Myth: Gestapo Was the Omnipresent Force of Terror

Actually, no on both counts. First, the Gestapo was not as omnipresent as it is commonly (and erroneously) believed. In Germany proper, many large cities had fewer than fifty official Gestapo personnel.

For example, in 1939 Stettin and Frankfurt am Main only had a total of forty-one Gestapo men combined. In Düsseldorf, the local Gestapo office of only 281 men were responsible for the entire Lower Rhine region, which comprised four million individuals.

Second, Gestapo informers were not as numerous as is commonly believed. For example, Gestapo office in Saarbrücken had only fifty full-term informers in 1939.

The District Office in Nuremberg, which had the responsibility for all of northern Bavaria, employed less than a hundred regular informers between 1943 and 1945.

It is important to note that the majority of Gestapo informers were not full-time informers working undercover, but were rather ordinary citizens who periodically (and often just once) denounced “their neighbors” to the Gestapo – often driven by ulterior personal motives which had nothing to do with politics. However, denunciation was the exception, not the rule, as far as the behavior of the vast majority of Germans was concerned.

The reason for this was plain and simple – contrary to a very popular misconception, Nazis simply did not consider “state terrorism” the most important tool for managing Germany. As I stated before, Nazis managed Germany primarily by identifying and satisfying the needs of Germans.

Not surprisingly, in a just few years they won the support of the overwhelming majority (some estimate over 90%) of population of Greater Germany. And with political opposition practically non-existent, there was simply no need for a large number of political policemen – or for an extensive network of informers. Or for “state terrorism”, for that matter.

Consequently, Gestapo activities rarely touched the lives of most ordinary Germans and they had no reason at all to fear that organization. And they actually didn’t, viewing Gestapo as their friend and protector – not a foe.



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