What happened to the Gestapo?

Gestapo careers after the end of the Nazi dictatorship

An essay volume by Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Andrej Angrick on "The Gestapo after 1945"

From Jürgen Schmädeke

Discussed books / references

The title alone is a provocation: “The Gestapo after 1945”? Did that exist, wasn't the Gestapo just like the “Third Reich” at the end of May 8, 1945? Reality is more complicated, as this volume shows in the essays by 15 authors. It is - which may explain the title - the third part of a trilogy, the first of which is “The Gestapo. Myth and Reality ”, already contains a short article“ Gestapo staff after 1945 ”by Gerhard Paul, and the second volume of which is specifically about the“ Gestapo in the Second World War ”.

In the Nuremberg war crimes trials, the “Secret State Police” and the “Security Service” (SD) in the “Reich Security Main Office” (RSHA) were declared “criminal organizations” in 1946. As “criminal” were those management and administrative officials who had become or remained members of the Gestapo since the beginning of the war on September 1, 1939, although they knew that the Gestapo was used to persecute and exterminate the Jews, to carry out atrocities and murders Concentration camps, rioting in the administration of the occupied territories, the implementation of the forced labor programs and the mistreatment and murder of prisoners of war - and who had personally participated in such acts. They had to fear arrest and conviction, including the death penalty, as had already been carried out on RSHA and Gestapo chief Kaltenbrunner in 1946. In the Einsatzgruppen trial of 1948, the Americans sentenced 14 out of 24 SS leaders from the Gestapo and SD to the death penalty. The fact that only four of them were executed shows a softening of the hard line at the beginning of the “Cold War”, which set different priorities.

British and Americans, Mallmann and Angrick write in their foreword, assumed in 1944 that there was a “far too low number” of 15,000 Gestapo employees against whom “automatic arrest” was to be imposed. More than 25,000 survived the end of the war (the latest RSHA statistics showed 31,371 of around 50,000 relatives to be Gestapo employees). In total there were then 182,713 interned officials of the Nazi system in the three western zones, of whom by the beginning of 1947 86,244 were already at large. On February 28, 1947, 1,367 Gestapo employees were still interned in the US zone. - Unfortunately, this first phase up to the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949 is only very incompletely documented in the book.

Only around a third of the former Gestapo members were imprisoned during these years, says Jan Kiepe in his article “Between Efforts to Punish and Disabilities”. The meshes of “denazification” were also wide. Anyone who did not “go into hiding” with a false name or fled abroad (with the help of the International Red Cross, the Vatican and the victorious secret services) could return to the police service - as did around 80 percent of judges and prosecutors in the judicial service succeeded. The first section, “Careers”, provides several case studies, including in West Germany the network of the “Old Charlottenburgers”, former teachers and students of the (criminal) police institute there, and since 1937 “Security Police Leadership School”. As Stephan Linck shows in his contribution, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and the criminal police in Schleswig-Holstein, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony in particular were interspersed with "old Charlottenburgers" who were often involved in murders by the "Einsatzgruppen", but now They were able to continue their careers in the police service under the umbrella of the British occupying power, which was orientated towards the “primacy of efficiency” in rebuilding. Linck rightly sees this as an “ongoing desideratum” for research.

Finally, he cites as an example of the continued effect of Walter Zirpin's old thinking, whose claim, published in 1955, that the high level of crime after the end of the war was caused by the "release of the majority of the prisoners and detained professional criminals, asocials and criminal rural drivers", is still in found in a police textbook from 1986. It could be added that Zirpins, who once praised his satisfactory work in the Litzmannstadt ghetto, made it to the head of the state criminal police of Lower Saxony after 1945. He helped to create the legend of Marinus van der Lubbe, the sole perpetrator of the Reichstag fire, and thus also to disguise the role of the Gestapo in this highly political criminal case. Not least revelations from the GDR led to early release into retirement. As Andrej Angrick observes, the GDR did quite a lot in the prosecution and judgment of Nazi violent crimes, but was also not afraid to use Gestapo and RSHA members as spies and “informal employees” of the Stasi.

In West Germany, which the book is mostly about, it was, in addition to the East-West confrontation that set other priorities, above all the so-called "131" law of 1951, which many Gestapo members also did, provided they were transferred to official orders Appointed there, opened the way back to the public service. Added to this were the impunity laws of 1949 and 1954, the classification of perpetrators as “assistants” who invoked “imperative to order”, and the increasing statute of limitations for crimes, which was ultimately only lifted for murder. "For the West German post-war police," Jan Kiepe sums up this chapter, "it can therefore be stated that the management staff in particular consisted of those who had already been active in it during the Third Reich and had supported its criminal system." also in view of the public "line of thought" - severely obstruct the investigation. This also affected the work of the criminal police "special commissions" and the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations in Ludwigsburg, which was finally founded in 1958 and which has been able to take up and prosecute a number of the cases dealt with in this book to this day.

Another hurdle was the “transition agreement” to the German treaty of 1955, in which it was stipulated that “closed criminal proceedings” in French, British and American courts could not be tried again by German courts. This was supposed to prevent mitigating revisions, but it was a loophole especially for offenders in France who had been convicted there in absentia but, once caught, were now neither extradited nor tried again by the Federal Republic of Germany, and even tried for some Mass murderers are not a barrier to their career, as Jacek Andrzej Mlynarczyk discovered.

The authors of this anthology provide numerous case studies for all of this. One of the most striking concerns Dr. Otto Bradfisch, who was responsible for 60,811 shootings from 1941 to the end of February 1942 in his grueling career as head of Einsatzkommando 8 of Einsatzgruppe B, and until the end of the year he was still responsible for the deportation of 26,600 Jews from the Litzmannstadt ghetto to the Kulmhof extermination camp and the murder of several thousand Jews from village ghettos of the administrative district, finally in June / July 1944 for the deportation of over 7,000 people to Kulmhof and about 67,000 Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He lived under a false name until 1953, then again under his real name, before he was arrested in Munich in 1958 and charged with four other EK-8 members in 1960. Although the prosecution emphasized conscious participation in mass crimes, low motives and cruelty in the execution of the crime, as Peter Klein writes in his article, he was "ultimately not qualified as an accomplice, but only charged with aiding and abetting murder." Finally, he was initially sentenced to ten years in prison, which were combined with sentences of seven and three years in two further trials to 13 years. Due to illness and with the help of the Hamburg pastor Hermann Schlingensiepen, he was released in 1969 and died in 1994 at the age of 91. The prosecution of the “harvest festival” ordered by Himmler, which killed over 43,000 Jews in eastern Poland in 1943, was similarly embarrassing and scandalous (Jochen Böhler). The “lifelong” judgment against Alfred Rapp in 1965 (Klaus-Michael Mallmann) showed that things were different. The series of mostly negative and less positive examples could be continued.

So was there “the Gestapo after 1945”? As a secret police that continues to work, certainly not. But too many of their relatives worked not only in the police organizations of the federal government and its states, but also as insurance agents or in renowned companies and organizations, and in an astonishingly large number they were in - as one would say today - "rope teams" with one another connected. That is a politically and morally shameful conclusion. Post-war democracy did not perish as a result - not least because after 1945, despite all the closing-line mentality, the Nazi era with its institutions and organizations was so discredited that an independent, politically relevant organizational survival of the Nazi demon was not possible. If it became too dangerous politically, it was also banned by the constitutional court, as in the case of the “Socialist Reich Party” (SRP). Most of these Nazi and post-war actors are no longer alive. Political, including violent, extremism still exists today; Vigilance remains necessary.

The book is dedicated to "Wolfgang Scheffler in memory", who, as a historical expert in numerous Nazi trials, made a significant contribution to the investigation of the crimes.