A Gauleiter (German pronunciation: [ˈɡaʊlaɪtə]) was the party leader of a regional branch of the NSDAP (more commonly known as the Nazi Party) or the head of a Gau or of a Reichsgau. Gauleiter was the second highest Nazi Party paramilitary rank, subordinate only to the higher rank Reichsleiter and to the position of Führer. During World War II, the rank of Gauleiter was obtained only by direct appointment from Adolf Hitler.
Creation and early usage
The first use of the term Gauleiter by the Nazi Party was in 1925 after Adolf Hitler refounded the Nazi party following the failed Beer Hall Putsch. The origin of the name was derived from the German word Leiter (meaning leader) and Gau which was an old word for a region of the German Reich. The original term Gau may also be traced to the Frankish word Gaugraf, translating closely to the English word "shire". Gau was one of the many archaic words from medieval German history[disambiguation needed] that the Nazis revived for their own purposes.
In the earliest days of the term's existence, Gauleiters were heads of election districts during a time period when the Nazis were attempting to gain political representation in the Weimar Republic. Gauleiters oversaw several Politische Leiters (Political Leaders) who assisted the Nazis with election campaigns and hosted senior Nazis (such as Hitler) on campaign tours.
In 1928, a mid-level official known as a Kreisleiter was introduced as an intermediary between the Gauleiter and the Political Leaders. In 1930, as the Nazis attempted to organize on a national level, Gauleiters were themselves subordinated to a new official known as a Landesinspektor, in charge of all Nazi Gaus in a particular German state. It was also at this time that a standard political uniform was created for the Gauleiter, consisting of a brown nazi party shirt and Army style collar bars with braided shoulder cords.
In 1933, when the Nazis took power and established the state of Nazi Germany, Gauleiter became the second highest Nazi paramilitary rank, ranking below the new rank of Reichsleiter (National Leader). The Gauleiters were now heads of the Gauleitung, which were Nazi political regions set up to mirror the German states. It was also at this time that Gauleiters adopted the two leaf collar insignia which is most often historically associated with the rank.
In theory, a Gauleiter was merely a representative of the Nazi Party who served to coordinate regional Nazi Party events and also served to "advise" the local government. In practice, Gauleiters were the unquestioned rulers of their particular areas of responsibility. The legal governmental establishment merely existed as a rubber stamp for the Gauleiter. Party control over the civil administration was institutionalized, as in many cases Gauleiters also held the supreme civil administrative posts in their areas (Reichsstatthalter or Oberpräsident). However, since Party Gau boundaries and provincial/state boundaries were rarely the same, this arrangement led to mutually overlapping jurisdictions and added to the administrative chaos typical of Nazi Germany.
Within each Gau were a number of Kreis (districts or counties), followed by the Ort (municipal) level, which was the lowest in the Nazi Party organization. There were also two additional lower local levels (Block and Zelle), describing Party Cells and local Neighborhood Blocks. By this point, all political leaders wore official uniforms, with the piping and background color of the uniform collar tabs indicating which level of the Party (Local, County, Regional, or National) within which a Political Leader served.