The De-Gestapo.ogg Gestapo (help·info) (contraction of Geheime Staatspolizei: "Secret State Police") was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Under the overall administration of the Schutzstaffel (SS), it was administered by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) ("Main office of the Reich's security service") and was considered a dual organization of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) ("security service") and also a suboffice of the Sicherheitspolizei (SIPO) ("security police"). Gestapo was also present in concentration camps as here in Lager Nordhausen
Gestapo headquarters in Prinz-Albrecht-Street in Berlin (1933) Rudolf Diels first Chief of the Gestapo 1933-1934 Heinrich Müller is at the extreme right in this 1939 photograph, apparently taken for propaganda purposes. Shown from left to right are a minor SS functionary (Huber), Arthur Nebe, and then three of the people most responsible for the Holocaust: Heinrich Himmler, Reinhardt Heydrich and Müller himself. According to the apparently 1939 archival caption, these men are planning the investigation of the bomb assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on 8 November 1939 in Munich.
As part of the deal in which Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the German Empire, Hermann Göring was named as Interior Minister of Prussia. This gave him command of the largest police force in Germany. Soon afterward, Göring detached the political and intelligence departments from the police and filled their ranks with Nazis. On April 26, 1933; Göring merged the two units as the Gestapo. He originally wanted to name it the Secret Police Office (German: Geheimes Polizeiamt), but discovered the German initials "GPA" would be too similar to the Soviet GPU.
Its first commander was Rudolf Diels, a protégé of Hermann Göring (the commander of the Luftwaffe and an influential Nazi Party official). Diels was best known as the primary interrogator of Marinus van der Lubbe after the Reichstag fire. The Reich Interior Minister, Wilhelm Frick in late 1933, wanted to integrate all the police forces of the German states. Goring outflanked him by removing the Prussian political and intelligence departments from the state interior ministry. Göring himself took over the Gestapo in 1934 and urged Hitler to extend the agency's authority throughout Germany. This represented a radical departure from German tradition, which held that law enforcement was (mostly) a Land (state) and local matter. In this, he ran into conflict with Heinrich Himmler, who was police president of the second most powerful German state, Bavaria. Frick did not have the muscle to take on Goring himself so he allied with Himmler and Heydrich. With Frick's support, Himmler (pushed on by his right hand man, Heydrich) took over the political police of state after state. Soon only Prussia was left.
On 20 April 1934, Göring and Himmler agreed to put aside their differences (largely because of mutual hatred and growing dread of the Sturmabteilung) and Göring transferred full authority over the Gestapo to Himmler, who was also named chief of all German police forces outside Prussia. Himmler on April 22, 1934 named Heydrich the head of the Gestapo. Himmler was later named the chief of all German police on June 17, 1936. At that point, the Gestapo was incorporated into the SIPO or Sicherheitspolizei with the KRIPO or Kriminalpolizel (Criminal Police) and considered a sister organisation of the SD or Sicherheitsdienst. Reinhard Heydrich was head of the SIPO, Gestapo, KRIPO and SD. Heinrich Müller, was the chief of operations of the Gestapo. He answered to Heydrich. Heydrich answered only to Himmler.
The Gestapo had the authority to investigate treason, espionage and sabotage cases, and cases of criminal attacks on the Nazi Party and Germany. A law passed by the government in 1936 gave the Gestapo carte blanche to operate without judicial oversight. The Gestapo was specifically exempted from responsibility to administrative courts, where citizens normally could sue the state to conform to laws. As early as 1935, however, a Prussian administrative court had ruled that the Gestapo's actions were not subject to judicial review.
A further law passed later in the year gave the Gestapo responsibility for setting up and administering concentration camps. In 1939 the security and police agencies of Nazi Germany were consolidated into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), headed by Heydrich. Gestapo became Department IV of RSHA and Müller became the Gestapo Chief, with Heydrich as his immediate superior. After Heydrich's assassination in 1942, Ernst Kaltenbrunner became head of RSHA, and Müller remained the Gestapo Chief, a position he occupied until the end of the war.
Adolf Eichmann was Müller's direct subordinate and head of Department IV, Section B4, which dealt with Jews.
The power of the Gestapo most open to misuse was called Schutzhaft – "protective custody", a euphemism for the power to imprison people without judicial proceedings. An oddity of the system was that the prisoner had to sign his or her own Schutzhaftbefehl, an order declaring that the person had requested imprisonment – presumably out of fear of personal harm (which, in a way, was true). In addition, thousands of political prisoners throughout Germany – and from 1941, throughout the occupied territories under the Night and Fog Decree – simply disappeared under Gestapo custody.
During World War II, the Gestapo was expanded to around 46,000 members.
By February and March, 1942, student protests were calling for an end to the Nazi regime. These included the non-violent resistance of Hans and Sophie Scholl, two leaders of the White Rose student group. However, resistance groups and those who were in moral or political opposition to the Nazis were stalled by the fear of reprisals from the Gestapo. In fact, reprisals did come in response to the protests. Fearful of an internal overthrow, the forces of Himmler and the Gestapo were unleashed on the opposition. The first five months of 1943 witnessed thousands of arrests and executions as the Gestapo exercised their powers over the German public. Student opposition leaders were executed in late February, and a major opposition organization, the Oster Circle, was destroyed in April, 1943.
The German opposition was in an unenviable position by the late spring and early summer of 1943. On one hand, it was next to impossible for them to overthrow Hitler and the party; on the other, the Allied demand for an unconditional surrender meant no opportunity for a compromise peace, which left the people no option (in their eyes) other than continuing the military struggle.
Nevertheless, some Germans did speak out and show signs of protest during the summer of 1943. Despite fear of the Gestapo after the mass arrests and executions of the spring, the opposition still plotted and planned. Some Germans were convinced that it was their duty to apply all possible expedients to end the war as quickly as possible; that is, to further the German defeat by all available means. The Gestapo cracked down ruthlessly on the dissidents in Germany, just as they did everywhere else.
During June, July and August, the Gestapo continued to move swiftly against the opposition, rendering any organised opposition impossible. Arrests and executions were common. Terror against the people had become a way of life. A second major reason was that the opposition's peace feelers to the Western Allies did not meet with success.
This was part because of the aftermath of the Venlo incident of 1939, when SD and Gestapo agents posing as anti-Nazis in the Netherlands kidnapped two British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officers lured to a meeting to discuss peace terms. That prompted Winston Churchill to ban any further contact with the German opposition. In addition, the British and Americans did not want to deal with anti-Nazis because they were fearful that the Soviet Union would believe they were attempting to make deals behind the Soviets' back.
Between November 14, 1945 and October 3, 1946, the Allies established an International Military Tribunal (IMT) to try twenty two of twenty four major Nazi war criminals and six groups for crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nineteen of the twenty two were convicted.
Leaders, organisers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit the crimes specified were declared responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan. The official positions of defendants as heads of state or holders of high government offices were not to free them from responsibility or mitigate their punishment; nor was the fact that a defendant acted pursuant to an order of a superior to excuse him from responsibility, although it might be considered by the IMT in mitigation of punishment.
At the trial of any individual member of any group or organisation, the IMT was authorised to declare (in connection with any act of which the individual was convicted) that the group or organisation to which he belonged was a criminal organization. When a group or organization was thus declared criminal, the competent national authority of any signatory had the right to bring individuals to trial for membership in that organisation, with the criminal nature of the group or organisation assumed proved.
These groups – the Nazi party and government leadership, the German General Staff and High Command (OKW); the Sturmabteilung (SA); the Schutzstaffel (SS), including the Sicherheitsdienst (SD); and the Gestapo – had an aggregate membership exceeding two million, making a large number of their members liable to trial if the organisations were convicted.
The trials began in November, 1945. On October 1, 1946 the IMT rendered its judgement on twenty one top officials of the Third Reich: eighteen were sentenced to death or to extensive prison terms, and three acquitted. The IMT also convicted three of the groups: the Nazi leadership corps, the SS (including the SD) and the Gestapo. Gestapo members Hermann Göring and Arthur Seyss-Inquart were individually convicted.
Three groups were acquitted of collective war crimes charges, but this did not relieve individual members of those groups from conviction and punishment under the denazification programme. Members of the three convicted groups were subject to apprehension and trial as war criminals by the national, military, and occupation courts of the four Allied powers (Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and France). Moreover, even though individual members of the convicted groups might be acquitted of war crimes, they still remained subject to trial under the denazification programme.
The Gestapo ceased to exist after the Nuremberg Trials.
In 1997 Cologne transformed the former regional Gestapo headquarters in that city – the EL-DE Haus – into a museum to document the organization's actions.
In various countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Gestapo is used as a derogatory name for all police forces, but particularly the communist-era riot police, such as ZOMO. Elsewhere, the term is commonly used to describe any group involved in overzealous enforcement of specific tastes or views (e.g. "the style Gestapo").