Besides the acknowledged and logical development of the SS as regards its fusion with the police and security services, the organisation enlarged its position and range of influence in more insidious ways. By means of an unobtrusive but thorough policy of infiltration, the SS furnished itself with representatives in every branch of official and semi-official German life. It became, in effect, the archetypal ‘state within the state’, a closely knit and powerful group of men and women governed by a rigid set of rules, the chief of which was loyalty to Himmler and unquestioning obedience of orders.
Membership of the SS was always attractive after 1933, offering a steady and lucrative job in the agency of the most influential body in Germany, with the chance of a quick lift on the road to economic, political, professional or even artistic success. Consequently, the Allgemeine-SS soon outgrew its origins as a group of guardsmen and came to represent a very carefully organised racial élite composed of intellectuals as well as exsoldiers, shopkeepers and peasant youths. In May 1944, no less than 300 of the 1,200 leading personalities in Germany, including industrialists, financiers and academics, held SS membership. By that time, SS domination throughout the Reich had become total.
Members of the Reichstag saluting Hitler in 1937. SS uniforms are evident everywhere, and prominent SS personalities in the group include Schaub, von Ribbentrop, Lammers, Otto Dietrich, von Neurath, Darré and Seyss-Inquart.
A starting point in the study of SS personalities can be made with the immediate entourage of the Führer. Hitler surrounded himself with SS men, the principal of whom were his secretary, SS-Obergruppenführer Philipp Bouhler, and his personal adjutant, SS-Obergruppenführer Julius Schaub, both constant companions and confidants since the old Stosstrupp days. The Führer’s chief medical officer, Prof. Dr Karl Brandt, was a Gruppenführer; his personal pilot, Hans Baur, was a Brigadeführer in the RSD; and his chauffeur, Erich Kempka, was a Sturmbannführer. In addition, the majority of Hitler’s young valets and aides, including Fritz Darges, Otto Günsche, Wilhelm Krause, Heinz Linge, Hans Pfeiffer, Max Wünsche and the brothers Hans-Georg and Richard Schulze, were junior SS officers.
SS-Brigadeführer Arthur Greiser (left) and SS-Gruppenführer Albert Forster (centre) with Grossadmiral Raeder on an inspection tour in Danzig, 1939. Greiser, a former navy pilot, wears the pale-grey Allgemeine-SS uniform while Forster sports a personalised political tunic, without insignia, in his other capacity as the local NSDAP Gauleiter. Greiser, then Forster’s deputy, later became an SS-Obergruppenführer and Gauleiter of Wartheland.
As it was with the head of the party, so it was with the NSDAP itself. One of the key posts at the top of the Nazi hierarchy, that of Party Treasurer, was held by SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer Franz Xaver Schwarz, who controlled the whole financial policy of the NSDAP. Below him were three SS-Obergruppenführer: Walter Buch, the Supreme Party Judge; Max Amann, Chief of the Party Press Office; and Martin Bormann, Head of the Party Chancellery. To quote only two more examples, SS-Brigadeführer Erich Cassel was Chief of the NSDAP Racial Department, and SS-Brigadeführer Bernhard Ruberg was Deputy Gauleiter of the Foreign Section of the NSDAP, which co-ordinated all party activities abroad.
Control of access to Hitler and domination of the NSDAP by the SS could perhaps be expected, but the same penetration was also evident in the machinery of the state. Some of the most important posts in the Cabinet were held by SS generals. Obergruppenführer Dr Hans Lammers was Head of the Reich Chancellery, while Constantin Freiherr von Neurath and Joachim von Ribbentrop both served as Foreign Minister. In the various Reich Ministries, thirty-nine key positions were occupied by SS men from the ranks of Obergruppenführer down to Obersturm-bannführer. In the Foreign Office alone, ten posts were held by SS officers, including Wilhelm Keppler, Walther Hewel and Prof. Dr Werner Gerlach, who were heads of departments. Brigadeführer Kurt Freiherr von Schröder, of the Freundeskreis RfSS, and the giant Dr Alexander Freiherr von Dörnberg, Chief of Protocol, were ministerial directors. SS-Oberführer Prof. Dr Franz Six, Chief of Amt VII of the RSHA, was also Head of the Foreign Office Cultural Department. Ribbentrop is known to have fought hard to maintain the independence of the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service against the encroachments of the SD, so it is all the more significant that so many SS men held influential posts in the sphere of activity which he controlled.
SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Fiehler, Lord Mayor of Munich, unveiled the city’s Freikorps Memorial on 9 May 1942.
In view of Himmler’s position after 1943 as Reich Minister of the Interior, it was inevitable that the SS were well represented in that branch of the government. SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl of the WVHA was a ministerial director, and Obergruppenführer Dr Wilhelm Stuckart was a Secretary of State. Moreover, SS-Gruppenführer Prof. Dr Friedrich Weber, SS-Brigadeführer Dr Anton Kreissl and SS-Oberführer Hans Rüdiger were heads of departments. The special significance of the Ministry of the Interior, however, extended beyond the mere list of SS personalities holding office within it. Not only was it the central authoritative ministry in all matters concerning the home front, but from it Himmler was able to keep control of the vast German bureaucracy. The power of appointment, promotion and dismissal which he enjoyed as Minister of the Interior was one of the greatest reinforcements to its infiltration policy which the SS achieved.
Himmler in conversation with SS-Obergruppenführer Dr Hans Lammers, Head of the Reich Chancellery, who is wearing the white summer tunic. The chief administrators of the Party, the Wehrmacht and the state (Bormann, Keitel and Lammers) were known as the ‘Gang of Three’. Two of them (Bormann and Lammers) were SS generals, and so were directly under the influence of Himmler.
At Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda, the Chief of the Reich Press, Dr Otto Dietrich, was an SS-Obergruppenführer. Other SS officers of high rank included: Alfred-Ingemar Berndt, the Controller of Broadcasting; Karl Cerff, a departmental head; Dr Werner Naumann, Secretary of State for Propaganda; and Dr Toni Winkelnkemper, Head of the Foreign Broadcasting Department. As with the Foreign Office, this SS infiltration into the Propaganda Ministry was one of particular significance since Goebbels was no friend of Himmler and can scarcely have welcomed the presence of SS men among his subordinates. There is no doubt that this aspect represented a deliberate attempt by the SS to gain control of the German press and the nationwide machinery of propaganda.
At the Ministry of Labour, the Head of the Reich Inspectorate of Manpower was SS-Gruppenführer Prof. Rudolf Jung, while SS-Brigadeführer Prof. Wilhelm Börger was head of a department and SS-Oberführer Kurt Frey was Reich Inspector of Labour. In the Justice Ministry, SS-Gruppenführer Leo Petri was a member of the People’s Court and SS-Oberführer Karl Engert was a Ministerial Director. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food was headed by SS-Obergruppenführer Walther Darré until 1942, when he was succeeded by SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Backe. SS-Gruppenführer Werner Willikens was a Secretary of State at the Ministry, and SS-Obersturmbannführer Ferdinand Hiege of the Hauptamt RKF was a departmental head. The Minister of Health, Dr Leonardo Conti, was an SS-Obergruppenführer and the Ministries of Economics, Finance and Education all had their share of SS permeation. SS-Gruppenführer Dr Franz Hayler and SS-Gruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf, both important SD officials, were at the first, SS-Brigadeführer Otto Heider at the second, and SS-Standartenführer Prof. Dr Albert Holfelder at the last, to name only a sample.
In local government, the tale was the same. Provincial State Ministers and Secretaries, Presidents and Vice-Presidents of state governments, were but a few of the men whose high SS rank was not always the most publicised feature of their careers. Further down the scale, in municipal affairs, at least six cities had senior SS officers as their Lord Mayors, including the Stosstrupp veteran Karl Fiehler, Oberbürgermeister of Munich. Emil Maurice, Ulrich Graf and their Old Guard comrades were invariably installed as local city councillors, in addition to their national appointments.
SS-Obergruppenführer Dr Otto Dietrich, Chief of the Reich Press, addressing the first Congress of the Union of National Journalists’ Associations at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, 9 April 1942.
Turning to industry, Paul Körner, Secretary of State for the Four Year Plan, and Wilhelm Meinberg, Commissioner for Fuel, were both SS generals. In other spheres such as armaments, shipping, banking and the motor and textile industries, the SS was again well represented. For instance, SS-Stand-artenführer Dr August Schwedler was Director of the Reichsbank; SS-Brigadeführer Hans Kehrl was leader of the Textiles Economics Group; SS-Oberführer Jakob Werlin was Reich Inspector of Motor Traffic and Director-General of the Mercedes firm; and SS-Oberführer Rudolf Diels, first chief of the Gestapo, headed the Hermann Göring Shipping Company.
The same was true of the military aristocracy, and some parts of the SS Dienstaltersliste read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of German nobility. In addition to those mentioned elsewhere in this book, aristocratic members of the Allgemeine-SS included General Friedrich Graf von der Schulenburg, Generalmajor Anton Edler Kless von Drauwörth, Kuno Freiherr von Eltz-Rübenach, Oberst Friedrich Freiherr von der Goltz, Oberstleutnant Rolf von Humann-Hainhofen, Carl Reichsritter von Oberkamp, Wilhelm Freiherr von Holzschuher, Rittmeister Erasmus Freiherr von Malsen, Friedrich Erbgrossherzog von Mecklenburg, Carl Graf von Pückler-Burghaus, Friedrich Freiherr von Reitzenstein, Hildolf Reichsfreiherr von Thüngen, Paul Baron von Vietinghoff-Scheel, and Generalmajor Gustav Adolf von Wulffen. The list went on and on. One of the more renowned of their number during the Second World War was Oberst Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz, who won the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds while serving as an army Panzer commander on the eastern front. He was one of a mere twenty-seven recipients of the coveted decoration, and the only man ever to wear it with the black Allgemeine-SS uniform.
The widespread influence of the SS was not confined to the Reich, for in every occupied territory SS men held some of the most important administrative posts. For example, Brigadeführer Dr Wilhelm Kinkelin was leader of the Section for Colonisation Policy in Rosenberg’s Eastern Ministry. In Poland, SS-Gruppenführer Dr Otto Wächter was Governor of Galicia and SS-Gruppenführer Dr Richard Wendler Governor of the Lublin District, while two more key positions in Krakow were held by Brigadeführer Prof. Dr Heinrich Teitge and Brigadeführer Dr Harry von Craushaar. In Bohemia and Moravia, SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank was Minister of State, with Brigadeführer Dr Walther Bertsch as his Minister of Economics and Labour. In the west, Obergruppenführer Dr Werner Best was German Plenipotentiary in Denmark and Obergruppenführer Dr Arthur Seyss-Inquart was Reich Commissioner for the Netherlands. Under them were many SS officers at the head of the civil administration, and all this was in addition to the normal machinery of the SS and police set up in the conquered countries.
The realms of education, culture and charitable organisations were no more closed to the ubiquitous SS than were the high governmental circles or heavy industry. Many university professors were SS officers of high rank and SS-Gruppenführer Johannes Johst was President of both the Reich Chamber of Literature and the German Academy of Poets. SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Müller-John, bandmaster of the Leibstandarte, was on the Council of the Reich Chamber of Music. Even the German Red Cross Society, under the leadership of SS-Obergruppenführer Prof. Dr Ernst-Robert Grawitz, was permeated with SS officials. Similarly, the head of the Nazi People’s Welfare Organisation was SS-Gruppenführer Erich Hilgenfeldt, who was also in charge of the annual Winter Charities Campaign, the Winterhilfswerk. One of his close WHW colleagues, the Reich Women’s Leader Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, was the wife of SS-Obergruppenführer August Heissmeyer. The SS likewise dominated the sporting world with, for example, Standartenführer Hans Hieronymus as Secretary of the German Boxing Federation.
This SS penetration into all parts of German life was steadily achieved in two ways. Firstly, in the early days of the Nazi movement, before the SS was in a position to appoint or arrange the appointment of its own men to influential offices, the main method used was the practice of awarding honorary SS rank to important public figures. The new members felt their authority enhanced by the black uniform and semimilitary status, while Himmler secured well-placed allies bound to him by the oath of loyalty which could be backed up if necessary by the SS discipline code. Initially, there were two categories of honorary officer: the Rangführer and the Ehrenführer. The term Rangführer was used for honorary ranks up to and including Obersturmbannführer, while Ehrenführer covered Standartenführer and above. Both groups wore distinctive ivory-coloured cuff titles. After the separation of the SS from the SA in 1934, the Rangführer grade and the special insignia were abolished, and from that time there was nothing to outwardly distinguish the SS-Ehrenführer from active SS officers.
The second method of SS infiltration reached its full efficiency only after the consolidation of the Nazi régime, and was the direct promotion of SS men to high positions in the state. A marked feature of the German governmental hierarchy was the pluralism of offices held by leading SS figures, which enabled a few men to exercise a disproportionately large influence. The best example was that of Himmler himself, who eventually controlled all military, paramilitary and police forces on the home front, as well as two entire Army Groups in the field. He was able to appoint his lieutenants to correspondingly high positions in both the state and, after the July 1944 bomb plot, the Wehrmacht. By the end of 1944, SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Jüttner was Chief of Staff of the Home Army as well as being head of the SS Führungshauptamt, while SS-Gruppenführer August Frank of the WVHA and Verwaltungspolizei had also been appointed Chief of Administration for the Army High Command. That last bastion of the old traditional Germany, the army, had finally fallen to the SS.
The primary function of the SS was to protect Hitler and his régime, and it operated all the more efficiently having placed its representatives and contacts in all sections and at all levels of the society which it guarded. The part it played in preserving the general security of the Third Reich and in strengthening Himmler’s position against his rivals from within the NSDAP cannot be overemphasised. In short, there was nothing in Nazi Germany which was not political, and nothing political with which the SS was not concerned.