On June 17, 1936, Adolf Hitler appointed the Reich Leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, to serve also as the Chief of the German Police. One of Himmler’s first acts in his new position was to create a new policy agency: the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei or SiPo). It included Nazi Germany’s two investigative police forces: 

  • The criminal police (commonly called Kripo for Kriminalpolizei), the detective police force responsible for investigating crimes such as theft and murder. It was also responsible for policing Nazi Germany’s supposed social and criminal enemies.
  • The political police (called Gestapo for Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police), responsible for investigating threats to the state. It was tasked with policing Nazi Germany’s supposed political and racial enemies.

The creation of the Security Police (SiPo) intentionally established a close relationship between the Kripo and the Gestapo. These two police forces shared many similarities:

  • Both police forces were investigative police forces.
  • They were both responsible for protecting Nazi Germany from its supposed enemies.
  • Kripo and Gestapo policemen had similar backgrounds and received similar training. 
  • Both police forces used the same system of ranks. 
  • In their day-to-day duties, these policemen often wore plainclothes, rather than uniforms. 

In some ways, uniting these two forces was a logical and practical decision. Because of the similarities in skills required for the jobs, detective work and political police work had long been seen as two sides of the same coin. This was true before the Nazi period in Germany, as well as in various other European countries. However, the creation of the Security Police in Germany did more than just centralize and unite these police forces.

The union of the Kripo and Gestapo represented a significant step in the creation of the Nazi SS and police system. The new agency reflected Nazi ideology, which saw political opponents and criminals as similar and related threats. The Nazis believed that, by their very existence, both groups undermined the security of the Volksgemeinschaft (the racially-defined people’s community). As a strong, centralized and unified political and criminal police agency, the Security Police had a vital role to play in enforcing the Nazi regime’s dictates and achieving its racist goals.

The Creation of the Security Police (SiPo)

Heinrich Himmler with Reinhard HeydrichHeinrich Himmler created the Security Police as part of his efforts to reorganize and centralize Germany’s previously decentralized police forces. In order to do so, he created two new government structures: 

  • the Main Office of the Security Police (Hauptamt Sicherheitspolizei, or SiPo);
  • the Main Office of the Order Police (Hauptamt Ordnungspolizei). 

Himmler’s choice to name these offices using the phrase Hauptamt (“main office”) was an important symbolic decision. Hauptamt was not commonly used in the names of German government offices at the time. Rather, it was a word typically used in the names of SS administrative divisions. By adopting this word, Himmler signaled that these police organizations belonged with the SS, in spirit if not by law. The creation of the Security Police was thus also part of Himmler’s efforts to fuse the SS and the police into one system. 

In this new SS and police system, Himmler planned for the Security Police to work with the SS intelligence service (Sicherheitsdienst, or the SD) to target the Nazi regime’s perceived enemies. 

Himmler appointed SD leader Reinhard Heydrich as the head of the Main Office of the Security Police. This meant that Heydrich was now in charge of both the SD and the Security Police. His new title was Chief of the Security Police and SD. Heydrich served as the personal link between these two organizations, just as Himmler linked the SS and police through his roles as Reich Leader of the SS and Chief of the German Police.

The Relationship between the Security Police (SiPo) and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD)

Himmler and Heydrich hoped that the Security Police and the SD would work together. However, the Nazi Party—of which the SS and SD were components—had a very different structure from the German government, which included the police. Coordinating the work of the Security Police and SD became the task of officials who were appointed to positions in both organizations.

Division of Labor 

The Security Police and the SD supposedly had different, but complementary roles. 

The Security Police was a civil service organization within the German government. It was subordinate to the Chief of the German Police and the Ministry of the Interior. At its core, the Security Police was a policing organization. Security Policemen typically had police training, a knowledge of legal bureaucratic procedures, and investigative experience. Most importantly, they had police powers, namely the power to officially arrest people. In fact, the Security Police was the only institution under the Nazi regime that had the power to send people to concentration camps

In contrast to the Security Police, the SD was a Nazi Party organization and subordinate to the SS. It was responsible for developing the theoretical aspects of intelligence and security. The SD was, at its core, a Nazi organization. And Nazi ideology shaped everything the SD did, including the structure of their intelligence system. As a Nazi Party organization, the SD did not have the authority to arrest potential enemies in Nazi Germany. This power rested with the German criminal justice system. 

Cooperation and Competition 

In theory, the division of labor meant that the SD would identify who or what constituted a threat, while the Security Police would carry out the actual arrests. In practice, however, there was significant overlap in the tasks of the Security Police and SD. As a result, they often competed with each other for influence. The function of the SD within the Nazi regime duplicated tasks that were typically for police, such as investigations and surveillance. By bringing the SD into the equation, Himmler and Heydrich eventually succeeded in radicalizing and Nazifying police practice

The SD and the Security Police did not always work well together because of competition between them. In an attempt to remedy this problem, Heydrich created Inspectors of the Security Police and SD (Inspekteur der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD, IdS). Their job was to oversee all Security Police and SD units in a given region of Nazi Germany and to encourage cooperation. 

In the late 1930s, personnel transfers and overlapping membership became increasingly common in the Security Police and SD. SD officers were sometimes transferred to the Security Police. For instance, Adolf Eichmann was an SD officer who was transferred to a leadership position in the Gestapo in 1939. Similarly, Security Policemen who held leadership positions in the Kripo and Gestapo often also held an SS rank and were members of the SD.

The Security Police during World War II

Germany invades Poland World War II began on September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. During the war, the Security Police and the SD had an important role to play in supposedly protecting Germany from its enemies. In recognition of their wartime importance, Himmler created the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA) on September 27, 1939. This office formally combined the Main Office of the Security Police with the SD.

  • The Gestapo became Office IV of the RSHA, although it was still referred to as “the Gestapo.” 
  • The Kripo became Office V of the RSHA, although it was still referred to as “the Kripo.”

From this point forward, there was no longer an organizational office called the Main Office of the Security Police. It was replaced by the Reich Security Main Office. Nonetheless, certain SS and police units and positions across Germany and German-occupied Europe continued to have the phrase “Security Police” in their official name. 

The Security Police and the Holocaust

The Security Police played an important role in the Holocaust. Members of the Security Police directly participated in the mass murder of Jews as well as other Nazi victims. For instance, officials in the Kripo developed early techniques to kill people en masse using poison gas. Other examples include:

  • Gestapo officials who were responsible for deporting Jews from Nazi Germany and from all over Europe to their deaths at killing sites and killing centers in German-occupied eastern Europe. As head of Gestapo Office IV B 4, Adolf Eichmann was particularly infamous for his role in instigating and coordinating deportations from much of Europe. 
  • Gestapo officials who searched for Jews in hiding, deporting those whom they found. 

Combined Security Police and SD units were especially deadly. In many parts of German-occupied Europe, Security Police and SD leaders and their staff were responsible for carrying out the mass murder of Europe’s Jews. For instance, the Commander of the Security Police and SD for Belgium and Northern France (Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD Belgien und Nordfrankreich) was responsible for coordinating the deportation of Belgian Jews to their deaths.

The most notorious combined units of the Security Police and SD were the Einsatzgruppen (task forces or special action groups; sometimes called mobile killing units in English). The Einsatzgruppen were mobile units of the Security Police and SD that were first deployed in 1938. Einsatzgruppen were assigned to carry out various security measures in territories newly seized by the German armed forces. For instance, they were tasked with identifying and neutralizing potential enemies of German rule. Einsatzgruppen also seized important sites and prevented sabotage. Lastly, they recruited collaborators and established intelligence networks. The Einsatzgruppen were a consistently brutal perpetrator of Nazi occupation policies. 

The Einsatzgruppen are best known for perpetrating mass shootings of Jews following the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. Many Security Policemen joined and led these units. Arthur Nebe, a prominent Security Policeman and the leader of the Kripo, personally commanded one of these units. He led Einsatzgruppe B from June to November 1941. During Nebe’s tenure, this deadly unit was responsible for the mass murders of 45,000 people in the areas around Bialystok, Minsk, and Mogilev.