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The Schutzstaffel (SS; also stylized as Runic "ᛋᛋ" with Armanen runes; German pronun­cia­tion: [ˈʃʊtsˌʃtafəl] ( listen); literally "Protection Squadron") was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP; Nazi Party) in Nazi Germany. It began with a small guard unit known as the Saal-Schutz (Hall-Protection) made up of NSDAP volunteers to provide security for party meetings in Munich. In 1925, Heinrich Himmler joined the unit, which had by then been reformed and given its final name. Under his direction (1929–45), it grew from a small paramilitary formation to one of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany. From 1929 until the regime's collapse in 1945, the SS was the foremost agency of security, surveillance, and terror within Germany and German-occupied Europe.

The two main constituent groups were the

The Allgemeine SS was responsible for enforcing the racial policy of Nazi Germany and general policing,  

Waffen-SS consisted of combat units of troops within Nazi Germany's military

A third component of the SS, the SS-Totenkopfverbände  , ran the concentration camps and extermination camps.

 Additional subdivisions included the

Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) organizations. They were tasked with the detection of actual or potential enemies of the Nazi state, the neutralization of any opposition, policing the German people for their commitment to Nazi ideology, and providing domestic and foreign intelligence.

The SS was the organization most responsible for the genocidal killing of an estimated 5.5 to 6 million Jews and millions of other victims in the Holocaust. Members of all of its branches committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during World War II (1939–45). The SS was also involved in commercial enterprises and exploited concentration camp inmates as slave labor. After Nazi Germany's defeat, the SS and the NSDAP were judged by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg to be criminal organizations. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the highest-ranking surviving SS officer at the time, was found guilty of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials and hanged in 1946.

History on the Net  2014

The SchutzStaffel or SS was formed in April 1925 as a section of the SA and functioned as a personal bodyguard for the NSDAP leader, Adolf Hitler.

The SS was considered to be an elite force and membership was restricted to those who were pure Aryan Germans.

On 6th January 1929 Heinrich Himmler (left) was appointed leader of the SS. Himmler was an ambitious man and set about building up membership of the SS.

From 1932 the SS wore black shirts with the runic symbol SS on the collar to distinguish them from the SA who wore brown shirts.

Under Himmler’s leadership the SS was divided into three sections:

The SD (Sicherheitsdienst)

Formed in 1931, this section of the SS was placed under the control of Himmler’s right-hand man, Reinhard Heydrich. In its early years the SD was responsible for the security of the Nazi Party. After Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, the SD was also responsible for seeking out and dealing with those who opposed and were a threat to the leading members of the Nazi Party. The SD played a key role in discovering evidence against Ernst Rohm that ultimately lead to the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.

(Geheime Staatspolizei)

When Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hermann Goering became Minister of the Interior for Prussia. This role gave Goering control of the Prussian Police force. Almost immediately he set about separating the various branches of the Police force. The political and intelligence sections were filled with Nazi Party members and merged to form a secret police force known as Geheime Staatspolizei , the Gestapo.

In April 1934 Heinrich Himmler took over as Head of the Gestapo. Under Himmler’s leadership the Gestapo was responsible for seeking out and eliminating opposition to the Nazi Party. They frequently used torture to extract confessions.

In 1935 the Gestapo was given the task of establishing concentration camps for the incarceration of ‘undesirables’, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Communists, unemployed, disabled etc.

After the outbreak of war in 1939 members of the Gestapo made up some of the membership of the  Einsatzgruppen, mobile death squads that followed the army into Poland and Russia to rid those countries of Jews and other ‘inferior’ people.

Leibstandarte SS

After Hitler became Chancellor of Germany he ordered the creation of an armed force which would protect both himself and leading members of the Nazi Party from attack.

The first recruits, 117 men, were given the name SS-Stabswache Berlin. This was changed to  SS-Sonderkommando Berlin shortly afterwards and on 3rd September Hitler re-named the group Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.

Entry requirements for the elitist Leibstandarte included:

Proof of pure Aryan ancestry for at least 150 years

Minimum height of 5 feet 11 inches

Being physically fit and in excellent health

In 1934 the Leibstandarte played a prominent role in the Night of the Long Knives which saw the murder of leading members of the SA.

By 1935 membership of the Leibstandarte had increased significantly to more than 2,000. When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 the Leibstandarte played a key role. Initially attached to both infantry and panzer  divisions, the Leibstandarte became an independent force, the SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler in 1941.

From 1941 to 1944 the Leibstandarte was engaged fighting on the Eastern Front before being moved to the Ardennes in late 1944.  Pushed back by the advancing allied forces, the Leibstandarte ended its days fighting in the Battle of Berlin in 1945.

SS Verfügungstruppe (Special Purpose Troops)

Formed in 1934 the SS Verfügungstruppe, known as SS-VT, was the armed force of the Nazi Party. It was separate from the main German army, the Wehrmacht. Members of the SS-VT were often men who failed to meet the strict criteria for entry to the Leibstandarte SS.

SS-VT regiments played a pre-war role in the Anschluss with Austria, the occupation of the Sudetenland and the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

In 1941, at the same time as the Leibstandarte SS were made an independent force, the SS-VT were re-named the Waffen SS. The Waffen SS played key roles fighting in the European and African theatres of war.

SS Totenkopfverbände (Death’s Head Units)

In 1934 Heinrich Himmler ordered Theodor Eicke, a fervent anti-semitic, anti-Bolshevik, to organise and manage the first concentration camp which had been established at Dachau .

Eicke set about streamlining the organisation of the camp. Many of those who had been trained by Eicke at Dachau went on to staff the camp at Sachenhausen.

In 1936 staff working in the camps were given the title SS Totenkopfverb?nde, known as SS-TK. The SS-TK had a reputation of being harsh masters, meting out tough punishments on those who did not show loyalty to the Nazi ideals.

When war broke out in 1939 the SS-TK was expanded to provide staff for all camps established in Germany, Austria and Poland.

In 1942 the SS-TK became members of the Waffen SS.

In early 1945 when it became clear that Germany would lose the war, members of the SS-TK were given orders to destroy evidence of the camps’ existence. Camps were destroyed and surviving inmates were taken on forced ‘death marches’.

At the end of the war many leading members of the SS committed suicide. Those that were captured were tried and the Nuremburg war crimes trials, many of those found guilty were executed. Some members of the SS escaped Germany and fled to South America.

Go to Einsatzgruppen

The Einsatzgruppen were special SS mobile formations tasked with carrying out the mass murder of Jews, communist functionaries, and others deemed unfit to live by the Nazis.

They were first seen in action in Austria and the annexed parts of Czechoslovakia in 1938, as German forces occupied all (in the case of Austria) or certain regions (in the case of Czechoslovakia) of these countries in relatively peaceful annexations to the Reich.

THE GESTAPO  by Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner

The Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo, a German secret police force, was created in 1933 after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. The Gestapo was created to help solidify Nazi control by identifying and arresting anti-Nazi agents in Germany. The agency was restructured several times during its twelve year history and was instrumental in perpetrating the Nazi deportation and destruction of European Jews during the Holocaust.

Hitler named Herman Göring the director of the Gestapo soon after its founding. Göring encouraged his officers to root out and arrest leftist sympathizers, especially communists, whom he considered a threat to the Nazi government. He also oversaw the Gestapo's enforcement of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. In 1936, Heinrich Himmler, head of Hilter's special forces unit, the Schutzstaffel (SS), was given command of the Gestapo and the Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo.

In 1939, in the months prior to the beginning of the second world war, Hitler reorganized the German armies. The Gestapo was integrated, with the rest of the Nazi police and intelligence organizations, into the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RHSA) under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich. Though officially part of the Reich Security Central Office, the organization remained popularly known as the Gestapo.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, there were approximately 40,000 Gestapo agents in Germany. As the war progressed and the Nazis gained territory throughout Europe, the Gestapo swelled to employ over 150,000 informants, agents, and accessory personnel. Gestapo agents were charged with rooting out foreign agents and resistance fighters, but they also expanded their role as an internal police force. Gestapo agents and informants concentrated on finding suspected political dissidents of the Third Reich. Spying on citizens became pervasive, and the Gestapo encouraged people to turn in "suspect persons" to local authorities. While victims of the Gestapo were subject to both civil and criminal prosecution, the secret police themselves operated above the law. On February 10, 1936, the Nazi government officially decreed that the organization was not subject to judicial review. There were no legal restraints on detention of suspects, evidence collection, or police violence. This lack of legal restraint, paired with the Gestapo's tendency to attract and employ Nazi extremists and former criminals in its ranks, permitted the brutality for which the force became infamous.

The Gestapo also aided intelligence work during the war, but the department was secondary to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), or Security Service. The department employed counter-intelligence agents, ciphers, and oversaw a vast network of informants in Allied countries. In the occupied territories, the Gestapo infiltrated partisan resistance groups. The organization also aided the massive Nazi propaganda campaign both before and during the war.

Intelligence, security, and police forces often over-lapped in jurisdiction during the Nazi regime. Several departments performed the same functions, and were often in conflict with each other. The Abwehr, the intelligence service under the direction of spymaster Wilhelm Canaris, negotiated an agreement with the SD about their respective roles. Despite the agreement, both organizations maintained their own network of spies and informants, and did not often coordinate their international operations. In 1943, Canaris and several other key members of the Abwehr joined the Resistance movement against the Nazi government. Canaris used the Abwehr intelligence network to leak secrets and troop positions to the Allies. The Gestapo investigated Canaris and the Abwehr, and in 1944, after a failed attempt to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, liquidated the Abwehr intelligence service. Canaris and his followers were executed. The discovery of the July Plot to assassinate Hitler, and Canaris' spy ring was a key counter-intelligence victory for the Gestapo, SD, and RHSA.

The Gestapo, as well as its parent organization, the SS, aided the Einsatsgruppen, or mobile killing units, responsible for the massacre of nearly one million Jews during the Holocaust. Gestapo and SS members also tracked down refugees in hiding and policed ghettos and concentration camps. After the war at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the Gestapo was named as one of the chief institutional perpetrators of the Holocaust.

The Gestapo was dissolved with the fall of the Third Reich in 1945.

THE GESTAPO: THE MYTH AND REALITY OF HITLER’S SECRET POLICE review by Frank McDonough, 'brave' Miranda Seymour  16 August 2015

The Gestapo (Geheime Staats Polizei, or Secret State Police) was the Nazis’ most efficient instrument of terror. Its spies were omnipresent, its victims subject to torture and mass deportation to the death camps. It seems incredible that humane qualities could be exhumed from such evil, but that is one achievement of Frank McDonough’s nuanced study.

McDonough’s recent life of Sophie Scholl, the young girl executed for distributing anti-Nazi material during the Second World War, noted that her Gestapo interrogator appears to have been both calm and professional. Her swift execution resulted, not from his dispassionate evidence, but from a People’s Court show trial, its verdict manipulated by Roland Freisler, Hitler’s “hanging judge”.

Was there, then, a mitigating aspect to the Gestapo? Was there any vestige of truth in the defence offered at Nuremberg in 1945 by Dr Werner Best, head of the Gestapo’s administrative unit from 1933? Best portrayed the organisation as an ill-paid arm of the state. The Gestapo, or so he argued, did not employ a vast network of spies. It had not operated the death camps. It had (or so Best claimed) regularly helped to organise financial aid for the families of prisoners. Every accusation had been meticulously examined. Many suspects had even walked free.

Best’s confidence at the trial was doubtless bolstered by the knowledge that Allied bombing had destroyed the Gestapo HQ in Berlin, and a vast proportion of the records held there. This explains why in post-war Germany 40 per cent of the Gestapo were re-employed in the police force, eventually receiving full state pensions. Best himself, having evaded a second, evidence-supported trial in 1969, would die, still unpunished, in 1989.

Other historians have already established that there are elements of truth in Best’s account. The Gestapo did not spring, fully formed, from the fanatical brain of Heinrich Himmler, who took it over from Hermann Göring in 1934. Many of those who joined it had been career detectives in the earlier German force. Never large, the Gestapo’s 54 regional offices were supervised by college-educated men whose underlings were expected to carry out meticulous and fully documented investigations. Rather than employing a vast network of spies, the Gestapo relied on the German public to police itself with evidence-based denunciations. Ordinary Germans, with nothing to fear if a denunciation came to nothing, discovered an appetite for the practice. As the years went by, however, the Gestapo learnt to treat personal vendettas, domestic feuds and reports of treasonable employers with a degree of scepticism.

So much has previously been established. The contribution of McDonough’s illuminating account – based on the 73,000 files at Düsseldorf, the largest surviving collection of Gestapo records – is to reveal that the organisation was neither faceless nor monolithic. Occasional leniency and even good humour (although the evidence for this proves pretty scant) emerge from his pre-1939 case studies.

Extreme harshness only became the norm during the war years. McDonough reminds us that the Gestapo never recorded the exact methods by which their “evidence” was obtained, but survivors told of hanging by the hands, electric wires attached to sexual organs and waterboarding. These procedures are now ghoulishly familiar from the black sites we know by the shorthand “Guantánamo”.

The Gestapo’s major role in the deportation of the Jews is well-known; almost as notorious is its dedication to suppressing (often by murder) the Communists, the Reich’s most formidable adversaries. Less familiar is the Gestapo’s vindictive campaign to harass Roman Catholics. They both heard and encouraged tales of nuns running brothels within convent walls. Small children were bribed with sweets to accuse priests of molestation. In 1936, in the month of May alone, an astonishing 200 Franciscan monks were charged with sexual offences.

Largely forgotten, too, is the exceptional cruelty meted out by the Gestapo to Jehovah’s Witnesses who, in 1937, comprised one in 10 of Buchenwald’s inmates. For female Witnesses, lengthy confinement in an unlit pit with a stone bed was the norm. One young woman recalled being threatened with death by her Gestapo interrogators unless she repudiated her faith. She yielded; most Witnesses preferred martyrdom.

Low-ranking Nazis known as “block leaders” or blockleiteren provided the Gestapo with an invaluable resource that rendered spying superfluous. In each city, a single blockleiter supervised up to 60 homes, dutifully pumping each household with weekly interrogations. Neighbours, too, often told tales. Although Robert Ley, head of the Nazi Labour Front, once remarked that, in Hitler’s Germany, a citizen’s only private life was to be found in his sleep, he was mistaken: stories were brought to the Gestapo of treason mumbled by sleep-talkers. An indiscreet beer-cellar toast would lead to a prompt phone call, then an arrest. Hiding a Jew – or (it was deemed as great a crime) befriending a Pole – was instantly reported. The punishment for one woman who had Polish friends was to be exposed with a shaven head in a caged pillory. Poles, like Jews, were compelled to wear an identifying badge. Homosexuals were branded by a pink triangle; a black one was reserved for the hapless “asocials”, those unemployed persons that the Gestapo began systematically corralling in 1938. Forced into slave-labour at new factories attached to camps like Flossenbürg and Sachsenhausen, these “asocials” stood no chance of release. Like homosexuals, they served as guinea pigs in murderous “medical” experimentation.

Too often historians present material of this vile kind in emotive prose, forcing the reader into uneasy agreement with whatever argument they are presenting. Here, by combining a calm tone with a lucid, factual approach, McDonough has convincingly portrayed a system that was highly efficient and profoundly pernicious, but not unequivocally wicked. Are such fine discriminations in the degrees of evil useful? Sadly, they are. A clear understanding of the Gestapo’s irrational mix of method with madness, of duty with viciousness, can help us to prevent the re-emergence of those malign forces that we have seen surface even in our own day.


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SS Medical Corps   Wikipedia

The life of an Auschwitz guard   Wiklipedia

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Berl Watters 2013 (56.19)

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The Einsatzgruppen
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Nazi Germany – SchutzStaffel SS

Who Were the


The Gestapo:
The Myth and Reality of
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