For other uses of the abbreviation SS, see SS (disambiguation)
The Schutzstaffel (Protective Squadron), or SS, was a large paramilitary organization that belonged to the Nazi party. The Nazis regarded the SS as an elite unit, a Party's "praetorian guard", with all SS personnel selected on racial and ideological grounds. The SS was distinguished from the German military, Nazi Party, and German state officials by their own SS ranks, SS unit insignia, and SS uniforms.
The SS fighting units, called the Waffen-SS, were to prove highly skilled and effective soldiers, in many cases superior in these respects to the German army, the Wehrmacht. The SS were, however, notorious for their participation in enforcing Nazi policies which often constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The most recognizable branches of the SS, later charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, were the departments that comprised the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, Reich Security Head Office), Sicherheitsdienst (SD, Security Service), Einsatzgruppen (Special Mission Groups), the Concentration Camp service known as the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV, Death's Head Formations), and the Gestapo (Secret State Police). The entirety of the SS, however, has today come to bear collective responsibility for criminal acts as a vast organization devoted to enforcing a dictatorial regime and implementing racial policies of genocide.
History of the SS
The predecesor to the SS was first formed in 1923 as a company of the Sturmabteilung (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), the original group consisted of 8 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 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. The new SS was delegated to be a protection company of various Nazi Party Leaders throughout Germany.
Between 1925 and 1929, the SS was considered merely a battalion of the Sturmabteilung and numbered no more than 280 personnel. On January 6, 1929 Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler as the leader of the SS and, by the end of 1932 the SS had 52,000 members; by the end of 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, Jesuit Order, and the Italian Black Brigades.
Before 1932, the SS wore the same uniform as the SA, except for a black tie and a black cap with a Totenkopf death's head symbol on it. Later they adopted a black uniform and then, just before the war, a dove grey uniform. The Waffen ("armed") SS wore a field grey (feldgrau) uniform similar to the Reichsheer. During the war Waffen-SS units wore a range of camouflage uniforms (platanenmuster, telo mimetico, erbenmuster etc.). In 1945 some were issued with uniforms in the leibermuster disruptive pattern that were the predecessors to most of modern battledress.
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 used in the Wehrmacht, but instead used the ranks of the SA.
Heinrich Himmler, together with his right-hand man Reinhard Heydrich, consolidated the power of the organisation. In 1931 Himmler gave Heydrich the assignment to build an intelligence service inside the SS, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). By the time World War II began the number of members rose to 250,000 and the Waffen-SS was formed in December 1940 to fight alongside the Wehrmacht, Germany's regular military. The SS also received control of the Gestapo in 1934 and, that same year, Adolf Hitler had given the SS jurisdiction over all concentration camps.
Fall of the SS
Upon the suicide of Adolf Hitler, and the assumption of Karl Dönitz as the new President of Germany, one of the first official acts of the new government was to abolish the SS. Just prior to Hitler’s death, the organization had become a “headless horseman” in that several senior SS Generals (Heinrich Himmler among them) had been denounced by Hitler as traitors for attempting to negotiate with the Allies to surrender. In addition, in the last months of the war, the SS began suffering mass desertions in particular from the concentration camps and security organizations such as the Gestapo and SD. This was due in part to the fact that many SS members saw that the end was near, and deserted their posts rather than risk capture and trial as war criminals.
On September 30, 1946, the judges of the Nuremberg Trials (Tribunal) sentenced the SS-organization, declaring it a criminal organization. The judges underpinned this sentence by stating that "the SS was used for purposes which were criminal, involving the persecution and the extermination of the Jews, brutalities and killings in concentration camps, excesses in the administration of occupied territories, the administration of the slave labour programme and the maltreatment and murder of prisoners of war" (IMT, 1946, Vol. XXII, p.516, in: Höhne, 1969, p.3). The sentence continued by declaring that suspicion of crime was to be attached to all persons "who had been officially accepted as members of the SS... who came or remained members of the organization with knowledge that it was being used for the commission of acts declared criminal by Article 6 of the [London War Crimes] Charter" (IMT, 1947-1949, Vol. XXII, p.517 in: Höhne, 1969, p.3). According to Höhne, 50,000 of the one million SS-men had committed crimes, such as involvement in the Holocaust (page 537 of the German version).
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, operated out of Buenos Aires. ODESSA allegedly helped Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele, Erich Priebke and many other war criminals find refuge in Latin America. The writer Gitta Sereny who interviewed SS-men considers the story about ODESSA untrue and attributes the escape of notorious SS-men to post war chaos, to an individual bishop in the Vatican, and to the lack of means of the Vatican to check the stories of the people who came to them for help.
In the modern age, several Neo-Nazi groups claim to be successor organizations to the SS. There is no one group, however, that is recognized as a continuation of the SS and most such present day organizations are loosely organized with separate agendas.
In early 1925, the SS consisted of a single company of 8 men which served as a personal bodyguard to Adolf Hitler. By September of that year, all local offices of the NSDAP were ordered to create bodyguard units of no more than 10 men a piece. By 1926, six SS-Gaus had been established to oversee all such units in Germany. The SS-Gaus, in turn, answered to an SS-Headquarters Unit which was known as the SS-Oberleitung. The SS-Oberleitung answered to the office of the SA Chief of Staff, clearly establishing that the SS was 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
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
- Abteling 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 were, in turn divided into regiment sized SS-Standarten.
In 1931, as the SS began to increase its membership to over one hundred thousand, 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-Rassamt (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.
Following Adolf Hitler’s assumption to 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 fall of 1933, Adolf 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.
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-Hauptamt. The SS-Hauptamt offices would eventually grow from 8 to 12 by 1944 and remained unchanged in their names until the end of the Second World War and the fall of the SS.
On April 20, 1934 (as a prelude to the Night of the Long Knives), the SS took control of the Gestapo which had previously been a state office of Prussia. The Gestapo was placed under the command of the new Sicherheitspolizei which was a combined office of both the Gestapo and SD. The Sicherheitspolizei would eventually become part of the much larger RSHA in 1939.
By the summer of 1934, the SS had taken control of all concentration camps from the SA and a new organization, the SS-Totenkopfverbande (SS-TV) had been established as the SS Concentration Camp service. The original SS-TV was organized into six Wachtruppe 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.
In 1936, the SS absorbed all of Germany’s regular police forces and formed the Ordnungspolizei and the Kriminalpolizei. These two organizations would later be folded into the RSHA just prior to the start of the Second World War.
In 1939, from the existing Totenkopfverbande, was formed the SS Division Totenkopf comprised of former members of the Concentration Camp service. The Totenkopf division would later become a division of the Waffen-SS.
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 very much acted independently concerned with 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 ever-present to the end of the Second World War, even though in theory the two countries contributed to a single SS. The issue came to a head in 1944 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 court martial sentences since it was felt that Austrian members of the SS might rebel against the German officers who had passed the sentences.
Other notable figures of the Austrian SS include Amon Goeth who was portrayed in the film Schindler's List. Goeth had joined the Austrian SS in 1930 and was an underground member to 1938, after which he entered the Concentration Camp service.
The SS and the Second World War
By 1944, the SS had become a vast and complex organization and was considered a "State within a State". The final structure and organization of the SS was as follows
SS and Police Leaders
The most powerful men in the SS were the SS and Police Leaders, divided into three levels being that of Regular Leaders, Higher Leaders, and Supreme Leaders. Such persons normally held the rank of SS-Gruppenfuhrer or above and answered directly to Heinrich 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.
By 1944, the SS consisted of twelve main offices as listed below:
- Hauptamt Personlicher Stab Reichsführer-SS (Personal Staff of the Reich Leader SS)
- SS Hauptamt (Main Administrative Office of the SS)
- SS Führungshauptamt (Administrative and Supply Department of the Allgemeine and Waffen-SS)
- Hauptamt SS Gericht (Office of SS Legal Matters)
- SS Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt RuSHA (SS Office of Race and Settlement)
- SS Personalhauptamt (SS Personnel Office)
- Reichssicherheitshauptamt RSHA (Reich Central Security Office)
- Hauptamt Ordnungspolizei (Office of the Order Police)
- Wirtschafts und Verwaltungshauptamt WVHA (Economics and Administration Office)
- Hauptamt Dienststelle Heissmeyer (SS Education Office)
- Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle VOMI (Main Office for Ethnic Germans)
- Reichskommissariat für die Festigung des deutschen Volksturms (Reich Commissioner for Germanic Resettlement)
The organizations of the Gestapo, Sicherheitsdienst, Kriminalpolizei, and the Einsatzgruppen were under the overall command of the RSHA
The "General SS" referred to the regular SS formations in Germany that had been founded in the 1920s and 30s. By the close of the Second World War, the General SS consisted of the following branches.
The Allgemeine-SS was a “part time” group of SS personnel who composed mustering formations throughout Germany. The formations were divided into Standarten, organized into larger formations known as Abschnitts and Oberabschnitts. The Allgemeine-SS were considered more or less reservists and many Allgemeine-SS personnel served in other branches of the German military, the Nazi Party, or the Waffen-SS. For those who served in the Waffen-SS, it was standard practice to hold separate SS ranks for both the Allgemeine and the Waffen-SS.
SS Cavalry Corps
The SS-Cavalry Corps comprised several Reiterstandarten and Reiterabschnite which were equestrian riding groups founded to attract 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.
The Germanic-SS was a organization which was formed in conquered and allied countries to Germany. The Germanic-SS was a part time group, much like the Allgemeine-SS, that performed home service duties such as local security and Nazi indoctrination. Denmark and Belgium were the two largest participators 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 a central office in Germany, under the command of the Allgemeine-SS.
The Auxiliary-SS was an organization that arose in 1945 as a last ditch effort to keep concentration camps running to destroy evidence of the Holocaust. Auxiliary-SS members were not considered regular SS personnel, but were conscripted members from other branchs of the German military, the Nazi Party, and the Volkssturm. Such personnel wore a distinctive tri-swastika collar patch and served as camp guard and administrative personnel until the surrender of Germany.
The Waffen-SS was the operational military component of the SS and was considered a full branch of the German military. Within the Waffen-SS existed the crack divisions Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), SS Division Das Reich, and a number of lesser divisions. The Waffen-SS also maintained several "Foreign Legions" made up of personnel from conquered and allied countries to Germany. Such personnel wore distinctive national collar patch and preceded their SS rank titles with the prefix Waffen instead of SS.
Concentration Camp Service
After 1934, the running of Germany's Concentration Camps was placed under the total authority of the SS and an SS branch known as the Totenkopfverbande (SS-TV) was founded under Theodor Eicke. Known as the "Death's Head Units", the SS-TV was first founded as several regiments, based at each of Germany's major Concentration Camps, the largest of which was at Dachau. In 1938, the Totenkopfverbande expanded also into a military division, with the founding of the Totenkopf division which would, by 1941, become a full division of the Waffen-SS.
In 1939, with the start of the Second World War, the Totenkopfverbande began a large expansion which would eventually develop into three branches covering each of the Concentration Camp types that 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 a extensive labor camp system, the Concentration Camps were placed under the command of the SS Wirtschaft und Vervaltungshauptamt (WVHA), also known as the Main SS Office for Economics and Administrative. 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.
Special Action Groups
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. 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 the establishment of new Concentration Camps. In 1939, however, the Einsatzgruppen were reactivated and sent into Poland to exterminate the Polish “Upper Class”, 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 whole sale extermination and genocide of “undesirables” such as Jews, Gypsies and Communist leaders.
The Einsatzgruppen were formed under special orders of the SS and were headed by SD and Gestapo officers. To man the Einsatzgruppen the SS drew on SD and Gestapo personnel, Waffen-SS units, Ordnungspolizei Police Battalions, and certain units of the regular German military. The Einsatzgruppen also utilized local populations to provide additional security and manpower when needed. Thus, the activities of the Einsatzgruppen were spread throughout a large pool of personnel from different branches of the SS and German State.
The ultimate authority for the Einsatzgruppen, which answered directly to Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler, were the SS and Police Leaders who oversaw all Einsatzgruppen activities and reports in their given area. At the close of the Second World War most of the SS and Police Leaders, who had overseen activites in Eastern Europe and Russia, were either executed for war crimes or committed suicide before capture.
In 1936, the SS absorbed the regular German police forces and incorporated all local, state, and federal law enforcement agenices into the Ordnungspolizei. SS-Oberstgruppenführer Kurt Daluege became commander of the Ordnungspolizei (known as the Orpo) and Heinrich Himmler became Chief of the German Police. 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 officals, 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
The SS Medical Corps was a unique branch of the SS that can trace its origins to 1930 with the expansion of the part-time mustering formations of the SS, known as the Allgemeine-SS. 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 develop a sinister reputation beginning with SS doctors serving in concentration camps and engaging in a variety of human medical experimentations. SS doctors were also called upon, in 1936, to assist with Germany’s euthanasia program against the mentally disabled and physically handicapped.
When the Second World War 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 I 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 also at 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 Joseph 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 the Second World War 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 Joseph Mengele escaping to South American while still other SS doctors returned to civilian practice in Germany under assumed names or, in some cases, even their original identities.
SS and Police Courts
Since the SS was, by its very nature, a criminal organization, 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 the Dachau concentration camp 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 which 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 which were, even by SS standards, illegal the SS established a series of SS and Police Courts to deal with such offenders. The SS and Police Courts were the only authority which could try SS personnel for criminal behavior and were under the authority of the Hauptamt SS Gericht.
The different SS and Police Courts were as follows:
- SS und Polizei Gericht: 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 Polizei Gericht: The Supreme SS and Police Court for trial of serious crimes and also any infraction committed by SS Generals.
- SS und Polizei Gericht 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.
Legality of the Holocaust
In 1946, it was revealed to the surprise of many that the SS and Police Courts had never had to deal with a case involving the legality of the Holocaust. Since many SS personnel claimed no culpability for war crimes, using the defense that they were "only following orders", the question was raised had anyone in the SS ever been charged, tried, or executed for refusing to carry out an illegal order.
It was then discovered that any such case, brought before an SS and Police Court, would have to have established which order had been disobeyed and what kind of order it was. SS Judges have themselves admitted that the mass murder of Jews and the shooting of women and children was against German law and that no SS member could be held accountable for refusing to obey orders which were clearly illegal.
In all such cases, therefore, any SS person who refused to commit atrocities was simply transferred to another branch of the SS or sent to front lines in the Waffen-SS. In all of the SS records, reviewed between 1946 and 1950, there was not one case discovered where an SS member was killed for refusing to carry out an illegal order associated with the Holocaust.
The SS-Helferin Korps, translated literally as “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 Korps maintained a simple system of ranks, mainly SS-Helfer, SS-Oberhelfer, and SS-Haupthelfer. Members of the Helferin Korps were assigned to a wide variety of activities such as administrative staff, supply support personnel, and female guards at Concentration Camps.
SS future visions
Historical analysis of SS records and documents of its senior members has provided historians with a picture of what the SS could have become, had Germany won the Second World War. Heinrich Himmler’s ultimate dream was to evolve the SS into a ruling class replacing the old Prussian aristocracy.
Himmler saw the eastern lands of Russia, which Germany would surely conquer, as a vast open area for the SS state to establish itself. The SS and Police Leaders would rule the land, the Waffen-SS would serve as the Army to defend the territory, and those who lived and worked the land would be "peasant-warriors" of the Allgemeine-SS. Himmler had even drawn up plans, to be enacted after Germany won the Second World War, for the construction of twenty eight SS cities in the Lebensraum of the East. The master of all SS cities was to be at Wewelsburg, where Himmler planned to complete and expand the SS Wewelsburg castle into a capital city for the SS. The city was to be completed by 1955.
On a more practical scale, SS leaders had already devised, as early as 1943, plans for what the SS would be after the conclusion of World War II. The Waffen-SS would return home to serve as a political army to enforce the will of the Nazi Party. Such activities would include strike breaking, riot suppression, and functions resembling modern day National Guard units. There are also indications that Waffen-SS commanders, as early as 1940, had proposed efforts to create Waffen-SS air and naval units. Had Germany won the Second World War, the Waffen-SS would almost certainly have extended itself into every branch of the German military. Whether or not the Waffen-SS would have eventually replaced the Wehrmacht will never be known. However, some historians have stated that this is unlikely given the tremendous actions against the Sturmabteilung, in 1934, when SA leaders had attempted a similar course of action.
Heinrich Himmler also openly stated in 1944 that the SS would become the sole law enforcement and police agency of Germany and that, by 1950, local Allgemeine-SS units would serve a dual function as racial and political enforcers in German communities and serve as the local police force. This did not sit well with Ordnungspolizei commanders, who wanted to preserve their integrity as police units and did not favor abolishing the Orpo in favor of an SS police force.
The Concentration Camp service of the Totenkopfverbande, the most fearsome part of the SS, was to continue unabated in completing the work of the Holocaust. Himmler and other SS leaders foresaw a "Jew-free Europe" by 1948 at the latest, and it is certain that the regular activities of the Concentration Camps, such as the imprisonments of political and social undesirables, would have continued with as usual. A great "What-if" of history is whether or not the SS could have kept the Holocaust a secret which had been a primary aim during the years of extermination and genocide. Many theories abound that the SS would have "turned against their own" and begun killing anyone who had knowledge of the Holocaust, including all SS members who had served in Death camps and the senior leaders who had overseen the Holocaust. The alternative history novel Fatherland is based on this concept.
Theories also exist that Himmler did not see Jews as the only race deemed worthy of extermination. Documents from 1943 and 1944 indicate Himmler had discussed privately, with certain top SS leaders and perhaps even Hitler, the idea of continuing the Holocaust to include blacks and orientals. These ideas were obviously kept very quiet, since Japan at the time was a major ally of Germany.
History has been spared the knowledge of how many of the SS dreams would have come true had Germany triumphed in the Second World War. The goals of the SS remain today a memory and, some say, a warning for future generations.
Shirer, William L. (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Gramercy. (ISBN 0517102943)
- SS Officer Personnel Files, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland
- Arenhövel, Verlag (1989). Topography of Terror. Berlin: Berliner Festspiele GmbH. (ISBN 3-922912-25-7)
- Höhne, H. (1969). The Order of the Death's Head, The Story of Hitler's SS. London: Pan Books Ltd.
- International Military Tribunal (referred to as IMT), (1947-1949). Record of the Nuremberg Trials November 14th, 1945 - October 1st, 1946. 42 Vols. London: HMSO.
Last updated: 05-06-2005 14:19:47