Gestapo (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Although the Gestapo certainly played a central role in Nazi genocide, its name is often misapplied to other SS and police organizations involved. To understand its actual role, one must understand its place in that larger complex, but especially the branch to which it belonged, the Security Police and SS Security Service (Sipo and SD).
As the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, they created separate security agencies of police detectives to fight political crime, that is, to prosecute their enemies. To build agencies that could infringe on civil liberties, they took advantage of fears about threats to national security, especially after the hysteria unleashed by the Reichstag fire, allegedly set by a communist terrorist.
Geheime Staatspolizei (Privy [Secret] State Police) was a traditional title for political police. The abbreviation GeStapo emerged innocently enough, only to become a symbol of police terror and genocide.
By 1936 Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, had consolidated all such police into a unified national Gestapo. They had become veritably independent of all judicial and most normal governmental mechanisms of control. At the same time, he acquired command of all German state police to become Reichsführer SS and Chief of German Police. Himmler hoped to revolutionize them by fusion with his SS.
As part of this process, under Reinhard Heydrich he united three complementary agencies. While maintaining their separateness, they teamed the regular detectives, the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), with the Gestapo, collectively called the Security Police (Sipo). To provide union with the SS, they added the SS Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst, SD) that had been created by Heydrich. Sipo and SD were to be the nerve center for identifying and eliminating any so-called threats to the national community.
The SD was an amorphous combination of academics, professionals, and young Nazis who wanted to shape future society, to provide ideological guidance for police work against alleged enemies of the people, to monitor and shape the public mood and advise the national leadership, and to monopolize domestic and foreign intelligence and counterespionage operations. Himmler and Heydrich planned to infuse Sipo with leaders and members of the SD; they also began to successfully recruit qualified detectives as SS/SD members. Although this two-way process never involved a majority of the detectives, it contributed significantly to mobilizing all involved for their future roles in genocide.
To enhance control, in 1939 Himmler and Heydrich created a special headquarters for Sipo and the SDhe Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA). Not only did RSHA become the command center for national security, it also extended its tentacles into all occupied territories where enemies and other peoples deemed unsuitable might undermine development of the "Thousand Year Reich." RSHA acquired authority for coordinating security efforts behind the lines.
Thus, although the Gestapo played a key role in Nazi genocide, it worked inseparably from its teammates in Sipo and SD. The RSHA coordinated with the Wehrmacht the operations of the Einsatzgruppen of Sipo and SD. Once areas were secured, RSHA morphed these forces into regional headquarters for its operations and the ongoing programs of "population management." Sipo and SD were the executive agencies for identification and extermination, organization of shooting teams, ghettoization, and assignment to labor and death camps. This involved them in the coordination of the uniformed German police and locally recruited police auxiliaries, both of whom played major roles in mass extermination. In the occupied west the Gestapo's Jewish experts worked under Sipo and SD commanders to locate, round up, and transport Jews and other victims to ghettos or concentration camps. In Allied countries they encouraged maximum collaboration.
Their Kripo colleagues had responsibility for rounding up and committing to the camps homosexuals, three-time criminal offenders, Romani, and anyone else who fell under the ever-broadening category of asocials. This authority resulted from the Nazi program of proactive crime prevention as opposed to reactive enforcement. Such logic involved them in the euthanasia program for exterminating the genetically unfit. Thus, Kripo acquired expertise in operating gas chambers. That, in turn, led to their involvement in developing some of the first death camps in Poland.
Neither branch of Sipo commanded either the early concentration camps or the slave labor and extermination camps that emerged with the Holocaust. They did, however, share primary responsibility for rounding up and determining the commitment and release of inmates. The much larger uniformed police force under Himmler, but outside Sipo and SD, supported them in all these operations, while another branch of the SS ran the camps.
Specifically in the evolution and execution of the Shoah, the Gestapo and SD played symbiotic roles from the beginning. Ostensibly, as police executive for domestic security, the Gestapo targeted legally defined enemies of the state. Of course, it also monitored and harassed all suspected enemies, and shut down their organizations. Its first targets were communists and socialists, but quickly liberal, conservative, and rival right-wing radical groups became suspect. Then any remaining non-Nazi professional or labor organizations came under scrutiny and attack. Among the vanguard of suspected enemies were Christian leaders whose sense of morality led them to publicly criticize the regime's programs. Catholic priests and organizations especially drew fire, but Jehovah's Witnesses were the first sect targeted for immediate elimination.
Freemasons and Jews had always ranked high on the Nazi lists of enemies. The Gestapo could break up lodges and Jewish organizations, but individuals had to be charged with specific crimes. Thus, the Gestapo originally devoted relatively limited energy to Jews. But the Nuremberg Laws of 1936, combined with an expanding body of legislation curbing Jewish economic and occupational activities, defined many otherwise normal human activities as crimes when performed by Jews. Thereafter, the police generated "statistical evidence of criminality" that allegedly proved the Jewish threat to public security. Policemen felt increasing pressure to prosecute/persecute this outgroup, whose very existence was perceived as a threat to law and order. Still, law enforcement could usually act only when a Jew broke the law.
By 1936 two other developments led the SD to acquire a growing interest in the "solution" of the "Jewish problem." Among its leading, highly educated officers, some with an ideological fixation on "scientific racism" had risen to prominence, and for them Jews ranked preeminently as the problem in achieving racial purity. Meanwhile, rivalry among Nazis made it clear to Himmler, Heydrich, and SD leaders that acquiring responsibility for solving the Jewish problem would win favor with Hitler. Consequently, the SD created a cadre of "experts on Jewry" who would apply so-called scientific methods of research to understand and solve the problem rationally. They claimed the right to a monopoly over such problem solving because of their superiority over conventional anti-Semites who in their counterproductive excesses were misguided by "mere superstition."
As a result, Heydrich created in 1937 a division of labor between the Gestapo and SD. The Gestapo prosecuted Jewish criminality, while the SD researched and monitored the problem, ensuring that its detectives had proper ideological-scientific insight. This lasted until the pogrom of Kristallnacht in November 1938. After the annexation of Austria in March 1938 greatly expanded the numbers of Jews in the Reich, Hitler's Jewish expert, Adolf Eichmann, developed a highly efficient office in Vienna to speed up the process of emigration, while thoroughly fleecing the victims. SD recommendations for also expelling Jews with Polish citizenship inadvertently precipitated the November pogrom, because it was the assassination of a German official by the son of such expelled immigrants that provided the pretext for the pogrom. The actions of radicals wreaked extensive economic damage with embarrassing international consequences. In response, to defuse radical dissatisfaction with the slowness of emigration and to solve the "Jewish problem." Heydrich was allowed to establish offices based on Eichmann's model throughout the entire Reich.
As the agency with police power, the Gestapo was better suited for such a responsibility, so Eichmann and his SD Jewish experts were transferred to the Gestapo. The SD retained only the mission of studying the Jewish problem. In this think-tank capacity, however, they sought to guide Nazi leadership and all police increasingly caught up in the evolution of the Final Solution. To maintain their position, they had to offer ever more radical and thorough solutions. Meanwhile, the joint involvement of Sipo and SD officers and personnel in the Einsatzgruppen, first in Poland and then on the Eastern Front, produced increasingly murderous responses. At every level, from Hitler down to the shooting teams, Sipo and SD helped initiate and further the decision to exterminate all Jews and eventually all other persons deemed unsuitable in the European population.
The most important question is not by whom and how all this was done, but the motivations of the perpetrators. Below the level of some ideologically motivated leaders and aside from a minority of rabid anti-Semites, the majority of the hundreds of thousands of perpetrators were "ordinary men" in most senses of that phrase. This applied to the professional police detectives in Kripo and the Gestapo. The availability and mobilization of such people for genocidal behavior remain key issues for research and debate.
SEE ALSO Barbie, Klaus; Germany; Göring, Hermann; Himmler, Heinrich; Holocaust
Browder, George C. (1990). Foundations of the Nazi Police State: The Formation of Sipo and SD. Lexington: The University of Kentucky 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, 1933945. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press.
Johnson, Eric A. (1999). Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans. New York: Basic Books.
Lozowick, Yaakov (2002). Hitler's Bureaucrats: The Nazi Security Police and the Banality of Evil. London: Continuum.
Paul, Gerhard, and Klaus-Michael Mallmann, eds. (1995). Die Gestapo: Mythos und Realitaet. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Paul, Gerhard, and Klaus-Michael Mallmann, eds. (2000). Die Gestapo im Zweiten Weltkrieg: "Heimatfront" und besetztes Europa. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Ruerop, Reinhard, ed. (1989). Topography of Terror: Gestapo, SS and Reichssicherheitshauptamt on the Prinz-Albrecht-Terrain. A Documentation. Berlin: Verlag Willmuth Arenhoevel.
George C. Browder
Gestapo (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
It was not long after the Anschluss of March 13, 1938, that the Nazis began to take an interest in the Jew Sigmund Freud. The number of "visits" to the Berggasse residence increased in frequency and were often accompanied by demands for money. One Tuesday evening, on March 22, Anna Freud was held "bei Gestapo" for questioning, which sealed her father's decision to leave Austria.
It has been suggested that "humor is a polite way of expressing despair" and it is not surprising that a number of jokes circulated in Austria at the time. One of them, attributed to Freud himself, has been frequently repeated ever since Ernest Jones reported it: "One of the conditions for being granted an exit visa was that he sign a document that ran as follows, 'I Prof. Freud, hereby confirm that after the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich I have been treated by the German authorities and particularly the Gestapo with all the respect and consideration due to my scientific reputation, that I could live and work in full freedom, that I could continue to pursue my activities in every way I desired, that I found full support from all concerned in this respect, and that I have not the slightest reason for any complaint.' When the Nazi officer brought it along Freud had of course no compunction in signing it, but he asked if he might be allowed to add a sentence, which was: 'I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone'" (Jones, 1957, p. 226).
This "story" has been repeated many times and commented on by those who treated it as genuine. Some commentators have reproached Freud for a "recommendation" they felt to be ambiguous; others admired his audacity. Eventually, some people ended up believing that Freud had actually added this sentence to the Nazi document.
It is hard to imagine that Freud, who was aware of the difficult and costly negotiations by the U. S. ambassador to France (William C. Bullitt), Marie Bonaparte, and Ernest Jones to obtain his visa, and who was responsible for the fate of his daughter and wife within the climate of the anti-Semitic hatred that had taken hold in Vienna, would have taken the risk of making a joke that in a matter of seconds might undo all their efforts. Moreover, he was depressed by the powerlessness resulting from his age and poor health, as he wrote in a letter to his son Ernst on May 12, 1938, "I am writing to you for no particular reason because here I am sitting inactive and helpless while Anna runs here and there coping with all the authorities, attending to all the business details" (letter number 297, p. 442). But his "official" biography maintained this fiction, and none of those close to Freud denied it, especially Anna Freud.
The original text of the statement was found during a 1989 public auction of documents concerning the emigration of Freud's family. It is a more sober statement, closer to the horrible truth of those years, than the theatrical version given by Jones, and more consistent with the customary bureaucratic indifference of the Nazi machine. It was written by Alfred Indra and signed by Freud, without any additions by him. It reads: "Erklarung. Ich bestätige gerne, dass bis heute den 4. Juni 1938, keinerlie Behelligung meiner Person oder meiner Hausgenossen vorgekommen ist. Behörden und Funtionäre der Partei sind mir und meinem Hausgenossen ständig korrekt und rücksickstvoll entgegentretten. Wien, den 4. Juni 1938. Prof. Dr. Sigm. Freud." (Declaration. I hereby confirm of my own free will that as of today, June 4, 1938, neither I nor those around me have been harassed. The authorities and representatives of the Party have always conducted themselves correctly and with restraint with me and with those around me. Vienna, June 4, 1938. Prof. Dr. Sigm. Freud.)
Freud's comment was most likely introduced to mask the anguish of his departure form of black humor, which had close links, throughout Freud's life, with the tradition of Yiddish Witze, which were often also tinged with despair.
ALAIN DE MIJOLLA
See also: Bettelheim, Bruno; Freud, (Jean Martin); Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag; Mitscherlich, Alexander.
Jones, Ernest. (1957). Sigmund Freud. Life and work. London: Hogarth.
Mijolla, Alain de. (1989). A sale in Vienna. Journal de l'association internationale d'histoire de la psychanalyse, 8.