The Gestapo – Nazi Germany’s Secret Police
The National Socialist German Workers Party(Nazi Party) established an organization in 1925 as Adolf Hitler’s personal protective agency. Under the command of Heinrich Himmler, the organization, the SS, was headed by Hitler himself. The entire Nazi party at that time, was made up of five sections:
- The Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) which consisted of only full time members and officers.
- The RSHA part-time members and officers.
- The SS organizations of the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), German secret state police and the Sicherhertsdienst (SD); the intelligence area.
- The Concentration camp staffs.
- The reserve members, honorary members and inactive members of the SS.
Hermann Goring organized the first unit of the Gestapo in 1933 and filled it with Nazi party members, and urged Hitler to extend the agency from a state and local organization to a national one. Opposed to this, Heinrich Himmler, Chief of Police in Bavaria, William Frick, the Reich interior minister and Himmler’s right hand man, Reinhard Heydrich, took over the power of the police in 1934. In 1936, Hitler appointed Himmler Chief of Police and made the Gestapo a sub-department of the Security police (Sipo).
Himmler also was appointed by Hitler at this time as Chief of all German police outside of Prussia. Heydrich became Chief of the Gestapo and head of the SS security service. In 1936 the newly unified departments of all German police were under the command of Himmler who only answered to Hitler. He had complete operational power over detectives, uniformed police and the Gestapo which was now a National agency. Heinrich Muller became Operations Chief who answered to Heydrich, who was under Himmler.
The Gestapo investigated any treason, espionage, sabotage or criminal attacks against the Nazis and Germany. They had carte blanche privileges that circumvented judicial controls, reviews or rulings. The Gestapo’s legal counsel, Werner Best stated that as long the Gestapo police carried out the will of the leadership that they were acting legally.
The Gestapo, was put under the control of the RSHA in 1939 until the end of World War II, after combining many branches of police. The Department (Amt) numbers of the new structures were:
- AMT III – SD-Inland Germany
- AMT IV – Gestapo
- AMT V – Kripo
- AMT VI – Abluehr(Military) and SD-Outside Germany
When Heydrich was assassinated in 1942, Himmler assumed his duties also. In 1943 Ernst Kaltenbrummer was Chief of the RSHA and Adolf Eichmann had charge of the Gestapo office of Resettlement and the office of Jewish Affairs. The Gestapo’s most common abuse of power at this time was “protective custodies.”
With over 46,000 members in the Gestapo, officers had the power to imprison without judicial interference anyone of their choosing, who were forced out of fear to sign their own imprisonment orders. Many political prisoners of the Gestapo during the period of 1941 to 1945 simply disappeared.
During the period of 1942-1943 student uprisings to end the Nazi regime and other resistance groups were still attracting attention. However during the first five months of 1943, the Gestapo sent thousands of protestors to their deaths and completely destroyed the “Oster Circle,” which was a resistance group led by German Army General Hans Oster who openly opposed Hitler. Oster died in the Flossenburg concentration camp just months before the Allies won the war. The fear of the Gestapo, plus the unconditional surrender demands from the Allied forces shut down any further protests. Terror became a way of life for Germans.
After the end of World War II, the Gestapo was declared a criminal organization at the trial of war crimes at Nuremberg. That meant that any member of the Gestapo could be tried individually.
Goring was tried, convicted and sentenced to death, but commit suicide by cyanide the night before. Himmler also committed suicide by cyanide poisoning. Eichmann escaped before Germany lost the war, to Argentina, but he was captured, and tried in Israel in 1962. He was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and executed by hanging. The highest ranking member of the Nazi party to be tried at Nuremberg was Ernst Kaltenbrunner. As the Chief of RSHA, president of Interpol and a general in the Waffen-SS, he was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and executed. The most prominent Nazi figure to have never been captured or confirmed dead was Heinrich Muller, Chief of the Gestapo at the war’s end.