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Dictionary Definition

Gestapo n : the secret state police in Nazi Germany; known for its terrorist methods

Extensive Definition

The Gestapo (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) ("head 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").


As part of the deal in which Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, 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 (lang-de 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 Göring. Diels was best known as the primary interrogator of Marinus van der Lubbe after the Reichstag fire. 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 lander (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.
In April 1934, Göring and Himmler agreed to put aside their differences (due in large part to a combined hatred 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. In 1936, most German police forces were united under Himmler's command. At that point, the Gestapo was incorporated into the Sicherheitspolizei and considered a sister organization of the Sicherheitsdienst.
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.. The District Office in Nuremberg, which had the responbility for all of northern Bavaria employed a total of 80-100 informers in the years 1943-1945. The Gestapo office in Saarbrücken had at its service 50 informers in 1939.
As historian Robert Gellately's analysis of the local offices established, the Gestapo was for the most part made up of bureaucrats and clerical workers who depended upon denunciations by ordinary Germans for their information. Indeed, the Gestapo was overwhelmed with denunciations and spent most of its time sorting out the credible from the less credible denunciations. Far from being an all-powerful agency that knew everything about what was happening in German society, the local offices were under-staffed, over-worked officers who struggled with the paper load caused by so many denunciations. The ratio of Gestapo officers to the population of the areas they were responsible for was extremely low; for example, for Lower Franconia, with a population of about one million in the 1930s, there was only one Gestapo office with 28 staff, half of whom were clerical workers. Before the World War II, in the cities of Stettin and Frankfurt am Main, total Gestapo personnel were 41 for both cities. The city of Hanover had only 42 Gestapo personnel, Bielefeld 18, Braunschweig 26, Bremen 44, and Dortmund 76. In Düsseldorf, the local Gestapo office, which had the responsiblity for the entire Lower Rhine region, which comprised 4 million people had 281 employees. After 1939, when many Gestapo personnel were called up for war-related work, the level of overwork and understaffing at the local offices was much increased. Furthermore, for information about what was happening in German society, the Gestapostellen were most part dependent upon these denunciations. 80% of all Gestapo investigations were started in response to information provided by denunciations by "ordinary" Germans; while 10% were started in response in to information provided by other branches of the German government and another 10% started in response to information that the Gestapo itself unearthed.
Thus, it was ordinary Germans by their willingness to denounce one another who supplied the Gestapo with the information that determined who the Gestapo arrested. The popular picture of the Gestapo with its spies everywhere terrorizing German society has been firmly rejected by most historians as a myth invented after the war as a cover for German society's widespread complicty in allowing the Gestapo to work . Work done by social historians such as Detlev Peukert, Robert Gellately, Reinhard Mann, Inge Marssolek, René Otto, Klaus-Michael Mallamann and Paul Gerhard, which by focusing on the local offices were doing have shown the Gestapo's almost total dependence for denunciations from ordinary Germans, and very much discredited the older "Big Brother" picture with the Gestapo having its eyes and ears everywhere.


The Polish government in exile in London during World War II received sensitive military information about Nazi Germany from agents and informants throughout Europe. After Germany conquered Poland in the fall of 1939, Gestapo officials believed that they had neutralized Polish intelligence activities.

Cooperation with the NKVD

In March 1941 representatives of the Soviet secret police (NKVD) and Gestapo met for one week in Zakopane, to coordinate the pacification of resistance in Poland (see: Gestapo-NKVD Conferences). The Soviet Union delivered hundreds of German and Austrian communists to the Gestapo, as unwanted foreigners, together with relevant documents. However an advanced Polish intelligence network developed throughout Europe to provide information to the Allies.
Some of the Polish information about the movement of German police and SS units to the East during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the fall of 1941 was similar to information British intelligence secretly got through intercepting and decoding German police and SS messages sent by radio telegraphy.
In 1942, the Gestapo discovered a cache of Polish intelligence documents in Prague and were surprised to see that Polish agents and informants had been gathering detailed military information and smuggling it out to London, via Budapest and Istanbul. The Poles identified and tracked German military trains to the Eastern front and identified four Ordnungspolizei ("order police") battalions sent to conquered areas of the Soviet Union in October 1941 and engaged in war crimes and mass murder.
Polish agents also gathered detailed information about the morale of German soldiers in the East. After uncovering a sample of the information the Poles had reported, Gestapo officials concluded that Polish intelligence activity represented a very serious danger to Germany. As late as June 6, 1944, Heinrich Müller, concerned about the leakage of information to the Allies, set up a special unit called Sonderkommando Jerzy that was meant to root out the Polish intelligence network in western and southwestern Europe.
The first gas van or "dushegubka" (literary - 'soul-destroyer') was used for mass executions in USSR by the NKVD in 1936. It was invented by the Chief of the Administrative Department of the NKVD in the Moscow region Berg Isay Davidovich. The Gestapo learned about this method in about 1940, when close collaboration & information exchange with the NKVD was established. Starting in December 1941, the Nazis used gas vans for the execution of Jews.

People executed

In popular culture

Sometimes the word Gestapo is used colloquially for other organizations which are felt to be tyrannical. An example is in the book version of the Tron movie, where a character says "This kind of romp is going to annoy the local Gestapo".
The 1946 Czechoslovakian animated cartoon Pérák a SS (The Spring-Man and the SS), featured the character Pérák, the Spring Man of Prague, a quasi-superhero based on a popular figure of Czech urban legend, taunting and evading members of the Gestapo during a surrealistic, slapstick chase over the rooftops of Prague.
A scene in the 1974 Ray Boulting film Soft Beds, Hard Battles parodied the British popular views of both the Gestapo and of tax collectors. Schultz, the assistant Gestapo agent, was making small talk to Peter Sellers's mean, heavily accented and over-the-top Herr Schroeder of the Gestapo, one of six roles Sellers played in the film.
Schultz: What do you look forward to?
Herr Schroeder: After the war? I look forward to going back to my old job in civilian street.
Schultz: What did you do?
Herr Schroeder: I was an income tax inspector.
Schultz: Very different from the Gestapo.
Herr Schroeder (with menace and foreboding): Not ze vay I do it!'
The Gestapo was parodied in the hit BBC sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!'' as stiff-as-board limping characters obsessed with protecting Adolf Hitler from assassination by the German military or resistance. Usually wearing black leather coats and hats, they were often seen cross-dressing. Herr Flick and Herr von Smallhausen were the local agents in the village of Nouvion, obsessed entirely with the German war effort. They were constantly under siege by the French Resistance.
In The Matrix, when Agent Smith interrogates Neo, Neo says "You can't scare me with this Gestapo crap! I know my rights! I want my phone call".
In Medal of Honor: Frontline, an informant appearing in "The Golden Lion" mission has a truck that takes the player for a ride. The game requires the player to get out of the truck at certain checkpoints, where he says "Don't let the Germans see my truck! You know how the Gestapo can be".
In The Chaser's War on Everything a skit featured phone bill collectors because a TV current affairs programme had accused them of using "Gestapo tactics". The skit satirised the weak analogy and featured a Gestapo officer calling a man and demanding that all phone bills be paid; if these demands were not met, he "would not call back tomorrow, but the day after".
In "Mirror, Mirror", an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, the evil, parallel-universe Mr. Sulu is head of security, which Scotty likens to "the ancient Gestapo", aboard the I.S.S. Enterprise.
In "Mail Call," an episode of M*A*S*H*, Frank Burns notes that war always causes a rise in stock prices, prompting Hawkeye Pierce to respond, "Then whatever happened to my 10,000 shares of Gestapo?"
In The Great Escape the Gestapo is repeatedly depicted as a cruel police force that captures many escapees. Many of the film's main characters are executed by the Gestapo upon their recapture. Escape-leader Bartlett, in particular, is threatened—with "Bartlett, if you escape again, and you are caught, you will be shot".
One of the main villains in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is Arnold Toht, a fictional Gestapo agent.



  • Delarue, Jacques Histoire de la Gestapo Paris: Fayard, 1962
  • Schultheis, Herbert & Wahler, Isaac E. Bilder und Akten der Gestapo Wuerzburg ueber die Judendeportationen 1941 - 1943. Bad Neustadt a. d. Saale 1988. ISBN 978-3-9800482-7-9 (German-English Edition)
  • Gellately, Robert The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1935–1945, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, ISBN 0-19-822869-4.
  • Gellately, Robert Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0198205600.
  • Johnson, Eric Nazi Terror : the Gestapo, Jews and Ordinary Germans , New York : Basic Books, 1999, ISBN 0465049060.
  • Klemperer, Klemens von German Resistance Against Hitler: The Search For Allies abroad, 1938-1945 Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992, ISBN 0-19-820551-1.
  • Mallmann, Klaus-Michael & Paul, Gerhard "Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent? Gestapo, Society and Resistance" pages 166-196 from Nazism and German Society, 1933-1945 edited by David F. Crew, London ; New York : Routledge, 1994, ISBN 0415082404.
  • Rees, Laurence The Nazis : A Warning From History, New York : New Press, 1997, ISBN 1565844459.

External links

gestapo in Afrikaans: Gestapo
gestapo in Arabic: غيستابو
gestapo in Bulgarian: Гестапо
gestapo in Catalan: Gestapo
gestapo in Czech: Gestapo
gestapo in Danish: Gestapo
gestapo in German: Geheime Staatspolizei
gestapo in Estonian: Gestapo
gestapo in Modern Greek (1453-): Γκεστάπο
gestapo in Spanish: Gestapo
gestapo in Esperanto: Gestapo
gestapo in Basque: Gestapo
gestapo in Persian: گشتاپو
gestapo in French: Gestapo
gestapo in Galician: Gestapo
gestapo in Korean: 게슈타포
gestapo in Croatian: Gestapo
gestapo in Indonesian: Gestapo
gestapo in Italian: Gestapo
gestapo in Hebrew: גסטאפו
gestapo in Georgian: გესტაპო
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gestapo in Lithuanian: Gestapas
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gestapo in Japanese: ゲシュタポ
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gestapo in Romanian: Gestapo
gestapo in Russian: Гестапо
gestapo in Simple English: Gestapo
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gestapo in Finnish: Gestapo
gestapo in Swedish: Gestapo
gestapo in Vietnamese: Gestapo
gestapo in Turkish: Gestapo
gestapo in Ukrainian: Гестапо
gestapo in Yiddish: געשטאפא
gestapo in Chinese: 秘密国家警察

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Cheka, FBI, Interpol, MP, MVD, Mounties, NKVD, OGPU, RCMP, SP, Scotland Yard, constabulary, county police, highway patrol, law enforcement agency, military police, police, police force, political police, posse, provincial police, riot police, secret police, security force, shore patrol, special police, state police, tactical police, troopers, vigilance committee, vigilantes
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