- The Gestapo (GeheimeStaatspolizei) functioned as the Third Reich’s secret police force.
- The Gestapo frequently acted outside of the normal judicial process and often executed people without trial.
- The Gestapo is infamous for its apprehension and murder of Jewish people, especially those in hiding.
The Gestapo’s purpose was to apprehend people who were in opposition to the Nazi State. The first and foremost of the victims were the Jews, but there were also other groups that the Gestapo were after: homosexuals; communists; religious clergymen; Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Gypsies. During the war the Gestapo was also responsible for rooting out resistance movements all over occupied Europe.
We know now that the Gestapo was not as prolific as legend would have it – often they were understaffed, – but the fear they inspired was enough to carry the weight of horror they wanted. They created a fear-driven community in all of the German territories and their inhumane methods used with anyone in ‘protective custody’ were well publicized. They are known to have used a puppet court known as the People’s Court, but everyone at the time knew that a trial there was nearly always a death sentence.
The Internal Power Struggle
In April 1934, Hitler put Himmler in control of a unified police force. A man named Rufolf Diels had been in charge up to that point – Diels was one of Hermann Goering’s entourage. Due to a small rivalry between the men, Himmler dismissed Diels after accusing him of being too soft to do the job. Himmler replaced him with Heinrich Müller, who had been one of Himmler’s assistants in Munich and was utterly loyal to him. Under Müller, the Gestapo garnered a reputation for swift apprehensions; brutal interrogations; and cruel executions.
From 1943 onwards, he was both Chief of German Police and Minister of the Interior, overseeing all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo
The Members of the police
Many Gestapo employees in the newly established offices were young and highly educated in an ecclectic assortment of subject matters. Moreover, they represented the newest generation of Nazis, who were industrious, organized, and prepared to defend Hitler’s ideology at all costs. The majority of Gestapo officers came from the police forces of the Weimar Republic; members of the SS, the SA, and the NSDAP also joined, but were less numerous. At first the members of the police force weren’t die-hard Nazis, but rather they were civil servants who were not opposed to Hitler. Over time, though, the Gestapo began to include ideological training, particularly once Werner Best assumed a leading role for training in April 1936. By the time the war started there was a curriculum designed to teach about the evils of communists; Freemasons; the Catholic Church; and the Jews.
Gestapo policemen in action.
Denouncing a fellow citizen.
“The biggest fear in Nazi Germany was that dreaded knock on the door.” The state of fear created by the Gestapo resulted in many people ratting out their neighbors for crimes against the state.