The Schutzstaffel – Hitler’s Private Army

 The Schutzstaffel – Hitler’s Private Army

SS leader Heinrich Himmler

The evolving of the Schutzstaffel (SS), Adolf Hitler’s private army or Sturm Abteilung (Storm Troopers) happened between 1923 and 1945.  The key periods were:

  • 1923-1925   8 men were introduced into the new SS division as a protection detail for rallies, speeches and special events.
  • 1925 – 1929 Completely re-vamped with about 30 men whose main objective was to protect Adolf Hitler.  Sometimes referred to as the “pre-Himmler” era.
  • 1929 – 1945  The greatest time of activity for the SS further divided into two more sub periods:
  • 1929 – 1939   Peacetime, where membership went from 280 men to 52,000.
  • 1939 – 1945   World War II – when the membership peaked at 250,000 until it complete dissolved with the defeat of Germany and end of war.

There were basically three sections of the SS, who was controlled by Heinrich Himmler; The Sicherheitsolienst or SD, the Geheime or Gestapo and Military Sector or Waffen SS.

Adolf Hitler inspects the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler on arrival at Klagenfurt in April 1938. Heinrich Himmler is standing slightly behind Hitler’s right side.

The SD was under the control of Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler’s right hand man in 1931, which had the main duties of security and handling threats to the Nazi party, and who was a key player in the evidence (many believe manufactured) against party member Ernst Rohm and others in the internal party massacre known as the Night of Long Knives in 1934.

The Gestapo was a section of the political and intelligence branch the German Police commanded by Hermann Goering as Minister of Interior for Prussia.  The Gestapo was responsible for establishing the camps for all undesirables; Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, communists, unemployed and disabled.  Himmler became head of the Gestapo in 1934 with the main duty of seeking out and eliminating these undesirables.  In 1939 mobile death squads were formed than went into Poland and Russia for the same purpose.

SS troops at Leibstandarte at a Nazi procession in 1939.

A division of the Gestapo, or SS Totenkopfverbnde (SS-TK) was a Death Head Unit organized after first concentration camp was established at Dachau.  The Head of this unit, Theodor Eicke was both anti-Semetic, and anti-Bolshevik and doled out harsh treatment.  He was responsible for expanding all the staff needed at other camps as they materialized.  The SS-TK was the unit that destroyed as much evidence as possible including camps, papers, and surviving inmates when it became Obvious Germany would lose the war.

The Military sector of the SS went through a variety of name changes; first SS-Stabsuache Berlin, the changed to SS-SonderKommando Berlin, next Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, before Waffen SS.  The first 117 recruits had passed the strict qualifications:

  • Proof of Aryan (non-Jewish) heritage and pure German racial purity back to 1750.
  • Political reliability, more important than class and education.
  • Obedience to the Nazi party to death.
  • 5 feet 11 inches or taller
  • Physically fit
  • Healthy

They had a membership of 2,000 men by 1935 which played a key role in the invasion of Poland which led Germany into World War II.  The Waffen SS were mainly on the Eastern front during the early years of the war, 1941-1944, then at Ardennes, but when defeat of Germany was imminent, they were present at the Battle of Berlin in 1945 when Germany as well as the entire SS fell.

The Waffen SS was another separate and additional German Army that fought along with the Wehrmacht.  The SS eventually took over all law enforcement in Germany; the SD, Gestapo, Kripo, which was criminal investigations division, Orpo or the regular uniformed police and the entire court system was run by the SS, which in effect put the entire SchutzStaffel as the final word, above the law.


The SS was built with Nazi philosophies that were responsible for the crimes against humanity so prevalent in World War II and Hitler’s “Final Solution.”  They killed, tortured, enslaved Jews, Poles, Slovics and Roma gypsies.  Their reasoning was a complete cleansing called race hygiene including the mentally and physically handicapped, political dissidents and clergy from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Freemasons, Communism and Rotary Club.

SS insignia

At the end of the war, many SS members committed suicide.  Others were tried for war crimes at Nuremberg, found guilty and executed.  Others managed to escape Germany through ODESSA, the Organization der ehemaligen SS-Angehorigen or “organization of former members of SS).  The escapees however were not free; they were sought after by all Allied nations, post-war Germany, both east and west, Austria and Israel.

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