The Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police) or Gestapo was the most important and most feared instrument of power of National Socialism. It was created out of the Prussia Political Police in April 1933. Surveillance of the people and the persecution of enemies of the Nazi regime were the main tasks of the Gestapo. Communists, social democrats and left socialists were persecuted mainly for political reasons, whereas Jews especially were persecuted on racist grounds. Representatives of the Christian churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as members of youth movements were also subject to repression.
During the war years, the State Police accumulated more duties. The police viewed themselves as ‘Keepers of the Home Front’ and increasingly cracked down on ‘griping’ and people listening to foreign radio stations, they pursued factual or alleged breaches of discipline at work, sabotage or attempts to ‘undermine the military strength’ as well as other non-conformist behaviours. The Gestapo persecuted foreign forced labourers and prisoners with particular brutality.
The main instrument of power wielded by the Gestapo was ‘protective custody’, by which the fundamental human right of liberty was suspended. Arbitrary arrests and indefinite detention as well as transfer to concentration camps were made possible. ‘Intense interrogation’ was the euphemistic term for the torture of prisoners to force them to make statements and ‘Sonderbehandlung’ (special treatment) was the term for executions carried out without court judgement. The Gestapo had a number of further deterrents at its disposal such as surveillance and spying, summons, interrogation or the ‘warning by the State Police’. The Gestapo relied on the cooperation of German society: Numerous denunciations from the population helped the Gestapo become the central terror instrument of the NS system.
Jewish Virtual Library
The Gestapo is Born
The History Place
The Nazi Police State
History Learning Place
THE GEHEIME STAATSPOLIZEI (GESTAPO) AND SICHERHEITSDIENST (SD)
The Avalon Project
Lillian Goldman Law Library
Yale Law School