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(Schutzstaffel, “security echelon”), an elite paramilitary organization in fascist Germany. The origins of the SS go back to May 1923, when Hitler’s escort was formed from members of the SA (Sturmabteilung; known in English as Storm Troopers) devoted to Hitler. In November 1923 this group, together with the Nazi Party and the SA, was disbanded for participation in an attempted coup (the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich 1923). The SS proper, originally intended to protect the führer and safeguard fascist meetings, was organized in November 1925. In 1926 it was made subordinate to the leadership of the newly legalized SA.
In 1929, Hitler appointed H. Himmler Reichsführer (head) of the SS. Himmler was given the task of turning the SS into an elite corps for the extermination of “traitors” within the SA and the Nazi Party. Those chosen for the SS were SA members who were fanatically devoted to the führer, of fully acceptable racial background (of “Aryan origins” dating back to the late 18th century), and physically strong.
The command staff of the SS had its own special ranks, including Scharführer (platoon or section leader), Sturmführer (company commander), and Sturmbannführer (battalion commander). The SS grew from 280 members in 1929 to 52,000 by the time the fascists came to power in January 1933. Together with the SA, the SS took part in bloody massacres of communists and members of other progressive organizations in Germany at the time of the burning of the Reichstag (February 1933) and on other occasions.
On the night of June 29, 1934, on orders from Hitler, the SS purged the opposition leaders in the SA and thereafter became a separate organization, serving as one of the chief bulwarks of the fascist regime and the principal weapon of the Nazi Party’s terrorist and inhuman policies.
In 1934 specialized SS units were created: the Totenkopfver-bände (Death’s-head units), which numbered 30,000 by early 1945 and were placed in charge of the concentration camps and the extermination of inmates, and the special-purpose SS-Verfügungstruppen. In November 1939 the latter were renamed the Waffen SS (SS Troops). In the course of World War II, the SS troops increased from four regiments (18,000 men) in 1939 to 38 divisions (approximately 950,000 men) in December 1944. The Waffen SS, crack storm units (including eight panzer and eight motorized divisions) of the ground forces of fascist Germany, displayed fanaticism and extreme cruelty both behind their own lines and at the front.
Another component of the SS was the SD (Sicherheitsdienst, “security service”). Created in 1931 by Himmler’s aide R. Heydrich to spy on members of the SS and the Nazi Party, it later became the chief organ of intelligence and counterintelligence in fascist Germany.
As the SS developed, it merged with the state apparatus of fascist Germany. In September 1939 the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; Reich Central Security Office) was formed within the SS system and was given control of the SD, the Gestapo (political police), and the criminal police. In November 1939 the Gestapo and criminal police were made part of the SS.
In 1943 the SS Reichsführer, having become minister of internal affairs, gained full control over the entire punitive terrorist apparatus in Germany and the occupied territories. He relied on regional and district SS leaders within Germany and on higher SS and police commanders in the occupied territories.
Four Einsatzgruppen—A, B, C, and D—each having 800 to 1,200 members, were formed in May 1941 to conduct a campaign of terror in the USSR. They carried out mass extermination of Soviet citizens with the help of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS.
After the defeat of fascist Germany, the SS was declared illegal and was condemned as a criminal organization of German fascism by the International War Tribunal at Nuremberg.
REFERENCES55 v deistvii: Dokumenty o prestupleniiakh SS. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from German.)
Calic, E. Himmler et son empire. Paris, 1966.
E. N. KUL’KOV