SS DUTIES AND CONDITIONS OF SERVICE

The first and foremost duty of the entire SS organisation was the protection of Adolf Hitler; at least that was the official line. In 1931, after Hitler had lost the presidential election to von Hindenburg, Himmler described the SS as ‘Des Führers ureigenste, erlesene Garde’, the Führer’s most personal, selected guards. However, while it is true to say that the earliest Stosstrupp and SS men in the 1920s were indeed directly employed only as Hitler’s bodyguards and then as ‘Rednerschutz’ to protect other leading Nazi orators, the vast majority of the Allgemeine-SS in the 1930s and 1940s never even came into the close proximity of members of the political hierarchy, far less that of the Führer himself, whose protection after 1933 was the responsibility of the Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ alone. Nevertheless, even in later years the primary SS duty of guarding Hitler was still stressed, the Organisationsbuch der NSDAP declaring in 1937: ‘It is the fundamental and most noble task of the SS to be concerned with the safety of the Führer’.

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SS men guarding Hitler during a speech at Elbing, 5 November 1933. Only the man in the centre sports collar patches: the others are still probationary members.

After the advent of the Leibstandarte, whose members worked full-time to a rota system and accompanied Hitler on his journeys throughout the Reich, the part-time SS men who had originally been recruited on a local basis to protect Hitler during his trips around Germany found that aspect of their work taken from them. Consequently, it was decided that as of 1933 the main day-to-day function of these highly disciplined Allgemeine-SS volunteers would be to bolster the régime by supporting the police in maintaining public order, especially since some of the police themselves were politically unreliable. Their immediate success as Hilfspolizei during the mass arrests of communists and other dissidents after the Nazi assumption of power led to the rapid expansion of the SS organisation and the formation of dozens of new Allgemeine-SS Standarten trained and equipped to combat any internal uprising or counter-revolution which might take place within Germany. It was planned that, in such an event, the Allgemeine-SS Fuss-Standarten and Stammabteilungen would act as police reinforcements in conjunction with the heavily armed SS-Verfügungstruppe and SS-Totenkopfverbände, while the Nachrichtensturmbanne, Pioniersturmbanne and Kraftfahrstürme of the Allgemeine-SS would take over the operation of the post office and national radio network, public utilities and public transport, respectively. Consequently, throughout 1934 particular emphasis was placed on the recruitment of personnel for these specialist SS support units. However, the anticipated civil unrest never came about, and internal party rivalries were crushed during the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. As a result, the police duties of the Allgemeine-SS before the outbreak of the war were generally restricted to overseeing crowd control at NSDAP rallies and other celebrations, including national holidays and state visits of foreign dignitaries.

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SS-Standartenführer Julius Schreck after receiving the Golden Party Badge at the end of 1933. Of particular interest are the early pattern collar patches and the Sports Eagle of the National Motor and Air Travel Organisation, the latter being worn below the ribbon bar. Schreck was an expert driver, and frequently chauffeured Hitler around Germany in his open-topped Mercedes tourer at speeds in excess of 100 mph. Co-founder of the Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler, Schreck was constantly at the Führer’s side until his death from meningitis in 1936.

After 1939, members of the Allgemeine-SS who had not been called up for military service took a more active police support role. They were frequently lectured on the work of the police and the SD, and in many cities special SS Wachkompanie and Alarmstürme were detailed to protect factories, bridges, roads and other strategic points and assist the Luftschutz or Civil Defence during air raids. On the borders of the Reich, SS men worked as Auxiliary Frontier Personnel, or Hilfsgrenzangestellte (HIGA), in conjunction with the Customs Service. Others helped with the harvest, supervised foreign labourers and engaged in welfare work among the families and dependants of deceased SS servicemen. During 1944–5, the cadres of the Allgemeine-SS spread throughout Germany were trained to co-ordinate the short-lived guerrilla campaign which took place against Allied occupation troops.

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SS men lining the route for a parade at Bückeberg in 1935, during the annual harvest festival celebrations.

The Allgemeine-SS unit which normally mustered for training purposes was the Trupp or, in more populous districts, the Sturm. Larger musters of the SS were possible only in exceptional circumstances. There were periodic gatherings of the Standarten and occasional conferences of Abschnitte officers, when speeches and propaganda displays helped to foster corporate spirit and preserve SS ideology, but the vast majority of meetings usually took place on a local basis, once or twice a week in the evening or at the weekend. They gave those attending a feeling of ‘belonging’ and importance which made a welcome break from the humdrum of their daily lives working in the fields and factories of the Reich. In summer, there were route marches, parade and field drill, and manoeuvres. In winter, the routine activity of the Allgemeine-SS comprised instruction in military matters, indoor shooting, specialist and technical training, lectures on propaganda, political topics and Germanic culture, and talks on the general history and work of the SS and NSDAP. At party rallies and assemblies the SS always took a prominent role, and in processions had the place of honour at the end of the parade.

The great reduction in the number of active part-time personnel which resulted from the war and their temporary enlistment in the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS considerably reduced the day-to-day activities of the Allgemeine-SS. Even among the members still at home in reserved occupations, long working hours and additional war service drastically cut down attendance at company parades. By 1943, it had become the rule to find SS NCOs in command of Stürme and even Sturmbanne, and for duty parades to be confined to one or two hours per week. Under such circumstances, musters were frequently attended by only a dozen or fewer members, and the local Allgemeine-SS administration was run by severely wounded men and those temporarily returned to active duty from the Stammabteilungen. Nevertheless, so far as Himmler was concerned, the Allgemeine-SS was the original and ‘real’ SS, and he continued issuing orders aimed at reinforcing it well into 1945.

From the day he took charge of the SS in 1929, Himmler set himself the task of creating an aristocracy within the Nazi party, an élite which he later called his ‘Deutsche Männerorden’ or Order of German Manhood. The qualifications on which he initially based his policy of selection were those of discipline and high personal standards, but after 1933 racial and political attributes became increasingly important. Whosoever possessed the requisite qualities, whatever his background, class or education, could find a place in the SS. The first SS men, the former members of the Freikorps who had fought against communist revolutionaries and Allied occupation troops after the First World War, were followed by an assortment of unemployed labourers, farmers, disillusioned teachers, white-collar workers and ex-officers, all of whom went into the SS during the late 1920s and early 1930s with no aim other than to better their current difficult existence. The turning point so far as SS recruiting was concerned was the spring of 1933, which Himmler called ‘the time of the great influx and flood tide of all those opportunists wishing to join the party and its various organisations’. After Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor on 30 January that year, everyone suddenly wanted to join the SS and there was a rush at the recruiting offices. Himmler maintained his standards by immediately closing ranks and instituting a vigorous weeding-out process among those already admitted. Between 1933 and 1935 60,000 SS officers and men were expelled from the organisation because of petty criminal convictions, homosexuality, alco-holism, poor health, inadequate physique, questionable racial or political backgrounds or simple lack of commitment. The result was an Allgemeine-SS numbering about 210,000 only 0.4 per cent of whom were now unemployed, which did actually constitute the élite which Himmler required. It was inevitable, because of this policy, that the ordinary SS units were scattered widely throughout Germany. Concentration would have meant a lowering of standards. As a result, the organisation was spread very thinly across all the rural districts of the Reich, so much so that Himmler could proudly boast in 1936: ‘Many SS Truppen are recruited from several villages, a single village never having more than its two really best boys in the SS’. Not surprisingly, the majority of these ‘best boys’ found that their SS membership, while unpaid, had a real and beneficial knock-on effect on their chosen civilian careers.

After 1933, the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend or HJ) was the main source of recruitment for the Allgemeine-SS, excepting of course honorary members, specialists and those in affiliated bodies such as the police. Potential SS recruits were singled out by local units while still in the HJ, and boys who had proved themselves in the HJ-Streifendienst were made particularly welcome. Out of every hundred applicants, only ten or so were finally admitted. While no educational qualifications were required, each of these had to demonstrate the good political behaviour of his parents, brothers and sisters, produce a clean police record and an Aryan pedigree dating back to the mideighteenth century, and prove that there was no hereditary disease in his family. A Race Commission composed of SS eugenists and doctors supervised the last and most decisive medical tests. They judged not only the shape of head and colour of eyes, but also whether the applicant had the right build. Even if he had attained the prescribed height, which altered periodically but was approximately 5 ft 10 in, he had also to have the correct proportions between the upper and lower leg, and between leg and body. The Commission also considered whether the applicant behaved in a disciplined yet not servile way, and how he answered questions and generally conducted himself. If the applicant satisfied all these requirements of political reliability, racial purity and physique he was officially recognised on his eighteenth birthday as an SS-Bewerber, or SS Candidate, and given a uniform without insignia.

After some preliminary training, the Candidate progressed to the stage of becoming an SS-Anwärter, or Cadet, on the occasion of the annual NSDAP Reichsparteitag celebrations in Nürnberg the following September. At that time he was provisionally enrolled into the ranks of the SS proper, and received his uniform insignia and Ausweis, or membership card. On the following 9 November, the anniversary of the Munich putsch, he and all other SS-Anwärter appointed that year took the organisation’s personal oath of allegiance to the Führer, which ran:

I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Führer and Chancellor of the Reich, loyalty and bravery. I promise to you, and to those you have appointed to have authority over me, obedience unto death.

Throughout the next few months, the SS-Anwärter continued with his civilian occupation or apprenticeship during the day and attended the set musters of his local Allgemeine-SS Trupp or Sturm in the evenings or at weekends. Much of his training at this stage in his service revolved around his qualifying for the SA Military Sports Badge and the German National Sports Badge, both of which he was expected to win. Under normal prewar conditions, the SS-Anwärter was thereafter called up for six months’ compulsory full-time duty in the Reichsarbeitsdienst or RAD, the National Labour Service which worked on public building programmes, and then for his two-year term of conscription in the Wehrmacht. During that period, he almost completely severed his active ties with the Allgemeine-SS. Subsequently, his labouring and military duties finished, he returned to civilian life and to the SS, still as an Anwärter, to receive his final intensive training and indoctrination. This included ideological schooling in the fundamental laws and concepts of the SS, marriage orders and the SS code of honour and discipline.

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SS-Anwärter take the oath of allegiance in front of the Feldherrnhalle in Munich, 9 November 1934. This ceremony, which took place in the most solemn of circumstances at the ‘holy shrine’ of Nazism, was attended by Hitler, Himmler and the rest of the Old Guard.

On 9 November following his return from the Wehrmacht to civilian life, the successful Anwärter was received into the SS as a full SS-Mann. On that solemn occasion he took a second oath, swearing that he and his family would always adhere to the principles of the SS, and was thereafter presented with his SS dagger and given the right to use it to defend his honour and that of the Black Order. The confirmed SS man remained in the active Allgemeine-SS until his thirty-fifth year, at which time he was eligible for honourable discharge from the organisation. However, many elected at that stage to apply for acceptance into their local Reserve-Sturmbann, and at the retirement age of forty-five most of these transferred yet again to the regional Stammabteilung. Long service in this way was recognised by awards of the NSDAP Dienstauszeichnungen, a series of decorations instituted on 20 April 1939 for ten, fifteen and twenty-five years’ active membership of any of the Nazi party uniformed bodies.

Recruiting for the Allgemeine-SS, which was the responsibility of the SS Hauptamt, peaked in 1939 then drastically decreased on the outbreak of war. As early as January 1940, Himmler announced that of approximately 250,000 regulars in the Allgemeine-SS at the opening of hostilities, no less than 175,000 had since joined the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, the majority going to the army. These men retained their Allgemeine-SS membership throughout the war, but due to the commitments of military service were unable to participate in their normal SS duties. By 1944, the total active strength of the Allgemeine-SS had fallen to 40,000, excluding that part of the organisation represented by the police. Even so, while the purely numerical strength of the Allgemeine-SS declined, its domination of the home front steadily increased, highlighted not only by Himmler’s personal concentration of power but also by the ever-expanding influence of the SS hierarchy, reinforced by the police and security services and the patron and honorary membership.

In addition to the general military and political training given to Allgemeine-SS men at local level, at the regular musters of Truppe and Stürme, there were a number of selective and specialist training establishments which members could attend. A batch of NCO and officer candidate schools produced and trained leaders for assignment throughout the whole SS system. As well as the Main Cavalry School at Munich and the Helferinnen Reichsschule at Oberehnheim, there was an SS-Ärztliche Akademie, or SS Medical Academy, at Graz, an SS-Verwaltungsschule, or Administration School, at Dachau, a Kraftfahrtechnische Lehranstalt, or Motor Technical Training Establishment, at Vienna, an SS-Musikschule, or Music College, at Brunswick, a Pioneer and Mining School at Gisleben, and a Signals School and Security Police Training College at Berlin. There were also a number of special SS-Berufsoberschulen, or Higher Technical Schools, set up under the auspices of the SS Hauptamt to teach technical skills to candidates for the Allgemeine-SS and Waffen-SS. All German boys who were apprentices or students in business, trade or agriculture and who attended a trade or technical school could apply for entry to an SS-Berufsoberschule as an SS officer candidate. Conditions of acceptance were that candidates had to be between fourteen and seventeen years of age and satisfy the general recruitment standards laid down for the SS. The training given qualified students for the Reifeprüfung, or state leaving certificate, in economics, technical subjects or agriculture. Students successful in law, politics, history, forestry, mining and engineering were encouraged to continue their studies either at one of the SS or SD Administration Schools or at a university. In effect, the SS-Berufsoberschulen were designed as a medium for the recruitment and initial training of suitable candidates for the security and administrative branches of the SS.

One of the less well known but important educational offshoots of the SS were the SS Mannschaftshäuser, or SS Men’s Halls. These institutions formed a Dienststelle, or branch, of the Allgemeine-SS whose function was to train young officers intending to take up civil and non-political professions. They differed, therefore, from the specialist schools of the SS and police and from the Waffen-SS Junkerschulen in that they were designed for SS men who proposed to make their careers in walks of life that had no official connection with the SS, such as the Civil Service, medicine, the law, art, science, engineering and the academic field generally. The acknowledged object of their training was to infuse the SS spirit into the higher professions.

The SS Mannschaftshäuser originated in 1935 when small groups of ten to fifteen ordinary students, who were united only by their common SS membership, began to live together in a few university and high school towns. As their numbers increased a more careful system of membership selection was practised, qualities demanded being good character, National Socialist beliefs and proven academic or scientific talent. When the number of permanent residents reached 350, Himmler appointed SS-Oberführer Kurt Ellersiek as Chief of the Mannschaftshäuser, with the status and disciplinary powers of a Standarte commander. Life in the Men’s Halls before the war included, besides the usual academic studies, an organised series of social occasions at which the students could acquire the ease and conventional courtesies necessary for success in public life. To prevent them from attaching an exaggerated value to the academic and social side of things, however, participation in team sports and athletics, and regular service in an Allgemeine-SS Sturm, was made compulsory for all residents. Each winter the members of all the halls throughout Germany attended a special course at the SS-Junkerschule at Bad Tölz where, for a fortnight, they studied and exercised along with regular SS-Verfügungstruppe officer cadets. In summer, during vacation periods, long marches were organised in northern Germany or in the Alps, during which the students camped out in the open.

The outbreak of war severely checked the growth of the Mannschaftshäuser, as most members were almost immediately conscripted into the Wehrmacht. Only a few discharged or reserved men continued their studies in some of the halls. An official list of Mannschaftshäuser drawn up in May 1944 comprised the following:

Berlin I

Kiel

Berlin II

Köln

Braunschweig

Königsberg

Brünn

Leiden

Danzig

Lublin

Freiburg

München

Graz

Münster

Hamburg

Prag

Halle

Strassburg

Heidelberg

Tübingen

Innsbruck

Wien

Jena

 

Of these, however, only four (Berlin II, München, Prag and Wien) were still fully active at that late date.

General propaganda and political education within the SS was the responsibility of the SS Hauptamt, which issued or supervised the issue of a number of related publications. In addition to special pamphlets such as the SS recruiting handbook Dich ruft die SS (The SS Needs You) and a series of SS Schulungshefte, or educational booklets, the SS-HA put out two periodicals, the SS Informationsdienst, a news magazine for the SS and police, and the SS Leitheft, an illustrated magazine with stories and articles for more general consumption. The theme of the ideal German family was used extensively throughout this type of publication, and was inevitably slanted to draw comparisons with less favoured ethnic groups. Another much documented subject was the Externsteine, the German equivalent of Stonehenge, which became enshrined in SS mythology. The SS-HA also held political education courses for SS officers and men and, in addition, was responsible for the appointment of Schulungsoffiziere, or Education Officers, to the staffs of the various SS training schools.

So far as advancement for the ordinary SS man was concerned, the sky was the limit. In stark contrast to the imperial army, promotion in the SS depended upon personal commitment, effectiveness and political reliability, not class or education. ‘Das Schwarze Korps’ continually denounced the old reactionary military system as typifying that ‘middle-class arrogance which excluded the worker from society and gave him the feeling of being a third class citizen’. Consequently, the SS cadet schools consciously offered something which those of the Wehrmacht never did – an officer’s career for men without a middle- or upper-class background or formal educational qualifications. The SS always encouraged self-discipline and mutual respect rather than a brutally enforced discipline, and its general working atmosphere was more relaxed than that of the army, the relationship between officers and men being less formal. Officers were termed ‘Führer’, or ‘leaders’, not ‘Offiziere’, which had class connotations. On duty, the old military rank prefix ‘Herr’, implying superiority and dominance, was strictly forbidden and even the lowliest SS-Bewerber would address Himmler himself simply as ‘Reichsführer’, not ‘Herr Reichsführer’. Off duty, junior ranks referred to their seniors as ‘Kamerad’ (Comrade), or ‘Parteigenosse’ (Party Colleague) if both were members of the NSDAP.

The SS-Führerkorps or officer corps of the Allgemeine-SS comprised a number of different categories, mainly dependent upon the nature of the officer’s employment. Those below the rank of Sturmbannführer were generally Nebenamtlich, or part-time, and unpaid, while higher ranks were usually Hauptamtlich, or full-time, and salaried. The main categories of SS officer were as follows:

1.

Aktive SS Führer (Active SS Officers)

 

All those who held regular part-time or full-time office in the local Allgemeine-SS, SS Hauptämter or other departments, including all officers of the rank of Gruppenführer and above, irrespective of employment.

2.

Zugeteilte Führer bei den Stäben (Officers attached to Staffs and HQs)

 

Officers prevented by reason of their civil, governmental or party posts from taking an active part in the SS. They were normally attached as advisers to the Persönlicher Stab RfSS, or to the staffs of the SS Hauptämter or Oberabschnitte HQs.

3.

Führer in der Stammabteilung (Officers in the Supplementary Reserve)

 

Officers not included in the foregoing two categories who were obliged by reason of age or infirmity to retire honourably from active service in the SS or first-line SS reserve. The majority of full-time police officers given SS membership were also taken into the Stammabteilungen as they could not readily be absorbed by the active Allgemeine-SS Standarten.

4.

Führer zu Verfügung (Officers ‘on call’)

 

Officers suspended for disciplinary reasons whom the SS court had put ‘on call’ for a maximum period of two years, as a term of probation. Within that period, depending upon their behaviour, they were either restored to active service or dismissed from the SS.

Any Allgemeine-SS officer who joined the Waffen-SS during the war retained his Allgemeine-SS status and rank, but usually received a lower Waffen-SS rank until such time as he had gained sufficient military experience to warrant promotion. Thereafter, any promotion he achieved within the Waffen-SS resulted in a simultaneous and level upgrading of his Allgemeine-SS rank.

The undernoted regulations governed promotion within the Allgemeine-SS:

1.Promotion to SS-Gruppenführer and above was decided by Hitler himself, in his technical capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the SS, on the recommendation of the Reichsführer-SS.

2.Promotion to officers below the rank of Gruppenführer was decided by the Reichsführer-SS at the instance of the SS Personalhauptamt. The heads of the SS Hauptämter, acting as Himmler’s representatives, could carry out promotions up to and including SS-Hauptsturmführer.

3.Promotion to SS-Hauptscharführer was effected by Oberabschnitte commanders.

4.Promotion to SS-Oberscharführer was carried out by Abschnitte commanders.

5.Other NCOs were promoted by the commanders of the various SS Standarten.

6.Nominations for appointment as SS-Mann, Sturmmann and Rottenführer were made by delegated officers of the Standarten concerned.

Technical, administrative and medical personnel were bound by the same regulations as regards promotion and appointment but, in addition, had to be approved by the SS Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt or the Reichsarzt SS und Polizei, whichever was appropriate.

It is noteworthy that, during the early days of the SS, it was not uncommon for some officers to enter the organisation at a high rank, or to skip ranks. For example, ‘Sepp’ Dietrich enrolled in the SS as a Standartenführer with membership no. 1177 on 18 November 1929, while Julius Schreck, with membership no. 5, skipped from Sturmführer straight to Standartenführer, missing out all ranks in between, on 30 January 1933. Others had a meteoric rise through the ranks, a good example being Karl Wolff, who was promoted in the following way:

Sturmführer

18 February 1932

Sturmhauptführer

30 January 1933

Sturmbannführer

9 November 1933

Obersturmbannführer

30 January 1934

Standartenführer

20 April 1934

Oberführer

4 July 1934

The SS maintained a thorough system of personnel records, based on cards filled out in triplicate in respect of each member. The cards were reddish-brown in colour and contained a host of personal details including date and place of birth, physical measurements, marriage particulars, names and ages of children, SS and NSDAP membership numbers, promotions, decorations and history of RAD and military service. All fixed information was entered in ink and variable information in pencil. Every Sturm maintained a file holding the original cards made out for each officer and man assigned to it. Duplicate cards, which had broad red diagonal stripes on the reverse, were kept at the HQ of the Standarte to which the Sturm belonged. The third set of cards, with dark-green stripes on the back, were filed at the SS Personalhauptamt if they related to officers or at the SS Hauptamt if they referred to NCOs and lower ranks. It was the responsibility of all personnel to ensure that they reported timeously any information relevant to the updating of their records.

Several times a year, the SS Personalhauptamt produced a Seniority List covering all officers in all branches of the SS. As the SS grew so did the List, and by the end of 1944 it comprised several volumes. Known as the Dienstaltersliste der Schutzstaffel der NSDAP, it was printed by the government publishers in Berlin and was intended for administrative use only within the offices of the SS. Being classified, it was not for personal issue or distribution to non-SS bodies. Above all, it was not to be made available to the general public. The Dienstaltersliste went into great detail about each officer listed. Not only did it state his full name and date of birth, it also gave his SS rank, position of seniority, NSDAP and SS membership numbers, current posting, decorations, and any governmental, military, political or police rank held. It even mentioned if he was on long-term sick leave. In relation to Heinrich Himmler, for example, the 1944 List read as follows:

1.Overall seniority no: 1.

2.Heinrich Himmler. Holder of the Golden Party Badge and Blood Order. Reichsminister. Reichsleiter. Reichskommissar. City Councillor. Member of Parliament.

3.Holder of the SS Sword of Honour and the SS death’s head ring.

4.Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police.

5.NSDAP membership no: 14,303.

6.SS membership no: 168.

7.Date of birth: 7 October 1900.

8.Appointed to present position: 6 January 1929.

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The SS Officers Seniority List, produced in several volumes between 1934 and 1944.

Further down the first page of the List, the following details were recorded in respect of a member of German royalty, Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck und Pyrmont:

1.Overall seniority no: 10.

2.Josias, Hereditary Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont. Holder of the Golden Party Badge, 1914 Iron Cross 1st Class, Cross of Honour 1914–1918, First World War state combat awards, 1918 Wound Badge in Black, 1939 Bar to the 1914 Iron Cross 1st Class, and Second World War combat awards. Member of Parliament.

3.Holder of the SS Sword of Honour and the SS death’s head ring.

4.Commander of Oberabschnitt Fulda-Werra and Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer in that Region. General of the Waffen-SS. General of the Police.

5.NSDAP membership no: 160,025.

6.SS membership no: 2,139.

7.Date of birth: 13 May 1896.

8.Appointed to present position: 30 January 1936.

In April 1945, the SS made concerted attempts to destroy all existing copies of the Dienstaltersliste, but a few volumes fell into Allied hands and these proved invaluable reference material during the postwar de-Nazification process. Many prominent Germans who were by then vigorously denying all associations with the NSDAP and its affiliated organisations were suddenly confronted with their names appearing on the Dienstaltersliste and were forced to admit their intimate involvement in the Nazi régime. One of those was none other than the aforementioned Prince Josias, the only member of a German royal house to be tried for war crimes. As commander of the Oberabschnitt in which Buchenwald concentration camp was situated, he was held to be directly responsible for the conditions which prevailed there and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Such accountability for their actions was something totally alien to the SS. One of the most important factors to be taken into account when considering the swingeing powers and activities of the various SS and police forces in their role as supreme guardians of law and order during the Third Reich is that they were themselves placed outside and above the normal German legal system. With the foundation of the SS- und Polizeigerichtsbarkeit (Special Jurisdiction of the SS and Police) during 1939–40, SS men were made responsible only to SS disciplinary officers and SS courts for all crimes and offences committed both inside and outside Germany. The very nature of their work meant that SS members frequently had to infringe the common law in the execution of their duties, and so to achieve its ends the SS hierarchy demanded and ultimately achieved the legal independence necessary to ensure that SS men should not be answerable to the civil courts for unlawful acts committed in the line of duty. The significance of this position cannot be overemphasised, as it guaranteed the whole SS organisation immunity from normal prosecution and hence the legal right, according to its own code, to arrest, imprison, ill-treat and ultimately exterminate its political and racial opponents. This was the basis for the often repeated argument after the war that SS men had ‘only been obeying orders’. Not only were they simply obeying orders, but they had also been given the legal right to kill, endorsed by the highest courts in the Reich. It was the refusal to obey such orders which was illegal and punishable.

The original decrees and regulations establishing the Special Jurisdiction of the SS and Police continued to be enlarged and supplemented in the years after 1940. On 1 September 1943, the final and definitive SS Disciplinary and Penal Code (Disziplinarstraf- und Beschwerdeordnung der SS, or DBO) came into effect. It was valid for every member of the SS without exception. All SS officers, NCOs and other ranks, male and female, whether Allgemeine-SS, Waffen-SS, full-time, part-time, trainee, auxiliary, inactive or honorary in status, were liable to trial and punishment only by SS courts for all disciplinary and criminal offences they might commit. Where the offences were military ones, they were tried according to military procedures. In the case of criminal offences, the SS legal officials tried the accused by normal German criminal procedure. The jurisdiction of the DBO extended right across Germany and the occupied territories, and the scale of punishment which might be imposed ranged from simple disciplinary measures and expulsion from the SS to penal servitude and death by hanging, shooting or beheading. Himmler was given the same powers of pardon and commutation of sentences as those held by the Reich Supreme Judge and the commanders of the three branches of the Wehrmacht, and the only course of appeal, and then in very special circumstances, was to the Führer himself.

Only one general exception to this policy of bringing all members of the SS under the stringent penalties of independent SS jurisdiction was ever allowed. By agreement with the Reichsführer-SS, a Wehrmacht regulation published in June 1940 laid down that individual members of the SS and police would become liable to normal military law if they were serving in the armed forces. This exception applied solely to Allgemeine-SS and police men conscripted for regular service in the Wehrmacht, and did not affect independent units and formations of the Waffen-SS, SD and police serving alongside the armed forces. With the advent of the DBO, however, the Wehrmacht regulation ceased to be valid and from 1943 the SS included under its jurisdiction even those of its members temporarily serving in the armed forces.

While in practice most disciplinary matters were disposed of by the competent senior SS disciplinary officers by direct action or courts martial, and most criminal matters by the duly appointed SS courts, full disciplinary powers were attached to Himmler personally, as Reichsführer-SS. He was competent to impose all disciplinary penalties allowed by the DBO, although Hitler usually took a personal interest in rare cases of the punishment of officers from Gruppenführer upwards. In particular, the Reichsführer reserved to himself the rights of:

1.dismissal from the SS, together with demotion or reduction to the ranks, of any SS officer

2.dismissal from the SS of any SS personnel with membership numbers below 10,000 (i.e. the Old Guard)

3.prescribing disciplinary punishments in addition to penal sentences passed by the SS courts

In order to exercise these powers and also for the purpose of considering appeals against disciplinary sentences passed by the heads of the SS Hauptämter, Himmler could order the setting up of a special court, or Disziplinarhof, to hear any particular case and report back to him. In times of absence, he could delegate his disciplinary authority to the Chief of the Hauptamt SS Gericht. In addition, a special legal officer was permanently attached to the Persönlicher Stab RfSS to assist Himmler in dealing with legal matters which came to him for disposal.

The ordinary SS courts were of two types:

1.the Feldgerichte, or Courts-Martial, convened in the normal way by the divisions and higher formations of the Waffen-SS

2.the SS und Polizei Gerichte, or SS and Police Courts, established in Germany and the occupied territories

By 1943 there were over forty of these SS und Polizei Gerichte. Outside the Reich they were set up in the capitals and larger towns of conquered countries. Inside Germany there was one in every Oberabschnitt, normally but not invariably at the seat of the Oberabschnitt HQ. They were numbered in Roman figures which, unlike the Oberabschnitte, did not follow Wehrkreis numbering but corresponded to the chronological order in which they were set up. Each SS and Police Court was competent to try all cases which occurred within its area. In addition, there were two other special courts, both based in Munich, which deserve mention. The first of these was the Oberstes SS und Polizei Gericht, the Supreme SS and Police Court, presided over by SS-Oberführer Dr Günther Reinecke. It tried cases of particular gravity, for example treason, crimes against the state and espionage. It was also the only competent tribunal for the trial of SS and police generals of the rank of Brigadeführer and above. The second of the special courts was the SS und Polizei Gericht z.b.V., or Extraordinary SS and Police Court. It was attached directly to the Hauptamt SS Gericht and was a secret tribunal which dealt with delicate and difficult cases which it was desired to keep from the general knowledge even of the SS itself.

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A jovial Himmler broadcasts to the nation on ‘German Police Day’, 28 January 1939. By this time he had amassed awesome legal powers as head of the police, and his discipline code ensured total obedience from the SS. During the war he was to boast: ‘Thank God – we have not had a single case of treason from our ranks’.

During the war, the various SS und Polizei Gerichte were made competent to try non-SS personnel and civilians, which was a major development in their powers and a particularly efficient weapon in the general security system of the SS. Initially, civilians could be tried and condemned by SS courts only in respect of crimes committed in SS and police buildings or similar establishments, or crimes committed in conjunction with other persons who were themselves subject to SS jurisdiction. As the war progressed, however, this competence to try cases affecting the general interests of the SS was extended and the SS und Polizei Gerichte eventually came to be used for all serious security trials, including cases involving sabotage, illegal propaganda and traffic with an enemy power. The great majority of those tried in this way were sentenced to terms in concentration camps or to death by firing squad.

In common with the other formations and affiliated organisations of the NSDAP, the SS had its own code of honour enforced by special Courts of Honour, or Schiedshofe. This code had two primary objectives: firstly to protect the general repute of the SS against the scandal of internal dissension and quarrels, and secondly to provide its individual members with a formal method of defending their honour with weapons. In dealing with cases which came into the first category, the Courts of Honour had only limited powers, their main function being to reconcile differences by means of arbitration. As regards cases in the second category, their purpose was to see that ‘affairs of honour’ were settled according to due form. In principle, all SS men were entitled to demand satisfaction with pistol or sword for affronts to their honour and integrity. However, the Schiedshofe usually intervened to prevent matters proceeding to an actual duel, particularly since Hitler had long set his face against the practice. Minor and Major Courts of Honour (Kleine und Grosse Schiedshofe) could be convened by the Reichsführer and by commanders of the Oberabschnitte, Abschnitte and SS Hauptämter. The minor courts carried out preliminary examinations of disputes and the major courts proceeded to actual adjudications.

A special class of SS legal officers or SS Richter existed to administer SS law. Fulltime officials held their commissions directly from the Führer and their status and independence were guaranteed by the Reichsführer-SS. Their main duty was to prepare cases and conduct proceedings in court. These SS Richter were helped, and on occasion represented, by assistant legal officers or SS Hilfsrichter. SS protocol officers and NCOs (SS Beurkundungsführer und Unterführer) dealt with the preparation of documents, and examining officers (Untersuchungsführer) interviewed witnesses. All of these officers were subordinated to the Hauptamt SS Gericht. Their initial training and subsequent examinations took place at the Hauptamt and all appointments and promotions were issued from there.

As soon as the Special Jurisdiction of the SS and police was legally established, measures were taken to provide the SS organisation with facilities for carrying out sentences imposed by its courts. For this purpose punishment camps for the SS and police (Straflager der SS und Polizei) were set up at Dachau, near to the concentration camp, and at Karlsfeld. Moreover, prison camps (Strafvollzugslager) were instituted at Danzig and Ludwigsfelde. Minor periods of detention were generally completed in the relatively comfortable surroundings of the prison quarters of the SS barracks at Munich. Longer terms of imprisonment were served in one of the Strafvollzugslager. Execution of such sentences might at any time be postponed and the prisoner remitted to a Straflager, which represented an intensification in the severity of the sentence in that conditions at the punishment camps were much worse than those in the prisons, and the period served in the Straflager did not count towards the legal term of imprisonment still pending.

For men dismissed from the SS during the war, and simultaneously sentenced to a term of imprisonment, another possibility was open. They might choose to be handed over to one of the following two special formations of the Waffen-SS, in an attempt to redeem themselves while working out part of their sentence:

1.The Rehabilitation Detachment (Bewährungs Abteilung) at Chlum in Bohemia. After a period of initial training there, the men were sent to units employed as fighting troops in the front line.

2.The Labour Detachment (Arbeits Abteilung) based at Debica in Poland. Members of that unit did not normally bear arms but were employed on heavy and dangerous work at the front, including bridge repair and minefield clearance.

For men dismissed from the police there was a similar formation attached to the SS-Police-Division, officially entitled the Sondereinheit der SS-Polizei-Division but colloquially known as the ‘Verlorene Haufen’ or VH, the ‘Lost Souls’. Members of these special units did not rank as SS or police men and did not wear SS or police insignia on their uniforms.

While the SS punished its wrongdoers, those who conformed to the ideals of the Black Corps were very well cared for. The Reichsarzt SS und Polizei, or Chief SS and Police Medical Officer, SS-Obergruppenführer Prof. Dr Ernst-Robert Grawitz, was responsible for the general supervision of all the medical services of the SS and police, for medical research and training, and for the control and distribution of medical supplies and equipment. He was assisted by two senior officials, the Chief Medical Quartermaster, SS-Gruppenführer Dr Carl Blumenreuter, and the Chief Hygiene Officer, SS-Oberführer Prof. Dr Joachim Mrugowsky. Grawitz was also Business President of the German Red Cross and used that position to ensure that the SS kept up to date with all the latest international medical developments. Moreover, Himmler purposely gave senior SS rank to many German doctors of renown, including Karl Gebhardt, head of the famous Hohenlychen Orthopaedic Clinic, and Leonardo Conti, the Reich Minister of Health. In this way, the SS was kept at the forefront of medical technology, and the Sanitätsstürme and Sanitätsstaffeln attached to the Abschnitte and Sturmbanne were able to provide the best treatment possible to ailing SS members and their families.

The whole relationship between the SS and most medical men came to be soured during the war, however, when Himmler was persuaded by his hard-pressed Waffen-SS battlefield surgeons and certain military scientists to allow live research to take place among condemned inmates of concentration camps. Those inmates who agreed to take part in potentially fatal experiments, and who survived them, would have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment, albeit ‘life’ in a concentration camp after 1942 probably meant a few months at most. The Luftwaffe doctor Sigmund Rascher was one of those ‘researchers’ with the most sinister reputation. He carried out meaningless medical experiments at Dachau on the effects of decompression on prisoners, and thereafter turned his attention to the problems of survival in cold conditions, then survival in extreme heat. Rascher was continually ‘sucking up’ to Himmler. The following extracts from letters give an indication of the spirit of these times:

Dr Rascher to Camp Commandant Weiss, Dachau, 10 October 1942

The Russian prisoner of war Chonitsch, born 24 May 1920, was transferred to me on 28 September for experimental purposes. Chonitsch is a Russian who was to be executed. As the Reichsführer-SS had ordered me to use persons sentenced to death for dangerous experiments, I wanted to conduct an experiment on this Russian which I was absolutely sure he would not survive. I reported at the time that you could be assured that the Russian would certainly not survive the experiment and would be dead by the time of his scheduled execution date. Contrary to all expectations, the Russian in question survived three experiments which would have been fatal for any other person. In accordance with the Reichsführer’s order that all test subjects who are sentenced to death but survive a dangerous experiment should be pardoned, I beg to take the appropriate steps. I regret that the wrong assumption on our part has given rise to extra correspondence work. With many thanks and Heil Hitler! RASCHER.

Camp Commandant Weiss, Dachau, to the Reichsführer-SS, 20 October 1942

Highly esteemed Reichsführer! Will you please clarify the following case as soon as possible. In your letter of 18 April 1942, it is ordered that if prisoners in Dachau condemned to death live through experiments which have endangered their lives, they should be pardoned to lifelong concentration camp imprisonment. I respectfully ask if this order applies to Poles and Russians, as well as to non-Slavs. Heil Hitler! WEISS.

SS-Obersturmbannführer Brandt, Reichsführung-SS, to Weiss, 21 October 1942

Weiss. Please inform SS-Untersturmführer Dr Rascher that the instruction given some time ago by the Reichsführer-SS concerning the pardoning of experimental subjects does not apply to Poles and Russians. Heil Hitler! BRANDT.

It can be assumed, therefore, that the unfortunate Chonitsch was duly killed. Eventually, the SS concluded that Rascher was nothing more than a dangerous charlatan evading front-line service, and sentenced him to death in April 1945.

However, not all medical studies carried out at the camps were of such a fantastic nature. One of the benefits others provided was the development of haemostatic and coagulant products which did much to help wounded men in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War and, indeed, injured soldiers of all nations thereafter. Nevertheless, even the ordinary doctors of the Allgemeine-SS, whose only concern was the welfare of their men and who had nothing whatsoever to do with these matters, eventually came to be tarred with the same brush as Rascher and his accomplices in the minds of the postwar public.

Medicine apart, the main welfare activities of the Allgemeine-SS were administered by the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt and financed from the private funds of the SS. The concept of the SS as ‘one big family’ resulted in considerable care being devoted to the provision of financial help for those members in need of it. Even in the early days of the organisation, before the profits of office and established position put the finances of the SS on a sound footing, a special Economic Assistance Section was set up under the auspices of Himmler’s headquarters to provide help to SS men who had suffered material loss during the struggle for power. In November 1935, the Reichsführer put the matter on a more businesslike basis by instituting a savings fund to which all future SS recruits in employment and all serving full-time officers and men were to contribute according to their means. In this way, the SS was able to build from its own resources the necessary financial reserve from which assistance could be given or loans made to its members.

All commanders of Oberabschnitte, Abschnitte, Standarten and Sturmbanne had a general duty to look after the welfare of their subordinates and particularly of the widows and orphans of deceased SS men. Each Abschnitt and Standarte had a welfare official or Fürsorgereferent, usually an NCO, who was the primary local authority to which SS men and their relatives could appeal. Questions outside his competence were referred to the Sippenpflegestelle (Family Welfare Office) of the Oberabschnitt and, if required, could be passed on up yet again to the Sippenamt, or Family Office, of the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt for a decision. Where an SS man died or was killed on active service and left a widow and children, the Oberabschnitt appointed a suitable SS man as Berater, or family adviser. He gave as much personal advice and help as was possible, assumed responsibility for the education of the children and, when necessary, called in the assistance of the welfare official.

In addition to the private SS welfare system, members of the Allgemeine-SS serving in the Wehrmacht also enjoyed all the advantages of the statutory welfare system established for the armed forces. Moreover, the SS Hauptamt controlled a number of rest homes for SS and police servicemen and provided mobilised SS units with light entertainments such as films, concert parties, radio sets, books and magazines.

Since it had long been recognised that the prevention of illness was as important as curing it, sport and physical fitness were given great emphasis in the day-to-day training programmes of the Allgemeine-SS, and there were many local SS sports clubs. Members were eligible to win not only the SA Military Sports Badge and the German National Sports Badge, which they strove for during their term as SS-Anwärter, but also the Achievement and Championship Badges of the National Socialist Physical Training League, the Heavy Athletics Badge, the German Motor Sports Badge, ski competition badges, and the various national equestrian awards. Many of these decorations had to be competed for annually, i.e. holders had to pass the set qualification tests at least once every year in order to retain the right to wear the badges concerned, so training was a continual and ongoing process.

The SS Hauptamt was charged with the overall responsibility for SS physical training. In August 1942, a decree of the Reichsführer-SS enlarged and consolidated that function as follows:

1.The organisation and control of all physical training for the whole SS, including routine training, competitive events and military sports, was the responsibility of the SS Hauptamt.

2.The Chief of the SS Hauptamt, Obergruppenführer Berger, was appointed Inspector of SS Physical Training and Deputy Leader of the SS Sports Clubs (Inspekteur für die Leibeserziehung der SS und stellvertretender Führer der SS Sportsgemeinschaften e.V.).

3.Amt V of the SS Hauptamt was made the competent department for the physical training of the whole SS, with the title of Amt für Leibesübungen.

4.The former office of the Inspector and Central Directorate of SS Sports Clubs was incorporated into Amt V.

5.The Chief of Amt V was appointed Deputy Inspector of SS Physical Training.

6.The SS Central School of Physical Training in Prague, which taught SS sports instructors, was directly subordinated to the Chief of the SS Hauptamt.

In March 1943, a slight extension of the functions of the SS Hauptamt in this respect took place. By an agreement between the Reichsführer-SS and the German Life Saving Society (Deutsche Lebensrettungs-gemeinschaft e.V., or DLRG), the SS and police formed a special section of the Society under the title of ‘Landesverband SS und Polizei der DLRG’, with offices at 18 Bülowstrasse, Berlin. The Chief of the SS Hauptamt or his deputy acted as representative of the SS and police at the central headquarters of the Society. The function of the Landesverband was to promote lifesaving and artificial respiration techniques and, thereafter, hold examinations and grant relevant proficiency certificates. It took in all formations of the Allgemeine-SS, Waffen-SS, SD, security police and uniformed police, and instruction was given in conjunction with physical training.

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Disabled servicemen competing on the games field during their convalescence, 28 March 1942. The man on the right wears SS sports kit.

The Reichssportführer, or National Sports Leader, was an SA-Obergruppenführer, Hans von Tschammer und Osten, and consequently the SA tended to organise most of the paramilitary competitive sports events during the Third Reich. At these domestic competitions, however, the SS and police teams always figured prominently and invariably dominated the scene. In February 1937, for example, the SS won the Führer’s Prize at the NSDAP Ski Championships at Rottach-Egern, and Himmler and von Tschammer und Osten were present to award it. Internationally, too, SS men made their mark. Hermann Fegelein led Germany’s equestrian squad in the 1936 Olympics, and the SS motorcycle team of Zimmermann, Mundhenke, Patina and Knees, all wearing green leathers emblazoned with the SS runes, won the Six Day Trial at Donnington in England in July 1938. Later the same year, an SD team headed by Heydrich himself and comprising von Friedenfeldt, Hainke, Liebscher and Losert, all graduates of the SS-Fechtschule, or SS Fencing School, at Bernau, emerged victorious from the International Sabre Competition in Berlin. Finally, in April 1940, Italy’s famous Gran Premio di Brescia motor racing event was won by the SS driver von Manstein in a BMW 328 coupé. Not surprisingly, SS physical training establishments attracted outstanding talent, and at one time eight out of the twelve coaches at the Junkerschule at Bad Tölz were national champions in their events.

Conditions of service in the Allgemeine-SS were therefore very good in terms of the society in which the organisation grew and developed. Members’ duties were not onerous, at least prior to the war, and there were excellent promotion prospects, fine medical and welfare facilities, and the very best sporting opportunities. Moreover, the SS man was placed above the law. He and his family were accorded special status, as the physical and racial élite of the new Germany.

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