A Gauleiter (German pronunciation: [ˈɡaʊlaɪtɐ]) was the party leader of a regional branch of the Nazi Party or the head of a Gau or of a Reichsgau. The word can be singular or plural, depending on the context. 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.
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 name derives from the German word Gau and Leiter (meaning leader). The word Gau is an old term for a region of the German Reich. The Frankish Realm and the Holy Roman Empire were subdivided into Gaue (the plural form of Gau), which corresponds roughly with the english word "shire". It is still in use today for some regions in Belgium and Switzerland, and in the modern German states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria (see: Gau Legacy).
In the earliest days of the term's existence, Gauleiter were heads of election districts during a time period when the Nazis were attempting to gain political representation in the Weimar Republic. Gauleiter oversaw several politische Leiter (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, Gauleiter 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 NSDAP took power and established the state of Nazi Germany, Gauleiter became the second-highest Nazi paramilitary rank, just below the new rank of Reichsleiter (National Leader). The Gauleiter now became the heads of the Gauleitung — the system of Nazi political regions set up to mirror the German states. Also at that time Gauleiter adopted the two-leaf collar insignia most often historically associated with the rank.
In theory, a Gauleiter merely functioned as a representative of the Nazi Party who served to coordinate regional Nazi Party events and also served to "advise" the local government. In practice, each Gauleiter had unquestioned authority in his particular area of responsibility. The legal governmental establishment merely existed as a rubber stamp for the Gauleiter. Party control over the civil administration became institutionalized, as in many cases the Gauleiter also held the supreme civil administrative post in his areas (Reichsstatthalter or Oberpräsident). However, since Party Gau boundaries and provincial/state boundaries rarely coincided, this arrangement led to mutually overlapping jurisdictions and added to the administrative chaos typical of Nazi Germany.
Within each Gau were a number of Kreise (districts or counties, singular: Kreis in German), 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 piping and collar-tab background colors indicating the level of the Party (Local, County, Regional, or National) that a Political Leader served.
The original insignia for a Gauleiter consisted of Army styled collar tabs, accompanied by a braided shoulder cord worn on a brown Nazi Party shirt. After 1933, the Gauleiter adopted a two oak leaf insignia worn on a brown colored collar patch. The Stellvertreter-Gauleiter (Deputy-Gauleiter) wore a single oak leaf.
By 1939, the entire Nazi Party paramilitary rank system had been overhauled, introducing completely new insignia consisting of pips, bars, and as many as four miniature oak leaves per collar to represent Nazi Party political rank. The Gauleiter insignia, however, was considered too well "entrenched" to change and thus was not incorporated into the new insignia system. Instead, the Gautier continued to wear the pre-war two oak leaf insignia, with the rank seen as existing outside of the hierarchy, senior to all other Nazi Party ranks, with the exception of Reichsleiter. Both Gauleiter and Reichsleiter insignia was modified slightly to display a more pronounced national eagle crest, and both ranks were permitted to wear special party armbands.
Gauleiter also had the right to display a special vehicle flag when traveling, as a status symbol of their position.
All political leaders working at Gau level had rhomboid collar tabs with red facings (not brown), with a dark wine-red (burgundy) colored piping around the outer edges. Reich-level collar tabs had a bright crimson facing, with gold piping; Kreis level tabs had a dark chocolate brown facing, with white piping, while Ort level tabs had a light brown facing with light blue piping. The political leader collar-tab system was quite complicated and underwent four changes (complexity increasing with each change); the final (fourth) pattern as described above, was introduced around the end of 1938—by this time, with many more job positions within each level; this made the fourth pattern collar tab rank system by far the most complicated of all. The Gauleiter had authority over the district leaders (kreisleiter), who in turn directed chapter leaders (Ortsgruppenleiter). An Ortsgruppe (chapter) encompassed 1500 households—usually a city suburb or a few villages. Chapter leaders directed cell leaders (Zellenleiter), responsible for 160 to 480 households. Zellenleiter had control over the lowest local leaders, Blockleiter, each of whom had charge of one block consisting of 40 to 60 households. The cell and block leaders at the bottom of the hierarchy gave the party a strong hold on the civilian populace.
The positional title immediately subordinate to the Gauleiter was the Stellvertreter-Gauleiter (Deputy Gau Leader). Between 1933 and 1939, this position was an actual rank, annotated by a single oak leaf collar patch, in contrast to the two used for the Gauleiter. Due to the infighting of Nazi party politics, regulations had been introduced by 1935 to prevent a Deputy Gauleiter from succeeding their own superior, thus discouraging acts of discrediting a Gauleiter in the hopes that the Deputy would take his place.
The World War II era Nazi ranks incorporated the Stellvertreter-Gauleiter rank as a positional title, paired with a corresponding Nazi Party paramilitary rank and doing away with the previous single leaf insignia and the actual rank of Deputy Gauleiter. Thus, with the single leaf political insignia discontinued, Gauleiter was left still displaying two leaves even though a single leaf insignia no longer existed.
The Gau Baden, renamed Gau Baden–Elsass (Gau Baden-Elsaß) in 1941, was a de facto administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 in the German state of Baden and, from 1940 onwards, in Alsace (German: Elsaß). The gau effectively supplanted the area's regional subdivision of the Nazi Party, which had been active from 1926-1933.Gau Bayreuth
Gau Bayreuth (until 1942, Gau Bayerische Ostmark (English: Bavarian Eastern March)) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany in Lower Bavaria, Upper Palatinate and Upper Franconia, Bavaria, from 1933 to 1945. From 1926 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party for these areas.Gau Electoral Hesse
The Gau Electoral Hesse (German: Gau Kurhessen) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 the northern parts of the Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau. Before that, from 1927 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Franconia
Gau Franconia (German: Gau Franken) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany in Middle Franconia, Bavaria, from 1933 to 1945. Before that, from 1926 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Halle-Merseburg
The Gau Halle-Merseburg was an administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 in the Prussian Province of Saxony. Before that, from 1925 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Hamburg
The Gau Hamburg was an administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 in the German city of Hamburg. Before that, from 1925 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Magdeburg-Anhalt
The Gau Magdeburg-Anhalt was an administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 in the German state of Anhalt and the Prussian province of Saxony. Before that, from 1927 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Mecklenburg
The Gau Mecklenburg, named Gau Mecklenburg-Lübeck until 1937, was an administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 in the Free State of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Free State of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Before that, from 1926 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Munich-Upper Bavaria
The Gau Munich–Upper Bavaria (German: Gau München–Oberbayern) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany in Upper Bavaria from 1933 to 1945. From 1926 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Silesia
The Gau Silesia (German: Gau Schlesien) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1941 in the Prussian Province of Silesia. From 1926 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party for these area. The Gau was split into Lower Silesia and Upper Silesia in 1941. The majority of the former Gau became part of Poland after the Second World War, with small parts in the far west becoming part of the future East Germany.Gau Swabia
Gau Swabia (German: Gau Schwaben) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany in Swabia, Bavaria, from 1933 to 1945. From 1926 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Thuringia
The Gau Thuringia (German: Gau ThüringenThuringia) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany in Thuringia from 1933 to 1945. Before that, from 1926 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Weser-Ems
The Gau Weser-Ems was an administrative division of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 in the core part of the Free State of Oldenburg, the state Bremen and the western parts of the Prussian Province of Hanover. Before that, from 1928 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party in that area.Gau Westphalia-North
The Gau Westphalia-North (German: Gau Westfalen-Nord) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany encompassing the Free State of Lippe, Free State of Schaumburg-Lippe and the northern half of the Prussian province of Westphalia between 1933 and 1945. From 1926 to 1933, it was the regional subdivision of the Nazi Party for these areas.List of Nazi Party leaders and officials
This is a list of Nazi Party (NSDAP) leaders and officials.Reichsgau Kärnten
The Reichsgau Kärnten (English: Gau Carinthia) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany in Carinthia and East Tyrol (both in Austria) and Upper Carniola in Slovenia. It existed from 1938 to 1945.
It was responsible for the administration of the de facto annexed Operational Zone of the Adriatic Littoral (Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland, OZAK).Reichsgau Niederdonau
The Reichsgau Niederdonau (English: Gau Lower Danube) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany consisting of areas in Lower Austria, Burgenland, southeastern parts of Bohemia and southern parts of Moravia. It existed between 1938 and 1945.Reichsgau Salzburg
The Reichsgau Salzburg (English: Gau Salzburg) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany in Salzburg, Austria. It existed between 1938 and 1945.Reichsgau Tirol-Vorarlberg
The Reichsgau Tirol-Vorarlberg (English: Gau Tyrol-Vorarlberg) was an administrative division of Nazi Germany consisting of Vorarlberg and North Tyrol (both in Austria). It existed from 1938 to 1945. It did not include East Tyrol (Lienz), which was instead part of Reichsgau Kärnten.
After the Italian Armistice with the Allies the Italian provinces of Belluno, South Tyrol and Trentino were placed under direct German control as the Operational Zone of the Alpine Foothills (Operationszone Alpenvorland, OZAV), which was de facto annexed and administered as part of Tirol-Vorarlberg.