German S.S. (short for Schutzstaffel) was a paramilitary organization in Nazi Germany. The group was originally created as a kind of personal guard for the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. However, the organization rapidly grew in size and took over various responsibilities such as domestic surveillance, security, and terror. S.S. also oversaw the establishment of concentration camps.
By the end of World War II, S.S. had become the most feared and formidable paramilitary unit of the German forces.
In the early 1920s, Adolf Hitler was rapidly rising to power in Germany. Due to the security threats to his person, his Nazi Party forged a small group of volunteers charged with protecting Hitler. This group proved rather ineffective during the Beer Hall Putsch led by Hitler. It was consequently dissolved and a new unit was then created in its place. This was initially called the Schutzkommando but was subsequently named Schutzstaffel.
Heinrich Himmler was one of the most prominent members of the Nazi Party. Hitler appointed him as the head of the S.S in 1929. It was under him that Schutzstaffel grew considerably in size and became synonymous with power and terror across Germany. Himmler was also the key architect of the holocaust, supporting both the ideology and the logistics behind the racist genocide.
Once Hitler ascended to power, Himmler’s power also grew. Over time, S.S. grew from 300 soldiers to around 52,000 men under Himmler’s leadership. Himmler was central in coining racial policies and detailed instructions on how to segregate non-Aryans from the Aryan Germans.
The German S.S was made up of numerous ranks and units. It worked like a complete organization under the rule of Heinrich Himmler.
Separate units existed within S.S. tasked with specific responsibilities. S.S. Cavalry, for instance, was responsible for transportation and logistics. S.S. Medical Corps provided medical assistance to the German troops in need. Other units of the German S.S. included Mannschaften and Frauenkorps.
In 1939, German S.S. orchestrated Operation Himmler. During this operation, S.S. soldiers dressed up in Polish uniforms and attacked various German outposts. This was done to create an impression of Polish aggression and then use this as an excuse to invade Poland. During the German invasion of Poland, S.S. continued to play a central role. S.S. soldiers fought apart from the regular German troops. A number of Polish leaders were killed by the S.S. troops to smooth the German invasion.
The German S.S. was the main organization involved in the holocaust of the Jewish people. A section of the S.S., originally tasked with eliminating Hitler’s enemies, launched mass killings of the Jewish people. Such killings were first carried out in the Soviet Union and Poland. Himmler didn’t want S.S. troops to deal with the psychological fall-out from killing so many people. So he came up with the idea of the notorious gas chambers. In all, S.S. directly participated in the genocide of millions of Jewish people.
Apart from killing Jewish people, the German S.S. was also given the task of handling any political or domestic opposition to Hitler’s regime. To this end, the organization killed a large number of political opponents of Hitler. Jews within the main German territories also came in the crosshairs soon afterward. S.S. also spearheaded anti-Semitic propaganda to drum up support for Jewish genocide.
The death camps were where Jews were rounded up and kept. The conditions at the death camps were typically inhumane. German S.S. managed these camps and continued to expand them. Prisoners were first put to hard labor and subsequently taken to gas chambers where they would be cruelly executed. The first of such gas chambers were built by the S.S. in 1941. From then onwards, the gassing of the Jews was an increasingly larger part of S.S. activities.
German S.S. also undertook a number of commercial activities under the direction of Himmler. The prisoners from the concentration camps were used as forced labor. Many camps were established near stone quarries. The prisoners had to quarry the stones, then carry immensely heavy stones over a long distance. This was part of the S.S. policy of ‘extermination through labor.’ Other commercial enterprises owned by the German S.S. included chemical factories, publishing houses, farms, bakeries, clothing factories, leather works, brickworks, and mineral water production.
Although S.S. was central to the intelligence and security infrastructure of Germany, its decline started, in many ways, at the Battle of Moscow. SS units sustained up to 60% casualties in many units. This was followed the military reversals at the D-Day and Normandy landings where S.S. was unable to hold back the Allied invasion. A similar reversal faced S.S. in the battle for the German mainland.
The collapse of Nazi Germany and the death of Hitler effectively ended World War II in Europe. It also marked the end of German S.S. Heinrich Himmler, the architect, and leader of the organization committed suicide. Many S.S. troops met painful death at the hands of the liberators who were shocked at their cruelties. A number of S.S. leaders also faced criminal proceedings at international tribunals and were sentenced. In the Soviet Union alone, nearly 70,000 S.S. members were convicted.