The Nazi Party used several security agencies, such as the Gestapo, to carry out surveillance of the German population. But the Nazi regime lacked the resources to keep the entire society under watch at all times. To fill the gaps in surveillance, the Third Reich also relied on ordinary citizens informing on one another.1 This system rewarded individuals willing to report the activities of those who opposed the regime. It also promoted denunciation as a way for citizens to settle scores with rivals or to eliminate competitors in the workplace.2 As one scholar has shown, in this "self-policing society," at times Germans even informed on their own family members.3 Gestapo files often show how the German population actively participated in their own surveillance and regulation.4
The featured source represents part of the process of denouncing a university professor. In December 1937, the Gestapo contacted Reich Student Leader Gustav Adolf Scheel to request a report in response to rumors about Professor Hans Peters of Berlin University. As the memo shows, Scheel organized a report on Peters from Nazi student leaders. The memo provides no information about the source of the rumors or the denunciation.5
As Germany faced defeat in 1945, the Gestapo and other security offices destroyed police files to escape postwar justice. As a result, few records of the denunciation process remain. But many such documents regarding university faculty and students have been preserved.6 They show how students at Germany's universities used denunciations not only to further their own ideological agendas, but also to target professors whose exams were too difficult or to damage academically successful peers. Politically ambitious students sometimes used denunciations to attack professors in order to improve their own career prospects. This type of behavior was tolerated and even encouraged in an academic setting that privileged political reliability over academic performance. Under Nazi rule, rumors became a dangerous political tool—and helped create an atmosphere of paranoia and fear.