to name it the Secret Police Office (Geheimes Polizeiamt), but
the German initials, "GPA", were too similar to those of the Soviet
Gosudarstvennoye Politicheskoye Upravlenie or "State Political
Directorate", known as the GPU.
The first commander of the
Gestapo was Rudolf Diels, a protégé of
Göring. Diels was appointed with the title of chief of Abteilung Ia
(Department 1a) of the Political Police of the Prussian Interior
Ministry. Diels was best known as the primary interrogator of
Marinus van der Lubbe
Marinus van der Lubbe after the Reichstag fire. In late 1933, the
Wilhelm Frick wanted to integrate all the
police forces of the German states under his control. Göring
outflanked him by removing the Prussian political and intelligence
departments from the state interior ministry. Göring took over the
Gestapo in 1934 and urged Hitler to extend the agency's authority
throughout Germany. This represented a radical departure from German
tradition, which held that law enforcement was (mostly) a Land (state)
and local matter. In this, he ran into conflict with Heinrich Himmler,
who was police chief of the second most powerful German state,
Bavaria. Frick did not have the muscle to take on Göring by himself
so he allied with Himmler. With Frick's support, Himmler (pushed on by
his right-hand man, Reinhard Heydrich) took over the political police
of state after state. Soon only
Prussia was left.
Concerned that Diels was not ruthless enough to effectively counteract
the power of the
Sturmabteilung (SA), Göring handed over control of
Gestapo to Himmler on 20 April 1934. Also on that date, Hitler
appointed Himmler chief of all German police outside Prussia.
Heydrich, named chief of the
Gestapo by Himmler on 22 April 1934, also
continued as head of the SS Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst;
SD). Himmler and Heydrich both immediately began installing their
own personnel in select positions, several of whom were directly from
the Bavarian Political Police like Heinrich Müller, Franz Josef
Huber, and Josef Meisinger. Many of the
Gestapo employees in the
newly established offices were young and highly educated in a
wide-variety of academic fields and moreover, represented a new
generation of National Socialist adherents, who were hard-working,
efficient, and prepared to carry the Nazi state forward through the
persecution of their political opponents.
Gestapo border inspection stamp applied when entering German
By the spring of 1934 Himmler's SS controlled the SD and the Gestapo,
but for him, there was still a problem, as technically the SS (and the
Gestapo by proxy) was subordinated to the SA, which was under the
command of Ernst Röhm. Himmler wanted to free himself entirely
from Röhm, whom he viewed as an obstacle. Röhm's position was
menacing as more than 4.5 million men fell under his command once the
militias and veterans organisations were absorbed by the SA, a
fact which fuelled Röhm's aspirations; his dream of fusing the SA and
Reichswehr together was undermining Hitler's relationships with the
leadership of Germany's armed forces. Several Nazi chieftains,
among them Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Rudolf Hess, and Himmler, began a
concerted campaign to convince Hitler to take action against
Röhm. Both the SD and
Gestapo released information concerning an
imminent putsch by the SA. Once persuaded, Hitler acted by setting
Himmler's SS into action, who then proceeded to murder over 100 of
Hitler's identified antagonists. While members of the
Gestapo did not
participate in the killing, they supplied the information which
implicated the SA and ultimately enabled Himmler and Heydrich to
emancipate themselves entirely from the organisation. For the
Gestapo, the next two years following the Night of the Long Knives, a
term describing the putsch against Röhm and the SA, were
characterised by "behind-the-scenes political wrangling over
On 17 June 1936, Hitler decreed the unification of all police forces
in Germany and named Himmler as Chief of German Police. This
action effectively merged the police into the SS and removed it from
Frick's control. Himmler was nominally subordinate to Frick as police
chief, but as Reichsführer-SS, he answered only to Hitler. This move
also gave Himmler operational control over Germany's entire detective
Gestapo became a national state agency. Himmler also
gained authority over all of Germany's uniformed law enforcement
agencies, which were amalgamated into the new
Order Police), which became a national agency under SS general Kurt
Daluege. Shortly thereafter, Himmler created the Kriminalpolizei
(Kripo: Criminal Police), merging it with the
Gestapo into the
Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo: Security Police), under Heydrich's
command. Heinrich Müller was at that time the
chief. He answered to Heydrich; Heydrich answered only to Himmler
and Himmler answered only to Hitler.
Gestapo had the authority to investigate cases of treason,
espionage, sabotage and criminal attacks on the
Nazi Party and
Germany. The basic
Gestapo law passed by the government in 1936 gave
Gestapo carte blanche to operate without judicial review—in
effect, putting it above the law. The
Gestapo was specifically
exempted from responsibility to administrative courts, where citizens
normally could sue the state to conform to laws. As early as 1935, a
Prussian administrative court had ruled that the Gestapo's actions
were not subject to judicial review. The SS officer Werner Best,
one-time head of legal affairs in the Gestapo, summed up this
policy by saying, "As long as the police carries out the will of the
leadership, it is acting legally."
1939 photograph; shown from left to right are Franz Josef Huber,
Arthur Nebe, Heinrich Himmler,
Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Müller
planning the investigation of the bomb assassination attempt on Adolf
Hitler of 8 November 1939 in Munich.
On 27 September 1939, the security and police agencies of Nazi
Germany—with the exception of the Orpo—were consolidated into the
Reich Main Security Office
Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), headed by Heydrich. The Gestapo
became Amt IV (Department IV) of
RSHA and Müller became the Gestapo
Chief, with Heydrich as his immediate superior. After Heydrich's
1942 assassination, Himmler assumed the leadership of the
January 1943, when
Ernst Kaltenbrunner was appointed chief.
Müller remained the
Gestapo Chief. His direct subordinate Adolf
Eichmann headed the Gestapo's Office of Resettlement and then its
Office of Jewish Affairs (Referat IV B4 or Sub-Department IV, Section
B4). During the Holocaust, Eichmann and his agency coordinated the
mass deportation of European Jews to the Nazis' extermination
The power of the
Gestapo included the use of what was called,
Schutzhaft—"protective custody", a euphemism for the power to
imprison people without judicial proceedings. An oddity of the
system was that the prisoner had to sign his own Schutzhaftbefehl, an
order declaring that the person had requested
imprisonment—presumably out of fear of personal harm. In addition,
thousands of political prisoners throughout Germany—and from 1941,
throughout the occupied territories under the Night and Fog
Decree—simply disappeared while in
Polish government in exile
Polish government in exile in London during
World War II
World War II received
sensitive military information about
Nazi Germany from agents and
informants throughout Europe. After Germany conquered Poland in the
autumn of 1939,
Gestapo officials believed that they had neutralised
Polish intelligence activities. However, certain Polish information
about the movement of German police and SS units to the East during
the German invasion of the
Soviet Union in the autumn of 1941 was
similar to information British intelligence secretly got through
intercepting and decoding German police and SS messages sent by radio
In 1942, the
Gestapo discovered a cache of Polish intelligence
Prague and were surprised to see that Polish agents and
informants had been gathering detailed military information and
smuggling it out to London, via
Budapest and Istanbul. The Poles
identified and tracked German military trains to the Eastern front and
identified four Orpo battalions sent to conquered areas of the Soviet
Union in October 1941 that engaged in war crimes and mass murder.
Polish agents also gathered detailed information about the morale of
German soldiers in the East. After uncovering a sample of the
information the Poles had reported,
Gestapo officials concluded that
Polish intelligence activity represented a very serious danger to
Germany. As late as 6 June 1944, Heinrich Müller—concerned about
the leakage of information to the Allies—set up a special unit
called Sonderkommando Jerzy that was meant to root out the Polish
intelligence network in western and southwestern Europe.
Early in the regime's existence, harsh measures were meted out to
political opponents and those who resisted Nazi doctrine (e.g., the
Communists), a role the SA performed until the SD and Gestapo
undermined their influence and took control of security in the
Reich. Because the
Gestapo seemed omniscient and omnipotent, the
atmosphere of fear they created led to an overestimation of their
reach and strength; a faulty assessment which hampered the operational
effectiveness of underground resistance organisations. Antipathy
to Hitler and his regime was not tolerated, so the
Gestapo had an
important role to play in monitoring and prosecuting all who opposed
Nazi rule, whether openly or covertly.
Many parts of Germany (where religious dissent existed upon the Nazi
seizure of power) saw a rapid transformation; a change as noted by the
Gestapo in conservative towns such as Würzburg, where people
acquiesced to the regime either through accommodation, collaboration,
or simple compliance. Increasing religious objections to Nazi
policies led the
Gestapo to carefully monitor church organisations.
For the most part, members of the church did not offer political
resistance but simply wanted to ensure that organizational doctrine
However, the Nazi regime sought to suppress any source of ideology
other than its own, and set out to muzzle or crush the churches in the
so-called Kirchenkampf. When Church leaders (clergy) voiced their
misgiving about the euthanasia program and Nazi racial policies,
Hitler intimated that he considered them "traitors to the people" and
went so far as to call them "the destroyers of Germany". The
extreme anti-Semitism and neo-Pagan heresies of the Nazis caused some
Christians to outright resist, and Pope Pius XI to issue the
Mit Brennender Sorge
Mit Brennender Sorge denouncing
Nazism and warning
Catholics against joining or supporting the Party. Some pastors, like
the Protestant clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer, paid for their
opposition with their lives.[a]
In an effort to counter the strength and influence of spiritual
resistance, Nazi records reveal that the Gestapo's Referat B1
monitored the activities of bishops very closely—instructing that
agents be set up in every diocese, that the bishops' reports to the
Vatican should be obtained and that the bishops' areas of activity
must be found out. Deans were to be targeted as the "eyes and ears of
the bishops" and a "vast network" established to monitor the
activities of ordinary clergy: "The importance of this enemy is such
that inspectors of security police and of the security service will
make this group of people and the questions discussed by them their
In Dachau: The Official History 1933–1945, Paul Berben wrote that
clergy were watched closely, and frequently denounced, arrested and
sent to concentration camps: "One priest was imprisoned in Dachau for
having stated that there were good folk in England too; another
suffered the same fate for warning a girl who wanted to marry an S.S.
man after abjuring the Catholic faith; yet another because he
conducted a service for a deceased communist". Others were arrested
simply on the basis of being "suspected of activities hostile to the
State" or that there was reason to "suppose that his dealings might
harm society". Over 2700 Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox clergy
were imprisoned at Dachau alone. After Heydrich (who was staunchly
anti-Catholic and anti-Christian) was assassinated in Prague, his
successor, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, relaxed some of the policies and then
disbanded Department IVB (religious opponents) of the Gestapo.
Between June 1942 and March 1943, student protests were calling for an
end to the Nazi regime. These included the non-violent resistance of
Hans and Sophie Scholl, two leaders of the
White Rose student
group. However, resistance groups and those who were in moral or
political opposition to the Nazis were stalled by the fear of
reprisals from the Gestapo. Fearful of an internal overthrow, the
forces of the
Gestapo were unleashed on the opposition.[b] The first
five months of 1943 witnessed thousands of arrests and executions as
Gestapo exercised their powers over the German public. Student
opposition leaders were executed in late February, and a major
opposition organisation, the Oster Circle, was destroyed in April
1943. Efforts to resist the Nazi regime amounted to very little
and had only minor chances of success, particularly since the broad
percentage of the German people did not support oppositional
General opposition and military conspiracy
Between 1934 and 1938, opponents of the Nazi regime and their fellow
travellers began to emerge. Among the first to speak out were
religious dissenters but following in their wake were educators,
aristocratic businessmen, office workers, teachers, and others from
nearly every walk of life. Most people quickly learned that open
opposition was dangerous since
Gestapo informants and agents were
widespread. Yet a significant number of them still worked against the
National Socialist government.
During May 1935, the
Gestapo broke up and arrested members of the
"Markwitz Circle", a group of former socialists in contact with Otto
Strasser, who sought Hitler's downfall. From the mid-1930s into
the early 1940s—various groups made up of communists, idealists,
working-class people, and far-right conservative opposition
organisations covertly fought against Hitler's government, and several
of them fomented plots that included Hitler's assassination. Nearly
all of them, including: the Römer Group, Robby Group, Solf Circle,
Schwarze Reichswehr, the Party of the Radical Middle Class,
Jungdeutscher Orden, Schwarze Front and Stahlhelm were either
discovered or infiltrated by the Gestapo. This led to corresponding
arrests, being sent to concentration camps and execution. One of
the methods employed by the
Gestapo to contend with these resistance
factions was 'protective detention' which facilitated the process in
expediting dissenters to concentration camps and against which there
was no legal defence.
Early efforts to resist the Nazis with aid from abroad were hindered
when the opposition's peace feelers to the Western Allies did not meet
with success. This was partly because of the
Venlo incident of
1939. There SD and
Gestapo agents, posing as anti-Nazis in the
Netherlands, kidnapped two British
Secret Intelligence Service
Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)
officers after having lured them to a meeting to discuss peace terms.
Winston Churchill to ban any further contact with the
German opposition. Later, the British and Americans did not want
to deal with anti-Nazis because they were fearful that the Soviet
Union would believe they were attempting to make deals behind their
The German opposition was in an unenviable position by the late spring
and early summer of 1943. On one hand, it was next to impossible for
them to overthrow Hitler and the party; on the other, the Allied
demand for an unconditional surrender meant no opportunity for a
compromise peace, which left the military and conservative aristocrats
who opposed the regime no option (in their eyes) other than continuing
the military struggle. Despite fear of the
Gestapo after mass
arrests and executions in the spring, the opposition still plotted and
planned. One of the more famous schemes, Operation Valkyrie, involved
a number of senior German officers and was carried out by Colonel
Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. In an attempt to assassinate
Hitler, Stauffenberg planted a bomb underneath a conference table
Wolf's Lair field headquarters. Known as the 20 July
plot, this assassination attempt failed and Hitler was only slightly
injured. Reports indicate that the
Gestapo was caught unaware of this
plot as they did not have sufficient protections in place at the
appropriate locations nor did they take any preventative
steps. Stauffenberg and his group were shot on 21 July 1944;
meanwhile, his fellow conspirators were rounded up by the
sent to a concentration camp. Thereafter, there was a show trial
overseen by Roland Freisler, followed by their execution.
Some Germans were convinced that it was their duty to apply all
possible expedients to end the war as quickly as possible. Sabotage
efforts were undertaken by members of the Abwehr (military
intelligence) leadership, as they recruited people known to oppose the
Nazi regime. The
Gestapo cracked down ruthlessly on dissidents in
Germany, just as they did everywhere else. Opposition became more
difficult. Arrests, torture, and executions were common. Terror
against "state enemies" had become a way of life to such a degree that
the Gestapo's presence and methods were eventually normalised in the
minds of people living in Nazi Germany.
Gestapo headquarters at
8 Prinz Albrecht Street
8 Prinz Albrecht Street in Berlin (1933)
In January 1933, Hermann Göring, Hitler's minister without portfolio,
was appointed the head of the Prussian Police and began filling the
political and intelligence units of the
Prussian Secret Police with
Nazi Party members. A year after the organisations inception,
Göring wrote in a British publication about having created the
organisation on his own initiative and how he was "chiefly
responsible" for the elimination of the Marxist and Communist threat
to Germany and Prussia. Describing the activities of the
organisation, Göring boasted about the utter ruthlessness required
for Germany's recovery, the establishment of concentration camps for
that purpose, and even went on to claim that excesses were committed
in the beginning, recounting how beatings took place here and
there. On 26 April 1933, he reorganised the force's Amt III as the
Gestapa (better-known by the "sobriquet" Gestapo), a secret state
police intended to serve the Nazi cause. Less than two weeks later
in early May 1933, the
Gestapo moved into their Berlin headquarters at
With its 1936 merging with the Kripo (National criminal police) to
form sub-units of the
Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo; Security Police), the
Gestapo was classified as a government agency. Himmler by his
appointment to Chef der Deutschen Polizei (Chief of German Police),
along with serving as
Reichsführer-SS made him independent of
Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick's nominal control.
The SiPo was placed under the direct command of
Reinhard Heydrich who
was already chief of the Nazi Party's intelligence service, the
Sicherheitsdienst (SD). The idea was to fully combine the party
agency, the SD, with the SiPo, the state agency. SiPo members were
encouraged to become members of the SS. However, in practise, the SiPo
and the SD came into jurisdictional and operational conflict. Gestapo
and Kripo had many experienced, professional policemen and
investigators, who considered the SD to be a less competent agency,
amateurs who were "good Nazis but bad detectives".
In September 1939, the SiPo together with the SD were merged into the
newly created Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA: Reich Main Security
Office). Both the
Gestapo and Kripo became distinct departments within
the RSHA. Although the
Sicherheitspolizei was officially
disbanded, the term SiPo was figuratively used to describe any RSHA
personnel throughout the remainder of the war. In lieu of naming
convention changes, the original construct of the SiPo, Gestapo, and
Kripo cannot be fully comprehended as "discrete entities", since they
ultimately formed "a conglomerate in which each was wedded to each
other and the SS through its Security Service, the SD".
The creation of the
RSHA represented the formalisation, at the top
level, of the relationship under which the SD served as the
intelligence agency for the security police. A similar co-ordination
existed in the local offices. Within Germany and areas which were
incorporated within the Reich for the purpose of civil administration,
local offices of the Gestapo, criminal police, and SD were formally
separate. They were subject to co-ordination by inspectors of the
security police and SD on the staffs of the local higher SS and police
leaders, however, and one of the principal functions of the local SD
units was to serve as the intelligence agency for the local Gestapo
units. In the occupied territories, the formal relationship between
local units of the Gestapo, criminal police, and SD was slightly
Gestapo became known as
RSHA Amt IV ("Department or Office IV")
with Heinrich Müller as its chief. In January 1943, Himmler
RSHA chief; almost seven months after
Heydrich had been assassinated. The specific internal departments
of Amt IV were as follows:
Department A (Political Opponents)
Reactionaries, liberals and opposition (A3)
Protective services (A4)
Department B (Sects and Churches)
Freemasons and other churches (B3)
Jewish affairs (B4)
Department C (Administration and Party Affairs)
Central administrative office of the Gestapo, responsible for card
files of all personnel including all officials.
Files, card, indexes, information and administration (C1)
Protective custody (C2)
Press office (C3)
NSDAP matters (C4)
Department D (Occupied Territories)
Administration for regions outside the Reich.
Protectorate affairs, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, regions of
Yugoslavia, Greece (D1)
Special Combat detachment
Confidential office - hostile foreigners, emigrants (D3)
Occupied territories - France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Denmark (D4)
Occupied Eastern territories (D5)
Department E (Security and counterintelligence)
In the Reich (E1)
Policy and economic formation (E2)
In 1941 Referat N, the central command office of the
formed. However, these internal departments remained and the Gestapo
continued to be a department under the
RSHA umbrella. The local
offices of the Gestapo, known as
Gestapo Leitstellen and Stellen,
answered to a local commander known as the Inspekteur der
Sicherheitspolizei und des SD ("Inspector of the Security Police and
Security Service") who, in turn, was under the dual command of Referat
N of the
Gestapo and also his local SS and Police Leader.
Gestapo also maintained offices at all Nazi concentration camps,
held an office on the staff of the SS and Police Leaders, and supplied
personnel as needed to formations such as the Einsatzgruppen.
Personnel assigned to these auxiliary duties were often removed from
Gestapo chain of command and fell under the authority of branches
of the SS.
Gestapo maintained police detective ranks which were used for all
officers, both those who were and who were not concurrently SS
Kriminalkommissar auf Probe
Kriminalkommissar with less than three years in that rank
Kriminalrat with less than three years in that rank
Regierungs- und Kriminalrat
Oberregierungs- u. Kriminalrat
Regierungs- u. Kriminaldirektor
Junior career = einfacher Vollzugsdienst der Sicherheitspolizei
(Laufbahn U 18: SS-Unterführer der
Sicherheitspolizei und des SD).
Senior career = leitender Vollzugsdienst der Sicherheitspolizei
(Laufbahn XIV: SS-Führer der
Sicherheitspolizei und des SD).
Annual salary 1938
Kriminalkommissar auf Probe
Regierungs- und Kriminaldirektor
Median annual wage for an industrial worker was 1,495 RM in 1939. In
the same year the median salary for a privately employed white-collar
worker was 2,772 RM.
In 1933, there was no purge of the German police forces. The vast
Gestapo officers came from the police forces of the Weimar
Republic; members of the SS, the SA, and the NSDAP also joined the
Gestapo but were less numerous. By March 1937, the Gestapo
employed an estimated 6,500 persons in fifty-four regional offices
across the Reich. Additional staff were added in March 1938
consequent the annexation of Austria and again in October 1938 with
the acquisition of the Sudetenland. In 1939, only 3,000 out of the
total of 20,000
Gestapo men held SS ranks, and in most cases, these
were honorary. One man who served in the Prussian
Gestapo in 1933
recalled that most of his co-workers "were by no means Nazis. For the
most part they were young professional civil service officers..."
The Nazis valued police competence more than politics, so in general
in 1933, almost all of the men who served in the various state police
forces under the Weimar Republic stayed on in their jobs. In
Würzburg, which is one of the few places in Germany where most of the
Gestapo records survived, every member of the
Gestapo was a career
policeman or had a police background.
The Canadian historian
Robert Gellately wrote that most
were not Nazis, but at the same time were not opposed to the Nazi
regime, which they were willing to serve, in whatever task they were
called upon to perform. Over time, membership in the Gestapo
included ideological training, particularly once
Werner Best assumed a
leading role for training in April 1936. Employing biological
metaphors, Best emphasised a doctrine which encouraged members of the
Gestapo to view themselves as 'doctors' to the national body in the
struggle against "pathogens" and "diseases"; among the implied
sicknesses were "communists, Freemasons, and the churches—and above
and behind all these stood the Jews". Heydrich thought along
similar lines and advocated both defensive and offensive measures on
the part of the Gestapo, so as to prevent any subversion or
destruction of the National Socialist body.
Whether trained as police originally or not,
Gestapo agents themselves
were shaped by their socio-political environment. Historian George C.
Browder contends that there was a four-part process (authorisation,
bolstering, routinisation, and dehumanisation) in effect which
legitimised the psycho-social atmosphere conditioning members of the
Gestapo to radicalised violence. Browder also describes a sandwich
effect, where from above;
Gestapo agents were subjected to
ideologically oriented racism and criminal biological theories; and
from below, the
Gestapo was transformed by SS personnel who did not
have the proper police training, which showed in their propensity for
unrestrained violence. This admixture certainly shaped the
Gestapo's public image which they sought to maintain in lieu of their
increasing workload; an image which helped them identify and eliminate
enemies of the Nazi state.
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From June 1936, a concerted effort was made to recruit policemen of
the SiPo into the SS, and SS members into the Kripo and especially the
Gestapo, but with limited success; by 1939 only a small percentage of
Gestapo agents were SS members. With the formation of
Gestapo officers who also held SS rank began to wear
the wartime grey SS uniform when on duty in the Hauptamt or regional
headquarters (Abschnitte). Hollywood notwithstanding, after 1939 the
black SS uniform was only worn by Allgemeine-SS reservists. Outside
the central offices,
Gestapo agents working out of the Stapostellen
and Stapoleitstellen continued to wear civilian suits in keeping with
the secretive nature of their work.
There were strict protocols protecting the identity of
personnel. When asked for identification, an operative was only
required to present his warrant disc. This identified the operative as
Gestapo without revealing personal identity and agents, except when
ordered to do so by an authorised official, were not required to show
picture identification, something all non-
Gestapo people were expected
to do. Nevertheless, the sight of dark leather coats and black SS
uniforms along with the very mention of the word "Gestapo" elicited
fear among the general population.
Beginning in 1940, the grey SS uniform was worn by
Gestapo in occupied
countries of the east, even those who were not actually SS members,
because agents in civilian clothes had been shot by members of the
Wehrmacht thinking they were partisans.
Unlike the rest of the SS, the right-side collar patch of the
plain black without insignia, as was the uniform cuffband. Gestapo
agents in uniform did not wear SS shoulderboards, but rather
police-pattern shoulderboards piped or underlaid in "poison green"
(giftgrün). A diamond-shaped black patch with "SD" in white was worn
on the lower left sleeve even by SiPo men who were not in the SD.
Sometimes this Raute (diamond) was piped in white; there is some
debate over whether this may or may not have indicated Gestapo
Population ratios, methods and effectiveness
Contrary to popular belief, the
Gestapo was not the all-pervasive,
omnipotent agency in German society. In Germany proper, many towns
and cities had fewer than 50 official
Gestapo personnel. For example,
in 1939 Stettin and Frankfurt am Main only had a total of 41 Gestapo
men combined. In Düsseldorf, the local
Gestapo office of only 281
men were responsible for the entire Lower Rhine region, which
comprised 4 million people. "V-men", as undercover
were known, were used to infiltrate Social Democratic and Communist
opposition groups, but this was more the exception, not the rule.
Gestapo office in
Saarbrücken had 50 full-term informers in
1939. The District Office in Nuremberg, which had the
responsibility for all of northern Bavaria, employed a total of
80–100 full-term informers between 1943 and 1945. The majority
Gestapo informers were not full-term informers working undercover,
but were rather ordinary citizens who chose to denounce other people
to the Gestapo.
According to Canadian historian Robert Gellately's analysis of the
local offices established, the
Gestapo was—for the most part—made
up of bureaucrats and clerical workers who depended upon denunciations
by citizens for their information. Gellately argued that it was
because of the widespread willingness of Germans to inform on each
other to the
Gestapo that Germany between 1933 and 1945 was a prime
example of panopticism. The Gestapo—at times—was overwhelmed
with denunciations and most of its time was spent sorting out the
credible from the less credible denunciations. Many of the local
offices were understaffed and overworked, struggling with the paper
load caused by so many denunciations. Gellately has also
suggested that the
Gestapo was "a reactive organisation"
"... which was constructed within German society and whose
functioning was structurally dependent on the continuing co-operation
of German citizens".
After 1939, when many
Gestapo personnel were called up for war-related
work such as service with the Einsatzgruppen, the level of overwork
and understaffing at the local offices increased. For information
about what was happening in German society, the
Gestapo continued to
be mostly dependent upon denunciations. 80% of all Gestapo
investigations were started in response to information provided by
denunciations by ordinary Germans; while 10% were started in response
to information provided by other branches of the German government and
another 10% started in response to information that the
unearthed. The information supplied by denunciations, often led
Gestapo in determining whom was arrested.
The popular picture of the
Gestapo with its spies everywhere
terrorising German society has been rejected by many historians as a
myth invented after the war as a cover for German society's widespread
complicity in allowing the
Gestapo to work. Work done by
social historians such as Detlev Peukert, Robert Gellately, Reinhard
Mann, Inge Marssolek, René Otto, Klaus-Michael Mallamann and Paul
Gerhard, which by focusing on what the local offices were doing has
shown the Gestapo's almost total dependence on denunciations from
ordinary Germans, and very much discredited the older "Big Brother"
picture with the
Gestapo having its eyes and ears everywhere. For
example, of the 84 cases in
defilement"—sexual relations with non-Aryans), 45 (54%) were started
in response to denunciations by ordinary people, two (2%) by
information provided by other branches of the government, 20 (24%) via
information gained during interrogations of people relating to other
matters, four (5%) from information from (Nazi) NSDAP organisations,
two (2%) during "political evaluations" and 11 (13%) have no source
listed while none were started by Gestapo's own "observations" of the
people of Würzburg.
An examination of 213 denunciations in
Düsseldorf showed that 37%
were motivated by personal conflicts, no motive could be established
in 39%, and 24% were motivated by support for the Nazi regime.
Gestapo always showed a special interest in denunciations
concerning sexual matters, especially cases concerning Rassenschande
with Jews or between Germans and foreigners, in particular Polish
slave workers; the
Gestapo applied even harsher methods to the foreign
workers in the country, especially those from Poland, Jews,
Catholics and homosexuals.  As time went by, anonymous
denunciations to the
Gestapo caused trouble to various NSDAP
officials, who often found themselves being investigated by the
Of the political cases, 61 people were investigated for suspicion of
belonging to the KPD, 44 for the SPD and 69 for other political
parties. Most of the political investigations took place between
1933 and 1935 with the all-time high of 57 cases in 1935. After
that year, political investigations declined with only 18
investigations in 1938, 13 in 1939, two in 1941, seven in 1942, four
in 1943 and one in 1944. The "other" category associated with
non-conformity included everything from a man who drew a caricature of
Hitler to a Catholic teacher suspected of being lukewarm about
teaching National Socialism in his classroom. The "administrative
control" category concerned whose were breaking the law concerning
residency in the city. The "conventional criminality" category
concerned economic crimes such as money laundering, smuggling and
Normal methods of investigation included various forms of blackmail,
threats and extortion to secure "confessions". Beyond that, sleep
deprivation and various forms of harassment were used as investigative
methods. Failing that, torture and planting evidence were common
methods of resolving a case, especially if the case concerned someone
Jewish. Brutality on the part of interrogators—often prompted
by denunciations and followed with roundups—enabled the
uncover numerous resistance networks; it also made them seem like they
knew everything and could do anything they wanted.
While the total numbers of
Gestapo officials was limited when
contrasted against the represented populations, the average
Volksgenosse (Nazi term for the "member of the German people") was
typically not under observation, so the statistical ratio between
Gestapo officials and inhabitants is "largely worthless and of little
significance" according to some recent scholars. As historian
Eric Johnson remarked, "The Nazi terror was selective terror", with
its focus upon political opponents, ideological dissenters (clergy and
religious organisations), career criminals, the Sinti and Roma
population, handicapped persons, homosexuals and above all, upon the
Jews. "Selective terror" by the Gestapo, as mentioned by Johnson,
is also supported by historian Richard Evans who states that,
"Violence and intimidation rarely touched the lives of most ordinary
Germans. Denunciation was the exception, not the rule, as far as the
behaviour of the vast majority of Germans was concerned." The
involvement of ordinary Germans in denunciations also needs to be put
into perspective so as not to exonerate the Gestapo. As Evans makes
clear, "...it was not the ordinary German people who engaged in
surveillance, it was the Gestapo; nothing happened until the Gestapo
received a denunciation, and it was the Gestapo's active pursuit of
deviance and dissent that was the only thing that gave denunciations
meaning." The Gestapo's effectiveness remained in the ability to
"project" omnipotence...they co-opted the assistance of the German
population by using denunciations to their advantage; proving in the
end a powerful, ruthless and effective organ of terror under the Nazi
regime that was seemingly everywhere. Lastly, the Gestapo's
effectiveness, while aided by denunciations and the watchful eye of
ordinary Germans, was more the result of the co-ordination and
co-operation amid the various police organs within Germany, the
assistance of the SS, and the support provided by the various Nazi
Party organisations; all of them together forming an organised
Nuremberg trials and the Holocaust
Gestapo agents arrested after the liberation of Liège,
Belgium, are herded together in a cell at the Citadel of Liège,
Between 14 November 1945 and 3 October 1946, the Allies established an
International Military Tribunal
International Military Tribunal (IMT) to try 22 of 24 major Nazi war
criminals and six groups for crimes against peace, war crimes and
crimes against humanity. Nineteen of the 22 were convicted, and
twelve of them (Bormann [in absentia], Frank, Frick, Göring, Jodl,
Kaltenbrunner, Keitel, Ribbentrop, Rosenberg, Sauckel, Seyss-Inquart,
Streicher), were each given the death penalty; the remaining three
(Funk, Hess, Raeder) received life terms. At that time, the Gestapo
was condemned as a criminal organisation, along with the SS.
Gestapo leader Heinrich Müller was never tried, as he
disappeared at the end of the war.[e]
Leaders, organisers, investigators and accomplices participating in
the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit
the crimes specified were declared responsible for all acts performed
by any persons in execution of such plan. The official positions of
defendants as heads of state or holders of high government offices
were not to free them from responsibility or mitigate their
punishment; nor was the fact that a defendant acted pursuant to an
order of a superior to excuse him from responsibility, although it
might be considered by the IMT in mitigation of punishment.
At the trial of any individual member of any group or organisation,
the IMT was authorised to declare (in connection with any act of which
the individual was convicted) that the group or organisation to which
he belonged was a criminal organisation. When a group or organisation
was thus declared criminal, the competent national authority of any
signatory had the right to bring persons to trial for membership in
that organisation, with the criminal nature of the group or
organisation assumed proved.
These groups—the Nazi party and government leadership, the German
General staff and High Command (OKW); the
Sturmabteilung (SA); the
Schutzstaffel (SS), including the
Sicherheitsdienst (SD); and the
Gestapo—had an aggregate membership exceeding two million, making a
large number of their members liable to trial when the organisations
The trials began in November 1945. On 1 October 1946, the IMT rendered
its judgement on 21 top Nazi figures: 18 were sentenced to death or to
long prison terms, and three acquitted. The IMT also convicted
three of the groups: the Nazi leadership corps, the SS (including the
SD) and the Gestapo.
Gestapo members Hermann Göring, Ernst
Arthur Seyss-Inquart were individually convicted.
Three groups were acquitted of collective war crimes charges, but this
did not relieve individual members of those groups from conviction and
punishment under the denazification programme. Members of the three
convicted groups were subject to apprehension by Britain, the United
Soviet Union and France.
Cologne transformed the former regional
in Cologne—the EL-DE Haus—into a museum to document the Gestapo's
Principal agents and officers
Heinrich Baab (SiPo-SD Frankfurt)
Klaus Barbie (SiPo-SD Lyon)
Werner Best (SiPo-SD Copenhagen)
Karl Bömelburg (Head of Gestapo, Southern France)
Theodor Dannecker (SiPo-SD Paris)
Rudolf Diels (
Gestapo Chief 1933–1934)
Adolf Eichmann (
Hermann Göring (Founder of the Gestapo)
Viktor Harnischfeger (
Gestapo Criminal Commissar)
Reinhard Heydrich (SD, SiPo,
Gestapo Chief 1934–1939,
Heinrich Himmler (Reichsführer-SS)
Ernst Kaltenbrunner (
RSHA Chief 1943–1945)
Herbert Kappler (SD Chief Rome)
Helmut Knochen (Paris)
Kurt Lischka (Paris)
Ernst Misselwitz (Hauptscharführer SiPo-SD Paris)
Heinrich Müller (
Gestapo Chief 1939–1945)
Karl Oberg (Paris)
Pierre Paoli (Head of Gestapo, Central France)
Oswald Poche (Chief of Frankfurt Lindenstrasse station)
Karl Eberhard Schöngarth
Glossary of Nazi Germany
Geheime Feldpolizei—the secret military police service of the
Harold Cole—POW who worked with the
Gestapo to betray French
HIPO Corps—established in Denmark in 1944 by the Gestapo
Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism—Fascist
Italy's civilian intelligence service
Stasi—secret police of the GDR
Igo Sym, Polish
Tokkō—commonly referred to as Japan's version of the
Gestapo or FBI
^ Bonhoeffer was an active opponent of
Nazism in the German resistance
movement. Arrested by the
Gestapo in 1943, he was sent to Buchenwald
and later to
Flossenbürg concentration camp
Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was
^ Groups like the
White Rose and others, such as the Edelweiss
Pirates, and the Swing Youth, were placed under strict Gestapo
observation. Some participants were sent to concentration camps.
Leading members of the most famous of these groups, the White Rose,
were arrested by the police and turned over to the Gestapo. For
several leaders their punishment was death.
^ More than that, the Anglo-American common language and capital
interests kept Stalin at a distance since he felt the other Allied
powers were hoping the fascists and Communists would destroy one
^ Although an agent in uniform wore the collar insignia of the
equivalent SS rank, he was still addressed as, e.g., Herr Kriminalrat,
not Sturmbannführer. The stock character of the "
usually dressed in the prewar black SS uniform, is a figment of
^ There were reports that Müller ended up in the foreign secret
service at Washington D.C., some allege he was in Moscow working for
the Soviets, still others claimed he escaped to South America—but
none of the myths have ever been proven; all of which adds to the
"mysterious power of the Gestapo".
^ Gellately 1992, p. 44.
^ Miller 2006, p. 502.
^ Yerger 1997, p. 235.
^ Buchheim 1968, p. 145.
^ Buchheim 1968, p. 146.
^ Flaherty 2004, pp. 64, 65.
^ Shirer 1990, p. 270.
^ Miller 2006, p. 433.
^ Flaherty 2004, pp. 64–66.
^ Flaherty 2004, p. 66.
^ Evans 2005, p. 54.
^ Williams 2001, p. 61.
^ Tuchel & Schattenfroh 1987, p. 80.
^ Tuchel & Schattenfroh 1987, pp. 82–83.
^ Delarue 2008, pp. 102–103.
^ Evans 2006, p. 29.
^ Benz 2007, p. 50.
^ Burleigh 2000, p. 159.
^ Benz 2007, p. 51.
^ Benz 2007, p. 53.
^ Dams & Stolle 2014, pp. 14–15.
^ Dams & Stolle 2014, p. 15.
^ a b c d e Williams 2001, p. 77.
^ a b Longerich 2012, p. 204.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 201.
^ Weale 2010, p. 132.
^ Dams & Stolle 2014, p. 17.
^ McNab 2009, p. 156.
^ Shirer 1990, p. 271.
^ a b Longerich 2012, pp. 469, 470.
^ a b Weale 2010, p. 131.
^ a b Longerich 2012, p. 661.
^ Weale 2010, p. 145.
^ USHMM, "Gestapo".
^ USHMM, "Law and Justice in the Third Reich".
^ Snyder 1994, p. 242.
^ Smith 2004, pp. 262–274.
^ US National Archives, "German Police Records Opened at the National
^ Breitman 2005, p. 139.
^ Delarue 2008, pp. 126–140.
^ Merson 1985, p. 50.
^ Gellately 1992, pp. 94–100.
^ McDonough 2005, pp. 30–40.
^ Schmid 1947, pp. 61–63.
^ Benz 2007, pp. 42–47.
^ McDonough 2005, pp. 32–33.
^ Burleigh 2000, p. 727.
^ Berben 1975, pp. 141–142.
^ Berben 1975, p. 142.
^ Steigmann-Gall 2003, pp. 251–252.
^ McDonough 2005, pp. 21–29.
^ Williamson 2002, pp. 118–119.
^ Delarue 2008, p. 318.
^ Johnson 1999, p. 306.
^ Hoffmann 1977, p. 28.
^ Hoffmann 1977, pp. 29–30.
^ Hoffmann 1977, p. 30.
^ Hoffmann 1977, pp. 30–32.
^ Dams & Stolle 2014, p. 58.
^ Hoffmann 1977, p. 121.
^ Reitlinger 1989, p. 144.
^ Overy 1997, pp. 245–281.
^ Hildebrand 1984, pp. 86–87.
^ Benz 2007, pp. 245–249.
^ Reitlinger 1989, p. 323.
^ Höhne 2001, p. 532.
^ Höhne 2001, p. 537.
^ Spielvogel 1992, p. 256.
^ Peukert 1989, pp. 198–199.
^ McNab 2009, p. 150.
^ Manvell & Fraenkel 2011, p. 97.
^ Manvell & Fraenkel 2011, pp. 97–98.
^ Weale 2012, p. 85.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 150, 162.
^ Tuchel & Schattenfroh 1987, p. 72.
^ Browder 1996, p. 103.
^ Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression (1946) p. 92.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 160, 161.
^ McNab 2009, p. 47.
^ Buchheim 1968, pp. 146–147.
^ Der Reichsführer SS, Dich ruft die SS (Hermann Hillger KG, Berlin
^ Banach 2013, p. 64.
^ 9 May 2009 (PDF)
^ "Lexikon der Wehrmacht". lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de.
^ "Die Besoldung eines Soldaten der Wehrmacht".
^ a b Gellately 1992, p. 50.
^ a b Dams & Stolle 2014, p. 34.
^ a b Gellately 1992, p. 51.
^ Gellately 1992, pp. 54–55.
^ a b Gellately 1992, p. 59.
^ Dams & Stolle 2014, p. 30.
^ Dams & Stolle 2014, p. 31.
^ Browder 1996, pp. 33–34.
^ Browder 1996, pp. 88–90.
^ Höhne 2001, pp. 186–193.
^ Frei 1993, pp. 106–107.
^ a b McNab 2009, p. 163.
^ Mallmann & Paul 1994, p. 174.
^ a b c Mallmann & Paul 1994, p. 181.
^ Gellately 1992, pp. 132–150.
^ Gellately 1992, pp. 11–12, 22.
^ a b Rees 1997, p. 65.
^ a b Mallmann & Paul 1994, p. 175.
^ Gellately 1992, p. 136.
^ a b c Rees 1997, p. 64.
^ Mallmann & Paul 1994, pp. 168–169.
^ Mallmann & Paul 1994, pp. 172–173.
^ Gellately 1992, p. 162.
^ Gellately 1992, p. 146.
^ Gellately 1992, p. 259.
^ Gellately 1992, pp. 49, 146.
^ Gellately 1992, pp. 151–152.
^ a b c d e Gellately 1992, p. 48.
^ Gellately 1992, p. 49.
^ a b Gellately 1992, p. 131.
^ Gellately 1992, p. 132.
^ Ayçoberry 1999, p. 272.
^ Dams & Stolle 2014, p. 35.
^ Johnson 1999, pp. 483–485.
^ Evans 2006, p. 114.
^ Evans 2006, p. 115.
^ Delarue 2008, pp. 83–140.
^ Dams & Stolle 2014, p. 82.
^ Bernstein 1947, pp. 267–275.
^ Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression (1946). pp. 189–190.
^ a b Dams & Stolle 2014, pp. 176–177.
^ Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume 2, Chapter XV, Part 1.
(accessed 4 October 2014)
^ Bernstein 1947, pp. 246–259.
^ a b "The Trial of the Major War Criminals". archives.gov. 25 October
^ Evans 2010, pp. 741–743.
^ "NS-Dokumentationszentrum Köln - Start". museenkoeln.de. Retrieved
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