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Gestapo Officers

Gestapo Officers


Evil, prejudice

Controlling, arresting, exterminating

Persecuting Jewish people, establishing Nuremberg Laws

Deporting, marching, experimenting

Aryan, totalitarian


The Gestapo is an abbreviation for Geheime Staatspolizei.  The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe.  Its purpose? To solidify Nazi control by eliminating anti-Nazi agents within Germany. Restructured several times during its twelve year history but instrumental in perpetrating the Nazi deportation and destruction of European Jews during the Holocaust.

circa 1935:  Hermann Wilhelm Goering (1893 - 1946), the German politico-military leader, shouting down a microphone at a rally.  (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1935: Hermann Wilhelm Goering (1893 – 1946), the German politico-military leader, shouting down a microphone at a rally. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

Herman Göring formed the unit in 1933 after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany.  Göring encouraged his officers to root out and arrest leftist sympathizers, especially communists.  He also oversaw the Gestapo’s enforcement of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws.

The Nuremberg Laws were antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany introduced at the 1935 annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party (NSDAP). After they seized power in 1933, the Nazis began to implement their party platform, which included the formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights and removed from German society. The two Nuremberg Laws, passed on 15 September 1935, were the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, which forbade marriages and extramarital intercourse between Jews and Germans and the employment of German females under 45 in Jewish households, and the Reich Citizenship Law, which declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens; the remainder were classed as state subjects, without citizenship rights.

Title page of RGB I No. 100 proclaiming the laws, issued 16 September 1935

Title page of RGB I No. 100 proclaiming the laws, issued 16 September 1935. You can find places on the internet with a full translation of the Nuremberg Laws; however the National Archive has a wonderful narrative about them as well as a 28 minute c-span video about them.

Under his control since April 20, 1934, Heinrich Himmler was appointed head of Hilter’s special forces unit, the Schutzstaffel (SS) and was given command of the Gestapo and the Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo (Criminal Investigation) in 1936.  Under Himmler’s leadership, the Gestapo was considered the sister organization to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Secrety Service.

"Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R96954, Berlin, Hermann Göring ernennt Himmler zum Leiter der Gestapo" by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R96954 / CC-BY-SA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons -,_Berlin,_Hermann_G%C3%B6ring_ernennt_Himmler_zum_Leiter_der_Gestapo.jpg#/media/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R96954,_Berlin,_Hermann_G%C3%B6ring_ernennt_Himmler_zum_Leiter_der_Gestapo.jpg

More details Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring at the meeting to formally hand over control of the Gestapo (Berlin, 1934).

In 1939, in the months prior to the beginning of the second world war, Hitler reorganized the German armies. The Gestapo was integrated, with the rest of the Nazi police and intelligence organizations, into the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RHSA) under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich. Though officially part of the Reich Security Central Office, the organization remained popularly known as the Gestapo.

Reinhard Heydrich

Reinhard Heydrich

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, there were approximately 40,000 Gestapo agents in Germany. As the war progressed and the Nazis gained territory throughout Europe, the Gestapo swelled to employ over 150,000 informants, agents, and accessory personnel. Gestapo agents were charged with rooting out foreign agents and resistance fighters, but they also expanded their role as an internal police force. Gestapo agents and informants concentrated on finding suspected political dissidents of the Third Reich. Spying on citizens became pervasive, and the Gestapo encouraged people to turn in “suspect persons” to local authorities. While victims of the Gestapo were subject to both civil and criminal prosecution, the secret police themselves operated above the law. On February 10, 1936, the Nazi government officially decreed that the organization was not subject to judicial review. There were no legal restraints on detention of suspects, evidence collection, or police violence. This lack of legal restraint, paired with the Gestapo’s tendency to attract and employ Nazi extremists and former criminals in its ranks, permitted the brutality for which the force became infamous.

Synagoge of Siegen, Germany, burning during Kristallnacht (9 November 1938) in Nazi-Germany

Synagoge of Siegen, Germany, burning during Kristallnacht (9 November 1938) in Nazi-Germany

The Gestapo, as well as its parent organization, the SS, aided the Einsatsgruppen, or mobile killing units, responsible for the massacre of nearly one million Jews during the Holocaust. Gestapo and SS members also tracked down refugees in hiding and policed ghettos and concentration camps. After the war at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the Gestapo was named as one of the chief institutional perpetrators of the Holocaust.

The Gestapo was dissolved with the fall of the Third Reich in 1945.



10 responses

  1. a gray says:

    The bullet pockmarks on the buildings’ walls suggest that the photograph captioned “kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass” is actually a photograph of some city in which a battle is taking place. Just a thought.


  2. jazzfeathers says:

    There are very little names that inspire dread and disgust as Gestapo and SS. At least, this is my feeling.


  3. Birgit says:

    My mom hated the gestapo. To this day she intensely dislikes shiny boots and long black leather coats. Glad you mentioned that they employed criminals and ardent nuts (as I call them). My grandfather was marked as a communist by a neighbour and taken away to a concentration camp. My mom remembers when he finally returned, very thin and the hair shaved to almost bald with clothes that looked like rags. He never spoke of his time in the camp (later he was branded a “Nazi” and the Russians took him to their camps-he was in and out of those camps until 1950 when my mom snuck him out to West Germany).


  4. Sue Archer says:

    Ugly, ugly time. I hope we never go there again. Intolerance is a slippery slope that we must constantly fight against!