The German SchutzStaffel, or SS, was founded in 1925 as a section of the SA, the paramilitary arm of the Nazi party, to act as a personal bodyguard for Adolf Hitler and other party elites. In 1929, Heinrich Himmler was appointed as the leader of the organization. He expanded it to become the elite force of Nazi Germany. The force was frequently used in Hitler's "final solution" and saw combat in World War II.Continue Reading
Himmler divided the SS into three distinct sections. The security section was comprised of both the SD and the Gestapo, and ruthlessly eliminated threats to Nazi power while protecting Nazi Party elites. The military section actively fought in World War II, with the elite Leibstandarte primarily on the Eastern Front and the Verfügungstruppe in the African and European theaters. The Totenkopfverbände, or SS-TK and later Waffen SS, was responsible for the administration of the concentration camps that sought to rid Germany of "undesirables" such as Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled.
Himmler dressed his soldiers in black uniforms to differentiate them from the SA, frequently referred to as "brown shirts." In 1934, the SS replaced the SA by murdering the latter's leadership in an event referred to as the Night of the Long Knives. The SS was considered an elite force, open only to individuals that could demonstrate the purest Aryan blood. Membership in the Leibstandarte was particularly stringent, requiring documented proof of pure Aryan blood dating back 150 years, a minimum height of at least 5'11'' and impeccable physical conditioning.
After the war, the SS was tasked with trying to hide the extent of the Nazi extermination camps. Many of its members committed suicide to avoid facing their crimes, with the surviving leadership tried at the Nuremburg war crimes trials. Some escaped to South America.Learn more about World War 2