The Gestapo, short for “Geheime Staatspolizei” or "Secret State Police," was a secret police force active in Nazi Germany. The Gestapo, formed in 1933, enjoyed sweeping powers of arrest and interrogation, which they used to aggressively seek out opponents of National Socialism and remove them. Members did not wear uniforms and were known for their cruel methods and tactics, but as the force was relatively small -- only 32,000 strong in 1944 -- the success of Gestapo investigations often relied on local informers.
Gestapo During WWII
The Gestapo’s role expanded following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939. The force’s activity overlapped with other security services, but it was involved with the suppression of resistance groups, both in Germany itself and in occupied parts of Europe, along with investigating people classified as undesirable by the Nazi regime, such as homosexuals, intellectuals and trade unionists. In addition, the Gestapo’s Bureau IV B4 section deported millions of Jews from across occupied Europe to concentration camps in Poland.
Gestapo After WWII
In November 1945, the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal convicted the Gestapo, along with the SS, of being a criminal organization. Individual Gestapo members were convicted of war crimes for many years including, in 1987, Klaus Barbie, the so-called "Butcher of Lyon," who in his position as the city's Gestapo chief sent hundreds of local people to concentration camps. However, the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Muller, disappeared in May 1945 and remains the highest-ranking unaccounted-for Nazi.
- Stiftung Topographie des Terrors: The Secret State Police (Gestapo)
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: SS Police State
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Gestapo
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Holocaust Encyclopedia, SS Decline, Disintegration and Trials
- BBC News: On This Day, Nazi War Criminal Klaus Barbie Gets Life
- Photo Credit Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images
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