NAZI Organization: Agencies--Schutzstaffeln (SS)

Figure 1.-- The SS to appease the Wehrmacht suppressed the SA which hope to convert itself into NAZI Germany's army. Ironically when Hitler began noving toward war, Himmler began building SS combt units. The Waffen-SS at first lacked professional militarily skills, but with Himmler's support grew into a potent comptent of the NAZI war machine. The battle reciord of these units and fanatical devotion to Hitler meant that they had priority in new arms and supplies. The gun here is a MP40, a 9mm sub-machine gun issued mostly to soldiers who were guards, special shock troops, and the Waffen-SS. It had a faster rate of fire then the American Thompson sub-machine gun but a slightly smaller bullet and a shorter range. The MP designation it as a Maschinenpistole (Machine Pistol). The Germans often called it a Schmeisser. It was a more complicated and thus expensive and difficut a weapon to produce. It was thus not general issue.

The Schutzstaffeln (SS) was initially organized as Hitler's personal bodyguard. Under Heinrich Himler it was organized as an elite group strongly enfused with German concepts of Volk and blood (race). The SS was Hitler's principal tool for carrying out the "Finl Sollution". SS ReichFührer-SS in October 1939, following the invasion of Poland, set up a new SS section to deal with deportations and emigration. Himmler was obsessed with Arayanizing occupied Polish terrtories. Himmler had no quams about using force to accomplish this process. Himmler and the SS had considerable experience at killing and brutalizing Germans that opposed the NAZIs. Toward Jews and other peoples judged "subhuman," Himmler and the SS felt no compunction to act outside the normal rules of civilized behavior. And under Himmler's leadership, the SS emerged as the most powerful element in the NAZI Germany, essentially a state within a state. Just before Hitler launched World War II, all aggencies of state security were centalized within the SS, bluring the lines between a NAZI Party agency and a government police agency. . And after the War began, The SS developed a powerful military formation. Irionically as the NAZI fortunes of war declined, the SS formations became an increasingly important element if German combat strength. Ironically the SS which crushed the SA with the Reichwehr's assistance came in the final phase od\f World War the kind of Party army that they had so feared.

Early History

The SS originated at a very early stage of the NAZI Party's development. It was called the Stosstrupp Hitler (Shock Troop Hitler). After the abortive Beer Hall Putsch, it was banned along with he entire NAZI Party by the Government (1923). After Hitler emerged from jail and the Party was able to reestablish itself, the SA which was the principal "protective" arm of the Party (in fact a para-military militia), was still banned. This posed a serious consraint on Hitler. Weimar Germany was a federal state with different laws and regulations in each state. Prussia and Bavaria banned Hitler from making public speeches or organizing Party rallies. Saxony and Thuringia did allow Hitler to speak, but Communist influence was strong in both states and a protective force was needed. Hitler ordered that a small mobile organization be organized to protect NAZI Party rallies, they were known as Protective Echelons--Die Schutzstafflen (1925). Thus the SS emerged as Hitler's personal bodyguard. They were organized in major cities. The first units were very small. Even Berlin had only one "Schutzstaffel" of 2 leaders and 20 men. Hitler obtained renewed permission to organize the SA (1926). The Schutzstaffeln thus was of little importance for several years. [d'Alquen] Hitler with the NAZI Party growing in power, appointed his trusted comrade, Heinrich Himmler, as Reichsfuehrer-SS (1929). At the time Himmler took control of the SS, it was a force of only 280 men. Hitler's orders were to form an elite force of the Party, a force totally loyal to him personally which could be depended on in every circumstance.

Heinrich Himmler

Under Heinrich Himler, the SS following Hitler's instructions, was organized as an elite group. Himmler's own personal touch was to enfused the SS with German concepts of Volk and blood (race). SS Reichführer Himmler represents the true embodiment of evil in the 20th century. He grew up in a middleclass German family. His father was the headmaster at a gymnasium (academically selective seconadry school). He could be extremely cruel to the boys in psychological ways. One boy remembers how he and his brother were expelled by being pubically humiliated before the class when their farher could not pay the school fees. His father had an interest in romanticised German history which hr passed on to his son. Heireich and his brothes were outfitted in dresses and sailor suits as boys. Heinrich was not a brilliant student, but did very well because he was extremely diligent. He was dissapointed in World War I becaue he did not complete officer cadet training before the War ended. One biograpger mainatins that although he was strongly anti-semmetic that the Holocaust was forced on him by Hitler from above and Heydrich from below.

Shaping the SS

The SS was initially organized as Hitler's personal bodyguard within the SA. Under Heinrich Himler it first became a tool to use against SA personnel that threatened Hitler--essentially the NAZI Party police force. After the SA disorders in Berlin, Hitler separated the thoroughly loyal SS from the SA (1930). Himmler at this time came out with the new black uniformns for the SS to emphasize its new independence. It was not yet the quasi-religious, racially pure order he invisioned, but it was a necessary step allowing his the control needed to shape the SS. The first major step in that direction was the Engagement and Marriage Order of the SS (December 31, 1931). Marriage required a geneological investigation by a new SS department overseen by Darre which became the Office of Race an Settlemebt. The the prospective bride needed to be investigated. They hado prove Aryan ancestry back to 1750 without aby Jewish, Slavic or other alien ancestors. The woman also had to prove that she was free of mental or physical disease, and submit to testing by SS doctors,which included fetility tests. Even Hitler was not particularly imprssed, but recruits flowed in. The SS swelled from 10,000 to 40.000 (June 31). Himmler proceeded to build the SS an elite group strongly enfused with German concepts of Volk and blood (race).

Reinhard Heydrich

Reinhard Heydrich saw himself as a military man. He was, however, cashiered by the Navy. He was disdainful pf politics. H looked on the NAZIs which by 1930 had become the largest party in Germany, with particular disdain. The NAZI Broown shirts (SA) had given the party a reputation of bar-room brawlers, looked down on my many educated Germans. Under his wife influence, however, his attitude began to change. Then a friend who was also a NAZI suggested that he apply for an impotant position that had become available, the director of security. Heydrich joined the NAZI Party (June 1931). Heydrich's friend told him told him that the opening was in the SS--a very different group than the SA. Himmler put Heydrich in charge of the SS security sevice--the SD. His assignment was to prevent spying from the opposition and collect useful information on the NAZI's political foes. He was also assigned to find disent within the Part. He soon was also collecting useful information on party members and allies as well. He began compiling this information by hand on index cards. At first he did this work himself. The NAZIs were not yet in power and resources were limited. He had no staff and even had to borrow a typewritter for his own use. White Hitler worked to seize power, Heydrich labored builduing the SD. Heydrich, is today known to the world as "The Hangman". He is considered by most to be the architect of the Holocaust. Adolf Eichmann is often seen as the director of the Holocaust. Eichmannwas in fact was primarily the administrator working on logistical problems. It is Heydrich more than any other single individual who planned the Holocaust and set the machinery of industrial killing in motion. Only his assisanation by British agents prevented him from seeing it through to fruition. And he would have been central to plans being prepared for the Slavs. He was beginning plans for an ethnic cleaning operation in Czechoslovakia aimed at deporting the Czechs. Heydrich at the time of his death was the third most powerful individual in NAZI Germany and in all liklihood if he had lived and the NAZIs had won the War would have been the second Führer.

Police State

After Hitler was appointed chancellor, the creation of a politicized police force was an early and primary objective. Hitler knew very well that the chancelorship without a NAZI majority in the Reicchstag was a tenuous hold on power. A long series of chancelors had come abnd gone before Hitler. The Army was at first beyond his control. Thus the only way to cement his hold on power was to use the police to arrest his political enemies and gain control of the Reichstag. Prussia was the largest and most important state in Germany, it included not only Berlin, the capital, and other major cities. Control of Prussia was a major step in gaining control of Germany. This is why Hitler insisted on Göring being given control of Prussia in his new cabinet. Göring acting at first as as Prussian Minister of the Interior and later as s Prussian Minister President established the Geheimes Staatspolizeiamt (Gestapa--Secret State Police Office) (April 26, 1933). This small force would evolve into the dreaded Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo). The Prussian police force was organized into the (Ordnungpolizei (Orpo--uniformed or Order Police and the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo--plain clothed Criminal Police. The Kripo included the Staatspolizei (Stapo--Political Police). Göring reorganized the Kripo political sections and the Stapo into the new Gestapo and he put Rudolf Diels in charge.. While Göring was orchestrating NAZI control of the Prussian police, SS commander Heinrich Himmler was gaining control over the police forces in Bavaria. Himmler also began setting up conentration camps in Bavaria so they could circumvent the judicial system which at first was beyond their control. The first camp was Dachau. These activities by Göring and Himmler were the beginning of the NAZI police state.

Night of the Long Knives

The true nature of Hitler and his associates along with the absolute reliability of the SS was demonstrated on the Night of the Long Knives (a phrase from a popular Nazi song). The Reichwehr in 1934 was the only German institution capable of resiting Hitler and the NAZIs. The Reichwehr, faced with the threat of the NAZI Sturm Abteilung (SA), agreed to a deal with Hitler. Hitler agreed to disarm the SA and to deal with the SA leadership. He had Rohem and his associates arrested and killed (June 29-30, 1934). Rohem was in fact one of Htler's longest and closest associates. Hitler hestitated but Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler with his assistant Reynard Heydrich played key roles in convincing him. There was no concern within the military of the extra-judicial executions of the SA leadership. The NAZIs used the occassions to settle some old scores with anti-NAZIs as well. In exchange the Reichwehr, waiting until President Hindenburg died, swore a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler (August 2). The oath was not to the German nation, but was a personal oath to Hitler himself. Although the German military had earlier swore a similar oath to the Republic, the oath to Hitler took place with no difficulty. Major elements of the military had never been committed to the Republic. There was strong monarchist sentiment within the military. Some NAZI policies, especially the ultra-nationlism and criticism of the Versailles Treaty were shared by much of the military. Offers of rearmament and expabded military spending appealed to many in the military. When President Hindenburg died (August 2), Hitler was the absolute dictator of Germany. Hitler had visited Hindenburg on his deathbed. Hindenburg had become senile. The dieing president thought he was meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II, and referred to Hitler as "Your Majesty". Hitler declared the office of President to be permanently vacant and essentially merging it with the office of Chancellor, tking the title of Leader and Chancellor (Führer und Reichskanzler). Hitler ordered a plebiscite which took plce on August 11, 1934. The NAZI's announced a 90 percent favorable vote. No one knows the actual vote tally.

Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA)

Hitler and the NAZIs strove to create a police state from as soon as Hitler was appointed chancellor. There were at first condtitutional difficulties, especially the fact that police power was difused among the various German states. Hitler;s approached was to begin by seize control of the police in two major states, Prussia and Bavaria. Göring was placed in charge of the Prussian police and Himmler the Bavarian police. From that beginning the NAZIs steadily expanded their control of the German police, kncreasing bits aithority, reducing judicial authotity, and centralizing the fotce. The final step in the process of centralizing the police undervNAZI command was the creation of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA -- Reich Security Office). Just before Hitler launched World War II, he ordered the centralization of all agencies of state security within the SS, bluring the lines between a NAZI Party agency and a central government police agency. The RSHA thus became a SS unit responsible for combating the enemies of National Socialism. Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's most poweful subordinate and with direct access to the Führer, was appointed to head the RSHA. Under Himmler's deft hand, the RHSA was created (1939). It combined the NAZI security aparatus under one command. It included the Sicherheitsdienst (SD -- Security Police), Kriminalpolizei (state criminal police--Kripo), and the Geheime Staatspolizei (state secret police--Gestapo). Many authors refer to the Gestapo as the NAZI secret police. In fact the Gestap was only one part of the NAZI security aparatus. The correct term is the RSHA. A unit of the RSHA was Amt VI headed by SS Colonel Adolph Eichmann who oversaw the mechanics of the Holocaust. The planning for the Generalplan Ost (GPO) was another RSHA undertaking.

The Holocaust

It became was Hitler's principal tool for carrying out the "Final Sollution". Himmler had no quams about using force to accomplish this process. Himmler and the SS had considerable experience at killing and brutalizing Germans that opposed the NAZIs. Toward Jews and other peoples judged "subhuman," Himmler and the SS felt no compunction to act outside the normal rules of civilized behavior. Himmler and the SS had considerable experience at killing and brutalized Germans that opposed the NAZIs. Toward Jews and other peoples judged "subhuman," Himmler and the SS felt no compunction to act within the normal rules of civilized behavior. The goal of acheving racial purity and the rise of the Aryan race justified virtually vany action.


The SS was created a decade before Hitler and the NAZIs seized power. It began as a small SA detachment. The Party was small and relatively important until the Depression began (1929). This meant that the SS was small and poorly funded as well. The unit actually declines in size. When SS commander Erhard Heiden resigned, Hitler appointed Himmler to the position of Reichsführer-SS (January 1929). It was Himmler who rapidly expanded the SS. And this was made possible when as as a result of the Depression, the NAZI Party achieved electoral success in Reichstag (parlimentary) elections (1929-32) and then after Hitler was appointed chancelor (1933). The rapid expansion of the SS meant radical changes in the organization. The organizational history is thus quite complex. What we are primarily interested iin is the organization during World War II which of course the truly deadly phase of the SS and the creation of the Waffen SS which played an important role in the War. The SS as it developed was divided into two principal administrative units: the Allgemeine-SS and the Waffen-SS. The Allgemeine-SS also controlled two additional units: the Germanic-SS and at thee end of the War, a fourth branch, Auxiliary-SS. This basic organization was complicated by ability of the top leaders to bypass the normal organizational structure and chain of command. The most powerful men within the SS were those who had a personal and professional relationship with SS-Reichührer Himmler and/or SS-Obergruppenführer Heydrich. Heydrich complicated the SS command structure because he not only had direct access to Hiler himself, but commands outsuide the SS, most notably Deputy Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. And importanbtly within the SS he directed the Reich Security Main Office (RHSA). The most important SS and Police Leaders were classified as regular leaders, higher leaders, and supreme leaders. They generally held the rank of SS-Gruppenführer or above and reported directly to Himmler.

Generalplan Ost

SS ReichFührer-SS following the invasion of Poland, set up a new SS section to deal with deportations and emigration. Himmler was obsessed with Arayanizing occupied Polish terrtories (October 1939). Generalplan Ost (Feneral Plan East) was the NAZI blueprint for the most horendous crime ever envisioned in human history. The Holocaust directed at Europe's 11 million Jews was just one part of Generalplan Ost. The basic outline for Generalplan Ost was sketched out by Hitler in Mein Kampf. The invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia gave the NAZIs the first slice of eastern territory to begin their transformation of eastern Europe (March 1939). But the NAZIs considered the Czechs to be the most advanced Slavs. Anbd they needed Czech industry for arms production. So the Czechs were left with a pupet government and Germinization was put off least it disrupt arms production. Polandd was the next slize of the East. It was auch bigger slice and the Poles were Slavs that Hitler dispised. Himmler launched into aminization process in the EWartergau, but Frank protested with Himmler began dumping Jews and Poles in the General Government. So again Germinization and whole-scale deportations had to be delayed. Himmler and NAZI Party officials argued about Eastern policy. Himmler wanted to settle Germans in the East and to carefully select the existing populations for German blood. Some NAZI Party officials wanted to pursue a less biolgically oriented policy and to accept large numbers of the existing population which was anti-Bolshevik. The debate over Eastern policy raged in NAZI circles for 2 years. With the stunning success of Opperation Barbarossa (June 1941), Hitler finally decided. He essentially acceopted Himmler's approach and SS planners began preparing Generalplan Ost. It was developed in secret. The principal area covered was the Sovie Union (including the Baltics), but Poland and Czehoslovakia was also included. Himmler and Heydrich was anxious to put it into operation. The major impediment to carrying it out was the Red Army.

The SS State

Under Himmler's leadership, the SS emerged as the most powerful element in the NAZI Germany, essentially a state within a state. Thus the SS under Himmler operated any real legal controls beyond Hitler's orders. The SS was Hitler's principal tool for carrying out the "Final Sollution" because it could operate in secret without any legal controls. Himmler had no quams about using force to accomplish this process. This was, however, only one SS project. By bthe time of the War, the SS was essebntially locked in a struggle with the NAZI Party for control of the Reich. Hitler adjudicated the conflicts that decided, but never made a definitive decesion on the ultimate outcomne. Under Himmler's direction it became much more, including activities in science, agriculture, health services, and industry. And of course during the War, the SS developed its own military formnations. This was just what vthe SA was not allowed to do.

Military Formations: Waffen SS

The Waffen-SS was the military formations of the Schutzstaffel (SS). Waffen in German means armed. The SS began as a small force and the units which served as the foundation of the Wafen SS were only a small part of the SS. It grew into a powerful force of 38 divisions, comprising the most powerful formations in the German military. Ironically it was SS units which Hitler used to suppress the SA which the army saw as a potential rival--the Night of the Long Knives. The Army in returned pledged their loyalty to Hitler. Ironically, the SS through theWaffen SS wuld itself grow into a potential threat to the Army. The Waffen-SS participated in World War II from the beginning in the invasion of Poland. At that time, the Waffen-SS consisted of only 3 not particularly proficient regiments. While small, it demostrated the savagery for which it became known throughout the War. The attrocities in Poland shicked theWhermacht, including Abwehr Chief Admiral Canaris. The Whermacht arrested some SS officers, but they were pardined by Hitler. After this, SS barbarity was no longer questioned. The growing Wffen-SS served alongside the Wehrmacht Heer units, but was never formally integrated into it. Hitler who dismanteled the SA at the request ofvtghevmilitaru commandrs refused to allow the Waffen-SS to be integrated into theHeer. Hitler himsel had reason to distrust the SA. Under Himmler's leadership, however, the SS and Wafffen-SS became a force that Hitler could completely trust. The Waffen-SS was designed as the armed wing of the party and was to serve as an elite para-military police force after the War began.


German Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (Einsatzgruppen) were paramilitary formations, essentially death squads, following behind front-line combat units. Their assignment was to deal primarily with Jews, but also were used against other population groups the Germans identified as unreliable or undesirable. SS Einsatzgruppen had killed substantial numbers of Jews and non-Jews in Poland (1939-40), but the numbers were still in the thousands, not the hundreds of thousands. Most Polish Jews had been confined in Ghettos. When Britain refused to surrender after the fall of France, Einsatzgruppen were organized to deal with the British as part of Operation Sea Lion (fall 1940). The Einsatzgruppen were significantly expanded and ready for large-scale operations at the onset of Barbarossa (June 1941). They were used barbarically in the Soviet Union in the (summer and fall 1941). They reported killed about 0.7 million Jews in the territories seized by the Wehrmacht. Their methods were effective, but both public and messy. And often they failed to recover valuable possessions. NAZI officials concluded that a different more coordinated plan was needed in the more developed occupied countries in Poland Western Europe. The Einsatzgruppen murdered about 1.25 million Jews and thousands of other people the Germans considered a threat or undesirable (Spring 1943). By this time the Germans had killed most of the Jews in occupied areas of the Soviet Union and the Germans after Stalingrad were now on the defensive. The killing process had shifted to more efficent methods. Jews in Poland had largely been killed in the death camps which were by this time killing Jews from Western Europe as well.


d'Alquen, SS-Standartenfuehrer Gunter. "The Organizational structure of the Third Reich," The SS History, Mission, and Organization of the Schutzstaffeln of the NSDAP. Brochure 33 (1939). Compiled on the Commission of the Reichsfuehrer-SS. This document is available in the Avalon Project. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume IV. Document No. 2284-PS.


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Created: 1:34 AM 6/27/2009
Last updated: 12:42 PM 3/30/2014