(photo credit: Frank D. Smith)
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
his oft-quoted statement describing apathy toward the arrests of
"others" in Nazi Germany, German Pastor Martin Niemöller actually wrote
of the supra-judicial Gestapo roundups that targeted political
dissidents, Jews and general "undesirables." Niemöller too was arrested
by the Nazi secret police in 1937 and sent to the Sachsenhausen and
Dachau concentration camps for speaking out against Hitler’s Nazism; he
was one of the few who survived. Millions of others rounded up by the
Gestapo and shipped off to Nazi death camps were not so lucky.
April 26, 1934, one of the most feared, brutal and atrocious state
security services ever known to mankind was officially established in
Germany. From its earliest days, the Gestapo, eagerly tasked with
suppressing and eliminating all dissent against Nazi power and ideology,
was a feared institution that put a stranglehold on the minds and
bodies of hundreds of millions of Germans and Europeans that fell under
Nazi control. Several years after its inception, the Gestapo also played
one of the most central roles players in the most notorious act of
genocide in history – the Holocaust.RELATED:Know your enemy Rare Nazi film shows Theresienstadt camp as ‘paradise’ ‘An inveterate Nazi and anti-Semite’
after Adolph Hitler’s rise to power, the face of Nazism recognized the
need to consolidate political control - which meant eliminating all
dissent. With much of the opposition going underground, however, an
intelligence mechanism was needed to track and root them out. The
product of a consolidation and reorganization of German police
intelligence and political divisions, the Gestapo initially operated
mainly against communists, religious clerics and any political
opposition, including student groups. The first concentration camp,
Dachau, was built by the Gestapo to hold, torture and murder the
dissenters it rounded up.
From its early days when of eliminating
political opposition to its infamously efficient genocidal program, the
Gestapo drew its power from the fact that it was not accountable to
anybody but itself. Only two months prior to its establishment, the
clauses of the Weimar Republic’s constitution that guaranteed civil
liberties and due process had been suspended. The Gestapo was allowed to
act with complete freedom of action and impunity. Completely outside of
administrative checks and balances, Nazi jurist Dr. Werner Best, wrote
of its authority, "As long as the [Gestapo] carries out the will of the
leadership, it is acting legally." The prospect of holding such great
power attracted various Nazi officials to seek control over the Gestapo.
From its inception, a number of commanders sought its reins, sometimes
seizing control through accusations of planned coups.
leadership (at that point, Heinrich Himmler) gaining more and more power
under Hitler’s fascist regime, the Gestapo quickly grew from a regional
force to one that would eventually be responsible for most of the
European continent. When Hitler began invading Germany’s neighbors, the
Gestapo’s unrestricted jurisdiction was applied in all of the
German-occupied territories. It would be instrumental in rounding up the
Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other “undesirables” as part of the
genocide that became the Holocaust.
As the Nazi program to murder
Jews progressed, the Gestapo was given full responsibility for the
“extermination of undesirables.” Expanding on the model of Dachau, where
mostly political dissenters were brought at first, the Gestapo and its
B4 division (known as its “Jewish Affairs” division) imagined and
realized the network of horrifying concentration camps that would
eventually kill six million Jews and millions of other “undesirables.”
of the most famous targets of the Gestapo roundups was Anne Frank.
Tipped off through a highly developed network of informants, the Gestapo
successfully searched for and located nearly all of Dutch Jewry, some
of whom who had gone into hiding like Frank and her family.
The Gestapo was one of the most integral institutions of the Nazi
regime, which enabled it to carry out unprecedented genocide. Gestapo
officers intimidated and elicited, coerced and forced information from
citizens in its mission to locate Europe’s Jewish population. In
coordination with the SS, it facilitated their deportation and eventual
mass murder in Nazi concentration camps. Although long relegated to the
annals of history, the Gestapo remains very much alive in the story of
the genocide and terror carried out by the Nazis.