It proved relatively easy to bury the SS in the aftermath of the war. Waffen-SS personnel were obliged to conform with the terms of the German surrender and turn themselves in to the Allied occupation forces as prisoners of war, and the great majority of them did so.1 By 1945, the General-SS consisted of little more than a few offices manned by men too old or unfit to have been conscripted into the armed forces or Waffen-SS. For the most part, these remnants of a bygone age hung up their uniforms, went home and hoped that their connection to the organisation would not be noticed by the occupiers.
A few senior SS officers tried to go on the run, but none got very far. Globocnik hid in the Austrian Alps but was found by a British patrol after being denounced by an informer. He killed himself by taking poison on 31 May 1945.2 Kaltenbrunner was arrested in the Bavarian Alps3 and faced trial at Nuremberg, which made him the most senior member of the SS to face the International Military Tribunal. He was hanged after being found guilty of war crimes, as were Oswald Pohl and Kurt Daluege.* Heinrich Müller was probably killed—or committed suicide—in Berlin shortly after Hitler’s death, although his body was never found.4 Likewise, Richard Glücks, the last Inspector of Concentration Camps, seems to have killed himself at Murwik Naval Base, Flensburg, on 10 May 1945,5 but his death went unrecorded.
A few SS men who had committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity managed to evade justice, for a time at least. The best known of these was Adolf Eichmann, who was captured by the US Army under the name “Otto Eckmann” but managed to escape, via Italy, to Argentina. He lived and worked there—as “Ricardo Klement”—for ten years before being captured by Israeli agents in 1960. Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, also escaped via Italy. He ended up in Brazil, where he lived under his own name for sixteen years before being extradited to West Germany. Aside from two months as a prisoner of war in 1945, Josef Mengele, the notorious Auschwitz medical officer, was never captured. He died in Brazil in 1979. None of these men benefited from any sort of conspiratorial SS underground network. Instead, they were assisted by a few naïve or sympathetic individuals who were prepared to help them evade justice.6
Most former SS personnel faced nothing more than a spell in a prisoner of war camp, followed by a “de-Nazification” hearing at the time of their release. This included the higher echelons of the organisation. In the view of Heinz Höhne, “The majority of the SS leaders were treated with remarkable leniency.”7
Of course, history has not been so forgiving. When Himmler assumed control of the SS in 1929, he envisioned it becoming the Staatschutzkorps (state protection corps), an all-pervasive police and security body that would replace the existing police system. However, he saw its role as much more than simply engaging and defeating enemies of the state. As a wholehearted adherent to the racist doctrine of National Socialism, as well as a fiercely ambitious man, he wanted to place his organisation in the vanguard of the Third Reich as the principal protector of the German racial community. That necessitated total acceptance of Hitler’s racist philosophy and determination to put it into practice by recruiting men with the ideological conviction to carry out whatever measures were deemed necessary. He achieved this by making the SS an “elite order,” vaguely modelled on medieval chivalric orders but imbued with National Socialist ideology. Talented and ambitious young men flocked to join, providing Himmler with the manpower to enforce Hitler’s will. The central idea of National Socialism—that the German people were involved in a Darwinian struggle with the Jews for world supremacy—gave the SS its mission and transformed it from a repressive police force into an instrument of genocide.
* Daluege had suffered a massive heart attack in 1943 and had effectively retired. He had been replaced as head of the Order Police Main Office by General Alfred Wünnenberg.
APPENDIX: TABLE OF COMPARATIVE MILITARY RANKS