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SS was a large military organization.

The double-Sig Rune Nazi SS insignia.
The double-Sig Rune Nazi SS insignia.

The Schutzstaffel or Nazi SS (German for "Protective Squadron"), abbreviated Runic 'SS' (Runic) or SS (Latin), was a large security and military organization of the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party) in Germany.

The Nazi SS was established in the 1920s as a personal guard unit for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler between 1929 and 1945, the Nazi SS grew from a small paramilitary formation to become one of the largest and most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany. The Nazis regarded the Nazi SS as an elite unit, the party's "Praetorian Guard," with all Nazi SS personnel selected on the principles of racial purity and unconditional loyalty to the Nazi Party.

In contrast to the black-uniformed Allgemeine-SS, the political wing of the Nazi SS, the military wing, the Waffen-SS evolved into a second German army within the Wehrmacht, operating in tandem with the regular German army, the Heer. The Waffen-SS compiled a record of fierce fighting, but also for notorious brutality against civilians and prisoners of war. Its units helped wipe out resistance by Polish Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and slaughtered a number of U.S. prisoners of war near the Belgian town of Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.

The Nazi SS was distinguished from the German military, Nazi party, and German state officials by its own Nazi SS rank structure, Nazi SS unit insignia, and Nazi SS uniforms.

As the Nazi Party monopolized the political power in Germany, key government functions such as law enforcement were simply absorbed into the Nazi SS, while many Nazi SS organizations became the de facto government agencies. To maintain the political power of the Nazi Party, the Nazi 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 Nazi SS above the law.

Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the Nazi SS, was one of the chief architects of the Final Solution. The Nazi SS Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) murdered civilians, mostly Jews, in the countries occupied by Germany during World War II. The Nazi SS was responsible for establishing and operating concentration camps and extermination camps in which millions of inmates died of inhumane treatment, overwork, malnutrition, systematic mass gassing, or medical experiments. After the war, the judges of the Nuremberg Trials declared the Nazi SS a criminal organization responsible for the implementation of racial policies of Genocide and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.



The group was first formed in 1923 as a company of the Sturmabteilung (SA), stormtroopers, 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 Nazi SS was delegated to be a protection company of various Nazi Party leaders throughout Germany.


Between 1925 and 1929, the Nazi SS was considered merely a battalion of the SA and numbered no more than 280 personnel. On January 6, 1929, Adolf Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler as the leader of the Nazi SS, and by the end of 1932, the Nazi SS had 52,000 members. By the end of the next year, it had over 209,000 members. Himmler's expansion of the Nazi 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.

Before 1932, the Nazi SS wore the same uniform as the SA, with the exception for 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 and then, just before the war, a dove-grey uniform. The Waffen ("armed") Nazi 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 camouflage uniforms (Platanenmuster, Telo Mimetico, Erbsenmuster etc.), while their feldgrau uniforms became largely indistinguishable from those of the Heer, save for the insignia. In 1945, the Nazi SS adopted the Leibermuster disruptive pattern that inspired many forms of modern battle dress.

Their motto was "Meine Ehre heißt Treue ("My honour is loyalty.") The Nazi SS rank system was unique in that it did not copy the terms used in other branches of the Wehrmacht, but instead used the ranks established by the SA.

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 Nazi SS, which became 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, expanding the earlier armed Nazi SS troops who had fought in Poland and France in 1939-40, to serve as part of the Wehrmacht, Germany's regular defense forces. The Nazi SS also received control of the Gestapo in 1934, and, that same year, Adolf Hitler had given the Nazi SS jurisdiction over all concentration camps.

Postwar activity

According to Simon Wiesenthal, towards the end of World War II, a group of former Nazi SS officers went to Argentina and set up a Nazi fugitive network code-named ODESSA, (an acronym for Organisation der ehemaligen Nazi SS-Angehörigen, "Organization of the former Nazi 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.

Notably, Argentinian citizen and water company worker Ricardo Klement was discovered to be Adolf Eichmann in the 1950's, 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, the 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). Also, Dr. 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 1960's 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 Nazi SS men, considers the story about ODESSA untrue and attributes the escape of notorious Nazi 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.

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

Translation and naming

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

While Schutzstaffeln der NSDAP would be correct as the name for the entire Nazi SS, Schutzstaffel would refer to only one particular "Squadron"; and individuals referring to the Nazi SS rarely are referring to a specific Squadron. Omitting the NSDAP would remove the term from its appropriate context and, while being technically incorrect, most Germans would know to what one is referring.

"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 Nazi SS itself. At the Nuremburg 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.

SS leaders

Reichsführer Nazi SS Heinrich Himmler, Franz Ziereis, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner in Mauthausen, 1941.
Reichsführer Nazi SS Heinrich Himmler, Franz Ziereis, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner in Mauthausen, 1941.
  • Julius Schreck (1925-1926)
  • Joseph Berchtold (1926-1927)
  • Erhard Heiden (1927-1929)
  • Heinrich Himmler (1929-1945)
  • Karl Hanke (1945)

The Nazi SS before World War II


In early 1925, the Nazi SS consisted of a single company of eight men that 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 apiece. By 1926, six SS-Gaus had been established to oversee all such units in Germany. The SS-Gaus, in turn, answered to an Nazi 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 Nazi SS was a subordinate unit of the Sturmabteilung.

Between 1926 and 1928, the Nazi 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
  • 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.


In 1931, as the Nazi 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: Nazi SS Reserves
  • Section V: Nazi 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 Nazi 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 Nazi SS remained unchanged between 1931 and 1933; however, it was during this time that the Nazi SS began to establish its independence from the Sturmabteilung (SA), which the Nazi SS was still considered merely a sub-organization and answerable to the SA Chief of Staff.


Following Adolf Hitler's assumption of power in Germany, the Nazi 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 Nazi SS-Gruppen and some of their command staffs. The rest of the Nazi SS were considered part-time volunteers, and in this concept the Allgemeine-SS came into being.

By the autumn 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 Nazi SS guard in Berlin had taken on the name of the Leibstandarte Nazi 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 Nazi SS again underwent a massive reorganization. The SS-Gruppen were renamed as SS-Oberabschnitt, and the former Nazi SS Headquarters and command offices were reorganized into eight SS-Hauptamt. The Nazi 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 Nazi SS.

On April 20, 1934, (as a prelude to the Night of the Long Knives), the Nazi 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 Nazi 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 Nazi SS Concentration Camp Service. The original Nazi 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 Nazi 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 Nazi SS, the Verfügungstruppe grew into three Nazi SS Divisions which would, along with the Leibstandarte, become part of the Waffen-SS in 1941.


In 1936, the Nazi 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 Nazi SS Division Totenkopf composed of former members of the Concentration Camp service. The Totenkopf division would later become a division of the Waffen-SS.

Austrian Nazi SS

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

Austrian Nazi 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 Nazi SS an illegal organization. The Austrian Nazi SS used the same rank system as the regular Nazi SS, but rarely used uniforms or identifying insignia. Photographic evidence indicates that Austrian Nazi SS men typically would wear a swastika armband on civilian clothes, and then only at secret Nazi SS meetings.

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

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

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

The Nazi SS during World War II

Norwegian Nazi SS recruiting poster, featuring a Nazi SS ski battalion, looking for Norwegian volunteers to serve on the Eastern Front.
Norwegian Nazi SS recruiting poster, featuring a Nazi SS ski battalion, looking for Norwegian volunteers to serve on the Eastern Front.

The war helped Himmler transform his empire into undoubtedly the most powerful political and economic force in Nazi Germany, and by 1944, the Nazi SS had grown into a vast and complex organization, which had become a 'state within a state', so to speak.

SS and police leaders

Main article: Nazi SS and Police Leader

The most powerful men in the Nazi SS were the Nazi 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 Nazi SS in their area of responsibility. Thus, Nazi SS and Police Leaders bypassed all other chains of command. In Himmler's grand dream of the Nazi SS, the Nazi SS and Police Leaders were eventually to become Nazi SS-Governors of the Lebensraum which would be ruled by Nazi SS-Lords, protected by Nazi SS-Legions, and worked and lived in by Nazi SS-Peasant Warriors.

SS offices

With the creation of the Waffen-SS in 1940, the Nazi SS organizational structure evolved into two distinctly different branches: the general Nazi SS (Allgemeine-SS) and military Nazi SS (Waffen-SS). By 1944, all activities of the organization within and outside Germany were managed by twelve main offices:

  • Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab Reichsführer-SS (Personal Staff of the Reich Leader Nazi SS)
  • SS Hauptamt (Main Administrative Office of the Nazi SS)
  • SS Führungshauptamt (Administrative and Supply Department of the Allgemeine-SS and Waffen-SS)
  • Hauptamt Nazi SS Gericht (Office of Nazi 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 Volkstums (Reich Commissioner for Germanic Resettlement)

The Gestapo, Sicherheitsdienst, Kriminalpolizei, and the Einsatzgruppen were under the overall command of the RSHA.


Main article: Allgemeine-SS

The Allgemeine-SS (the "General Nazi SS") refers to a non-combat branch of the Nazi 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, or the Waffen-SS. For those who served in the Waffen-SS, it was a standard practice to hold separate Nazi SS ranks for both the Allgemeine-SS and the Waffen-SS.

SS Cavalry Corps

The Nazi 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 Nazi SS. In the 1930s, the Nazi SS Cavalry Corps was considered as a starting point for a military branch of the Nazi 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 Nazi 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.


Main article: Germanic-SS

The Germanic-SS was an Nazi 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 participators in the Germanic-SS program. Germanic-SS members wore their own uniforms with a modification of Nazi SS rank titles and insignia. All Germanic-SS units answered to the Nazi SS headquarters in Germany.

Concentration camp service

Main article: Nazi SS-Totenkopfverbände

After 1934, the running of Germany's concentration camps was placed under the total authority of the Nazi SS and an Nazi SS formation known as the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), under the command of Theodor Eicke. Known as the "Death's Head Units", the Nazi 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 1938, 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 the Second World War, the Totenkopfverbände began a large expansion that eventually would develop into three branches covering each type of concentration camp the Nazi SS operated. By 1944, there existed three divisions of the Nazi 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 Nazi 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 Nazi 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

Main article: Einsatzgruppen

The Einsatzgruppen were special units of the Nazi 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 assistance with the establishment of new concentration camps. In 1939, however, 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.

Order Police

In 1936, the Nazi SS absorbed the regular German police forces and incorporated all local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies into the Ordnungspolizei. SS-Oberstgruppenführer Adolf Von Assenbach 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 Nazi 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

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

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

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Nazi SS was reorganized and an office of the Nazi SS Surgeon General was established. Commanding by an SS-Obergruppenführer, the Nazi SS Surgeon General was a member of the personal staff of the Reichsführer-SS, with the Nazi 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 Nazi SS Medical Corps.

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

Between 1935 and 1938, the Nazi SS Medical Corps began to develop a sinister reputation beginning with Nazi SS doctors serving in concentration camps and engaging in a variety of human medical experimentations. Nazi 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 Nazi SS Medical Corps extended itself in the Armed wing of the Nazi 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 Nazi 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 Nazi 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 Nazi SS was declared an illegal criminal organization by the Allies. Nazi 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 Nazi SS doctors had played in the gas chamber selections of the Holocaust. Relatively few Nazi SS doctors. However, were ever brought to justice with such figures as Josef Mengele escaping to Argentina while still other Nazi SS doctors returned to civilian practice in Germany under assumed names or, in some cases, even their original identities.

Auxiliary Nazi SS

The Auxiliary-SS was an organization that arose in 1945 as a last ditch effort to keep concentration camps running. Auxiliary-SS members were not considered regular Nazi SS personnel, but were conscripted members from other branches 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.

Helferin Corps

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


Main article: Waffen-SS

The military component of the Nazi SS was formed in 1940. Since the Waffen-SS was formally considered a branch of the German military, it was financed by the German government while remaining under the command of the Nazi SS headquarters. During WWII, the Waffen Nazi SS grew to 38 divisions, the most famous of which are Leibstandarte Nazi SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), the Nazi SS Division Das Reich, the Nazi SS Division Totenkopf and the 12th Nazi SS Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend.

The Waffen-SS also maintained several "Foreign Legions" made up of personnel from conquered territories and countries allied to Germany. The majority of such personnel wore distinctive a national collar patch and preceded their Nazi SS rank titles with the prefix Waffen instead of Nazi SS. The racial restrictions were relaxed for these soldiers to the extent that Ukrainian Slavs, Albanians from Kosovo, and Turkic Tatars' units were recruited. The latter units also sometimes contained a minority of Karaite Jews, whom the Nazis regarded as racially ambiguous. The Ukrainians and the Tatars had both suffered persecution under Stalin and their motive appeared to be hatred of communism rather than belief in National Socialism. The Kosovo Albanians were likely motivated by the chance to fight against the Serbians, who oppressed them for centuries. One year of Soviet occupation of Baltic countries at the beginning of the Second World War produced enough volunteers to form Estonian and Latvian Nazi SS formations. However, occupied countries as Greece, Lithuania and Poland never formed any Waffen-SS legions (in Greece, the Fascist organisation ESPO was creating one Greek division, but the plans were 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 Indian National Army.

Subhash Chandra Bose and German army officer
Subhash Chandra Bose and German army officer

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.

SS and police courts


Situations arose early in the Nazi regime of Nazi SS activities coming into conflict with German law. The first recorded instances, of Nazi 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 Nazi SS guards with murder after several prisoners were executed without cause or trial.

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

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

Court types

The different Nazi SS and Police Courts were as follows:

  • SS und Polizei Gericht: Standard Nazi SS and Police Court for trial of Nazi 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 Nazi SS und Polizei Gericht: The Supreme Nazi SS and Police Court for trial of serious crimes and also any infraction committed by Nazi SS Generals.
  • SS und Polizei Gericht z.b. V.: The Extraordinary Nazi 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 Nazi SS itself.

The one exception to the Nazi 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 Nazi SS member in question was subject to regular Wehrmacht military law and could face charges before a standard military tribunal.

Legality of the Holocaust Crimes

In 1946, it was revealed to the surprise of many that the Nazi SS and Police Courts had never had to deal with a case involving the legality of the Holocaust. Since many Nazi SS personnel claimed no culpability for war crimes, using the defense that they were "only following orders", the question was raised as to whether anyone in the Nazi SS had 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 Nazi SS and Police Court, would have had to have established which order had been disobeyed and what kind of order it was. Years after the war, Nazi SS Judges have themselves admitted that the mass murder of Jews was against German Jurisprudence and that no Nazi SS member could be held accountable for refusing to obey orders which were supposed to be illegal.

In all such cases, therefore, any Nazi SS member who refused to commit atrocities was simply transferred to another branch of the Nazi SS or sent to front lines to serve in the Waffen-SS. The review of the Nazi SS records conducted between 1946 and 1950 revealed no evidence of any Nazi SS member ever receiving a death penalty for refusing to carry out illegal orders associated with the Holocaust crimes.

Future visions

Historical analysis of Nazi SS records and documents of its senior members has provided historians with a picture of what the Nazi SS could have become, had Germany won the Second World War. (Heinrich Himmler's ultimate dream was to evolve the Nazi 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 Nazi SS state to establish itself. The Nazi 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 28 Nazi SS cities in the Lebensraum of the East. The master of all Nazi SS cities was to be at Wewelsburg, where Himmler planned to complete and expand the Nazi SS Wewelsburg castle into a capital city for the Nazi SS. The city was to be completed by 1955.

On a more practical scale, Nazi SS leaders had already devised, as early as 1943, plans for what the Nazi 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, but whether 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 Nazi 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 Nazi SS police force.

The Concentration Camp Service of the Totenkopfverbände, the most fearsome part of the Nazi SS, was to continue unabated in completing the work of the Holocaust. Himmler and other Nazi 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 as usual. A great "What-if" of history is whether the Nazi 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 Nazi SS would have "turned against their own" and begun killing anyone who had knowledge of the Holocaust, including all Nazi 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.


  • The abbreviation "SS" was normally typefaced as the Sig Rune insignia, also in texts otherwise using Latin or Blackletter script.

Why not also search for...

  • Das Schwarze Korps, the official newspaper of the Nazi SS
  • ODESSA, the Nazi SS secret network
  • SS ranks and insignia


  • Shirer, William L. (1960). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Gramercy. (ISBN 0-517-10294-3)
  • 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, Heinz. (1969). The Order of the Death's Head, The Story of Hitler's Nazi SS. London: Pan Books Ltd.
  • Robert Lewis Koehl (1983). The Black Corps University of Wisconsin Press.
  • International Military Tribunal (referred to as IMT), (1947-1949). Record of the Nuremberg Trials November 14th, 1945 - October 1st, 1946. 42 Vols. London: HMSO.
  • Krausnick, Helmut (editor) Anatomy of the Nazi 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).
  • Mark C. Yerger: Allgemeine-SS (ISBN 0-7643-0145-4)
  • Andrew Mollo: Pictorial History of the Nazi SS (1923 - 1945) (ISBN 0-7128-2174-0
  • Robin Lumsden: The Allgemeine-SS, Vol. 266 (ISBN 1-85532-358-3)

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