Brief Review: The Gestapo — The Myth and Reality of Hitler’s Secret Police, by Frank McDonough
HOW SCARY was the Gestapo to the ordinary German who was not a Jew, Gypsy, or a homosexual? Something of an afterthought when it was set up in 1933, the Gestapo never numbered more than 16,000 officers, not nearly enough to patrol tens of millions of people. Cologne, with a population of 750,000, had 69 Gestapo officers, less than one per 10,000 inhabitants. In most small towns the Gestapo was not present at all. Such a small force, the author notes, had to be reactive rather than proactive, relying chiefly on a steady flow of denunciations from the public. (ILLUSTRATION: Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring)
These were not slow in coming but what is surprising is how cautious the Gestapo officers often were in responding to them. They were especially wary of late-night calls from women claiming to have just discovered that their husbands hated Hitler. “Gestapo officers did not regard working-class wives as reliable witnesses,” he writes. And, at a time when many Germans lived in boarding houses, they were also cautious about snitchers on fellow tenants, suspecting that many of these newly discovered subversives were victims of obscure feuds.
Still more surprising is how gingerly the Gestapo dealt with undoubted malcontents. McDonough notes the case of Heinrich Veet, a factory worker who answered a call to give the Hitler salute with: “Don’t give me that shit!” The Gestapo put Veet in jail but soon let him out after his brother hired a lawyer, who made no attempt to prove that Veet was a Nazi, merely noting that as a known admirer of the former Kaiser he could hardly be considered subversive.
Another remarkable point that McDonough makes is that judges often threw out cases brought by the Gestapo. Many were old-fashioned conservatives, he explains, trained under the Prussian monarchy, with a prickly sense of their own independence.
McDonough does not suggest the Gestapo were deliberately humane, only that they were few in number, were selective, and operated on the premise that your average heterosexual Aryan was either basically loyal – or, if not, posed no serious threat to the regime.
None of the above applied to Jews, gays, or Communist activists, of course – or to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Source: Read the full article at The Independent