The Gestapo was the secret police force of Nazi Germany. The word "Gestapo" is short for the German words Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police). It was formed by then Interior Minister of Prussia, Hermann Göring in April 1933 by removing the political and intelligence sections of the Prussian police and putting the unit under his command. By the following year, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had assumed control of all the German state political police departments except for Prussia. Thereafter in April 1934, Göring turned over control of the Gestapo to Himmler and his right-hand man, SS general Reinhard Heydrich for use in the purge of the SA, in what became known as the "Night of the Long Knives".
They molded the force into a national agency to fight "enemies of the state". In 1936, the Gestapo became a sub-branch office of the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police; SiPo) along with the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police; Kripo), under Heydrich's overall command. Later on September 27, 1939, the Gestapo and Kripo became departments of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) (Reich Security Main Office) under Heydrich. At that time, Heinrich Müller was made chief of the Gestapo (known as "Amt IV" or Department IV of the RSHA).
The Nazis used this police/security force to quiet all opposition from 1933 to 1945. Pursuant to German law passed in 1936, the Gestapo was given the power to arrest, interrogate and imprison people without any judicial review by the courts. German people were terrified of the Gestapo, as they were brutal, often arresting people in the middle of the night, and condemning them without giving them a chance to speak in their own defense. Further, the Gestapo relied on informants and people willing to denounce one another to their agents. The Nazis placed Gestapo agents around Europe in countries occupied by Germany to spread Nazi control and search out opponents. Gestapo agents were also used to spy on people, including government officials, and military officers. The Gestapo collected histories of people, so when the Nazis invaded that country they would know who would oppose them.
The term Gestapo is used today as a derogatory term to refer to any corrupted police force that acts in a fashion similar to the actual Gestapo.
In popular culture
The Gestapo have been presented in varying degrees as antagonists in a number of movies, television shows and written fiction works set during World War II.
The best-remembered fictional depiction of the Gestapo today appears in the 1960s WWII-era sitcom Hogan's Heroes, where they appear as recurring antagonists, with ill-tempered Gestapo interrogator Major Wolfgang Hochstetter appearing most often. On Hogan's Heroes, the show's writers took liberties in their depictions of the Gestapo by combining elements of the Gestapo and the Waffen-SS to create their version of the Gestapo, which is depicted as both the Nazi regime's secret police and a paramilitary unit, with both plainclothes agents and uniformed officers and soldiers among the Gestapo's ranks. As with the depictions of other Nazis on the show (including regular characters Col. Wilhelm Klink and Sgt. Hans Schultz), the Gestapo were intended (with the exception of Major Hochstetter) to be depicted as bumblers or fools.
- Miller (2006) p. 502
- McNab (2009) pp. 149–151, 156, 160
- McNab (2009) pp. 152, 156–157
- Hoffman (1977) pp. 28–32
- McNab (2009) pp. 160, 161
- McNab (2009) pp. 160-163
- Dictionary.com definition of Gestapo
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