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Definition: Gestapo from The Chambers Dictionary

the secret police in Nazi Germany; (without cap; pl gesta'pos) any such secret police organization associated with harsh and unscrupulous methods.


of, relating to or characteristic of the Gestapo. [From Ger Geheime Staatspolizei, secret state police]

from World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia

The secret state police after the NSDAP seized power in 1933, one of the main instruments of organized terror by which the Nazis secured their power in Germany and, during World War II, in the conquered countries. The Gestapo, founded and headed by Hermann Goering in Prussia in 1933, soon came under the influence of Heinrich Himmler, who already directed the SS and who had gained control of the political police departments in other parts of the Reich. In April 1936 he also controlled the Gestapo de jure, and, later that year, merged it with the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Investigation Police) under the new name of Sicherheitspolizei (abbreviated Sipo, for Security Police). Three years later, the Sipo was joined with the Sicherheitsdienst (abbreviated SD, for Security Service), an intelligence branch of the military, the new institution then called the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, Reich Security Central Office) and commanded by Reinhard Heydrich up to the time of his assassination in late May 1942.

Recruited from professional police officers, the Gestapo had the official task of investigating and combating all tendencies said to be dangerous to the state. To implement its goals the Gestapo relied heavily on a measure called Schutzhaftbefehl (“protective custody order”), by which they imprisoned people without judicial proceedings, most often in concentration camps, where the prisoners were tortured or murdered. In February 1936 a new legal basis for the Gestapo came into force which declared that such actions were not restricted by judicial review. Beyond the elimination of political opponents, the primary target groups of intimidation and persecution were Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals.

Even if the number of full-time Gestapo personnel never exceeded 40,000 and the number of informers was limited, it could count on great willingness on the part of party officials and Volksgenossen to be involved in denunciation. During World War II the Gestapo played an important role in exerting terror in the countries occupied by the Nazis; especially as part of the Einsatzgruppen of the SS, its members participated in the huge-scale maltreatment and killings of Jews, gypsies, communists, and partisans. The Gestapo was deeply implicated in the attempted extermination of European Jewry, forcing the Jews into ghettos and arresting them to be deported to the extermination camps. As the prospect of defeat loomed ever larger, members of the Gestapo even intensified their murderous activities from the autumn of 1944 in many parts of Germany, and went over to murdering foreign laborers, killing prisoners of war as well as Wehrmacht deserters, and lynching Allied pilots shot down over Germany. At the Nuremberg Trials the entire organization was indicted and convicted of crimes against humanity.

See Also: anti-semitism; concentration camps; germany; ghettos; goering, hermann; heydrich, reinhard; himmler, heinrich; holocaust, the; homosexuality; law; nazism; nuremberg trials; roma and sinti, the; sa, the; sd, the; ss, the; wehrmacht, the; world war ii

  • Aronson, Shlomo. 1969. Beginnings of the Gestapo System: The Bavarian Model in 1933. Jerusalem: Israel University Press.
  • Browder, George C. 1996. Hitler’s Enforcers: The Gestapo and the SS Security Service in the Nazi Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Gellately, Robert. 1990. The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945. Oxford: Clarendon.
  • Joshi, Vandana. 2003. Gender and Power in the Third Reich: Female Denouncers and the Gestapo (1933-45). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Fabian Virchow
    Copyright © 2006 by ABC-CLIO, Inc.

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