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SS (Schutzstaffel)(Protection Squad)
Adolf Hitler's bodyguard, Nazi party police, and, later, the most "racially pure" elite guard of the Third Reich as well as its main tool of terror, "Germanization," and destruction
Before the Nazi Rise to Power
As Hitler's bodyguard, recruited in March 1923 by Julius Schreck, the SS was an exclusive elite, subject directly to Hitler's authority. In November 1925, Joseph Berchtold succeeded Schreck. In November 1926, the Oberste SA-Fuehrung (SA High Command) took over the SS headquarters. Erhard Heiden headed the SS from March 1927, instituting military discipline and emphasising the gathering of information about opponents. This trend was institutionalised when Heinrich Himmler became Reichsfuehrer-SS (Reich Leader of the SS; RF-SS) on January 6, 1929. Between 1929-1933, the SS grew and was entrusted with the security of the party headquarters and leaders. The SD (Sicherheitsdienst; Security Service), under Reinhard Heydrich, was founded, as was the SS Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (Race and Resettlement Main Office; RSHA).
Keeping personal control, Himmler demanded complete obedience. Racial ideology was institutionalised. SS officers had to prove their own and their wives' "racial purity" back to the year 1700, and membership was conditional on "Aryan" appearance. Traditional symbols and pre-Christian myths were combined with an aura of fearlessness to create an SS mystique. This mystique was reflected in the black uniform, black cap, death's-head emblem, death's-head "ring of honour," and officer's dagger bearing the SS motto, "Meine Ehre heisst Treue" ("Loyalty is my honour").
1934-1939 - the SS Grows Stronger
In 1934, Himmler developed a strategy of recruiting key persons to the SS as Ehrenfuehrer (honorary leaders) and co-opting low-grade policemen. By mid-1934, the SS, after helping to crush the SA on June 30, took over all the political police and concentration camps. The camp system was under Theodore Eicke, head of the SS Wach- und Totenkopfverbaende (Guard and Death's-Head Units). The Totenkopfverbaende were the source of the militarised SS units later known as the Waffen-SS. Junkerschulen (young officers' schools) were established, as were special SS police units, the Einsatzgruppen. The regional SS was reorganised under Hoehere SS- und Polizeifuehrer (Higher SS and Police Leaders). The RSHA was expanded. Institutions such as Lebensborn and Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Heritage) were created. The creation in 1939 of SS courts legalised the established procedure of the SS in circumventing the law.
The War Years - the SS Becomes an Empire
The war led to an enormous growth in the SS. Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police; Sipo) SD units, the Einsatzgruppen, and local SS branches enforced anti-Jewish policy in occupied Europe. The SS gradually became more complex, because vast areas of Himmler's semi-feudal system collapsed into uncontrollable fiefs. The cruel, inhuman regime of the SS was encouraged from above. Sipo commanders in the occupied territories competed with SS head offices in radicalising official policies. The SS headquarters itself was reorganised in 1939, together with the establishment of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office; RSHA), and again in 1942, when eleven main offices emerged. During the war, the Waffen-SS grew into Hitler's personal multinational brigade, with some 800,000 men in forty divisions.
The Exploitation and Murder of the Jews
In 1941, the implementation of the "Final Solution," during the invasion of the Soviet Union, was carried out primarily by the Einsatzgruppen. The process of killing by gas in the extermination camps, as well as the camps' structure and management, was organised and overseen by SS officers. The SS Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (Economic-Administrative Main Office, WVHA) planned to use the concentration camps as sources of slave labour that would also serve the enterprises of the SS under Oswald Pohl. In 1943, Himmler undertook to expand his power by grounding the SS in an autonomous economic enterprise called Osti (Ostindustrie). Because of the lack of resources and the ongoing systematic killing operations, which vied with Osti for the Jews and depleted the labourers' ranks, the scheme failed. Death Marches. When Nazi Germany's final collapse became inevitable, Himmler apparently hoped to use the remnants of European Jewry as trump cards in negotiations with the West against the Soviets. The survivors of the now-evacuated camps outside the Reich, were driven by the SS in pointless marches to Germany. Many perished on these Death Marches.
A Criminal Organisation
In the charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, the SS was viewed as a criminal organisation. Thus, members of the Gestapo, the SD, the Allgemeine-SS, the Waffen-SS, the Totenkopfverbaende, and the WVHA were to be considered war criminals. To the very end, the SS remained the backbone of the Nazi regime.
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