GESTAPO


GESTAPO (abb. Geheime Staats Polizei; "Secret State Police"), the secret police of Nazi Germany, their main tool of oppression and destruction, which persecuted Germans, opponents of the regime, as well as Jews at the outset of the Nazi regime and later played a central role in carrying out the "*Final Solution"; originally the Prussian domestic intelligence, which became a quasi-Federal Bureau of Investigation, though initially with much less power. The right-wing revolution in Prussia in late 1932 brought about a sweeping purge of "left-wing and Jewish elements" in its political police and paved the way for the changes of the Nazi era. After Hitler's ascent to power, he appointed Hermann Goering as the new Prussian minister of the interior and Goering completed the purge and gave the secret police executive powers, transforming it from a shadowing and information agency into a wide executive arm to persecute enemies of the Nazi regime. The head office of the secret state police – the Geheimes Staatspolizeiamt, or Gestapa – was given powers to shadow, arrest, interrogate, and intern; however, it had to struggle against the Nazi Party organizations, the SA (Storm Troops) and *SS, which also "fought" the regime's opponents, but without the supervision of traditional state bodies.

Simultaneously, with relatively few changes in the Prussian political police, the Reichsfuehrer of the SS, Heinrich *Himmler, achieved control over the Bavarian political police and established direct ties between the SS, the political police, and concentration camps. Thus Himmler snatched the secret police administration out of the hands of the state conservatives and in collaboration with the Bavarian minister of justice, Hans *Frank, and with Hitler's direct support, created an independent organization for shadowing, interrogation, arrest, imprisonment, and execution along the lines of the Nazi ideology (see SS and *SD, and *Hitler). The Bavarian political police under Reinhard *Heydrich's direction was able to evade the laws that still applied in Germany in order to influence individuals, disband political parties, and liquidate trade unions. It led campaigns through the newspapers and radio against political opponents, interrogated individual "enemies," and sent them to the central concentration camp *Dachau. The officials of the political police all remained civil servants but were simultaneously drafted into the SS and subordinated to Himmler, both through the civil service and Nazi Party. Many of the officials had never been members of the Nazi Party, as was the case of Heinrich *Mueller, an old Weimar secret police man who became Heydrich's assistant and eventually headed the Gestapo.

From the outset Heydrich's prisoners included many Jews, most of whom were intellectuals or active in left-wing parties. During 1933 the political police began shadowing and investigating Jewish organizations and Jewish community life and thus set up its own network for imprisonment and uniform repression of all the Jews of Bavaria, in the wake of the policy of isolating Jews that was part of the first stage and was followed by exerting pressure, openly and insidiously, on the Jews to emigrate.

Unification of the Political Police

From August 1933, Himmler managed to rise from his starting point in Bavaria to take over the political police of the various Laender, including Prussia. From the head office of the Prussian Gestapo in Berlin, which also became the headquarters of the SS, Himmler and Heydrich directed all the political police services in Germany. The Gestapo then became the authority that investigated, along with the SD, every aspect of life in Germany, and especially watched over the regime's "enemies of alien race." The Jews headed the list. Until the end of 1939, the Gestapo's Jewish Department was directed by Karl Haselbacher, a lawyer who was among those who drafted the first anti-Jewish laws. Until the outbreak of World War II, most of the murders in the camps were carried out on Gestapo orders under various cover-ups, such as "killed while attempting escape," but eventually these pretenses were dispensed with, especially where Jews were concerned.

From 1938

As an institution in charge of shadowing, interrogating, arresting, and imprisoning "enemies of the Reich," the Gestapo became a massive authority employing thousands of government officials and SS men who together persecuted the regime's "enemies" or other opponents. Various groups in the population were turned over and left to the Gestapo's sole discretion; they were subjected to "neutralization" in camps without prior trial or forced to emigrate or face physical liquidation. From 1938 onward, the Gestapo began increasingly to deal with Jews who had previously been subject to other Nazi authorities. It had a hand in the *Kristallnacht and enforced Jewish emigration. In competitive cooperation with the SD, the Gestapo set up the Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung in annexed Austria, directed by Adolf *Eichmann and headed by Mueller. Other centers for forced emigration were set up in 1939 in the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia and in Germany proper to accelerate the emigration of Jews by eviction and persecution, impoverishment, and degradation. When the Gestapo and part of the SD were joined under the *RSHA of the SS in November 1939, Office IV (Gestapo) of the new main office acquired sole authority over all Jews who were not yet imprisoned in camps.

During World War II the Gestapo, along with the SD and Security Police, constituted part of the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) in Poland and other occupied countries. These units dealt with the murder and internment of numerous Jews and especially with the expulsion of the inhabitants of the small towns in Poland to mass concentration centers. Afterward Gestapo officials were appointed supervisors over the mass concentration of Jews. In Berlin headquarters the Gestapo in the first year of the war laid plans for various temporary "solutions for the Jewish problem," such as the establishment of a "reservation" in Poland or the mass transfer of Jews to Madagascar. At the end of 1940, when the Jews in Eastern Europe were interned in ghettos, the Gestapo, along with the German occupational civil administration, was charged with guarding and supervising the ghettos, imposing forced labor, and causing starvation and disease in an effort to decimate the ghetto inhabitants. In the Western occupied countries the Gestapo saw to registering the Jews and isolating them from the rest of the population for purposes of their eventual removal from economic life and confiscation of property. Under Eichmann, Section IVB4 of the Gestapo was "federfuehrend" (leading) in the "Final Solution."

The Einsatzgruppen

After the invasion of Russia in 1941, the Einsatzgruppen, headed by Gestapo men and directly responsible to Heydrich and Mueller, renewed the massacres on an enormous scale. The Einsatzgruppen carried out executions of Jews in the Baltic states and in Belorussia and wiped out part of the Ukrainian Jews. Later in 1941, the decision was made to kill all the Jews of Europe in gas chambers and the Gestapo was to supervise the dispatch of the Jews to the camps specially adapted or constructed for the program of mass murder (see *Holocaust, General Survey). The Gestapo section headed by Eichmann was in charge of the dispatch of Jews to the camps, and it also directly supervised at least one camp, *Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia. The section also supplied some of the gas used in the chambers, negotiated with countries under German domination to accelerate the murder, and dealt with Jewish leaders, especially in Hungary (see *Kasztner) in an effort to smooth the process of the impending destruction of various Jewish communities (see *Judenrat). The local Gestapo offices in Germany supervised the dispatch of Jews to death trains and the confiscation of their property. The Gestapo was largely responsible for the actual implementation of the dispatch orders and could choose its victims. It especially held the fate of people of mixed parentage (Mischlinge) in its hands. It excelled in its unabated and premeditated cruelty, in its ability to delude its intended victims as to the fate that awaited them, and in the use of barbaric threats and torture to lead the victims to their death, all as part of the "Final Solution."

At the same time the Gestapo acted as the principal executive arm of the Nazi regime in all the campaigns of terror, liquidation, looting, starvation, confiscation of property, and theft of cultural treasures (see Desecration and Destruction of *Synagogues; *Poland) throughout Europe. The Gestapo also repressed the anti-Nazi partisan movement and stamped out resistance in the Western European countries. Thus the term Gestapo became an accepted synonym for horror. After the war, very few of the important members of the Gestapo were caught and brought to trial. The courts in the Federal German Republic from 1969 discussed the question of several principal contingents of the Gestapo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

G. Reitlinger, SS, Alibi of a Nation (1956); H. Hoehne, The Order of the Death's Head: The Story of Hitler's SS (1969); K.D. Bracher, W. Saver, and W. Schulz, Die Nationalsozialistische Machtergreifung (1968); S. Aronson, Reinhard Heydrich und die Fruehgeschichte von Gestapo und SD (1970); H. Krausnick et al., Anatomy of the SS State (1968); F. Zipfel, Gestapo und SD in Berlin (1961); R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1961, 19852, 20033). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Gellately, Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy (1991); E. Johnson, Nazis Terror: The Gestapo and Ordinary Germans (1999); G. Broder, Hitler's Enforcers: The Gestapo and SS Security Service in the Nazi Revolution (1996); S. Aronson, The Beginnings of the Gestapo System: The Bavarian Model (1970).

[Shlomo Aronson]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.