WORLD WAR II FROM A TO Z
Controlling, arresting, exterminating
Persecuting Jewish people, establishing Nuremberg Laws
Deporting, marching, experimenting
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.