Another Review at MyShelf.Com

The Gestapo
The Myth and Reality of Hitler's Secret Police
Frank McDonough

Skyhorse Publishing
March 7, 2017/ ISBN 9781510714656
History / WWII / Holocaust

Reviewed by Rick Morelli


The Gestapo (The Myth and Reality of Hitler’s Secret Police) by Frank McDonough is a compelling and a “fresh interpretation” of Hitler’s notorious and effective police force in Germany during the years up to and including WWII. Building on earlier works by German and other historians, McDonough makes the case that, far from being a large police force in Germany reaching into every corner of German life, the Gestapo was a relatively small police force that relied extensively on the cooperation and active participation of the German public. Frank McDonough cites the important relationship of the Gestapo and the German people as an example of “history from below”, arguing that Hitler’s power flowed less from the top and therefore was less absolute, than from the willing and active support of the German people. This assessment generally goes against conventional views of the top down absolute power theories that have prevailed since Hitler’s death. The author supports his case with references to earlier academic research using surviving Gestapo archives that document the relationship of the Gestapo and the German people.

Although a professional police organization at its core, the Gestapo was nevertheless one of the instruments of terror used to brutally suppress all organized opposition (communists, Christian, etc.). Although within carefully defined bounds, some criticism of the Nazi regime was tolerated.

The author refers to surviving Gestapo case files to bring to life the victims of Gestapo arrests, their “denouncers” (there were many) and the outcome of the arrests and interrogations. What makes this book so instructive and disturbing at the same time, is that the Gestapo relied so extensively on the population to inform on its own citizens (a little over 26% of all investigative cases) and little on paid informants to investigate and make arrests. The book concludes with a discussion the post-WWII trials and investigations of the Gestapo where very few officials were ever held accountable for their war time actions.

Reviewed 2017