Historical story

History of the Gestapo (1)

Nazi Germany's security forces were highly effective. Many times with few troops and few means they managed to dominate the German population first, and the societies of the occupied countries later. Among all the security forces, the most mythical and the one that produced the most terror was the Gestapo.

What does Gestapo mean

Gestapo is the acronym for the German words Geheime Staats Polizei , Ge-Sta-Po, which means Secret State Police.

The shadow of the Gestapo

The Gestapo was an organization of contradictions. It seemed to know everything but the success of its intelligence systems was limited. Their public figures were among the best-known of the Nazi leaders, ruthless and ambitious, but the real architect of their success lurked in the shadows. Even during their heyday, few knew the sinister genius who guided the Gestapo. And though his name has garnered sinister admiration for more than seven decades, the workings of the Gestapo remain a mystery.

But there is evidence. Testimonies that come from the same machinery of the Gestapo. Double agents and spies of the resistance add their voices to those of the victims of the regime. Many are dead, but their words, recorded in notebooks and diaries, live on.

The Gestapo has left us another witness:its own meticulous bureaucracy. In abandoned warehouses of Nazi Germany, thousands of Gestapo files detail the lives of those who fell into their hands. Most of the victims of the Gestapo did not survive. But some are still alive.

The name Gestapo epitomizes the horror of Nazi Germany's secret police, even though the Gestapo was only one body in a network of equally ruthless Nazi security agencies. Its image is that of an efficiently cold and impeccable machine. The reputation of his network of officers spread far and wide even though it was a small organization. In 1941, there were only about 8,000 officers guarding more than 70 million people.

The archetypal Gestapo officer was a sinister figure in a black leather coat, but in reality most Gestapo personnel were faceless bureaucrats. How then did the Gestapo exercise such total control over the actions of such a large and ever-increasing total. And most importantly, about their imaginations.

The answers lie in the complex history of Hitler's government in the Third Reich, since the Gestapo did not become a reality in its own right. His growth was gradual. Its progress was dictated by the ambitions and rivalries of its early creators. And even so, in all its stages, the objective was always the same:total social control.

The precedents of the Gestapo

Its roots stem from the malaise of the years following the First World War. Germany, humiliated by the allies, deprived of her power and forced to pay huge sums to make reparations, faced anarchy and ruin. A rudderless government watched afascists and communists fight in the streets while local police struggled to maintain control.

Amid the chaos came Adolf Hitler. Promising, safe and respected. A new beginning. With relief Germany accepted his offer. The Nazi party triumphed at the polls and in January 1933 Adolf Hitler became chancellor.

Hitler wasted no time securing his position. The people had voted for safety. What they got was law enforcement. Hitler's ambitions demanded absolute power, but that was not yet within his reach. To achieve this he had to eliminate all kinds of opposition. His first tools were crude but effective.

Under Ernst Röhm, the SA had been Hitler's strongest supporter during his rise to power. With their paramilitary uniforms and arbitrary violence, they were comfortable with the malaise that had brought Hitler into government. With Hitler's blessing, the SA took over the streets of Nazi Germany, as they had the same authority as the police. They adopted a zero tolerance policy and their rules were clear. The word of the SA, down to its most banal whims, was the law. Anything, even not greeting properly was enough to get you arrested. Hitler's message was simple:in the new Germany opposition was useless. His uncompromising position was the basis of what was to come later.

Hitler had already taken control of the newspapers. There were constant stories about the Marxist threat, where supposed plots were uncovered and fear was fomented. The SA took this as permission to target any organization. Four weeks after Hitler came to power, the German parliament was burned down. In the midst of the scandal, he blamed the communists. With the decree of a state of emergency through the so-called Reichstag Edict, the Nazis ensured control of the population. Although the SA had played an important role in entrenching the regime, it would take only a few months for Hitler to replace the SA with a much more refined control mechanism.

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The origins of the Gestapo

Hitler had seen the effectiveness of the SA in controlling the opposition, but he was also aware of its crude self-indulgence, corrupt leaders and lack of discipline. That was not the image he wanted to project. He knew exactly what he wanted, something that could spread the fear the SA had created and refine it. A secret and political police forced to serve the Führer, the party and the Reich. He called it Geheime Staatspolizei , the Gestapo.

Hitler already had security and surveillance units in place as a matter of course, but the Gestapo would be something else. It would be secret but very well known. The new forces had their headquarters on PrinzAlbrech Street in Berlin. When it was created in 1934, it only had jurisdiction in the federal state of Prussia, the northern half of Nazi Germany, but it would soon extend to the entire country. At first it only had 200 officers on staff, yes, all with a very good education. As leader Hitler had chosen Hermann Goering, who was Minister-President of Prussia at the time.

Goering's expedient was simple:look for the opposition wherever it was. But the main enemies of the Nazis, the Communists, the Social Democrats and the trade unions had gone underground by then. To find them he would need skill, the skill of a trained police officer. Goering made sure the new force knew they were going to be doing a different kind of police work. They weren't just going after criminals.

The rise of Himmler's SS and Gestapo control

But Goering soon had competition in Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, two new stars in the Nazi hierarchy, who glared at the new organization with greedy eyes. Himmler had been at Hitler's side from the earliest days in Munich, where the entire Nazi movement had begun a decade earlier. There he led the SS, Hitler's personal security service. Under his command, the SS had expanded by taking over the Bavarian police. And it is not surprising that he was interested in the development of the Gestapo as well as his companion and leader of the SS Reinhard Heydrich, a young Nazilist and ambitious.

Himmler and Heydrich recruited a third member of the team, a trained professional whom they trusted blindly. Dedicated and experienced policeman, Heinrich Müller was destined to have a profound influence on the future of the Gestapo. Müller was not like his immediate bosses.He rejected symbols of power in favor of a total and focused professionalism.

Relations between the leaders of Nazi Germany was a constant struggle to get closer to Hitler and achieve greater shares of power. Hitler's technique to control his subordinates was to encourage rivalry between them, fueling his insecurities by changing favorites. The result was a potent mix of paranoia, conspiracy, and counter-conspiracy.

Gradually Himmler organized his strategy to gain control of the Gestapo. He had already taken control of the local political police throughout the country and the SD, the SS department headed by Heydrich, and dedicated to finding traitors among the Nazi ranks, had raised his profile and activity levels.

At the beginning of 1934 he moved to Berlin with Heydrich and Müller. Hitler, impressed by both the SS concentration camps and his political skills, brushed Goering aside and exchanged favor with Himmler. He agreed that the police of the entire country, headed by the Gestapo, should be unified under Himmler's full control. Hitler officially transferred the Gestapo from Goering to Himmler in Berlin. Heydrich became head of the Gestapo office with Müller as his assistant.

From that moment, all the political police in the country were controlled from Berlin by Himmler. Nominally the Gestapo would remain just Prussia's secret police, but in practice all the regional political police became part of the Gestapo and the Gestapo functioned as a single police force.

Last updated on 06-09-2022 / Affiliate Links / Affiliate API Images