Die Geheime Staats Polizei, better known as the Gestapo, was set up on the 26th of April 1933, ninety years ago today. The Gestapo was an essential element in the Nazi terror system.

The Gestapo ruthlessly eliminated opposition to the Nazis within Germany and its occupied territories and, in partnership with the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service), was responsible for the roundup of Jews throughout Europe for deportation to extermination camps.

The force was created by Hermann Göring in 1933 by combining the various political police agencies of Prussia into one organisation. On 20 April 1934, oversight of the Gestapo passed to the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler.

The Gestapo’s mission was to investigate and combat all attempts to threaten the state. In the Nazi view, threats to the state encompassed a wide variety of behaviours. These behaviours included everything from organised political opposition to individual critical remarks about the Nazis. The government even defined belonging to certain categories or groups of people as threatening. To combat the wide array of potential threats, the Nazi dictatorship gave the Gestapo enormous power.

As a result of its 1936 merger with the Kripo (National Criminal Police) to form sub-units of the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police), the Gestapo was officially classified as a government agency. Himmler’s deputy Reinhard Heydrich led the Security Police. Heydrich also led the SS Intelligence Service (Sicherheitsdienst or Security Service). This office was referred to by its German abbreviation “SD.”

In 1933, the Gestapo had 1,000 employees and at its peak in 1944, its active officers within Germany numbered 16,000, policing a population of 66 million. The Gestapo was underfunded, under-resourced and overstretched.

Yet, this did not mean the Gestapo was a weak or inefficient instrument of Nazi terror. To make up for a lack of staff, the Gestapo decided the vast majority of the population was loyal to the regime. It ruthlessly targeted its resources against groups within German society defined as political opponents, most notably, communists and socialists, religious dissidents, Jews, and a much broader group of racial enemies, including long-term criminals, prostitutes, homosexuals, Gypsies, juvenile gangs and the long-term unemployed. If you did not belong to any of these groups then you had no reason to fear a knock on the door late at night by a Gestapo officer.

Thousands of leftists, intellectuals, Jews, trade unionists, political clergy, and homosexuals simply disappeared into concentration camps after being arrested by the Gestapo. The political section could order prisoners to be tortured, released or murdered. Together, the SS and the Gestapo managed the treatment of inferior races. During World War II, the Gestapo suppressed partisan activities in the occupied territories and carried out reprisals against civilians. Gestapo members with the Einsatzgruppen were mobile death squads that followed the German regular army into Poland and Russia to kill Jews and other undesirables. Under Adolf Eichmann, Bureau IV B4 of the Gestapo organised the deportation of millions of Jews from the occupied countries to the extermination camps in Poland.

Marianne Elise K, a technical draughtswoman in a Berlin armaments factory, whispered to her colleague, “Hitler says he wants to do something to put a smile on Berliners’ faces.”

Goering replied, “Why don’t you jump?” Whether her colleague laughed is lost to history; what she certainly did do was reported Marianne to the authorities. On 26 June 1943, she stood trembling before the People’s Court, as its Nazi president read the sentence, “Her honour has been permanently destroyed, and therefore she will be punished by death.” A few days later, Marianne was beheaded by the guillotine.

A young Catholic priest, Josef Müller, made a joke and was executed for it.

Müller was arrested after repeating a satirical joke about a dying German Wehrmacht soldier on his deathbed, who asked a nurse to lay a portrait of Hitler on one side, and a portrait of Göring on the other. Then, he gasped, “Now I can die like Jesus Christ, between two thieves.” Müller was interrogated and temporarily taken into custody on 6 September 1943 under the charges of comparing Hitler and Göring with the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus Christ.

The indictment against Müller called this joke one of the most vile and most dangerous attacks directed on our confidence in our Führer.… It is a betrayal of the people, the Führer, and the Reich. Although interrogated and tortured several times, he would not divulge where the joke came from. He was executed by guillotine on 11 September 1944.

It’s been estimated that only 15 per cent of Gestapo cases started because of surveillance operations. A far greater number began from following a tip from a member of the public. Every allegation—no matter how trivial—was investigated with meticulous and time-consuming thoroughness. It’s been estimated that about 40 per cent of these denunciations were personally motivated. A Berlin stoker reported a prostitute who gave him a venereal disease. She was placed in a concentration camp. Gestapo officers were extremely wary of husbands and wives who informed on each other. A housewife in Mannheim told the Gestapo her husband was making derogatory comments about Hitler’s regime. After a lengthy investigation, it emerged that the wife wanted her husband out of the way to continue a love affair with an off-duty soldier. In another case, two married doctors were involved. The wife accused the husband of carrying out illegal abortions. This led to his arrest and imprisonment. The husband claimed his wife had a vengeful motive. The husband had passed on a sexually transmitted disease to his wife while carrying on a love affair. Her motive was revenge, but he served eight months in prison before this was finally established.

One example of the cruelty of the Gestapo in the occupied territories is the story of Isak Saleschutz. He was one of seven children born to devout Hasidic Jewish parents living in Dubas. By 1900, all of his siblings had immigrated to America; Isak remained in Poland due to his strong religious convictions.

In 1942 the Gestapo commandant was offended by the beards of religious Jews and demanded that they be cut off. In all his life Isak had never cut his beard–it was a violation of Jewish law. When the barber arrived, he sat somberly as his beard was cut, thinking that now he had felt death. One afternoon the Gestapo came for him. When they pounded at the door, Isak ran to the backyard to hide but was seized, forced into a shed, and shot twice. Wounded, Isak yelled, “Pigs, executioners! Revenge! Take revenge!”

Isak was shot five more times and died. He was among 22 Jewish men executed on 28 April 1942. Isak was buried in Kolbuszowa by two of his sons in a grave, next to his father.

To the Gestapo, it didn’t matter how popular you were. Baron Gottfried von Cramm was the first German to reach the final at Wimbledon. However, he did not win the title on the sacred turf. The liberal tennis baron rejected National Socialism and was arrested on 5 March 1938, by the Gestapo.

He was arrested and tried on the charge of a homosexual relationship with Manasse Herbst, a young Galician Jewish actor/singer who had appeared in the 1926 silent film Der Sohn des Hannibal.[15] After being hospitalized, for a nervous collapse after his arrest on 14 March, von Cramm was sentenced to one-year imprisonment. Cramm admitted the relationship existed and lasted from 1931 until 1934. It began before he was married. The accusation was that he violated paragraph 175. [Paragraph 175 made sexual relations between males a crime. It was still law until 10 March 1994.] Additionally, he was charged with sending money to Herbst, who had moved to Israel in 1936.

After the war, very few of the important Gestapo members were caught and brought to trial.



1 Comment

  1. historiebuff says:

    All students everywhere should read this.


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