Faculty Research & Creative Activity

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2006


In the years since 1989, there has been a wealth of scholarly research into role of denunciation in supporting Germany’s two twentieth-century authoritarian regimes. The shocking revelation after the collapse of East German communism and the opening of the Stasi archives that hundreds of thousands of GDR citizens had served as ‘informal collaborators’ with the secret police seemed to help explain how a relatively small police organization managed to create a culture of terror and conformity. By focusing on the cooperation of ordinary citizens with policing institutions in the surveillance of public and private behaviors, scholars of Nazi Germany have demonstrated that the Secret State Police (Gestapo), far from constituting a totalizing institution that imposed terror on German citizens, relied on spontaneous denunciations from citizens to identify transgressors of political and racial crimes. Scholars have elaborated this revision by outlining the ‘myths and realities’ of the Gestapo, reevaluating the view of omnipotence and omnipresence first publicized by the Gestapo leadership and later perpetuated by scholars who had not bothered to question the self-promoting assertions of the Nazi state police. While some scholars, such as Bernhard Dörner and Eric A. Johnson, have objected to these revisions of the Nazi terror that, in its most extreme articulation, seem to shift responsibility for the terror away from the Gestapo and its agents and onto the shoulders of ‘ordinary Germans,’ denunciation research has radically revised our understanding of state-societal relations under Nazism. Rather than a one-way exertion of domination of the state on society, the model now generally accepted is that of a powerful state apparatus, whose ability to coerce was nonetheless limited and which relied on the complicity of a significant minority of citizens.


This peer-reviewed manuscript was published in final form in the Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 41, iss. 3, 2006.