The Gestapo: A History of Hitler's Secret Police 1933-45
Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 16 Mar 2007
I found this book to be a great introduction into the Geheime Staats Polizei, or Gestapo. The author provides a good deal of background information, without going into pedantic detail.
The bulk of the text deals with the years before WWII. Though the information is somewhat brief, Mr. Butler does a pretty good job of explaining many of the factors and organizations active during the Weimar period. The importance of Göring is also explained, as is his influence on the development of the SS and police in Nazi Germany.
The next sections deal with the melding of the Gestapo into the SS, and the rise of Heydrich and Müller. With the destruction of the SA, the text goes into other "operations" that involved the Gestapo, such as Strasser's death, the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, and even brings in Salon Kitty. This part of the text also includes the SD operations at Gliwice/Gleiwitz and Venlo.
The last chapter before the war starts with the consolidation of the SS empire under the RSHA, and an explanation of the sections therein. This chapter also introduces the reader to the persecution of the Jews. This is done by telling about some actions, and some individuals on both sides of the campaign. With the occupation of the Sudetenland, peace ends.
The next two chapters, comprising 50 pages, try to brief the reader on many things that happened during the next six years. Social registers, the Wannsee Conference, ghettoes, Action A-B, and the Einsatzgruppen are all covered here, and more. The impact on the failure of Operation Sea Lion on the 'need' for the 'final solution' is even explained. For those readers familiar with the war, these things will be brought together in a brief overview. For those new to this subject, there is plenty of fodder provided for further research.
In illustration of its importance, there is a whole chapter devoted to "Stamping Out Resistance," which refers to the threats Hitler felt from within the upper echelons of Nazi-dom. Most of the chapter explains the resistance operations themselves. The first one mentioned was Canaris' plot that was driven in part by his disgust over Kristallnacht and the Fritsch-Blomberg incident. After the Hitler managed to secure Czechoslovakia without a shot fired, these plans were scrapped, but they laid the foundation for a future effort. The attempt on Hitlers life in 1943, by placing a bomb on his aircraft is covered, as well as the White Rose movement of Sophie and Hans Scholl. Operation Valkyrie is covered, from the beginnings of the plot, through the trials and executions of the collaborators.
The final chapter discusses the end of the era, and tells about the various efforts to escape accountability. Suicides abound in this chapter, as do back-door attempts at negotiation and fleeing in fear. The International Military Tribunal is covered, as are the Eichmann and Barbie affairs, well after the war.
The appendices are rather limited, but they include a comparative rank chart, a short glossary, and explanations of uniforms and the Night and Fog decree. The bibliography is useful, especially as it lists five useful websites that will allow the reader to perform further research.
I enjoyed reading this book, and found it rather informative. Although there is no way the entire operational history of the Gestapo could be covered in such a short form, a great deal of information is presented here. I believe this book would be valuable either as background information, or introductory reading.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939