polizei: "Secret State Police")
was the official secret police of
Beginning in April
1934, it was under the overall administration of the Schutzstaffel under Heinrich
Himmler in his position as leader of the SS and Chief of German
Police (Chef der Deutschen
Polizei). From September 1939
forward it was administered by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) ("Reich Main Security Office") and was
considered a sister organization of
the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) ("Security Service") and also a suboffice
of the Sicherheitspolizei (SIPO) ("security
As part of the deal in which Adolf
became Chancellor of
, Hermann Göring
(future commander of the Luftwaffe
influential Nazi Party official) was named as Interior Minister
. This gave him command of the largest police
force in Germany. Soon afterward, Göring detached the political and
intelligence departments from the police and filled their ranks
with Nazis. On April 26, 1933 Göring merged the two units as the
Gestapo. He originally wanted to name it the
Secret Police Office ( ), but discovered the
German initials "GPA" would be too similar to the Soviet GPU.
Its first commander was Rudolf Diels
protégé of Göring. Diels was best known as the primary interrogator
of Marinus van der Lubbe
the Reichstag fire
. The Reich
Interior Minister, Wilhelm Frick
wanted to integrate all the police forces of the German states in
late 1933. Göring outflanked him by removing the Prussian political
and intelligence departments from the state interior ministry.
Göring himself 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.
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 himself so he
allied with Himmler and Heydrich. With Frick's support, Himmler
(pushed on by his right hand man, Heydrich) took over the political
police of state after state. Soon only Prussia was left.
April 1934 Göring and Himmler agreed to put aside their differences
(largely because of mutual hatred and growing dread of the
Sturmabteilung) and Göring transferred full authority over
the Gestapo to Himmler, who was also named chief of all German
police forces outside Prussia.
Himmler on 22 April 1934
named Heydrich the head of the Gestapo. Himmler was later named the
chief of all German police on 17 June 1936. At that point, the
Gestapo was incorporated into the SIPO or Sicherheitspolizei with the Kripo or
Kriminalpolizel (Criminal Police) and considered a sister
organisation of the SD or Sicherheitsdienst.
was head of the
SIPO (Gestapo & Kripo) and SD.Heinrich Müller
, was the
chief of operations of the Gestapo. He answered to Heydrich.
Heydrich answered only to Himmler. The merger of the SS and Gestapo
effectively removed it from the oversight of Frick, who as interior
minister would have normally been Himmler's superior. Therefore,
Himmler answered only to Hitler.
Gestapo had the authority to investigate treason, espionage and
sabotage cases and cases of criminal
attacks on the Nazi Party and Germany.
basic Gestapo law passed by the government in 1936 gave the Gestapo
without judicial oversight
Gestapo was specifically exempted from responsibility to
administrative courts, where citizens normally could sue
the state to conform to laws. As early as 1935,
however, a Prussian administrative court had ruled that the
Gestapo's actions were not subject to judicial review. Werner Best
, Himmler's right-hand man with the
Gestapo, summed up this policy by saying, "As long as the police
carries out the will of the leadership, it is acting legally."A
further law passed later in the year gave the Gestapo
responsibility for setting up and administering concentration camps
. In September 1939 the
security and police agencies of Nazi Germany were consolidated into
the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), headed by
The Gestapo became Amt IV (Department IV) of RSHA
and Müller became the Gestapo Chief, with Heydrich as his immediate
superior. After Heydrich's assassination in 1942, Ernst Kaltenbrunner
became head of RSHA,
and Müller remained the Gestapo Chief, a position he occupied until
the end of the war.
was Müller's direct
subordinate and head of Department IV, Section B4, which dealt with
The power of the Gestapo most open to misuse was called
– "protective custody", a euphemism
the power to imprison people without judicial proceedings. An
oddity of the system was that the prisoner had to sign his own
, an order declaring that the person had
requested imprisonment – presumably out of fear of personal harm
(which, in a way, was true). In addition, thousands of political prisoners
throughout Germany –
and from 1941, throughout the occupied territories under the
Night and Fog Decree
while in Gestapo
During World War II
, the Gestapo was
expanded to around 46,000 members.
Gestapo headquarters in
Prinz-Albrecht-Street in Berlin (1933)
By February and March, 1942, student protests were calling for an
end to the Nazi regime. These included the non-violent resistance
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. In
fact, reprisals did come in response to the protests. Fearful of an
internal overthrow, the forces of Himmler and the Gestapo were
unleashed on the opposition. The first five months of 1943
witnessed thousands of arrests and executions as the Gestapo
exercised their powers over the German public. Student opposition
leaders were executed in late February, and a major opposition
organization, the Oster Circle
destroyed in April, 1943.
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 people no option
(in their eyes) other than continuing the military struggle.
Nevertheless, some Germans did speak out and show signs of protest
during the summer of 1943. Despite fear of the Gestapo after the
mass arrests and executions of the spring, the opposition still
plotted and planned. Some Germans were convinced that it was their
duty to apply all possible expedients to end the war as quickly as
possible; that is, to further the German defeat by all available
means. The Gestapo cracked down ruthlessly on the dissidents in
Germany, just as they did everywhere else.
During June, July and August, the Gestapo continued to move swiftly
against the opposition, rendering any organised opposition
impossible. Arrests and executions were common. Terror against the
people had become a way of life. A second major reason was that the
opposition's peace feelers to the Western Allies did not meet with
part because of the aftermath of the Venlo incident of 1939, when SD and Gestapo
agents posing as anti-Nazis in the Netherlands kidnapped two British Secret
Intelligence Service (SIS) officers lured to a meeting to discuss peace
That prompted Winston
to ban any further contact with the German
opposition. In addition, the British and Americans did
not want to deal with anti-Nazis because they were fearful that the
Union would believe they were attempting to make deals
behind the Soviets' back.
November 14, 1945 and October 3, 1946, the Allies established an
Tribunal (IMT) to try twenty-two of twenty-four major Nazi
war criminals and six groups for crimes
against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Nineteen of the twenty-two were convicted. At this time the Gestapo
was condemned as a criminal organisation.
Leaders, organisers, instigators 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 organization. When a group or
organization 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.
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 if the organisations were convicted.
The trials began in November, 1945. On October 1, 1946 the IMT
rendered its judgement on twenty-one top officials of the Third Reich
: eighteen were sentenced to death or
to extensive 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
and Arthur Seyss-Inquart
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 States, the Soviet
Union and France.
Moreover, even though individual members of the convicted groups
might be acquitted of war crimes, they still remained subject to
trial under the denazification programme.
Cologne transformed the former regional
Gestapo headquarters in that city – the EL-DE Haus – into a museum to document the organization's
From its conception the Gestapo was a well established bureaucratic
mechanism, having been created from the Prussian Secret Police
. In 1934 the
Gestapo was transferred from the Prussian Interior Ministry to the
Reich Interior Ministry. However, it was only nominally under the
control of the Interior Ministry with actual control by the SS.
next five years the Gestapo underwent considerable expansion, and
in 1936 combined with the Kripo to form the
SiPo, Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police).
fall of 1939 the SIPO (made up of the Gestapo and Kripo) together
with the SD were all placed under the authority of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), the Reich Main Security Office, all
under Heydrich until his death in 1942.
Within the RSHA the
Gestapo was known as Amt IV
("Dept. or Office IV") with
Müller the Chief. The internal organization of the group is
Referat N: Central Intelligence Office
The Central Command Office of the Gestapo, formed in 1941.
1939 the Gestapo command was under the authority of the office of
the Sicherheitspolizei und Sicherheitsdienst (SD).
However, the SD envied the power
of the Gestapo and the Gestapo did not care for what it saw as
interference from SD agents. Later after September 1939 the Gestapo
was run directly through the overall command of the RSHA. However,
after Heydrich's death in June 1942, and as the war progressed,
Müller's power and the independence grew substantially. This
trickled down the chain of his subordinates, such as the commanding
general of this office. It led to much more independence of
Department A (Enemies)
- Communists (A1)
- Countersabotage (A2)
- Reactionaries and Liberals (A3)
- Assassinations (A4)
Department B (Sects and Churches)
- Catholics (B1)
- Protestants (B2)
- Freemasons (B3)
- Jews (B4)
Department C (Administration and Party Affairs)
The central administrative office of the Gestapo, responsible for
card files of all personnel including all officials.
Department D (Occupied Territories)
A repeat of departments A and B for use outside the Reich.
- Opponents of the Regime (D1)
- Churches and Sects (D2)
Department E (Counterintelligence)
- In the Reich (E1)
- Policy Formation (E2)
- In the West (E3)
- In Scandinavia (E4)
- In the East (E5)
- In the South (E6)
The local offices of the Gestapo, known as Stapostellen
, answered to a local commander known
as the Inspekteur der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD
("inspector of the security police and security services") who, in
turn, was under the dual command of Referat N
Gestapo and also his local SS and
. The classic image of the Gestapo officer,
dressed in trench coat
, can be attributed to Gestapo offices in German
cities and larger towns. This image seems to have been popularized
by the assassination of the former Chancellor General Kurt von Schleicher
von Schleicher and his wife were gunned down in their Berlin home by
three men dressed in black trench coats and wearing black
The killers of General von Schleicher were widely
believed to have been Gestapo men. At a press conference held later
the same day Hermann Göring
asked by foreign correspondents to respond to a hot rumour that
General von Schleicher had been murdered in his home. Göring stated
that the Gestapo had attempted to arrest Schleicher, but that he
had been "shot while attempting to escape".
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 the Gestapo chain of command and
fell under the authority of branches of the SS.
Before their amalgamation into the RSHA, the Gestapo and Kripo were
plainclothes police agencies and had no uniforms. Although individual
Gestapo members could and did join the Allgemeine-SS or other Party organizations, those uniforms would
not have been worn on duty.
Grey SS service uniform.
RSHA personnel did not wear the "SS" collar runes depicted
In June 1936, a concerted effort was made to recruit policemen of
the SiPo into the SS, and SS personnel into the Kripo and
especially the Gestapo. With the formation of RSHA in September
1939, Gestapo officers who were also SS members began to wear the
wartime grey SS uniform
on duty in the Hauptamt
or regional headquarters
). Hollywood notwithstanding, the sinister
black uniform was only worn after 1939 by Allgemeine-SS reservists;
it was abolished in 1942. Outside the main offices Gestapo agents
continued to wear civilian suits in keeping with the secret,
plainclothes nature of their work.
There were in fact very strict protocols protecting the identity of
Gestapo field personnel. In most cases, 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 authorized official, were not required to show picture
identification, something all non-Gestapo people were expected to
Beginning in 1940 the grey SS uniform was worn by Gestapo in
occupied countries because agents in civilian clothes had been shot
by members of the Wehrmacht
thinking that they were partisans.
Unlike the rest of the SS, the right-side collar patch of the RSHA
was plain black without insignia, as was the uniform cuffband. A
diamond-shaped black patch with "SD" in white was worn on the lower
left sleeve even by SiPo men who were not actually in the SD.
Sometimes this Raute
was piped in white; there is some
debate over whether this may or may not have indicated Gestapo
Contrary to popular belief, the Gestapo was not an omnipotent
agency that had agents in every nook and cranny of German society.
"V-men", as undercover Gestapo agents were known, were used to
opposition groups, but
this was the exception, not the rule. The District Office
in Nuremberg, which had the responsibility for all of northern
Bavaria employed a
total of 80-100 informers in the years 1943-1945.
Gestapo office in Saarbrücken had at its service 50 informers in
As historian Robert Gellately
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 ordinary Germans for their information.
Indeed, the Gestapo was overwhelmed with denunciations and spent
most of its time sorting out the credible from the less credible
denunciations. Far from being an all-powerful agency that knew
everything about what was happening in German society, the local
offices were understaffed and overworked, struggling with the paper
load caused by so many denunciations. The ratio of Gestapo officers
to the population of the areas they were responsible for was
extremely low; for example, for Lower
, with a population of about one million in the 1930s,
there was only one Gestapo office with 28 staff, half of whom were
clerical workers. Before World War II, in the cities of
Stettin and Frankfurt am
Main, Gestapo personnel totalled 41 for both
cities. The city of Hanover had only 42 Gestapo personnel, Bielefeld 18, Braunschweig 26, Bremen 44, and
Dortmund 76. In Düsseldorf, the local Gestapo office, which had the
responsibility for the entire Lower Rhine region, which comprised 4
million people had 281 employees.
After 1939, when many
Gestapo personnel were called up for war-related work, the level of
overwork and understaffing at the local offices was much increased.
Furthermore, for information about what was happening in German
society, the Gestapo were mostly dependent upon these
denunciations. 80% of all Gestapo investigations were started in
response to information provided by denunciations by "ordinary"
Germans; while 10% were started in response in to information
provided by other branches of the German government and another 10%
started in response to information that the Gestapo itself
Thus, it was ordinary Germans by their willingness to denounce one
another who supplied the Gestapo with the information that
determined whom the Gestapo arrested. The popular picture of the
Gestapo with its spies everywhere terrorizing German society has
been firmly rejected by most 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.
Cooperation with the NKVD
Since autumn of 1939 Soviet secret police (NKVD
) and Gestapo closely collaborated in the aftermath
of the partition of Poland. Several conferences took place (see:
Exchanges of prisoners took place as early as December 1939.
1940 representatives of the NKVD and Gestapo met for the third time
in the best known of these conferences which lasted for one week in
Zakopane, to coordinate the pacification of resistance in
Union delivered hundreds of German and Austrian
communists to the Gestapo, as unwanted foreigners, together with
The Soviet-Nazi cooperation continued up
to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
Polish government in
exile in London during
World War II received sensitive
military information about Nazi Germany from agents and informants
conquered Poland in the autumn of 1939, Gestapo officials believed
that they had neutralized Polish intelligence activities.
Polish Intelligence Resistance
the 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 telegraphy.
the Gestapo discovered a cache of Polish intelligence documents in
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
Ordnungspolizei ("order police") battalions sent to conquered
areas of the Soviet Union in October 1941 and 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 June 6, 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
- Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine -
SS, p 83.
- Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine -
SS, pp 80-84.
- Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
- Williams, Max. Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volumes
1. 2003, page 61.
- Williams, Max. Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volumes
1. 2003, page 77.
- Lumsden, Robin. A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine -
SS, pp 80-84.
- Mallmann & Paul, quoted in Crew, p 181
- Rees, p 64-65
- Rees, p 65
- Mallmann & Paul, quoted in Crew, p 175
- Mallmann & Paul, quoted in Crew, p 174
- Rees, p 64
- Mallmann & Paul, quoted in Crew, p 168-169
- Mallmann & Paul, quoted in Crew, p 172-173
- Lumsden, Robin (2001). A Collector's Guide To: The
Allgemeine - SS, Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. ISBN
- Padfield, Peter (1990). Himmler: Reichsfuhrer-SS. New York:
Henry Holt and Company.
- Williams, Max (2003). Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography:
Volumes 1, Ulric Publishing, ISBN 0-9537577-5-7.
- Editors of Time-Life Books (1988). The SS: The Third Reich
Series. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books.
- (translated as Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent?
Gestapo, Society and Resistance, and included in Crew,
Nazism and German Society, 1994)