The Nazi Party (National Socialist German Workers’ Party – NSDAP) grew out of the German Workers’ Party. The Nazi Party came into being in April 1920. Its leader, Adolf Hitler, required the party to accept and adopt the ‘Fuehrer Principle’. This was the belief that Hitler alone ruled and governed the Nazi Party and that everyone else was below him and owed their position within the party to him.
The Nazi Party was organised in a very particular manner with eight different layers.
The first layer was the Fuehrer (the leader) – Adolf Hitler. Hitler not only solely governed the Chancellery but he also put himself at the head of the SA.
The second layer was made up of the Reich Leaders (Reichsleitung der NSDAP) – men who had been given specific appointments within the party such as the party treasurer. For example, Joseph Goebbels was in charge of propaganda while Hans Frank was in charge of law. Hitler appointed Reich Leaders.
Below them came the third layer – the regional inspectors. There were originally nine Landesinspekteurs and each one of them was responsible for four Gaue. Over time the regional inspectors became less and less powerful as the Gauleiters increased their power.
The fourth layer – Gauleiters – became very powerful men as they were given a district (Gau) to govern. For administrative reasons, the Nazi Party divided pre-war Germany into 36 districts. New Gau were added when overseas territories were annexed and ‘added’ to the Reich. Eventually there were 43 Gau including one that represented Germans living abroad. A Gauleiter was appointed by Hitler and was directly responsible to him. Joseph Goebbels was Gauleiter for Berlin W9 while Fritz Sauckel was Gauleiter for Thuringia. Within the Nazi Party structure, the Gauleiters were very powerful men. A Gauleiter was probably the most important man within a district and ruled their Gau as their own. Whereas the Reich Leaders had very broad portfolios to take care of, the Gauleiters were given power over a very specific area.
Below the Gauleiters came the fifth layer – the Kreisleiter (Circuit Leader). Each Gau was subdivided into smaller administrative units – the Kreis. Kreisleiters answered to the Gauleiter and were required to put into place within their Kreis the wishes of the Gauleiter. The number of Kreis within a Gau depended on the size of the Gau. Bayreuth had 39 Kreis and 1,531 Ortsgruppen whereas Carinthia had 8 Kreis and 222 Ortsgruppen.
Below the Kreisleiters came the local group leaders (Ortsgruppenleiter) who as their title suggested was responsible for a local group – the Ortsgruppe. Each Ortsgruppenleiter answered to their Kreisleiter.
The Nazi Party was furthered divided up for administrative reasons. Below the Ortsgruppenleiters came the Zellenleiters – cell leaders. A Zellenleiter led a neighbourhood unit of the Nazi Party and was usually responsible for four of five blocks of households.
The lowest level of administration was the Blockwart – the block warden. As the title suggested each appointed Blockwart looked after a block and was answerable to an Ortsgruppenleiter.
On paper the Nazi Party appeared to be very well structured and administrated. However, whether this was the case is difficult to assess. It is known that Hitler feared rivals – especially after his experiences with Otto and Gregor Strasser in 1925-26. One method he used to maintain his control of the party was to replicate positions among the senior Nazis. By doing this –giving different post holders the same task – it is possible that Hitler believed that the men immediately below him would be too engrossed in establishing their own ‘territory’ against other rivals to be able to concentrate on threatening Hitler’s position. In his book ‘Inside the Third Reich’ Albert Speer clearly stated that he never always knew who to see among the Nazi hierarchy if an issue needed to be addressed mainly because it was never obvious who was in charge because of the structure that developed within the party with Hitler able to hand out responsibilities without any check on his power. This ‘divide-and-rule’ approach may have helped Hitler maintain total control of the party but whether it advanced the administrative side of what had to be done is open to question.
The other issue that undermined party administration was the power given to internal security units, primarily the Gestapo.
“The Gestapo organisation was extended throughout Germany and developed into the most important security organ of the state. It became autonomous and set up its own legal system, with power far exceeding that of any other law court in the Third Reich.” (Louis Snyder)
The Gestapo did not have to answer to a Gauleiter who may well have had his power undermined by men who answered directly to a senior Gestapo officer. As an internal security force (pre-World War Two) it is highly unlikely that the Gestapo shared its information with any party administrative functionary.