perfection of the totalitarian police state. So perfect and awesome in their ability to conduct surveillance on German mass society, many historians have described the Gestapo as an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent apparatus of the Nazi regime. Under the guise of this perfect totalitarian surveillance network, the lack of any significant organized resistance to the Nazi dictatorship is easily justified. However popular this image of the Gestapo has become, evidence suggests that this image is may be nothing more than a myth. The image of the Gestapo as an all-powerful, all-seeing instrument of terror, is not one based in reality, but one perpetuated by historians whose claims lack any significant evidential support. By analyzing the history, organization and day-to-day activities of the Gestapo, there is evidence to suggest that the success of Nazi Germany's infamous secret police was largely due to the agency's mythical status and not the result of actual efficiency and potency.
Before any meaningful analysis of this myth can be undertaken, the origins of the Gestapo must be established in order to understand the role and organization of the agency.
[...] The Nazis: A Warning from History. New York: The New Press Prussian Gestapo Law of 10 February in Nazism 1919-1945, edited by J. Noakes and G. Pridham, 513-514. Exeter, Devon, UK: University of Exeter Press Klaus-Michael Mallman and Gerhard Paul, “Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent? Gestapo, Society and Resistance,” in Nazism and German Society 1933-1945, ed. David F. Crew (London: Routledge, 1994) Laurence Rees, The Nazis: A Warning from History (New York: The New Press, 1997) Christopher Graf, Genesis of the Gestapo,” Journal [...]
[...] In fact, Mallman and Paul point out that soon after the start of the war, “there was no break in the complaints about manpower shortages and overwork.” The head of Section IV of the Saarbrucken district, Franz Bierath, echoed that sentiment after the war when he wrote, so the once truly mighty Gestapo had become a Potemkin village. Behind the façade which was still maintained there stood a miserable, wretched skeleton.” Though the Gestapo was understaffed and seriously deficient in well-trained detectives and criminologists, the agency continued to preserve its image as an all-seeing and all-powerful surveillance apparatus. [...]
[...] Reinhard Mann came to a similar realization while studying the case files of the Dusseldorf district office, concluding that as few as 15 percent of the cases in that office were the result of direct observation by the Gestapo or informers employed by the Gestapo. What makes the nature of these denunciations more bizarre is the fact that there was no duty or obligation on the side of Germans to denounce or inform whatsoever. If there was no duty or obligation for Germans to denounce or inform, then the following question begs to be answered: Why were there so many cases in which it happened? [...]
[...] This law clarified the hierarchical order in which the Gestapo would operate, stating: highest Gestapo authority in the state is the Gestapa”, and, Gestapa is located in Berlin.” Also established by this decree was the role of ‘Stapostellen' (Staatspolizeistellen): functions of the Gestapo will be carried out at the intermediate level by the Stapostellen in the individual state police districts.” Initially, the Prussian Gestapo employed around 300 people—the same number of people employed by the Prussian political police force that preceded it. [...]
[...] Robert Gellately, upon recognizing that, “interactions between the police and the population” were one of most important factors that contributed to the system of terror unleashed on German society agreed when he wrote: That conclusion suggests rethinking the notion of the Gestapo as an ‘instrument of domination'; if it was an instrument it was one which was constructed within German society and whose functioning was structurally dependent on the continuing cooperation of German citizens. Bibliography Graf, Christoph. Genesis of the Gestapo.” Journal of Contemporary History 22, no (1997): 419-435. [...]
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