Nazi Agencies


Protective Squadrons [SS] / Schutzstaffel

The SS was the very essence of Nazism -- the elite group of the Party, composed of the most thorough-going adherents of the Nazi cause, pledged to blind devotion to Nazi principles, and prepared to carry them out without any question and at any cost, including the deportation and Germanization of inhabitants of conquered territories, enslavement of foreign labour and illegal use of prisoners of war, concentration camps for the extermination of the Jews and planning and waging aggressive war.

The sweeping National Socialist program and the measures they were prepared to use and did use, could be fully accomplished neither through the machinery of the government nor of the Party. Things had to be done for which no agency of government and no political party even the Nazi Party, would openly take full responsibility. A specialized type of-apparatus was needed, an apparatus which was to some extent connected with the government and given official support, but which, at the same time, could maintain a quasi-independent status so that all its acts could be attributed neither to the government nor to the Party as a whole. The SS was that apparatus. It involved, of course, the performance of police functions. But it involved more. It required participation in the suppression and extermination of all internal opponents of the regime. It meant participation in extending the regime beyond the borders of Germany, and eventually, participation in every type of activity designed to secure a hold over those territories and populations which, through military conquest, had come under German domination.

Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsfuehrer SS, commanded the entire organization. The increasingly close collaboration of the Security Service of the Reichsfuehrer SS (almost always referred to as the SD) with the Gestapo and Criminal Police (Kripo) eventually resulted in the creation of the Reich Main Security Office (or RSHA). The SD originated as a part of the SS and always retained its character as a party organization, as distinguished from the GESTAPO, which was a State organization. However, the GESTAPO and the SD were brought into close working relationship, the SD serving primarily as the information-gathering agency and the GESTAPO as the executive agency of the police system established by the Nazis for the purpose of combating the political and ideological enemies of the Nazi regime. The Waffen SS, the combat arm of the SS, was created, trained, and finally utilized for the purposes of aggressive war. Although tactically under the command of the  Wehrmacht while in the field, it remained as much a part of the SS as any other branch of that organization. The mission of the SS Death Head Units (SS Totenkopf Verbaende) was guarding enemies of the State who were held in concentration camps. The SS eventually succeeded in assuming control over the entire Reich Police, out of which special militarised forces were formed, originally SS Police Battalions, and later expanded to SS Police Regiments. The Allgemeine (General) SS was composed of all members of the SS who did not belong to any of the special branches.

Reich Main Security Office [RSHA] / Reich Sicherheits Hauptamt

The Reich Main Security Office [RSHA] was a department in the Reich Ministry of the Interior and in the SS. The term "Chief of the Security Police and SD" describes the person who is the head of the GESTAPO, KRIPO and the SD, and of their headquarters office called the RSHA. The "Chief of the Security Police and SD" and the "head of the RSHA" are always one and the same person. The central offices of the GESTAPO and SD were coordinated in 1936 with the appointment of Heydrich, the head of the SD, as chief of the Security Police. The office of Heydrich was called "Chief of the Security Police and SD." When the central offices of the GESTAPO and SD, together with the Criminal Police, were centralized in one main office (RSHA) in 1939, the functions were somewhat redistributed. After Heydrich was assassinated in January 1943, the RSHA was headed by Ernst Kaltenbrunner. 

Amt I of the RSHA handled personnel for the three agencies. Subsection A 2 handled personnel matters of the GESTAPO, A 3 handled personnel matters of the KRIPO, and A 4 handled personnel matters of the SD.

Amt II handled organization, administration, and law for the three agencies. Subsection C handled domestic arrangements and pay accounts, and was divided into two sections, one to take care of pay accounts of the Security Police and the other to take care of pay accounts of the SD, since personnel of the former were paid by the State and personnel of the latter were paid by the Party.

Amt III was the SD and was charged with investigation into spheres of German life.

Amt IV was the GESTAPO and was charged with combating political opposition.

Amt V was the KRIPO and was charged with combating criminals. Subsection V D was the criminological institute for the SIPO handling matters of identification, chemical and biological investigations, and technical research.

Amt VI was concerned with foreign political intelligence and contained subsections dealing with western Europe, Russia and Japan, Anglo-American sphere, and central Europe. It contained a special section dealing with sabotage.

Amt VII handled ideological research against enemies, such as Freemasonry, Judaism, political churches, Marxism, and liberalism.

The GESTAPO and SD took civilians of occupied countries to Germany for secret trial and punishment. On 7 December 1941 Hitler issued the directive, since called the "Nacht und Nebel Erlass" (Night and Fog Decree), under which persons who committed offences against the Reich or occupation forces in occupied territories were to be taken secretly to Germany and surrendered to the Security Police and SD for trial or punishment in Germany. After the civilians arrived in Germany, no word of the disposition of their cases was permitted to reach the country from which they came, or their relatives. On 18 September 1942, Thierack, the Reich Minister of Justice, and Himmler came to an understanding by which antisocial elements were to be turned over to Himmler to be worked to death, and a special criminal procedure was to be applied by the police to the Jews, Poles, gypsies, Russians, and Ukrainians who were not to be tried in ordinary criminal courts.

Security Police [SD] / Sicherheitsdienst

The SD was the intelligence service of the SS. Membership in the SD was voluntary, and it had a membership of about 3,000 in 1943-45. The SD was the intelligence service of the SS during the years preceding the accession of the Nazis to power, though it became a much more important organization promptly thereafter. It had been developed into such a powerful and scientific espionage system under its chief, Reinhard Heydrich, that on 6/9/1934, just a few weeks before the bloody purge of the SA, it was made, by decree of Hess, the sole intelligence and counterintelligence agency of the entire Nazi Party. The task of the SD, after it became the intelligence service for State and Party, was to obtain secret information concerning the actual and potential enemies of the Nazi leadership so that appropriate action could be taken to destroy or neutralize opposition. To accomplish this task, the SD created an organization of agents and informants operating out of various SD regional offices established throughout the Reich, and later in conjunction with the GESTAPO and Criminal Police throughout the occupied territories. The organization consisted of several hundred full-time agents whose work was supplemented by several thousand part-time informants. The SD investigated the loyalty and reliability of State officials, evaluating them by their complete devotion to Nazi ideology and the Hitler leadership. Behind the scenes, operating secretly, the SD, through its vast network of informants, spied upon the German people in their daily lives, on the streets, in the shops, and even within the sanctity of the churches.

Secret Police [GESTAPO] / Geheimes Staatspolizeiamt

The GESTAPO was the political police force of the Reich. Much of its personnel consisted of transferees from former political police forces of the States. Membership in the GESTAPO was voluntary, and it had a membership of about 40,000 or 50,000 in 1943-45. The GESTAPO was founded in April 1933 by Goering to serve as a political police force in Prussia. Himmler was named Deputy Chief of the GESTAPO in Prussia in 1934. The GESTAPO, through its great power of arrest and confinement to concentration camps without recourse to law, was the principal means for eliminating enemies of the Nazi regime. The headquarters organization of the GESTAPO (Amt IV of the RSHA) was set up on a functional basis. In 1943 it contained five sub-sections. Section A dealt with opponents, sabotage, and protective service. Section B dealt with political churches, sects and Jews, and was subdivided into four offices, including B4, which was responsible for Jewish affairs, matters of evacuation, means of suppressing enemies of the people and State, dispossession of rights of German citizenship. (Eichmann was head of this office). Section C dealt with card files, protective custody, and matters of press and Party. Section D dealt with regions under greater German influence. Section E dealt with security. Section F dealt with passport matters and alien police.

Subordinate offices of the GESTAPO were established throughout the Reich and designated as Staats Polizeileitstellen or Staats Polizeistellen, depending upon the size of the office. These offices reported directly to the RSHA in Berlin but were subject to the supervision of Inspekteurs of the Security Police in the various provinces. In the occupied territories the regional offices of the GESTAPO were coordinated with the Criminal Police and the SD under Kommandeurs of the Security Police and SD. The GESTAPO was one of the primary agencies for the persecution of the Jews. The persecution of the Jews under the Nazi regime is a story of increasingly severe treatment, beginning with restrictions, then seizure and spoliation of property, commitment to concentration camps, deportation, slave labour, and finally mass murder. The GESTAPO carried out mass murders of hundreds of thousands of civilians of occupied countries as a part of the Nazi program to exterminate political and racial undesirables ("Einsatz Groups")

During 1943 the program of mass murder carried out by the Einsatz Groups in the East was modified, and orders were issued to round up hundreds of thousands of persons for the armament industry. The great power of the GESTAPO was "Schutzhaft" the power to imprison people without judicial proceedings on the theory of "protective custody." This power was based upon the law of 28 February 1933 which suspended the clauses of the Weimar Constitution guaranteeing civil liberties to the German people. The actions and orders of the GESTAPO were not subject to judicial review. Under the law of 30 November 1933 the only redress available was by appeal to the next higher authority within the GESTAPO itself. The first concentration camps were established in 1933 at Dachau in Bavaria and at Oranienburg in Prussia. The GESTAPO was given by law the responsibility of administering the concentration camps. The reason assigned for the arrest and commitment of persons to concentration camps usually was that, according to the GESTAPO, the person endangered by his attitude the existence and security of the people and the State. Further specifications of grounds included such offences as that of "working against the Greater German Reich with an illegal resistance organization," "being a Jew," "suspected of working for the detriment of the Reich," "being strongly suspected of aiding desertion," "because as a relative of a deserter he is expected to take advantage of every occasion to harm the German Reich," "refusal to work," "sexual intercourse with a Pole," "religious propaganda," "working against the Reich," "loafing on the job," or "defeatist statements." The most casual remark of a German citizen might bring him before the GESTAPO, where his fate and freedom were decided without recourse to law. In this government, in which the rule of law was replaced by a tyrannical rule of men, the GESTAPO was the primary instrumentality of oppression.

Intelligence Section OKW/ Amtes Ausland/ Abwehr

In February 1938 the Reich War Ministry was abolished a new over-all Armed Forces authority, known as the High Command of the Armed Forces -- Oberkommando der Wehrmacht -- usually known by the initials OKW. Coordination of all Armed Forces matters was vested in the OKW, which was in effect Hitler's personal staff for these matters. The Air Force as well as the Army and the Navy was subordinated to OKW. The army and naval staffs were designated "High Commands" -- Oberkommando des Heeres and Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine, from which derive the initials by which they are usually known (OKH and OKM). The Air Force did not receive the official designation of Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) until 1944. The Abbwehr was the OKW's intelligence agency [its name deriving from the compound of ab-, meaning away or off, and -wehr, meaning defence]. Abwehr responsibilities covered the full spectrum of intelligence activities, ranging from making reconnaissance flights over Poland and England prior to the Polish campaign to prevention of sabotage and nuisance activity carried out by commandos, and operating very active sabotage organizations behind the enemy front.

The Abwehr achieved a number of striking successes in their operations against the Allies. Operation North Pole started with the arrest two Dutch underground agents infiltrated from England. The Abwehr succeeded in contacting the agents' British headquarters, and passing themselves off as being the agents. For two years the Germans maintained this deception, capturing successive waves of agents as soon as they landed on the continent. On 31 March 1941 Keitel, at Hitler's behest, issued the first of a number of directives to the Wehrmacht on the 'Treatment of Political and Military Russian Officials.' This, which came to be known as the 'Commissar Order,'The Commissar Order undermined the task of the counterintelligence officers of the Abwehr who were responsible for extracting information from Soviet prisoners of war and enlisting intelligence agents. In mid-September, when there were already 1.5 million men in the camps, and more pouring in every day, Admiral Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, made an attempt to have the order rescinded. Since he knew that any appeal on humanitarian grounds would simply harden Hitler's resolve, he based his argument on German self-interest. Canaris argued [to no avail] that "the will to resist of the enemy troops will be extremely strengthened by the enemy intelligence service.... Instead of taking advantage of the tensions among the populations of the occupied territories for the benefit of the German administration, the mobilization of all internal opposition forces of Russia for unified hostility will be facilitated."

Canaris was convinced that his failure to prevent the attack on Poland would mean the end of Germany. A triumph of the Nazi system would mean an even greater disaster, and it was the purpose of General Canaris to prevent this. Canaris deliberately manipulated his own operations to aid the Allied cause [and was thought by some to be an agent of British intelligence]. The Abwehr failed to provide the German military with information on the Anglo-American landing in North Africa. Canaris during the first years of the war laid great stress on good relations with the SS and the necessity for close co-operation with the SS. But the Abwher department was abolished by Himmler in February 1944, and its operations were integrated into the SS intelligence service to destroy what had become a hotbed for dissent against the Fuhrer [Oskar Schindler, of the movie Schindler's List, joined the Abwehr in late 1938]. The Abwehr was in fact the centre of the July 1944 conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, in the wake of which Admiral Canaris was hanged on 09 April 1945, hours before Allied forces entered the area.

Gehlen Organization

Major General Reinhard Gehlen headed the Foreign Armies East section of the Abwehr, directed towards the Soviet Union. Gehlen had begun planning his surrender to the United States at least as early as the fall of 1944. In early March 1945 a group of Gehlen's senior officers microfilmed their holdings on the USSR. They packed the film in steel drums and buried it throughout the Austrian Alps. On 22 May 1945 Gehlen and his top aides surrendered to an American Counter-intelligence Corps [CIC] team. After the War, the United States recognized that it did not have an intelligence capability directed against the Soviet Union, a wartime ally. Gehlen negotiated an agreement with the United States which allowed his operation to continue in existence despite post-war de-nazification programs. The group, including his immediate staff of about 350 agents, was known as the Gehlen Organization. Reconstituted as a functioning espionage network under U.S. control, it became CIA's eyes and ears in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union.

Hundreds of German army and SS officers were released from internment camps to join Gehlen's headquarters in the Spessart Mountains in central Germany. When the staff grew to 3,000, the Bureau Gehlen moved to a twenty-five-acre compound near Pullach, south of Munich, operating under the innocent name of the South German Industrial Development Organization. In the early fifties it was estimated that the organization employed up to 4,000 intelligence specialists in Germany, mainly former army and SS officers, and that more than 4,000 V-men (undercover agents) were active throughout the Soviet-bloc countries. Under Operation Sunrise, some 5,000 anti-communist Eastern European and Russian personnel were trained for operational missions at a camp at Oberammergau in 1946, under the command of General Sikes and SS General Burckhardt. This and related initiatives supported insurgencies in areas such as Ukraine, which were not entirely suppressed by the Soviets until 1956. Operation Rusty encompassed gathering positive and counterintelligence information concerning the activities and organizations of an Intelligence Service and activities of various dissident German organizations. The operation involved close coordination and cooperation with foreign and other US intelligence organizations. The Gehlen Organization played a role in the creation of the "missile gap," providing CIA with reports on Soviet missile developments, supposedly based on contacts with German scientists captured by the Russians at the end of the war. 

But by the mid-1950s it became increasingly apparent that many of the assets of the Gehlen Organization were in fact controlled by Soviet intelligence. Dozens of operations, hundreds of agents, thousands of innocent civilians had been betrayed, many at the cost of their life. In 1948 contact was established with a supposedly anti-Communist Polish underground organization known as WIN. The group provided evidence of actions conducted against Soviet troops, and provided secret documents to Western intelligence. WIN was provided with money, weapons, equipment and intelligence data. But by 1952 people entering Poland to help WIN were disappearing and its information was becoming less reliable. Late that year the underground was suddenly disbanded and a radio broadcast by the Polish Communist government demonstrated, in detail, that WIN had been created by the Soviet secret police and had received Soviet help in deceiving the West. The documents provided had been disinformation, the program had been financed with Western money, and the episode had distracted from other efforts to undermine the Polish regime while it was consolidating power. In April 1956 control of the Gehlen Organization shifted to the newly-sovereign West German Federal Republic as the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst, or "Federal Intelligence Service"). Gehlen remained chief of the West German Intelligence service until he retired in 1968.


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