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I recently saw the film Alone in Berlin starring Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson. It is a fictionalised account of the novel Every man dies alone by Hans Fallada, based on the true life story of Otto and Elise Hempel.

The Hempels, having lost their only child, their son Hans, in combat, in grief and desperation conduct a hopeless personal campaign against the Nazi state.

The film is an excellent period drama, and went to some length to provide authenticity of 1940s surroundings, in street, public environment, and domestic scenery.

During the course of the film two different police forces are involved - regular plain clothes police, and the SS. (It did seem surprising that the SS would have been messing with such relatively small-time dissent. I would have expected investigations to have been overseen by the Gestapo.) However the SS officers were not wearing their characteristic black uniforms, but grey-blue tunics and darkish trousers. To me this seemed more to resemble the Wehrmacht uniform.

Is there a historian of Nazi Germany who might be able to explain why the Gestapo would not have been involved, and why the SS were not wearing black tunics?

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    Artistic license? In the book it is the gestapo. The second part of the novel is titled as such. – Marakai Sep 10 '17 at 0:09
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    Could you post a screenshot of the uniforms from the film? – user13123 Sep 10 '17 at 7:33
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    @HorusKol If you look at 0.20, 0.56, and 1.34 seconds on this two-minute trailer, you will see them. – WS2 Sep 10 '17 at 9:09
  • The Gestapo is a division of the SS. – Shimon bM Sep 11 '17 at 0:30
  • @ShimonbM Without wanting to nitpick, they were officially a "sister organisation", both under the RSHA (Himmler). But they were so utterly dominated and staffed by SS personnel that they might as well have been a sub-division. In the Byzantinian structures that were the "SS State" you'd need a flowchart to see the distinctions. :-| – Marakai Sep 11 '17 at 2:19
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I think these "SS officers" in the trailer (and movie) are Ordnungspolizei

This was a police organisation answerable to the Interior Ministry, though many members held dual rank in the SS, especially the senior officers, and by 1943 the Orpo was practically under SS control. It was the primary police organisation in the Reich following the dismantlement of Germany's regional police.

They were known as the Grüne Polizei (green police) because of the colour of their uniforms.

  • Thank you very much for the answer. This has only aroused my interest further in the different police organisations. You seem to be well versed in the subject. – WS2 Sep 10 '17 at 13:16
  • I have to say, it does leave me slightly confused. In the film the Ordnungspolizei (If that is what they were) were clearly superior in authority to the plain-clothes detective investigating the case. That was central to the plot. But having now looked at the Wiki entry it seems the Ordnungspolizei were simply uniformed police - the everyday force that did routine policing, as distinct from the various secret police forces e.g. the gestapo. So who was the plain-clothes detective working for? – WS2 Sep 10 '17 at 13:58
  • @WS2 Good question - it's a bit hard to say without having seen the film, so I don't know the context of the interactions between the uniformed and plain-clothes guy. The Orpo, however, were not "simply" police, and more of a paramilitary organisation. Bear in mind, Hitler and his subordinates created a massively convulated hierarchy to ensure no single organisation ever gained substantial enough power to threaten a coup. It's quite possible that the Orpo officers outranked Gestapo officer, or had authority from a more senior level - or the plain-clothesman was also Orpo... – user13123 Sep 11 '17 at 0:12
  • I'd recommend reading the book. It was translated into English. Haven't seen the film either, but if you match the movie characters with the ones in the book, their roles and positions might become a lot clearer. – Marakai Sep 11 '17 at 2:26
  • Yes, I now suspect that the plain-clothes branch, at least in that policing district, were simply regarded as glorified clerks by the ones who wore the grand uniforms and insignia of the Third Reich. (Unlike the world of Inspector Frost -TV's Scotland Yard detective- who refers to his colleagues disparagingly as "Uniform".) But I may take @Marakai's advice and read the book. Thank you both for your help. The film is well worth seeing. Quite apart from the history, it is an interesting study of the reactions of a couple suddenly bereaved of their only son. Be prepared to be moved by it. – WS2 Sep 11 '17 at 9:51

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