The Gestapo (; abbreviation of Geheime Staatspolizei, "Secret State Police") was the official secret police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police (Chef der Deutschen Polizei). From September 1939 forward, it was administered by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) ("Reich Main Security Office") and was considered a sister organization of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) ("Security Service") and also a suboffice of the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo) ("Security Police").
As part of the deal in which Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, Hermann G ring future commander of the Luftwaffe and an influential Nazi Party official was named Interior Minister of Prussia. This gave him command of the largest police force in Germany. Soon afterward, G ring detached the political and intelligence sections from the police and filled their ranks with Nazis. On 26 April 1933, G ring merged the two units as the Gestapo. He originally wanted to name it the Secret Police Office (), but discovered the German initials "GPA" would be too similar to the Soviet GPU.
Its first commander was Rudolf Diels, a prot g of G ring. Diels was best known as the primary interrogator of Marinus van der Lubbe after the Reichstag fire. The Reich Interior Minister, Wilhelm Frick, wanted to integrate all the police forces of the German states in late 1933. G ring outflanked him by removing the Prussian political and intelligence departments from the state interior ministry. G ring himself took over the Gestapo in 1934 and urged Hitler to extend the agency's authority throughout Germany. This represented a radical departure from German tradition, which held that law enforcement was (mostly) a Land (state) and local matter. In this, he ran into conflict with Heinrich Himmler, who was police chief of the second most powerful German state, Bavaria. Frick did not have the muscle to take on G ring himself so he allied with Himmler and Heydrich. With Frick's support, Himmler (pushed on by his right hand man, Heydrich) took over the political police of state after state. Soon only Prussia was left.
On 20 April 1934, G ring and Himmler agreed to put aside their differences largely because of mutual hatred and growing dread of the Sturmabteilung (SA) and G ring transferred full authority over the Gestapo to Himmler, who was at that time also named chief of all German police forces outside Prussia. Himmler named Heydrich the head of the Gestapo on 22 April 1934. Himmler was later named the chief of all German police on 17 June 1936. At that point, the Gestapo became a national state agency rather than a Prussian state agency. It was incorporated together with the Kripo or Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police) into the SiPo or Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police), and considered a complementary organization to the SS Security Service, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Reinhard Heydrich was head of both the SiPo and SD. Heinrich M ller was the chief of operations of the Gestapo. He answered to Heydrich; Heydrich answered only to Himmler; and Himmler answered only to Hitler. The joint command of the SS and Gestapo effectively removed it from the oversight of Frick, who as interior minister would have normally been Himmler's superior.
The Gestapo had the authority to investigate cases of treason, espionage, sabotage and criminal attacks on the Nazi Party and Germany. The basic Gestapo law passed by the government in 1936 gave the Gestapo carte blanche to operate without judicial oversight. The Gestapo was specifically exempted from responsibility to administrative courts, where citizens normally could sue the state to conform to laws. As early as 1935, however, a Prussian administrative court had ruled that the Gestapo's actions were not subject to judicial review. The SS officer Werner Best, onetime head of legal affairs in the Gestapo, summed up this policy by saying, "As long as the police carries out the will of the leadership, it is acting legally."
On 27 September 1939, the security and police agencies of Nazi Germany with the exception of the Ordnungspolizei (or Orpo, regular uniformed police) were consolidated into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), headed by Heydrich. The Gestapo became Amt IV (Department IV) of RSHA and M ller became the Gestapo Chief, with Heydrich as his immediate superior. After Heydrich's 1942 assassination, Himmler assumed the leadership of the RSHA, but in January 1943 Ernst Kaltenbrunner was appointed Chief of the RSHA. M ller remained the Gestapo Chief, a position he occupied until the end of the war. Adolf Eichmann was M ller's direct subordinate and head of Department IV, Section B4, which dealt with Jews.
The power of the Gestapo most open to misuse was called Schutzhaft "protective custody", a euphemism for the power to imprison people without judicial proceedings. An oddity of the system was that the prisoner had to sign his own Schutzhaftbefehl, an order declaring that the person had requested imprisonment presumably out of fear of personal harm (which, in a way, was true). In addition, thousands of political prisoners throughout Germany and from 1941, throughout the occupied territories under the Night and Fog Decree simply disappeared while in Gestapo custody. During World War II, the Gestapo was expanded to around 46,000 members. After Heydrich's death in June 1942, and as the war progressed, M ller's power and the independence grew substantially. This trickled down the chain of his subordinates. It led to much more independence of action.
Between June 1942 and March 1943, student protests were calling for an end to the Nazi regime. These included the non-violent resistance of Hans and Sophie Scholl, two leaders of the White Rose student group. However, resistance groups and those who were in moral or political opposition to the Nazis were stalled by the fear of reprisals from the Gestapo. In fact, reprisals did come in response to the protests. Fearful of an internal overthrow, the forces of Himmler and the Gestapo were unleashed on the opposition. The first five months of 1943 witnessed thousands of arrests and executions as the Gestapo exercised their powers over the German public. Student opposition leaders were executed in late February, and a major opposition organization, the Oster Circle, was destroyed in April, 1943.
The German opposition was in an unenviable position by the late spring and early summer of 1943. On one hand, it was next to impossible for them to overthrow Hitler and the party; on the other, the Allied demand for an unconditional surrender meant no opportunity for a compromise peace, which left the people no option (in their eyes) other than continuing the military struggle.
Nevertheless, some Germans did speak out and show signs of protest during the summer of 1943. Despite fear of the Gestapo after the mass arrests and executions of the spring, the opposition still plotted and planned. Some Germans were convinced that it was their duty to apply all possible expedients to end the war as quickly as possible; that is, to further the German defeat by all available means. The Gestapo cracked down ruthlessly on the dissidents in Germany, just as they did everywhere else.
In June, July and August, the Gestapo continued to move swiftly against the opposition, rendering any organized opposition impossible. Arrests and executions were common. Terror against the people had become a way of life. A second major reason was that the opposition's peace feelers to the Western Allies did not meet with success.
This was partly because of the aftermath of the Venlo incident of 1939, when SD and Gestapo agents posing as anti-Nazis in the Netherlands kidnapped two British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officers lured to a meeting to discuss peace terms. That prompted Winston Churchill to ban any further contact with the German opposition. In addition, the British and Americans did not want to deal with anti-Nazis because they were fearful that the Soviet Union would believe they were attempting to make deals behind the Soviets' back.
German Gestapo agents arrested after the liberation of Li ge, Belgium, are herded together in a cell in the citadel of Liege. October 1944
Between 14 November 1945 and 3 October 1946, the Allies established an International Military Tribunal (IMT) to try 22 of 24 major Nazi war criminals and six groups for crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nineteen of the 22 were convicted, and twelve of them (Bormann [in absentia], Frank, Frick, G ring, Jodl, Kaltenbrunner, Keitel, Ribbentrop, Rosenberg, Sauckel, Seyss-Inquart, Streicher), were given the death penalty; the other three (Funk, Hess, Raeder) got a life term. At this time, the Gestapo was condemned as a criminal organization with the SS.
Leaders, organisers, investigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit the crimes specified were declared responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan. The official positions of defendants as heads of state or holders of high government offices were not to free them from responsibility or mitigate their punishment; nor was the fact that a defendant acted pursuant to an order of a superior to excuse him from responsibility, although it might be considered by the IMT in mitigation of punishment.
At the trial of any individual member of any group or organisation, the IMT was authorised to declare (in connection with any act of which the individual was convicted) that the group or organisation to which he belonged was a criminal organization. When a group or organization was thus declared criminal, the competent national authority of any signatory had the right to bring persons to trial for membership in that organisation, with the criminal nature of the group or organisation assumed proved.
These groups the Nazi party and government leadership, the German General Staff and High Command (OKW); the Sturmabteilung (SA); the Schutzstaffel (SS), including the Sicherheitsdienst (SD); and the Gestapo had an aggregate membership exceeding two million, making a large number of their members liable to trial if the organisations were convicted.
The trials began in November 1945. On 1 October 1946, the IMT rendered its judgement on 21 top officials of the Third Reich: 18 were sentenced to death or to long prison terms, and three acquitted. The IMT also convicted three of the groups: the Nazi leadership corps, the SS (including the SD) and the Gestapo. Gestapo members Hermann G ring and Arthur Seyss-Inquart were individually convicted.
Three groups were acquitted of collective war crimes charges, but this did not relieve individual members of those groups from conviction and punishment under the denazification programme. Members of the three convicted groups were subject to apprehension by Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and France.
In 1997, Cologne transformed the former regional Gestapo headquarters in Cologne the EL-DE Haus into a museum to document the Gestapos actions.
Gestapo headquarters in Prinz-Albrecht-Street in Berlin (1933)
On January 1933, Hermann G ring, Hitler's minister without portfolio, was appointed the head of the Prussian Police and began filling the political and intelligence units of the Prussian Secret Police with Nazi Party members. On 26 April, he reorganized the sections of Amt III as the Gestapo, a secret state police intended to serve the Nazi cause. In 1936, the Gestapo was moved from the Prussian Interior Ministry to the Reich Interior Ministry and combined with the Kripo (National criminal police) to form the SiPo, Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police). Classed as a government agency, it was nominally under the control of the Nazi Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick. However Himmler, who had been appointed Chef der Deutschen Polizei (Chief of the German Police) by Hitler, controlled the SS, the Gestapo, regular police and investigation units. The Reichfuhrer-SS, though technically subordinate to Frick, answered to no-one but Hitler. .
The SiPo was placed under the direct command of Reinhard Heydrich who was already chief of the Nazi Party's intelligence service, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). The idea was to fully combine the party agency, the SD, with the SiPo, the state agency. SiPo members were encouraged to become members of the SS. However in practise, the SiPo and the SD came into jurisdictional and operational conflict. Gestapo and Kripo had many experienced, professional policemen and investigators, who considered the SD to be an incompetent agency run by amateurs.
In September 1939, the SiPo together with the SD were merged into the newly-created Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), the Reich Main Security Office. Both Gestapo and the Kripo became distinct departments within the RSHA. Although the Sicherheitspolizei was officially disbanded, the term SiPo was figuratively used to describe any RSHA personnel throughout the remainder of the war.
The Gestapo became known as Amt IV ("Department or Office IV") with Heinrich M ller as its chief. In 1942 Ernst Kaltenbrunner became RSHA director after Heydrich was assassinated in Prague. The specific internal departments of Amt IV were as follows:
Department A (Political opponents)
- Communists (A1)
- Counter Sabotage (A2)
- Reactionaries and Liberals (A3)
- Assassinations (A4)
Department B (Sects and Churches)
- Catholics (B1)
- Protestants (B2)
- Freemasons (B3)
- Jews (B4)
Department C (Administration and Party Affairs)
The central administrative office of the Gestapo, responsible for card files of all personnel including all officials.
Department D (Occupied Territories)
A repeat of departments A and B for use outside the Reich.
- Opponents of the Regime (D1)
- Churches and Sects (D2)
Department E (Counterintelligence)
- In the Reich (E1)
- Policy Formation (E2)
- In the West (E3)
- In Scandinavia (E4)
- In the East (E5)
- In the South (E6)
It should be noted that in 1941 Referat N, the central command office of the Gestapo was formed. However, these internal departments remained and the Gestapo continued to be a department under the RSHA umbrella.
The local offices of the Gestapo, known as Stapostellen and Stapoleitstellen, answered to a local commander known as the Inspekteur der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD ("Inspector of the Security Police and Security Service") who, in turn, was under the dual command of Referat N of the Gestapo and also his local SS and Police Leader. The classic image of the Gestapo officer, dressed in trench coat and hat, can be attributed to Gestapo offices in German cities and larger towns. This image seems to have been popularized by the assassination of the former Chancellor General Kurt von Schleicher in 1934. General von Schleicher and his wife were gunned down in their Berlin home by three men dressed in black trench coats and wearing black fedoras. The killers of General von Schleicher were widely believed to have been Gestapo men. At a press conference held later the same day, Hermann G ring was asked by foreign correspondents to respond to a hot rumour that General von Schleicher had been murdered in his home. G ring stated that the Gestapo had attempted to arrest Schleicher, but that he had been "shot while attempting to escape".
The Gestapo also maintained offices at all Nazi concentration camps, held an office on the staff of the SS and Police Leaders, and supplied personnel as needed to formations such as the Einsatzgruppen. Personnel assigned to these auxiliary duties were often removed from the Gestapo chain of command and fell under the authority of branches of the SS.
The Gestapo maintained police detective ranks which were used for all officers, both those who were and who were not concurrently SS members.
Kriminalkommissar auf Probe
Kriminalkommissar with less than three years in that rank
Kriminalrat with less than three years in that rank
Regierungs- und Kriminalrat
|Oberregierungs- u. Kriminalrat
Regierungs- u. Kriminaldirektor
- Junior Career = einfachen Vollzugsdienst der Sicherheitspolizei (Laufbahn U 18: SS-Unterf hrer der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD).
- Senior Career = leitenden Vollzugsdienst der Sicherheitspolizei (Laufbahn XIV: SS-F hrer der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD).
||Annual Salary 1938
Kriminalkommissar auf Probe
||Regierungs- und Kriminaldirektor
Median annual wage for an industrial worker was 1,495 RM in 1939. In the same year the median salary for a privately employed white-collar worker was 2,772 RM.
Membership of the Gestapo
In 1933, there was no purge of the German police forces. The vast majority of Gestapo officers came from the police forces of the Weimar Republic, members of the SS, the SA, and the NSDAP also joined the Gestapo. In 1939, only 3,000 out of the total of 20,000 Gestapo men held SS ranks, and in most cases, these were honorary. One man who served in the Prussian Gestapo in 1933 recalled that most of his co-workers "were by no means Nazis. For the most part they were young professional civil service officers..." The Nazis valued police competence more than politics, so in general in 1933, almost all of the men who served in the various state police forces under the Weimar Republic stayed on in their jobs. In W rzburg, which is one of the few places in Germany where most of the Gestapo records survived, every member of the Gestapo was a career policeman or had a police background. The Canadian historian Robert Gellately wrote that most Gestapo men were not Nazis, but at the same time were not opposed to the Nazi regime, which they were willing to serve, in whatever task they were called upon to perform.
Grey service uniform worn by RSHA personnel. Before their 1939 amalgamation into the RSHA, the Gestapo and Kripo were plainclothes police agencies and had no uniforms. Although individual Gestapo officers could and did join the Allgemeine-SS or other Party organizations, those uniforms would not have been worn on duty.
From June 1936, a concerted effort was made to recruit policemen of the SiPo into the SS, and SS members into the Kripo and especially the Gestapo. With the formation of RSHA in September 1939, Gestapo officers who were also SS members began to wear the wartime grey SS uniform when on duty in the Hauptamt or regional headquarters (Abschnitte). Hollywood notwithstanding, after 1939 the sinister black uniform was only worn by Allgemeine-SS reservists; it was abolished in 1942. Outside the central offices, Gestapo agents working out of the Stapostellen and Stapoleitstellen continued to wear civilian suits in keeping with the secret, plainclothes nature of their work.
There were in fact very strict protocols protecting the identity of Gestapo field personnel. In most cases, when asked for identification, an operative was only required to present his warrant disc. This identified the operative as Gestapo without revealing personal identity and agents except when ordered to do so by an authorized official were not required to show picture identification, something all non-Gestapo people were expected to do.
Beginning in 1940, the grey SS uniform was worn by Gestapo in occupied countries, even those who were not actually SS members, because agents in civilian clothes had been shot by members of the Wehrmacht thinking that they were partisans.
Unlike the rest of the SS, the right-side collar patch of the RSHA was plain black without insignia, as was the uniform cuffband. Gestapo agents in uniform did not wear SS shoulderboards, but rather police-pattern shoulderboards piped or underlaid in "poison green". A diamond-shaped black patch with "SD" in white was worn on the lower left sleeve even by SiPo men who were not actually in the SD. Sometimes this Raute was piped in white; there is some debate over whether this may or may not have indicated Gestapo personnel.
Gestapo were also present in concentration camps as here in Lager Nordhausen, a subcamp of the Mittelbau-Dora KZ
complex, 12 April 1945
Contrary to popular belief, the Gestapo was not the all-pervasive, omnipotent agency in German society. In Germany proper, many towns and cities had fewer than 50 official Gestapo personnel. For example, in 1939 Stettin and Frankfurt am Main only had a total of 41 Gestapo men combined. In D sseldorf, the local Gestapo office of only 281 men were responsible for the entire Lower Rhine region, which comprised 4 million people. "V-men", as undercover Gestapo agents were known, were used to infiltrate Social Democratic and Communist opposition groups, but this was more the exception, not the rule. The Gestapo office in Saarbr cken had 50 full-term informers in 1939. The District Office in Nuremberg, which had the responsibility for all of northern Bavaria, employed a total of 80 100 full-term informers between 1943 and 1945. The vast majority of Gestapo informers were not full-term informers working undercover, but were rather ordinary citizens who for whatever reason chose to denounce those they knew to the Gestapo.
According to Canadian historian Robert Gellately's analysis of the local offices established, the Gestapo was for the most part made up of bureaucrats and clerical workers who depended upon denunciations by citizens for their information. Gellately argued that it was because of the widespread willingness of Germans to inform on each other to the Gestapo that Germany between 1933 and 1945 was a prime example of panopticism. Indeed, the Gestapo at times was overwhelmed with denunciations and most of its time was spent sorting out the credible from the less credible denunciations. Many of the local offices were understaffed and overworked, struggling with the paper load caused by so many denunciations. Gellately has also suggested that the Gestapo was "a reactive organization" "...which was constructed within German society and whose functioning was structurally dependent on the continuing co-operation of German citizens".
After 1939, when many Gestapo personnel were called up for war-related work such as service with the Einsatzgruppen, the level of overwork and understaffing at the local offices increased. For information about what was happening in German society, the Gestapo continued to be mostly dependent upon denunciations. 80% of all Gestapo investigations were started in response to information provided by denunciations by ordinary Germans; while 10% were started in response in to information provided by other branches of the German government and another 10% started in response to information that the Gestapo itself unearthed.
Thus, it was ordinary Germans by their willingness to denounce one another who supplied the Gestapo with the information that determined whom the Gestapo arrested. The popular picture of the Gestapo with its spies everywhere terrorizing German society has been rejected by many historians as a myth invented after the war as a cover for German society's widespread complicity in allowing the Gestapo to work. Work done by social historians such as Detlev Peukert, Robert Gellately, Reinhard Mann, Inge Marssolek, Ren Otto, Klaus-Michael Mallamann and Paul Gerhard, which by focusing on what the local offices were doing has shown the Gestapos almost total dependence on denunciations from ordinary Germans, and very much discredited the older "Big Brother" picture with the Gestapo having its eyes and ears everywhere. For example, of the 84 cases in W rzburg of rassenschande (race defilement) as sex with Jews were known under the Nuremberg Laws, 45 (54%) were started in response to denunciations by ordinary people, two (2%) by information provided by other branches of the government, 20 (24%) via information gained during interrogations of people relating to other matters, four (5%) from information from (Nazi) NSDAP organizations, two (2%) during "political evaluations" and 11 (13%) have no source listed while none were started by Gestapos own "observations" of the people of W rzburg.
An examination of 213 denunciations in D sseldorf showed that 37% were motivated by personal conflicts, no motive could be established in 39%, and 24% were motivated by support for the Nazi regime. The Gestapo always showed a special interest in denunciations concerning sexual matters, especially cases concerning rassenschande with Jews or between Germans and Polish slave workers; Jews and Catholicism and homosexuality. As time went by, anonymous denunciations to the Gestapo caused trouble to various NSDAP officials, who often found themselves being investigated by the Gestapo.
Of the political cases, 61 people were investigated for suspicion of belonging to the KPD, 44 for the SPD and 69 for other political parties. Most of the political investigations took place between 1933 35 with the all time high of 57 cases in 1935. After that year, political investigations declined with only 18 investigations in 1938, 13 in 1939, two in 1941, seven in 1942, four in 1943 and one in 1944. The "other" category associated with non-conformity included everything from a man who drew a caricature of Hitler to a Catholic teacher suspected of being lukewarm about teaching National Socialism in his classroom. The "administrative control" category concerned whose were breaking the law concerning residency in the city. The "conventional criminality" category concerned economic crimes such as money laundering, smuggling and homosexuality.
Normal methods of investigation included various forms of blackmail, threats and extortion to secure "confessions". Beyond that, sleep deprivation and various forms of harassment were used as investigative methods. Failing that, torture and planting evidence were common methods of resolving a case, especially if the case concerned someone Jewish.
Cooperation with the NKVD
From the Autumn of 1939, Soviet secret police (NKVD) and Gestapo closely collaborated in the aftermath of the partition of Poland. Several conferences took place (see: Gestapo-NKVD Conferences). Exchanges of prisoners took place as early as December 1939. In March 1940, representatives of the NKVD and Gestapo met for the third time in the best known of these conferences which lasted for one week in Zakopane, to coordinate the pacification of resistance in Poland. The Soviet Union delivered hundreds of German and Austrian communists to the Gestapo, as unwanted foreigners, together with relevant documents. The Soviet-Nazi cooperation continued up to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
The Polish government in exile in London during World War II received sensitive military information about Nazi Germany from agents and informants throughout Europe. After Germany conquered Poland in the autumn of 1939, Gestapo officials believed that they had neutralized Polish intelligence activities.
Polish intelligence resistance
Some of the Polish information about the movement of German police and SS units to the East during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the autumn of 1941 was similar to information British intelligence secretly got through intercepting and decoding German police and SS messages sent by radio telegraphy.
In 1942, the Gestapo discovered a cache of Polish intelligence documents in Prague and were surprised to see that Polish agents and informants had been gathering detailed military information and smuggling it out to London, via Budapest and Istanbul. The Poles identified and tracked German military trains to the Eastern front and identified four Ordnungspolizei ("Order Police") battalions sent to conquered areas of the Soviet Union in October 1941 and engaged in war crimes and mass murder.
Polish agents also gathered detailed information about the morale of German soldiers in the East. After uncovering a sample of the information the Poles had reported, Gestapo officials concluded that Polish intelligence activity represented a very serious danger to Germany. As late as 6 June 1944, Heinrich M ller concerned about the leakage of information to the Allies set up a special unit called Sonderkommando Jerzy that was meant to root out the Polish intelligence network in western and southwestern Europe.
Principal agents and officers
Sometimes the word Gestapo is used colloquially for other organizations which are felt to be disciplinarian: see Nazism in popular culture.
- H hne, Heinz, Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Verlag der Spiegel (Hamburg 1966), translated by Richard Barry as The Order of the Death's Head (1969), ISBN 0-330-02963-0.
- Lumsden, Robin (2002). A Collector's Guide To: The Allgemeine SS, Ian Allan Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7110-2905-9.
- McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923 1945, Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-906626-49-5.
- Padfield, Peter (1990). Himmler: Reichsfuhrer-SS. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
- Williams, Max (2001). Reinhard Heydrich: The Biography: Volume 1, Ulric Publishing, ISBN 0-9537577-5-7.
- (translated as Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent? Gestapo, Society and Resistance, and included in Crew, Nazism and German Society, 1994)
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