Mission When Founded:  To provide security for NSDAP leaders and at party meetings
Mission During the War:  To provide an elite corps embodying the Nazi ideal to carry out a variety of duties, including foreign and domestic intelligence, administration of political and criminal police, operation of concentration camps, and military operations.
Jurisdiction:   All of Greater Germany and its occupied territories
Headquarters:  Prinz Albrechtstrasse, Berlin
# of Personnel:  250,000 (1939)
History/Profile:  Die Schutzstaffeln der Nationalsocialistischen Deutschen Arbeiterpartei, better known as the SS, was formed in 1925 to provide a bodyguard for the head of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler. A loyal cadre that would stand for Hitler when "things would come to hard knocks", the SS took over the protective duty once held by the powerful but rowdy Sturmabteilung (SA). Nevertheless, the much-larger SA retained authority over all Nazi paramilitary forces, and in its early years, the SS had little to do.
Heinrich Himmler became Reichsführer of the SS in January 1929, a position he would hold until the end in 1945. He saw the SS as more than simply a bodyguard, but as the means to create a modern brotherhood of Teutonic Knights, an "order of Nordic men". Himmler initiated entrance requirements for the SS that allowed only those recruits that could prove their "Aryan" ancestry, a height requirement of 5 feet 8 inches, and passed a visual examination by Himmler himself. It was not enough to simply be racially-pure, but the SS also required their members be firmly indoctrinated in Nazi ideology, beliefs that were inculcated through a series of initation rites and quasi-occult rituals. The SS were taught to exalt the virtues of ruthlessness and total obedience to the Führer, embodied in their motto: "My honor is loyalty".
Most SS recruits took the oath during mass ceremonies, where they were issued daggers. SS officers recieved similar swords, and those recruits showing merit recieved rings emblazoned with a death's head and enscribed with runes. SS men married in pagan rites that replaced the Christian wedding, though only after the proper Aryan heritage of the bride had been established. Pagan festivals were held by the SS to replace traditional Christian holiday, with the most important being the winter solstice, or Yuletide. Even in death, Christianity was eschewed by the SS, as the cross was substituted by grave markers that combined the Leben rune and its inverted form, the gabled-shaped sign of death. Still, several members of the SS remained Christians, and a vow to "God" was even a requirment for recruits, so that Himmler's idea of the SS supplanting Christianity with a new "Aryan" religion were not wholly embraced.
Power struggles between Hitler and Ernst Röhm of the SA caused the Führer to make the SS independent of the SA, handing over to Himmler all police duties within the party. Changing their uniforms from SA brown to SS black, Himmler began in earnest shape the SS into a religious order of the Third Reich. The order saw an increase of recruits from the middle-class, and, by 1933, the membership of the SS grew from 300 to over 50,000 members. Nevertheless, it was the SA that fought the street battles that ushered in Hitler's ascent to become chancellor of Germany in January 1933.
At first, Himmler recieved little from Hitler's assumption of power in 1933, with control of the Munich police and the Gestapo going to the SS. Himmler used these police duties to warn Hitler of plots against him, and, an elite section of 120 SS troopers, the Liebstandarte (or "bodyguard"), was assigned for Hitler's personal protection. Continuing unrest in the Party due to the machinations of the SA put more and more party leaders under the protection of the SS, and by April 1934, Himmler found himself in charge of all political police in Germany. In June, Hitler gave the orders to Himmler for his SS to purge the SA during the Night of the Long Knives. In reward for their actions, the SS was made an independent organization.
Another reward was the expansion of the Liebstandarte through the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), a special military wing of the NSDAP that would serve with the Werhmacht in case of war. The SS-VT grew into what would later become the Waffen-SS in 1940. While the Waffen-SS remained under the tactical command of the Wehrmacht and initially supplied through Army channels, its recruits recieved significant political training in the racist policies of the NSDAP, and many came from the SS-Totenkopfverbaende, the brutal thugs who guarded the concentration camps. Whenever possible, Himmler had the SS rotate as many men as possible through the SS-Totenkopfverbaende, to teach all members the proper manner in which to treat their enemies.
By 1939, SS organization was divided between the military units that would become the Waffen-SS and the Allgemeine-SS, whose personnel numbered 240,000 at the time but would decline to 40,000 by 1945. The primary responsibilities of the Allgemeine-SS were the administration of the agencies involved in "racial matters" (ie. concentration camps) and the huge police apparatus controlled by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, or "Reich Security Central Office"). The RSHA headed the police agencies of the Orpo and the Sipo (including the Kripo and the Gestapo), putting the SS in charge of almost all law enforcement in Germany. The SS enjoyed a similar power over intelligence through the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, or "Security Service") which controlled espionage in Germany and shared foreign intelligence with the Abwehr until its absorption in the RSHA in February 1944.
The SS was involved in the persecution and extermination of the Jews and other "inferiors" through almost all of its agencies, but most particularly through the Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA), who ran the concentration camps, and the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt-SS (RuSHA, or Race and Settlement Office), who administered the deportation of victims to the camps. The Allgemeine-SS and the Waffen-SS supplied personnel to guard the camps and for the Einsatzgruppen, units that followed the advance of German troops into enemy territory to exterminate Jews and other victims. SS-Police Battalions and Regiments grew out of the SS-Totenkopfverbaende, carrying out numerous massacres in occupied territories.
Other departments of the SS included its own legal office and special courts that reserved jurisdiction over SS members, and the SS-Ahnenerbe, whose members (with a single exception) were each at least an honorary member of the SS. Besides conducting archaelogical and anthropological studies to reinforce the ideology of the SS, the SS-Ahnenerbe also included the Institute for Military Scientific Research that conducted horrible experiments on live subjects.
Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the SS was declared a criminal organization, and its members were subject to arrest and conviction by human rights tribunals. Several escaped through underground networks like ODESSA. Nevertheless, very few members of the SS were actually sent to prison, and virtually all were released after very short periods of incarceration.
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