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An abbreviation for the German phrase Geheime Staatspolizei (English: Secret State Police), the Gestapo was the political police organization of Nazi Germany. While it was a government organization, it was subordinate to the Reich Main Security Administration (RSHA, German: Reichssicherheits Hauptamt) of the Nazi Party.

The RSHA, which in turn was responsible to the Schutzstaffel (SS), a historical name for the Party "Security Squadron", but also to the State Ministry of the Interior. In practice, the SS, under Heinrich Himmler was in control. Nevertheless, the dual reporting, state and party, was common, as the lines of control converged only with Adolf Hitler. Similar parallel state and party structures existed in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin.


Before the consolidation of offices under the Third Reich, there was a Secret Police Office, Geiheime Staatspolizeiamt or "Gestapa", under Prussia, headed by Hermann Goering. In 1936, it was transferred to national control and the "office" part was deleted from the name; the name that was to inspire dread was the contribution of a German Post Office worker asked to make up a rubber stamp for an abbreviation of the new organization name, hence "Gestapo". Himmler was deputy chief of the Gestapo, but never directly commanded the Gestapo, which was two levels of command below him.


The Gestapo had unlimited powers of arrest and detention, with the only official appeal being within the Gestapo itself. If one were lucky enough to have high connections, there might be other alternatives, but it was very unlikely. In some cases, however, there would be a jurisdictional issue; the Gestapo had limited powers against military personnel, although that reduced when German military counterintelligence, the Abwehr, was later dissolved. While it would act for a much wider range of reasons, it did participate in counterintelligence, although the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) was the active counterespionage organization.

Th greatest Gestapo power was "Schutzhaft", or "protective custody," based on the law passed in February 1933, which suspended the Weimar Constitutional constitutional guarantees of civil liberties. While, in some cases, prisoners of the Gestapo were put on formal trial, the Gestapo itself was not subject to judicial review.[1]

Contrary to some cinematic impressions, there was no Gestapo uniform; they worked in plain clothes and had only an inconspicuous numbered disk as a credential.


It was a State, not Party organization, but reported to the Reich Main Security Administration (Reich (RSHA), under Reinhard Heydrich and then Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Throughout its existence, it was commanded by Heinrich Mueller.

According to the International Military Tribunal, its 1943 organization consisted of five headquarters sections, plus regional offices. [2]

Headquarters organization

  • Section A: "opponents, sabotage, and protective service:
    • A1 Communism, Marxism and associated organizations, war crimes, illegal and enemy propaganda.
    • A2 Defense against sabotage, combatting of sabotage, political falsification.
    • A3 Reaction, opposition, legitimism, liberalism, matters of malicious opposition.
    • A4 Protective service, reports of attempted assassinations, guarding, special jobs, pursuit troops.
  • Section B dealt with political churches, sects and Jews:
    • B1 Political Catholicism.
    • B2 Political Protestantism Sects.
    • B3 Other churches, Freemasonry.
    • B4 Jewish affairs, matters of "evacuation" (i.e. deportation to ghettoes, concentration camps (Konzentrationlager (KZ)) and death camps (Totenlager (TZ)),[3] means of suppressing enemies of the people and State, dispossession of rights of German citizenship. (Adolf Eichmann was head of this office).
  • Section C dealt with card files, protective custody, and matters of press and Party:
    • C1 Evaluation, records, information office, supervision of foreigners.
    • C2 Matters of protective custody.
    • C3 Matters of the press and literature.
    • C4 Matters of the Party and its formations, special cases.

  • Section D dealt with regions under greater German influence:
    • D (aus. arb.) Foreign Workers.
    • D1 Matters of the Protectorate, Czechs in the Reich, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, and the remaining regions of the former Yugoslavia, Greece.
    • D2 Matters of the General Government, Poles in the Reich.
    • D3 Confidential office, foreigners hostile to the State, emigrants.
    • D4 Occupied territories, France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Denmark.
    • D5 Occupied Eastern territories.
  • Section E dealt with security, often conflicting with the SD and sometimes SIPO:
    • E1 General security matters, supply of legal opinions in matters of high and State treason, and other security matters.
    • E2 General economic matters, defense against economic espionage, guard services
    • E3 Security West.
    • E4 Security North.
    • E5 Security East.
    • E6 Security South.
  • Section F dealt with passport matters and alien:
    • F1 Frontier police.
    • F2 Passport matters.
    • F3 Identification and identity cards.
    • F4 Alien police and basic questions concerning frontiers.
    • F5 Central visa office

German local offices

In the typical Nazi overlapping and conflicting chains of command, the regional offices within Germany reported directly to the RSHA in Berlin, but were subject to the supervision of Inspekteurs of the SIPO (Security Police) in the various provinces; these supervisors, in principle, managed cooperation between the Security Police (SIPO) and the central offices of the general and interior administration. In practice, there could be much bureaucratic fighting.

Offices in occupied territories

In the occupied territories the regional offices of the GESTAPO were coordinated with the Criminal Police and the SD under Kommandeurs of the Security Police and SD, who were subject to Befehlshabers of the Security Police and SD who reported to the Chief of the Security Police and SD (RSHA) in Berlin. In many areas, there was yet another intermediate echelon of Higher SS and Police Leader (German abbreviation HSSPF)

Similar organizations

While the services were organized differently, there were parallels between the Gestapo and the Soviet Organs of State Security.


  1. Federation of American Scientists, Secret Police [GESTAPO, Geheime Staatspolizei]
  2. International Military Tribunal, Volume II Criminality of Groups and Organizations The Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) & Sicherheitsdienst (Part 2 of 9), Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
  3. The Gestapo did not operate the camps, although most had a Gestapo office within them. Actual operation was under the WVHA, with the guard and killing force from yet another organization, the Death's Head units of the Waffen SS