A measured yet chilling overview of the organization and politics of Nazi Germany’s notorious core.
Dams (Police Sciences/North-Rhine Westphalia School of Public Management) and Stolle (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) offer a rigorously researched account that’s familiar in its broad strokes, but their focus on the words and career arcs of key perpetrators, and the Gestapo’s paper trail, illuminates disturbing new facets. The Gestapo (from Geheime Staatspolizei, or “Secret State Police”) was essentially created by Heinrich Himmler (who would commit suicide in Allied custody) and his ruthless deputy Reinhard Heydrich (assassinated by partisans in 1942), and its aggression was forged by competition for influence with other factions like the army: “The first Gestapo Law…meant that the Gestapo was largely detached from the interior administration.” Prior to World War II, Himmler focused on restructuring domestic policing “according to National Socialist principles,” persecuting Jews, homosexuals, the “work-shy” and other enemies of the state. After 1939, Gestapo units generally followed the army’s movement into Europe. The authors emphasize how bureaucratic complexity was promulgated at every level of the Gestapo’s operation. Somehow, this eased the transition from domestic spying to active participation in genocide, initially in Eastern Europe, where they oversaw the infamous mobile killing squads. This transition from abstract clerical management “turned the officers into active enforcers of the National Socialist war of extermination…[which] then became perceptible in their service on the ‘home front.’ ” Dams and Stolle are restrained in their detailing of the accelerating narrative of mass murder and cruelty, but their emphasis on Nazi philosophy and ambition remains disturbing, as is their conclusion, where they document how initial efforts to hold Gestapo members accountable tapered off by the early 1950s—“heavily incriminated war criminals found jobs” in intelligence and other fields.
An engrossing academic taxonomy of evil.