Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei – Secret State Police) was created on April 26th, 1933 by then Interior Minister of Prussia (and thus head of Prussian Police) Hermann Göring.
Göring’s goal (that he successfully pitched to Hitler) was to create a national force that would (a) identify and eliminate all political opposition; (b) prevent all acts of resistance to Nazi rule; (c) perform efficient counterintelligence functions making spying by foreign powers all but impossible; and (of course) persecute the Jews. After all, Nazis sincerely (and erroneously) believed that they were fighting the “existential racial war” with the “Jewish race” (that existed only in their unhealthy imagination).
However, there was a very serious problem with this idea (natural for the Nazis) as in Germany law enforcement traditionally was mostly a Land (state) and local matter.
This tradition was so well-entrenched that it took Hitler (despite having dictatorial powers in Germany) more than three years to achieve the abovementioned objective. Only on June 17th, 1936, Hitler decreed the unification of all police forces in Germany and named Himmler as Chief of German (national) Police.
Göring created the Gestapo by detaching the political and (domestic) intelligence sections from the Prussian police and merging it into a single organization which he called Geheime Staatspolizei. Which was abbreviated by an unknown post office clerk for a franking stamp as the “Gestapo”.
The first director of the Gestapo was one Rudolf Diels – a very interesting character (like probably most of the Nazi officials). A young (in 1933 he was just 33) Great War veteran, a lawyer and an avid fencer (like Himmler and Heydrich), he joined the Prussian police in 1930 and was immediately tasked with combatting political radicals – Communists… and the Nazis.
He did his job so well that by the time Hitler came to power (i.e. in just three years) he was already a director of the whole Prussian political police. Impressed by his professionalism and efficiency, Göring not only kept him in this position when he became Interior Minister of Prussia (and thus Diels’ boss) in February of 1933, but made him his protégé of sorts.
The Reichstag Fire that occurred on February 27th, was a crime of such magnitude that only the head of the Prussian political police could be its Chief Investigative Officer.
A highly skilled investigator and interrogator, Diels quickly concluded that Marinus van der Lubbe acted alone – and told Hitler and Göring exactly that. And when the latter ordered 4,000 Communists detained under the Reichstag Fire Decree to be shot without trial, Diels… ignored the order.
In Stalin’ Soviet Union such honesty and insubordination would have gotten Diels fired on the spot, arrested, tried and executed with days (if not hours). However, Adolf Hitler (and Hermann Göring) had a very different personnel management policy.
So in April of 1933 (soon after he became the Minister-President of Prussia) Göring made Diels chief of the new Prussian state police Department 1A (investigation of political crimes). Department 1A was soon renamed Geheime Staatspolizei – Gestapo making Rudolf Diels the first director of the latter.
Unfortunately for Diels, Göring had a powerful competitor in his struggle for becoming the head of the national German political police. Heinrich Himmler – then police chief of the second most powerful German state, Bavaria. And the head of the SS which at that time were very much on the roll.
Apparently, Hitler was far more impressed with Himmler’s idea of a State Protection Corps that would include Waffen-SS, all police forces (order police, criminal police, political police, domestic and foreign intelligence and ultimately even the Wehrmacht) than with Göring’s vision of the national police force.
In addition, Himmler secured the support of the Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and had at his disposal a comprehensive database of political opponents carefully collected and structured by another brilliant professional – head of the SD (Nazi Party security service) Reinhard Heydrich.
Hence, it is no surprise at all that on April 20th, 1934 (just a year after Gestapo was formed), Göring was forced to surrender control over Gestapo to SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. Who promptly (and predictably) fired Diels and replaced him with Reinhard Heydrich on April 22nd.
Diels possessed a unique double ability to get himself into a trouble and getting out of it essentially unscathed. As head of the department that was tasked with combatting Nazis during the last years of Weimar Republic, he learned enough to earn a place on the hit list for the Night of the Long Knives. However, he survived, although he had to spend five weeks in hiding.
After a short stint as Deputy Police President of Berlin, appointed Regierungspräsident (administrative president) of the local government of Cologne (i.e. the Nazi mayor of the latter).
In that position, he ignored the order to arrest the Jews in 1940, which would have definitely landed him in jail (or even worse)… had his protector Göring not intervened to save his protégé’s skin. But he did – and Diels again suffered no consequences for his insubordination.
After the July 20th, 1944 plot failed miserably, Diels was arrested by once his Gestapo and imprisoned but somehow survived again. Diels presented an affidavit for the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials but was also (predictably) summoned to testify by Göring’s defense lawyer.
After 1950 he served in the post-war government of Lower Saxony and then (predictably) in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, until his retirement in 1953. He died on November 18th, 1957 when his rifle (according to police report) accidentally discharged while he was hunting.
Was it an accident, a suicide or a murder, we will never know. In any case, it appears that Rudolf Diels finally ran out of luck. The last trouble that he got himself into (whatever it was) finally got him.