Flag Schutzstaffel
Schutzstaffel insignia
Active 1925–1945
Country Flag of Germany 1933 Nazi Germany
Type Paramilitary
Size 38 Divisions (1945)
Nickname SS
Julius Schreck (1925–1926)</br>

Joseph Berchtold (1926–1927)</br> Erhard Heiden (1927–1929)</br> Heinrich Himmler (1929–1945)</br> Karl Hanke (1945)</br>

The Loudspeaker Schutzstaffel (German for "Protective Squadron"), abbreviated SS- or Schutzstaffel SS (Runic)- was a major Nazi organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The SS grew from a small paramilitary unit to a powerful force that served as the Führer's "Praetorian Guard," the Nazi Party's "Shield Squadron" and a force that, fielding almost a million men, (both on the front lines and as political police) managed to exert as much political influence as the Wehrmacht. Built upon the Nazi racial ideology, the SS, under Heinrich Himmler's command, was responsible for many of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II, and most of the worst of those crimes.

Initially numerically smaller than Ernst Röhm's Sturmabteilung (Storm Battalion abbreviated SA), the SS grew in size and power due to its exclusive loyalty to Hitler, as opposed to the SA, which was seen as semi-independent and a threat to Hitler's hegemony over the party. Under Himmler, the SS selected its members according to the Nazi racist ideology. Creating elite police and military units such as the Waffen-SS, Himmler used the SS to form an order of men claimed to be superior in racial purity and abilities to other Germans and national groups, a model for the Nazi vision of a master race. During World War II, SS units operated alongside the regular German Army, and in the final stages of the war, exercised dominance over it, to eliminate perceived threats to Hitler's power while implementing his strategies, despite the increasingly failing war effort.

According to the Nuremberg War Crimes trials, as well as countless war crimes investigations and trials conducted over the past sixty years, the SS was responsible for the vast majority of war crimes perpetrated under the Nazi regime and was also the primary organization which enacted the Holocaust. As part of its race-centric functions, the SS oversaw the isolation and displacement of Jewish people from the populations of the conquered territories, seizing their assets and imprisoning them in concentration camps and ghettos where they would be used as slave labor, pending extermination.

Chosen to implement the Nazi "Final Solution" for the Jews and other groups deemed inferior, the SS carried out the killing, torture and enslavement of approximately twelve million people. Most victims were Jews and/or of Polish and Slavic extraction, but a significant number of victims included racial groups such as the Romani. Furthermore the purge was extended to those viewed as deviant to the ideology of the master race as per Nazi eugenics, not limited to but including political opponents, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled and handicapped. In addition those belonging to labour organisations and/or perceived to be affiliated with groups (religious, political, social and otherwise) that opposed the regime, or were seen to have views contradictory to the goals of the Nazi government were rounded up in large numbers including the clergy of all faiths, Jehovah's Witnesses, Freemasons, Communists, and Rotary Club members.

Foreseeing Nazi defeat in the war, a significant number of SS personnel organized their escape to South American nations. These escapes are said to have been assisted by an organisation known as ODESSA, an acronym of the German phrase Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, which translates as the Organization of Former Members of the SS. Many others were captured and prosecuted by Allied authorities at the Nuremberg Trials for war crimes, and absconding SS criminals were the targets of police forces in various Allied nations, post-war Germany, Austria and Israel.

Background Edit

The SS was formed in 1925 as a personal guard unit for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, ("Die Schutz-Staffel der NSDAP" [Shield Squadron of the NSDAP]). Under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler between 1929 and 1945, the SS grew from a small paramilitary formation to become one of the largest and most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany.[1][2][3] The first leader of the SS was a journalist named Berchtold from the Nazi party newspaper "People's Observer" (Voelkischer Beobachter). Berchtold was then replaced by Erhard Heiden"[4]

Racial requirements for membershipEdit

The Nazis regarded the SS as an elite unit, the party's "Praetorian Guard," with all SS personnel (originally) selected on the principles of racial purity and unconditional loyalty to the Nazi Party.[5][3] In the early days of the SS, officer candidates had to prove German ancestry to 1750. They also were required to prove that they had no Jewish ancestors. Later, when the requirements of the war made it impossible to confirm the ancestry of officer candidates, the proof of ancestry regulation was dropped.

In contrast to the black-uniformed Allgemeine-SS (the political wing of the SS), the Waffen-SS (the military wing) evolved into a second German army aside the Wehrmacht (the regular army) operating in tandem with them.

Special ranks and uniformsEdit

The SS was distinguished from other branches of the German military, the National Socialist Party, and German state officials by its own rank structure, unit insignia, and uniforms. The all-black SS uniform was designed by SS-Oberführer Prof. Karl Diebitsch and Walter Heck (graphic designer) and made by Hugo Boss, some workers being prisoners of war forced into labor.[6] The SS also developed its own field uniforms. Initially these were similar to standard Wehrmacht wool uniforms but they also included reversible smocks and helmet covers printed with camouflage patterns with a brown/green "spring" side and a brown/brown "fall" side. In 1944 the Waffen SS began using a universal camouflage uniform intended to replace the wool field uniform.

Merger with police forcesEdit

As the Nazi party monopolized political power in Germany, key government functions such as law enforcement were absorbed into the SS, while many SS organizations became the de facto government agencies. To maintain the political power of the Nazi party, the SS was given authority to establish and run the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the security and intelligence service, and the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), the secret police, effectively putting the SS above the law.

Personal control of HimmlerEdit

Himmler, the leader of the SS, was a chief architect of the Final Solution. The SS Einsatzgruppen death squads, formed by his deputy, Heydrich, murdered many civilian non-combatants, mostly Jews, in the countries occupied by Germany during World War II. Himmler was responsible for establishing and operating concentration camps and extermination camps in which millions of inmates died of systematic mass gassing, inhumane treatment, overwork, malnutrition, or medical experiments. After the war, the judges of the Nuremberg Trials declared part of the SS, the SD, a criminal organization responsible for the implementation of racial policies of genocide and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

History Edit


The group was first formed in 1923, as a company of the SA tasked with protecting senior leaders of the Nazi Party at rallies, speeches, and other public events. Commanded by Emil Maurice, and known as the Stabswache (Staff Guard), they were nicknamed the "Brown Shirts" according to their dress. The original group consisted of eight men and was modeled after the Erhardt Naval Brigade, a violent Freikorps of the time.

After the failed 1923 Putsch by the Nazi Party, the SA and the Stabswache were abolished, yet they returned in 1925. At that time, the Stabswache was reestablished as the "Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler", tasked with the personal protection of Hitler at Nazi Party functions and events. That same year, the Stosstrupp was expanded to a national level, and renamed as the Schutzstaffel (SS). The new SS was delegated to be a protection company of various Nazi Party leaders throughout Germany. Hitler's personal SS protective unit was later enlarged to include combat units and received the name "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" (LSSAH). After Germany mobilized in 1939, the combat units in the LSSAH were mobilized as well, leaving a small honor guard behind to protect Hitler. It is these SS troops that are seen at Hitler's Obersalzberg estate in his personal 8 mm movie.

Development Edit

Between 1925 and 1929, the SS was considered merely a battalion of the SA and numbered no more than 280 personnel. On January 6, 1929, Hitler appointed Himmler as the leader of the SS, and by the end of 1932, the SS had 52,000 members. By the end of the next year, it had over 209,000 members. Himmler's expansion of the SS was based on models from other groups, such as the Knights Templar and the Italian Blackshirts. According to SS-Obergruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS, Karl Wolff, it was also based on the model from the Society of Jesus of absolute obedience to the Pope. The motto of the SS was "Treu, Tapfer, Gehorsam" (Loyal, Valiant, Obedient).[7]

SS cap 1

The black cap with a Totenkopf of the SS

Before 1932, the SS wore the same uniform as the SA, with the exception of a black tie and a black cap with a Totenkopf, skull and bones, ("death's head") symbol on it. Later, they adopted a black uniform, designed by Hugo Boss and then, just before the war, a dove-grey uniform. The Waffen ("armed") SS wore a field-grey (feldgrau) uniform similar to the regular army, or Reichsheer. During the war, Waffen-SS units wore a wide range of items printed with camouflage patterns (such as Platanenmuster, Erbsenmuster, captured Italian Telo Mimetico, etc.), while their feldgrau uniforms became largely indistinguishable from those of the Heer, save for the insignia. In 1945, the SS adopted the Leibermuster disruptive pattern that inspired many forms of modern battle dress, although it was not widely issued before the end of the war.


The inscription reads:</br>Meine Ehre heißt Treue meaning "My Honor is Loyalty/ Fealty"

Their motto was "Meine Ehre heißt Treue ("My Honor is Loyalty.") The SS rank system was unique in that it did not copy the terms and ranks used by the Wehrmacht's branches (Heer ("army"), Luftwaffe ("air force"), and Kriegsmarine ("navy")), but instead used the ranks established by the post-WWI Freikorps and taken over by the SA. This was mainly done to establish the SS as being independent from the Wehrmacht, although SS ranks do generally have equivalents in the other services.

Heinrich Himmler, together with his right-hand man, Reinhard Heydrich, consolidated the power of the organization. In 1931, Himmler gave Heydrich the assignment to build an intelligence and security service inside the SS, which became the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). By the time the war began, the number of members rose to 250,000, and the Waffen-SS was formed in December 1940, expanding the earlier armed SS troops who had fought in Poland and France in 1939-40, to serve as part of the Wehrmacht, Germany's regular armed forces. The SS also received control of the Gestapo in 1934, and, that same year, Hitler had given the SS jurisdiction over all concentration camps. In the wake of the plot against Hitler's life by a group of regular military generals in July 1944, the Führer came to distrust his regular military, putting ever more trust in the SS, particularly Himmler, who had acted against the plotters and their families. This attitude of Hitler's was further shown at the very end of the war, when he refused to station himself in the OKW bunker in Berlin, claiming that he did not 'trust the strength of army concrete', however the true reason was probably that he feared another generals' plot and so chose to stay in his own headquarters, surrounded by an apparently more loyal SS retinue.

Early SS Disunity Edit

Far from the united instrument of terror that the SS would eventually become, in its first year of existence, the SS was in fact significantly divided into several factions both geographically within Germany as well as within the structure of the SS as a whole. In addition, prior to 1934, the Gestapo was considered a civilian police agency completely separate from the SS and, in some cases, the Gestapo came into direct conflict with the SS and even attempted to arrest some of its members.

The first major division in the early SS was between SS units in Northern Germany, situated around Berlin, and SS units in southern Germany headquartered around Munich. The “Northern-SS” was under the command of Kurt Daluege who had close ties to Hermann Goring and enjoyed his position in Berlin where most of the Nazi government offices were located. This in contrast to the SS in southern Germany, commanded unquestionably by Heinrich Himmler and located mostly in Munich which was the location of the major Nazi political offices.

Within the SS, early divisions also developed between the “General SS” and the SS under the command of Sepp Dietrich which would eventually become the Waffen-SS. The early military SS was kept quite separate from the regular SS and Dietrich introduced early regulations that the military SS answered directly to Hitler, and not Himmler, and for several months even ordered his troops to wear the black SS uniform without a swastika armband to separate the soldiers from other SS units once the black uniform had become common throughout the Germany.

The division between the military and general SS never entirely disappeared even in the last days of World War II. Senior Waffen-SS commanders had little respect for Himmler and he was nicknamed “Reichsheine” by the Waffen-SS rank and file. Himmler himself worsened his own position when he attempted to hold a military command in the last days of the war and proved totally incompetent as a military field commander.

The Gestapo, which would eventually become an integrated part of the SS security forces, was at first a large “thorn in the side” to Himmler as the group was originally a private political force under the personal command of Hermann Goring. Early Gestapo activities came into direct conflict with the SS and it was not until the SA became a common enemy that Goring turned over control of the Gestapo to Himmler and the two worked together to destroy a greater threat. Even so, Goring was reported to have disliked Himmler to the last days of the war and even turned down honorary SS rank since he did not want to any way be subordinated to Himmler.[8]

Translation and naming Edit

Upon the creation of the SS, the correct term was Schutzstaffeln der NSDAP. Schutzstaffeln is the plural form of Schutzstaffel, i.e., "Protective Squadrons". The NSDAP is the abbreviation for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or National Socialist German Workers' Party, the official name of the Nazi Party.

"S.S." became the actual name of the organization after it became an independent organization within the Nazi party in 1934. References to Schutzstaffeln der NSDAP were not used after this time by the SS itself. At the Nuremberg Trials, the term Schutzstaffeln was used as a name for the entire organization. In the modern age, "S.S." or simply "SS" has become the most accurate transliteration.

The SS before 1933 Edit


In early 1925, the SS was a single, eight-man company that was Hitler's personal bodyguard. In September, all local NSDAP offices were ordered to create body guard units of no more than ten men apiece. By 1926, six SS-Gaus were established, supervising all such units in Germany. In turn, the SS-Gaus answered to the SS-Oberleitung, the headquarters unit. The SS-Oberleitung answered to the office of the SA Chief of Staff, clearly establishing the SS as a subordinate unit of the Sturmabteilung.

Between 1926 and 1928, the SS command Gaus were as follows:

  • SS-Gau Berlin Brandenburg
  • SS-Gau Franken
  • SS-Gau Niederbayern
  • SS-Gau Rheinland-Süd
  • SS-Gau Sachsen

1929–1931 Edit

In 1929, the SS-Oberleitung was expanded and reorganized into the SS-Oberstab with five main offices, as listed below:

  • Abteilung I: Administration
  • Abteilung II: Personnel
  • Abteilung III: Finance
  • Abteilung IV: Security
  • Abteilung V: Race

At the same time, the SS-Gaus were expanded into three SS-Oberführerbereiche as listed below

  • SS-Oberführerbereiche Ost
  • SS-Oberführerbereiche West
  • SS-Oberführerbereiche Süd

Each SS-Oberführerbereiche contained several SS-Brigaden, which in turn were divided into regiment-sized SS-Standarten.

1931–1933 Edit

In 1931, as the SS began to increase its membership to over 100,000, the organization was again restructured beginning with the SS-Oberleitung, which was replaced by the SS-Amt, divided into five sections as follows:

  • Section I: Headquarters Staff
  • Section II: Personnel Office
  • Section III: Administration Office
  • Section IV: SS Reserves
  • Section V: SS Medical Corps

In addition to the SS-Amt, the SS-Rasseamt (Race Office) and Sicherheitsdienst Amt (Office of the SD) were established as two separate offices on an equal footing with the Headquarters Office.

At the same time that the SS Headquarters was being reorganized, the SS-Oberführerbereichen were replaced with five SS-Gruppen, listed as follows:

  • SS-Gruppen Nord
  • SS-Gruppen Ost
  • SS-Gruppen Süd
  • SS-Gruppen Südost
  • SS-Gruppen West

The lower levels of the SS remained unchanged between 1931 and 1933; however, it was during this time that the SS began to establish its independence from the Sturmabteilung (SA), which the SS was still considered merely a sub-organization and answerable to the SA Chief of Staff.[8]

The SS after the Nazi seizure of powerEdit

After the Nazi seizure of power, the mission of the SS expanded from the protection of the person of Adolf Hitler to the internal security of the Nazi regime.[9] In 1936, Himmler described the new mission of the SS, protecting the internal security of the regime, in his pamphlet, "The SS as an Anti-bolshevist Fighting Organization,":

We shall unremittingly fulfill our task, the guaranty of the security of Germany from the interior, just as the Wehr-macht guarantees the safety, the honor, the greatness, and the peace of the Reich from the exterior. We shall take care that never again in Germany, the heart of Europe, will the Jewish-Bolshevistic revolution of subhumans be able to be kindled either from within or through emissaries from without. Without pity we shall be a merciless sword of justice for all those forces whose existence and activity we know, on the day of the slightest attempt, may it be today, may it be in decades or may it be in centuries.[10]

Following Hitler's assumption of power in Germany, the SS became regarded as a state organization and a branch of the established government. The Headquarters Staff, SD, and Race Office became full-time paid employees, as did the leaders of the SS-Gruppen and some of their command staffs. The rest of the SS were considered part-time volunteers, and in this concept the Allgemeine-SS came into being.

By the autumn of 1933, Hitler's personal bodyguard (previously SS-Standarten 1 situated in Munich) had been called to Berlin to replace the Army Chancellery Guard as protectors of the Chancellor of Germany. By the start of 1934, the SS guard in Berlin had taken on the name of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), and would later become the first division in the Order of Battle of the Waffen-SS.

1934–1936 Edit

On April 20, 1934, (as a prelude to the Night of the Long Knives), Göring transferred the Gestapo to Himmler, who was also named chief of all German police forces outside Prussia. Himmler on April 22, 1934 named Heydrich the head of the Gestapo.

Following the Night of the Long Knives, the SS again underwent a massive reorganization. The SS-Gruppen were renamed as SS-Oberabschnitt, and the former SS Headquarters and command offices were reorganized into eight SS-Hauptämter. The SS-Hauptamt offices would eventually grow from 8 to 12 by 1944 and remained unchanged in their names until the end of World War II and the fall of the SS.

By mid-1934, the SS had taken control of all concentration camps from the SA, and a new organization, the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) had been established as the SS Concentration Camp Service. The original SS-TV was organized into six Wachtruppen at each of Germany's major concentration camps. The Wachtruppe were expanded in 1935 into Wachsturmbann and again in 1937 into three main SS-Totenkopfstandarten. This structure would remain unchanged until 1941, when a massive labor and death camp system in the occupied territories necessitated the concentration camps to be placed under the Waffen-SS into three main divisions of Labor Camps, Concentration Camps, and Death Camps.

The early Waffen-SS can trace its origins to 1934 in the SS-Verfügungstruppe. Established as a military company of the SS, the Verfügungstruppe grew into three SS Divisions which would, along with the Leibstandarte, become part of the Waffen-SS in 1941.

1936–1939 Edit

Himmler was named the chief of all German police on June 17, 1936. The SS thereby absorbed all of Germany's regular police forces and formed the Ordnungspolizei and the Kriminalpolizei. Further, the Gestapo was incorporated into the SIPO or Sicherheitspolizei with the KRIPO or Kriminalpolizel (Criminal Police) and considered a sister organisation of the SD or Sicherheitsdienst. Reinhard Heydrich was head of the SIPO (made up of the Gestapo and KRIPO) and SD. Heinrich Müller, was chief of operations of the Gestapo. In September of 1939, the security and police agencies of Nazi Germany were consolidated into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), headed by Heydrich. Gestapo became Department IV of RSHA and Müller became the Gestapo Chief, with Heydrich as his immediate superior. After Heydrich's assassination in 1942, Ernst Kaltenbrunner became head of RSHA, and Müller remained the Gestapo Chief, a position he occupied until the end of the war.

In 1939, from the existing Totenkopfverbände was formed the SS Division Totenkopf composed of former members of the Concentration Camp service. The Totenkopf or "Death's Head" division would later become a division of the Waffen-SS.

Austrian SS Edit

The Austrian branch of the SS developed in 1934 as a covert force to influence the Anschluss with Germany which would occur in 1938. The early Austrian SS was led by Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Arthur Seyss-Inquart. The Austrian SS was technically under the command of the German SS and Heinrich Himmler but acted independently concerning Austrian affairs.

Austrian SS men were organized under the same manner as the Allgemeine-SS but operated as an underground organization, in particular after 1936 when the Austrian government declared the SS an illegal organization. The Austrian SS used the same rank system as the regular SS, but rarely used uniforms or identifying insignia. Photographic evidence indicates that Austrian SS men typically would wear a swastika armband on civilian clothes, and then only at secret SS meetings.

After 1938, when Austria was annexed by Germany, the Austrian SS was completely incorporated into the regular SS. Most of the Austrian SS was folded into Oberabschnitt Donau with a new concentration camp at Mauthausen opened under the authority of the SS Death's Head units.

Cultural differences between Austrian and German SS men were present to the end of World War II, even though in theory the two countries contributed to a single SS. The issue was highlighted in 1943, when Austrian SS commanders were responsible for heavy losses in the first days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and charged with negligence. Jürgen Stroop, the Higher SS and Police Leader in Warsaw, overturned several courts martial sentences since it was believed that Austrian members of the SS might rebel against the German officers who passed the sentences.

A notable figure of the Austrian SS included Amon Göth, who was portrayed in the film Schindler's List by Ralph Fiennes. Göth had joined the Austrian SS in 1930 and was an underground member to 1938, after which he entered the Concentration Camp service.

The SS during World War II Edit

The war helped Hitler transform his empire into undoubtedly the most powerful political and economic force in Nazi Germany, and by 1944, the SS had grown into a vast and complex organization.

SS and police leaders Edit

Main article: SS and Police Leader

The most powerful men in the SS were the SS and Police Leaders, divided into three levels: Regular Leaders, Higher Leaders, and Supreme Leaders. Such persons normally held the rank of SS-Gruppenführer or above and answered directly to Himmler in all matters pertaining to the SS in their area of responsibility. Thus, SS and Police Leaders bypassed all other chains of command. In Himmler's grand dream of the SS, the SS and Police Leaders were eventually to become SS-Governors of the Lebensraum which would be ruled by SS-Lords, protected by SS-Legions, and worked and lived in by SS-Peasant Warriors.

SS offices Edit

Bundesarchiv Bild 101III-Schilf-002-06, Polen, Ghetto Litzmannstadt, Bewohner

Jews in the Lodz ghetto in 1940. The yellow star can be clearly seen sewn on their clothing. By an order dated September 26, 1942 from SS Lieutenant General (Obergruppenführer) August Frank, an official of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, once these people were executed, their clothing would be salvaged and redistributed to "ethnic" Germans (Volksdeutsche) by way of an SS Volksdeutsche welfare office (Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle). Obergruppenführer Frank specifically directed that before redistribution of the "evacuated" Jews' clothing to Germans, care was to be taken to be sure the yellow star was removed and the pockets and linings searched for valuables.[11]

With the creation of the Waffen-SS in 1940, the SS organizational structure evolved into two distinctly different branches: the general SS (Allgemeine-SS) and military SS (Waffen-SS).

By 1944, all activities of the organization within and outside Germany were managed by twelve main offices[12]

The Einsatzgruppen, Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and the Gestapo were under the overall command of the RSHA.

Allgemeine-SS Edit

Main article: Allgemeine-SS

The Allgemeine-SS (the "General SS") refers to a non-combat branch of the SS. The Allgemeine-SS formations were divided into Standarten, organized into larger formations known as Abschnitte and Oberabschnitte. The Allgemeine-SS members were considered more or less reservists, and many Allgemeine-SS personnel served in other branches of the German military, the Nazi Party, departments of the RSHA or the Waffen-SS. For those who served in the Waffen-SS, it was a standard practice to hold separate SS ranks for both the Allgemeine-SS and the Waffen-SS.

SS Cavalry Corps Edit

The SS Cavalry Corps (German: Reiter-SS) comprised several Reiterstandarten and Reiterabschnitte that were equestrian riding groups founded to attract the German upper class and nobility into the SS. In the 1930s, the SS Cavalry Corps was considered as a starting point for a military branch of the SS, but this idea was phased out with the rise of the SS-Verfügungstruppe, which would later become known as the Waffen-SS.

By 1941, the SS-Cavalry Corps was little more than a social club with most of the serious cavalry officers having transferred to combat units in the Waffen-SS and the SS Cavalry Brigade. Between 1942 and 1945, the Reiter-SS effectively ceased to exist except on paper and only a handful of members. At the subsequent Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, when the SS was judged a criminal organization, the Tribunal made a special note that this distinction did not include members of the "Rider-SS" due to the Reiter-SS' having insignificant involvement with the activities contributed to the SS as a whole.

Germanic-SS Edit

Main article: Germanic-SS

The Germanic-SS was an SS-modeled structure formed in occupied territories and allied countries. The main purpose of the Germanic-SS was enforcement of Nazi racial doctrine and anti-semitic policies. Denmark and Belgium were the two largest participants in the Germanic-SS program. Germanic-SS members wore their own uniforms with a modification of SS rank titles and insignia. All Germanic-SS units answered to the SS headquarters in Germany.

Concentration camp service Edit

Main article: SS-Totenkopfverbände
3. SS Division Totenkopf

After 1934, the running of Germany's concentration camps was placed under the total authority of the SS and an SS formation known as the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), under the command of Theodor Eicke. Known as the "Death's Head Units", the SS-TV was first organized as several regiments, each based at one of Germany's major concentration camps, the largest of which was at Dachau. In 1939, the Totenkopfverbände expanded into a military division with the establishment of the Totenkopf division, which by 1941 would become a full division within the Waffen-SS.

In 1939, with the start of World War II, the Totenkopfverbände began a large expansion that eventually would develop into three branches covering each type of concentration camp the SS operated. By 1944, there existed three divisions of the SS-TV, those being the staffs of the concentration camps proper in Germany and Austria, the labor camp system in occupied territories, and the guards and staffs of the extermination camps in Poland that were involved in the Holocaust.

In 1942, for administrative reasons, the guard and administrative staff of all the concentration camps became full members of the Waffen-SS. In addition, to oversee the large administrative burden of an extensive labor camp system, the concentration camps were placed under the command of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA). Oswald Pohl commanded the WVHA, while Richard Glücks served as the Inspector of Concentration Camps.

By 1944, with the concentration camps fully integrated with the Waffen-SS and under the control of the WVHA, a standard practice developed to rotate SS members in and out of the camps, based on manpower needs and also to give assignments to wounded Waffen-SS officers and soldiers who could no longer serve in front-line combat duties. This rotation of personnel is the main argument that nearly the entire SS knew of the concentration camps, and what actions were committed within, making the entire organization liable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Death squads Edit

Main article: Einsatzgruppen
Einsatzgruppen murder Jews in Ivanhorod, Ukraine, 1942

Killing of Jews at Ivangorod, Russia, 1942. A woman is attempting to protect a child with her own body just before they and several others are fired on with rifles at close range. To save ammunition, the SS executioners, under the supervision of people such as Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, used one bullet to kill a victim. The killers would attempt to kill mothers with small children, as in this image, also with a single shot, by shooting the child first with the bullet passing through child's body and into the mother's.[13]

Template:Wikisourcepar The Einsatzgruppen were special units of the SS that were formed on an 'as-needed' basis under the authority of the Sicherheitspolizei and later the RSHA, whose commander was Heydrich. The first Einsatzgruppen were created in 1938 for use during the Anschluss of Austria and again in 1939 for the annexation of Czechoslovakia. The original purpose of the Einsatzgruppen was to 'enter occupied areas, seize vital records, and neutralize potential threats'. In Austria and Czechoslovakia, the activities of the Einsatzgruppen were mainly limited to Nazification of local governments and assistance with the establishment of new concentration camps.

In 1939 the Einsatzgruppen were reactivated and sent into Poland to exterminate the Polish elite, so that there would be no leadership to form a resistance to German occupation. In 1941, the Einsatzgruppen reached their height when they were sent into Russia to begin large-scale extermination and genocide of "undesirables" such as Jews, Gypsies, and communists.

The last Einsatzgruppen were disbanded in mid 1944 (although on paper some continued to exist until 1945) due to the retreating German forces on both fronts and the inability to carry on with further "in-the-field" extermination activities. Former Einsatzgruppen members were either folded into the Waffen-SS or took up roles in the more established Concentration Camps such as Auschwitz.

Special action units Edit

Beginning around 1938, the SS enacted a procedure where offices and units of the SS could form smaller sub-units, known as Sonderkommandos, to carry out special tasks and actions which might involve sending agents or troops into the field. The use of Sonderkommandos was very widespread, and according to former SS-Major Wilhelm Höttl, not even the SS leadership knew how many Sonderkommandos were constantly being formed, disbanded, and reformed for various tasks.

The best-known Sonderkommandos were formed from the SS Economic-Administrative Head Office, the SS Head Office, and also Department VII of the Reich Main Security Office (Science and Research) whose duties were to confiscate valuable items from Jewish libraries.

The Eichmann Sonderkommando was attached to the Security Police and the SD in terms of provisioning and manpower, but maintained a special position in the SS due to its direct role in the deportation of Jews to the death camps as part of the Final Solution.

The term Sonderkommando was ironically also used to describe the teams of Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in gas chambers and crematoria, receiving special privileges and above-average treatment, before then being gassed themselves. An important distinction is that these Jewish special-action units were not considered regular SS Sonderkommandos; but rather the term for special action unit was simply applied to these obviously non-SS personnel due to the nature of the tasks which they performed.

Order Police Edit

In 1936, the SS absorbed the regular German police forces and incorporated all local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies into the Ordnungspolizei. SS-Obergruppenführer Kurt Daluege became commander of the Ordnungspolizei (known as the Orpo), and Heinrich Himmler became Chief of the German Police.[14] By 1944, the Orpo had also absorbed minor law enforcement agencies such as the Postal Police, Railway Security Police, Water Protection Police, and even night watchmen who were considered state employees. The Ordnungspolizei had a separate system of Orpo ranks and it was possible for Orpo members to hold dual status in both the SS and the Orpo. In 1944, all Orpo Police Generals gained equivalent Waffen-SS rank so that they would be treated as military officers, instead of police officials, if captured by the Allies. The Orpo also maintained a military division, considered part of the Waffen-SS as well as a number of Police Regiments which performed security duties under the authority of the RSHA.

SS Medical Corps Edit

The first units of the SS Medical Corps began to appear in the 1930s. Within each SS-Sturmbann (battalion), there existed one company of SS personnel whose duty was to serve as medical support personnel to the rest of the SS battalion.

Known as the Sanitätsstaffel, these formations were originally small units under the command of local SS leaders. After 1931, however, the SS formed a headquarters office known as Amt V, which was the central office for SS medical units. At this same time, a special SS unit was formed known as the Röntgensturmbann SS-HA, or the Hauptamt X-Ray Battalion. This formation comprised 350 full time SS personnel who toured Germany offering X-ray diagnostics to any SS member. While the Röntgensturmbann was an independent office, the local Sanitätsstaffel were under dual command of both the SS Medical Office (Amt V), and the leaders of the various SS-Sturmbann and Standarten.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the SS was reorganized and an office of the SS Surgeon General was established. Commanding by an SS-Obergruppenführer, the SS Surgeon General was a member of the personal staff of the Reichsführer-SS, with the SS Medical Corps, as a whole, losing the status of a headquarters office. This was an important development in changing the nature of service for members of the SS Medical Corps.

By 1935, the SS Medical Corps was considered an 'auxiliary duty', and all members of the medical corps were also attached to regular SS formations. To denote medical corps status, the SS authorized a serpent crest to be worn on the collar patches of SS unit insignia. Since SS Medical Corps members could now serve in any branch of the SS, this expansion allowed medical professionals to join every SS office and participate in a variety of duties.

Between 1935 and 1938, the SS Medical Corps began to serve a more sinister purpose, with SS doctors serving in concentration camps and engaging in a variety of human medical experiments. SS doctors were also called upon, in 1936, to assist with Germany's euthanasia program against the mentally disabled and physically handicapped.

When World War II began in 1939, the SS Medical Corps extended itself in the Armed wing of the SS which would, by 1941, be known as the Waffen-SS. Waffen-SS doctors were highly trained both in medical skills and combat tactics with many such doctors receiving high combat awards.

It was also during World War II that SS doctors reached their height with human medical experiments, the most notorious of which occurred at Dachau concentration camp and Auschwitz. Such experiments ranged from vivisections, sterilization experiments, infectious disease research, freezing experiments, as well as many other excruciating medical procedures often performed without anesthetic. This period of time also saw the work of one of the most notorious SS doctors in history, Doctor Josef Mengele, who served as Head Medical Officer of Auschwitz and was responsible for daily gas chamber selections as well as brutal experiments on human twins.

In 1945, after the surrender of Germany, the SS was declared an illegal criminal organization by the Allies. SS doctors, in particular, were marked as war criminals due to the wide range of human medical experimentation which had been conducted during World War II as well as the role SS doctors had played in the gas chamber selections of the Holocaust. Relatively few SS doctors, however, were ever brought to justice with such figures as Josef Mengele escaping to Argentina while still other SS doctors returned to civilian practice in Germany under assumed names or, in some cases, even their original identities.

Auxiliary SS Edit


The Auxiliary-SS (SS mannschaft or "wiking") was an organization that arose in 1945 as a last ditch effort to keep concentration camps running. Auxiliary-SS members were not considered regular SS personnel, but were conscripted members from other branches of the German military, the Nazi Party, and the Volkssturm. Such personnel wore a distinctive twin swastika collar patch and served as camp guard and administrative personnel until the surrender of Germany.

Auxiliary SS members had the distinct disadvantage of being the "last ones in the camp" as the major Concentration Camps were liberated by allied forces. As a result, many auxiliary SS members, in particular those captured by Russian forces, faced swift and fierce retaliation and were often held personally responsible for the carnage of the camps to which some had only been assigned for a few weeks or even days.

There also exists very few records of the Auxiliary SS since, at the time of this group's creation, it was a forgone conclusion that Germany had lost the Second World War and the entire purpose of the Auxiliary SS was to serve in support roles while members of the SS proper escaped from allied forces. Thus, there was never a serious effort to properly train, equip, or maintain records on the Auxiliary SS and many in the regular SS "looked down" upon such persons with feelings that they would soon be captured or dead and therefore deserved little attention.

Helferinnen Corps Edit

The SS-Helferinnenkorps, translated literally as 'Women Helper Corps', comprised women volunteers who joined the SS as auxiliary personnel. Such personnel were not considered actual SS members, since SS membership was closed to women.

The Helferin Corps maintained a simple system of ranks, mainly SS-Helfer, SS-Oberhelfer, and SS-Haupthelfer. Members of the Helferin Corps were assigned to a wide variety of activities such as administrative staff, supply support personnel, and female guards at concentration camps.

Waffen-SS Edit

Main article: Waffen-SS

The Waffen-SS were frontline combat troops trained to fight in Germany's battles during WWII. During the early campaigns against Poland and France, Waffen-SS units were of regiment size and drawn from existing armed SS formations:

In 1941 Himmler announced that additional Waffen-SS Verfügungstruppe units would be raised from non-German foreign nationals. His goal was to acquire additional manpower from occupied nations. These foreign legions eventually included volunteers from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

German pow 1943 by Soviet troops

German prisoners being searched by Red Army soldiers. In the foreground, two dead German soldiers - the one on the right is an SS trooper.

Since the Waffen-SS was formally considered a branch of the German military, it was financed by the German government while actually remaining under the command of Himmler. During the war, the Waffen-SS grew to 38 divisions. The most famous are the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), the SS Division Das Reich, the SS Division Totenkopf and the 12th SS Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend.

The Waffen-SS maintained several "Foreign Legions" of personnel from conquered territories and countries allied to Germany. The majority wore a distinctive national collar patch and preceded their SS rank titles with the prefix Waffen instead of SS. Racial restrictions were relaxed to the extent that Ukrainian Slavs, Albanians from Kosovo, and Turkic Tatars' units were recruited. The Ukrainians and the Tatars had both suffered persecution under Stalin and their motive was a hatred of Communism rather than sympathy for National Socialism. The year long Soviet occupation of the Baltic states at the beginning of World War II produced volunteers for Estonian and Latvian Waffen-SS units, though majority of those units still was formed by forced draft. However, some other occupied countries such as Greece, Lithuania and Poland never formed any Waffen-SS legions. (In Greece, the Fascist organisation ESPO tried to create a Greek SS division, but the attempt was abandoned after its leader was assassinated).

A similar formation was the Indische Freiwilligen Infanterie Regiment 950 (also known at various stages as the Indische Freiwilligen-Legion der Waffen-SS and Azad Hind Fauj.) See also the Tiger Legion and the Indian National Army.

The Legion Freies Indien, or Indische Freiwilligen Infanterie Regiment 950 was created in August 1942, chiefly from disaffected Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army, captured by the Axis in North Africa. Many, if not most, of the Indian volunteers who switched sides to fight with the German Army and against the British were strongly nationalistic supporters of the exiled, anti-British, former president of the Indian National Congress, Netaji (the Leader) Subhash Chandra Bose.

Ahnenerbe SS Edit

Main article: Ahnenerbe

The Scientific Branch of the SS that was used to provide scientific and archeological proof of Aryan supremacy. Formed in 1935 by Himmler and Herman Wirth, the society did not become part of the SS until 1939.

SS and police courts Edit



Bodies of Jewish women who died while on a forced march under SS supervision; 1945

Situations arose early in the Nazi regime of SS activities coming into conflict with German law. The first recorded instances, of SS personnel charged with breaking the law through the performance of their duties, was in 1934 at Dachau, when the local town magistrate charged several SS guards with murder after several prisoners were executed without cause or trial.

The SS response to the German legal establishment was to petition the Reich Ministry of Justice to pass an act that removed the SS, and all of its members, from the jurisdiction of the civilian courts. This effectively placed the SS 'above the law', and its members could break regular German law without fear of penalty.

For those SS personnel who committed acts that were illegal even by SS standards, the SS established a series of SS and Police Courts. The SS and Police Courts were the only authority that could try SS personnel for criminal behavior and were under the authority of the Hauptamt SS Gericht.

Court types Edit

The different SS and Police Courts were as follows:

  • SS- und Polizeigericht: Standard SS and Police Court for trial of SS officers and enlisted men accused of minor and somewhat serious crimes
  • Feldgerichte: Waffen-SS Court for court martial of Waffen-SS military personnel accused of violating the military penal code of the German Armed Forces.
  • Oberstes SS- und Polizeigericht: The Supreme SS and Police Court for trial of serious crimes and also any infraction committed by SS Generals.
  • SS- und Polizeigericht z.b. V.: The Extraordinary SS and Police Court was a secret tribunal that was assembled to deal with highly sensitive issues which were desired to be kept secret even from the SS itself.

The one exception to the SS and Police Courts jurisdiction involved members of the Allgemeine-SS who were serving on active duty in the regular Wehrmacht. In such cases, the SS member in question was subject to regular Wehrmacht military law and could face charges before a standard military tribunal.

Postwar activity and ODESSA Edit

According to Simon Wiesenthal, towards the end of World War II, a group of former SS officers went to Argentina and set up a Nazi fugitive network code-named ODESSA, (an acronym for Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, "Organization of the former SS members"), with ties in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and the Vatican, operating out of Buenos Aires. ODESSA allegedly helped Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele, Erich Priebke, and many other war criminals find postwar refuge in Latin America.

It is estimated that out of roughly 70,000 members of the SS involved in crimes in German concentration camps, only between 1650 and 1700 were tried after the war.[15]

Argentinian citizen and water company worker Ricardo Klement was discovered to be Adolf Eichmann in the 1950s, by former Jewish Dachau worker Lothar Hermann, whose daughter, Sylvia, became romantically involved with Klaus Klement (born Klaus Eichmann in 1936 in Berlin). He was captured by the Israeli Secret Service, Mossad, in a suburb of Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960, and tried in Jerusalem on April 11, 1961, where he explicitly declared that he had abdicated his conscience in order to follow the Führerprinzip (the 'leader principle' or superior orders).

Josef Mengele, disguised as a member of the regular German infantry was captured and released by the Allies, oblivious of who he was. He was able to go and work in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1949 and to Altos, Paraguay, in 1959 where he was discovered by Nazi hunters. From the late 1960s on, he exercised his medical practice in Embu, a small city near São Paulo, Brazil, under the identity of Wolfgang Gerhard, where in 1979, he suffered a stroke while swimming and drowned.

The British writer Gitta Sereny (born in 1921 in Hungary), who conducted interviews with SS men, considers the story about ODESSA untrue and attributes the escape of notorious SS members to postwar chaos, an individual bishop in the Vatican, and the Vatican's inability to investigate the stories of those people who came requesting help.

More recent research, however, notably by the Argentine author and journalist Uki Goñi in his book The Real Odessa, has shown that such a network in fact existed, and in Argentina was largely run by Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón, a Nazi sympathiser who had been impressed by Mussolini's reign in Italy during a military tour of duty in that country which also took him to Nazi Germany.

In the modern age, several neo-Nazi groups claim to be successor organizations to the SS. There is no single group, however, that is recognized as a continuation of the SS, and most such present-day organizations are loosely organized with separate agendas.

See also Edit



  • Arenhövel, Verlag (1989). Topography of Terror. Berlin: Berliner Festspiele GmbH. (ISBN 3-922912-25-7)
  • Browder, George C., Foundations of the Nazi Police State -- The Formation of Sipo and SD, University of Kentucky, Lexington 1990 ISBN 0-8131-1697-X
  • Höhne, Heinz. (1969). Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, English translation entitled The Order of the Death's Head, The Story of Hitler's SS. London: Pan Books Ltd.
  • Infield, Glenn: The Secrets of the SS (ISBN 0-8128-1790-2)
  • International Military Tribunal (referred to as IMT), (1947-1949). Record of the Nuremberg Trials November 14, 1945 - October 1, 1946. 42 Vols. London: HMSO.
  • Koehl, Robert Lewis (1983). The Black Corps University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Krausnick, Helmut (editor) Anatomy of the SS State with contributions by Hans Buchheim; Martin Broszat & Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, translated from the German by Richard Barry, Marian Jackson, Dorothy Long, New York : Walker, (1968).
  • Lasik Aleksander, Sztafety Ochronne w systemie niemieckich obozów koncentracyjnych. Rozwój organizacyjny, ewolucja zadań i struktur oraz socjologiczny obraz obozowych załóg SS, wyd. Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau, Oświęcim 2007. ISBN 978-83-60210-32-1.
  • Lumsden, Robin: The Allgemeine-SS, Vol. 266 (ISBN 1-85532-358-3)
  • Mollo, Andrew: Pictorial History of the SS (1923 - 1945) (ISBN 0-7128-2174-0
  • Library of Congress Military Legal Resources: Office of the United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volumes I though VIII
  • Reitlinger, Gerald, The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922-1945. 1956.
  • Schultz, Sigrid: Germany Will Try It Again (Reynal & Hitchcock, New York, 1944)
  • Shirer, William L. (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Gramercy. (ISBN 0-517-10294-3)
  • Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, pages 45, 94, 95, 144, 268-69 (Russian POWs), 369-371 (concentration camp labor), 372-374 (business enterprises and labor camps), Macmillan, New York 1970 ISBN 0-517-385791 (1982 Bonanza reprint).
  • SS Officer Personnel Files, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland
  • Tetens, T.H.: The New Germany and the Old Nazis (LCN 61-7240)
  • Wechsbert, Joseph: The Murderers Among Us (LCN 67-13204)
  • Yerger, Mark C.: Allgemeine-SS: The commands, units, and leaders of the General SS, Schiffer Publishing 1997 ISBN 0-7643-0145-4
  • Discussion and detailed verdict of the International Military Tribunal finding the SS to have been a criminal organization, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Vol. II. USGPO, Washington, 1946, pages 173-237
  • Further readingEdit

    • Robert Lewis Koehl, 1989, "The SS A History 1919-1945", Tempus Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7524-2559-5
    • Sven Hassel, 1969, "SS General", Corgi Books. (Based on the authors World War II experiences. The story takes place in the Russian front esp. during the siege of Stalingrad)


    1. d'Alquen, Gunter (1939), "The History, Mission, and Organization of the Schutzstaffeln of the NSDAP, Junker and Duennhaupt Press, Berlin", in IMT document 2284-PS, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, IV, Washington, DC 1946: United States Government Printing Office, pp. 973–991 
    2. Himmler, Heinrich (1937), "Organization and Obligations of the SS and the Police (from National Political Course for the Armed Forces)", in IMT document 1992-A-PS, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Washington, DC 1946: USGPO 
    3. 3.0 3.1 International Military Tribunal (1946), Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, II, Washington, DC: USGPO, pp. 173–237 
    4. Shirer, William (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. pages 120–21, 148, 270, 273 (organization of the SS), pages 979–991 (Nazi medical experiments). ISBN No ISBN for this edition. 
    5. d'Alquen, IMT Volume IV, Document 2284-PS, at 975
    6. Givhan, Robin (1997-08-15). "Clothier Made Nazi Uniforms". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2008-11-08. 
    7. SS Motto
    8. 8.0 8.1 Yerger, Mark C. (1997). Allgemeine-SS: The commands, units, and leaders of the General SS. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0-7643-0145-4. 
    9. "Organizations book of the NSDAP for 1943", NCA, V, Washington, DC 1946: USGPO, 1943 
    10. Himmler, Heinrich (1943), "The SS as an Anti-bolshevist Fighting Organization", in Document 1851-PS, NCA, Washington, DC 1946: USGPO 
    11. Frank, August, "Memorandum, September 26, 1942, Utilization of property on the occasion of settlement and evacuation of Jews", in NO-724, Pros. Ex. 472, United States of America v. Oswald Pohl, et al. (Case No. 4, the "Pohl Trial), V, pp. 965–967 
    12. Yerger has at least a paragraph on each office. pp. 13-21
    13. Ezergailis, Andrew, The Holocaust in Latvia 1941-1944 -- The Missing Center, pages 239-270, Historical Institute of Latvia (in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) Riga 1996 ISBN 9984-9054-3-8
    14. Browder, George C. (1990). Foundation of the Nazi State -- The Formation of Sipo and the SD. New York: University of Kentucky. pp. 231. ISBN ISBN 0-8131-1697-X. 
    15. As stated by Piotr Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, in: Template:Pl icon Marcin Bosacki, Dominik Uhlig, Bogdan Wróblewski (May 2008). "Nikt nie chce osądzić zbrodniarza". Gazeta Wyborcza (2008-05-21). Archived from the original. You must specify the date the archive was made using the |archivedate= parameter.,75478,5232713,Nikt_nie_chce_osadzic_zbrodniarza.html. Retrieved on 2008-05-21. 

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