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German police and agents in Occupied France

© SHD

”The Gestapo”! The Nazi political police generally sums up our vision of the German agents who operated in occupied France. And yet they came from many backgrounds, and many were a long way from our usual representations of them. First of all, very few members of the Gestapo were sent to occupied France, where repression was mainly the responsibility of the military administration and their rural police, the Geheime Feldpolizei (GFP).

Corps 1

A military police force in the service of repression

Many members of the Geheime Feldpolizei (GFP) were career police officers, mostly from the criminal police. This was the case of Hermann Herold (see slideshow), who occupied high-responsibility positions in occupied France between 1940 and 1944. Born in 1891, he joined the police after being demobilised in 1919. He become a criminal police commissioner in Stuttgart in 1924. Between 1929 and 1935, he was chief of the criminal police in Heilbronn. He joined the Nazi Party in 1937, but was not a member of the SS. He was given the leadership of a GFP unit operating in the West at the beginning of the war. The victory against France took him to Bordeaux, where he settled first. In December 1940, he was appointed Leitender Feldpolizeidirektor of military administration district C in Dijon (Besançon, Dijon, Nancy, Troyes). He directed the activities of several regional GFP groups, which at the time were the occupier's principal repressive police force.

Much of the force was transferred to the SIPO-SD when it took over the reins of repression in May-June 1942. About twenty GFP groups, each of about a hundred men, changed uniform and joined the SIPO-SD. It was important to avoid losing the skills of officers who had been working effectively on the ground for two years. Several senior police officers of the Militärbefehlshaber were also selected by the SIPO-SD to play a role in its organisation, including Herold, who became the Kommandeur der SIPO-SD (KdS) in Poitiers in 1942, for a region covering the districts of Charente, Charente-Inférieure, Deux-Sèvres, Vendée and Vienne. He remained in this post until the evacuation of the German services in summer 1944.

Corps 2

Police spies

At the SIPO-SD, Herold worked alongside senior officers from the SD, the party's intelligence service. This was the other significant profile in the group of German police officers and agents in occupied France. Roland Nosek (see slideshow), aged 33 in 1940, who spoke fluent French like Herold, was an example. An intelligence specialist, he was responsible for department VI of the SIPO-SD in Wiesbaden in 1939. In May 1940, his superior, Max Thomas, asked him to follow the German troops in their progress westwards in order to study the possibilities for SD activity in the future occupied territories. He must have been the first SIPO-SD agent to arrive in Paris in June 1940, even before Helmut Knochen, who took charge of the first SIPO-SD detachment in occupied France, sent to gather information and track the Reich's enemies. Nosek was first tasked with collecting political information about France within a section VI-P.

These senior SD officers were young men, mostly from the urban middle class, 60% of them graduates, mostly in law, and a third with doctorates, who were attracted to nationalist, anti-republican, anti-communist and anti-Semitic ideas during their university studies. The defeat of 1918 and the deep trauma suffered by the German nation, which had almost fallen, was the primary reason for the interest in politics. Ideologues and experts in their field, they were not mere administrators of intelligence and police action. They were to target the Reich's political enemies and collect information about them, the better to fight them. Their careers, often developing quickly, alternated executive functions in the field and management work in the Berlin offices of the central SIPO-SD administration.

A political police force

The members of the Gestapo, the regime's political police, were selected to provide experts in police work and Nazi criminal law. Jurists and civil servants were more common here. However, these experts were also distinguished by a radical, violent and ideological view of the world. Among the first SIPO-SD detachment in occupied France, Heinrich Müller, the Gestapo chief in Berlin, sent Karl Boemelburg, an experienced police officer born in 1885, who knew his French counterparts well and specialised in the communist question. But naturally the various departments of the SIPO-SD were not all peopled with experienced senior officers. There was a clear shortage of personnel, and recruitment had to compromise with the need for men in Germany. For example, the man who interrogated General Delestraint and then Jean Moulin in Paris (see ”Bad news” from France), Ernst Misselwitz, was not a career policeman. He had originally been a manual worker, an early member of the Nazi Party in 1932, and was transferred to the GFP when war broke out and then sent to France because he knew the language. But he still became a senior member of service IV E led by Hans Kieffer, which was responsible for repressing ”national resistance”.

The group of senior Gestapo officers was partly renewed at the end of 1943 with the arrival of police officers who had been involved in fighting on the Eastern Front. It was known that the Allied landings were coming, and Berlin wanted to face them by sending men skilled in more radical and violent methods.

Thomas Fontaine

Historian, research associate at the Twentieth-Century History Centre, Paris 1

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The report on the interrogation of Roland Nosek has the number GR 28 P 7 68.

  • Interrogatoire d'Hermann Herold par les services spéciaux français en Allemagne (extrait), 6 septembre 1945. © SHD

  • Interrogatoire de Roland Nosek par les services spéciaux français en Allemagne (extrait), 1946. © SHD