Frank McDonough: 9 Things I discovered about the Gestapo

Posted on: 24/08/2015 20th Century, WW2

9 Things I discovered about the Gestapo


Frank McDonough

The research for my new book: The Gestapo: The Myth and Reality of Hitler’s Secret police took many years in the Gestapo archives in the German cities of Düsseldorf and Duisburg. It is here that the largest collection of 73,000 files are located.  There were many surprising findings, but I’ve selected nine.

1. The Gestapo was a much smaller organisation than I imagined. There were never more than 16,000 Gestapo officers policing a population of 66 million people. In Cologne in 1942, there were just 69 officers for a city with 750,000 inhabitants.

2. The Gestapo was not made up of committed Nazi Party members. The majority of officers were former ordinary policemen and detectives. Most only joined the Nazi Party for career reasons.

3. It’s often assumed the Gestapo arrested people and sent them straight to concentration camps without trial. I found this was a myth. All cases were investigated in full. Gestapo officers released the vast majority of the people they arrested without charge.

4. The Gestapo relied heavily on tip offs from the general public. Most denouncements came from close relatives, neighbours and workmate who wanted to use the Gestapo to gain revenge.  

5. I was surprised by the amount of time the Gestapo devoted to very trivial matters. One amusing case involved the Gestapo trying to discover who had written graffiti on toilet doors in a large factory. This ended up with a lavatory door being removed and the handwriting on it compared that of many workers. In the end, this case was dropped.

6. I found out the Heads of Department in regional Gestapo offices tended to be highly educated graduates with not only a university degree, usually in law and often a PhD.

7. I was most surprised to find that many Gestapo officers treated Germans with surprising leniency. They were not, as most people think, all unequivocally wicked and evil. They represented a wide variety of human nature. This comes out very effectively in the detailed cases examined in the book.

8. I was shocked to discover that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not only among those treated most brutally by the Gestapo, but also a group which displayed enormous bravery, most preferring martyrdom to compromise.

9. Perhaps the most disturbing finding was how the post-1945 West German government failed to prosecute former Gestapo officers. Most were able to be re-deployed to jobs in the civil service and those who had retired kept their generous occupational pensions.  

Amy Dolman

Post author: Amy Dolman

Amy is responsible for the smooth running of the H for History website, and enjoys reading history-based fantasy. She also like to photograph sites of historical interest in her spare time with a cup of bovril and a pork pie for company. Favourite period of history: Ancient; Favourite historical read: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave; Upcoming book i'm most looking forward to: Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick

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