The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933-1945

The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933-1945

The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933-1945

The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933-1945

Synopsis

This book offers an intriguing examination of the everyday operations of the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police. How was the Gestapo able to detect the smallest signs of non-compliance with Nazi doctrines--especially "crimes" pertaining to the private spheres of social, family, and sexual life? How could the police enforce policies such as those designed to isolate Jews, or the foreign workers brought to Germany after 1939, with such apparent ease? Addressing these questions, Gellately argues that the key factor in the successful enforcement of Nazi racial policy was the willingness of German citizens to provide authorities with information about suspected "criminality." He demonstrates that without some degree of popular participation in the operation of institutions such as the Gestapo, the regime would have been seriously hampered in the "realization of the unthinkable," not only inside Germany but also in many of the occupied countries. The product of extensive archival research, this incisive study surveys the experiences of areas across Germany, drawing out national, local, and regional implications.

Excerpt

This book began to take shape one day several years ago in the Würzburg state archives. After reading through a number of Gestapo (secret state police) case-files on the persecution of the Jews, I began to wonder how it was possible for the Gestapo to detect the smallest signs of non-compliance with Nazi doctrines, especially when the suspected 'crime' pertained to the most private spheres of social, family, and sexual life. the files were far from clear on that point, and often said nothing about why an investigation began. How could the police have been able to enforce policies with such scrupulousness and apparent ease? Although a great deal was already known to historians about the nature of the policies, their ideological inspiration, and the contributions of leading Nazis, little had been written about the process by which these doctrines had been transformed into reality inside Germany.

At the time many Germans believed that there was a Gestapo agent on every street corner. Nor was this belief limited to the Nazi era, but has continued, to a greater or lesser extent, to shape perceptions both inside and outside present-day Germany about the Nazi police state and terroristic regime which was eminently capable of enforcing the dictatorship's will. According to this kind of logic, the structure of everyday life was so overshadowed by the physical presence of the secret police, one operating beyond the reach of conventional civil and legal justice, that the most innocuous forms of disobedience could be placed under surveillance and control, politicized, characterized as opposition, and therefore criminalized. An extensive police force, which could perhaps call on an army of agents and spies, would ensure that disobedience could readily be spotted and that popular compliance with and accommodation to the dictates of the regime would follow. Put another way, in such a police state there would have been few, if any, relatively secure social enclaves in which any real resistance or opposition could have crystallized. We have been telling each other this story, in its several variants, for over fifty years. It is no longer convincing.

In many respects I am surprised that this book turned out to deal so much with the police. As with most social historians, my inclination has been to avoid discussion of the police or the state administration. I was interested in the Gestapo case-files as sources of information about popular responses to various Nazi measures, especially the anti-Semitic ones, and hitherto I had only a secondary interest in histories of the Gestapo or the ss. As I read the Gestapo files I was convinced that the material contained in them was extremely important, but I also soon came to see that I could make sense of . . .

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