SS and SD

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SS AND SD (ss – Schutzstaffeln , "Protection Squad"; sd – Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsfuehrers ss , "Security Service of the Reichsfuehrer ss"), Nazi order that executed the "*Final Solution" (see also *Holocaust: General Survey) and other acts of mass and individual terror committed by the Nazis in Europe. The organization from its inception was connected with the idea of the "security" of the leader, and grew up as a racial elite formation around the myth of *Hitler the Fuehrer and his "mission."

The ss was originally a select group of bodyguards charged with protecting Hitler and the Nazi elite. It was set apart from other Nazi organizations by its distinctive black shirts, and eventually adopted the insignia of the death's-head. Its first leader was Jules Schreck, a personal body guard and chauffeur to Hitler. Other local party groups established similar means of protection, which were used not only defensively but offensively. The ss participated in the 1923 Munich Putsch and was outlawed together with the Nazi Party for a short time afterward.

In 1929, Heinrich *Himmler was appointed Reichsfuehrer-ss (rfss), and as the party expanded he transformed the ss into a racial elite formation. From several hundred members in 1929, it expanded to some 50,000 by 1932 before Hitler came to power. In 1931, two years before the Nazis came to power, Himmler set up an intelligence service exclusively for the ss, headed by Reinhard *Heydrich: the Sicherheitsdienst (sd). The sd assisted in keeping an eye on deviators in the party, but at the time the Nazis rose to power it was still only a skeleton organization. He also established the Race and Settlement Office (rhsha) to protect the racial purity of the ss. Special emphasis was placed on loyalty and disciplined appearance in uniforms, and racial criteria were established for membership, including an Aryan appearance and a registry of ancestors, including those of wives. The ss attracted and recruited people of a higher social class than the sa (storm troops). The ss was divided along military lines model into platoons, companies, and regiments. Its distinctive black uniform was first used in 1932.

When Hitler took power, Himmler began to attain control over all the internal security organs of Germany. Within a year the ss increased fourfold and Himmler consolidated his power. Beginning as the commander of the Bavarian political police, he soon took over the political police of other German states, and in 1934 the *Gestapo, the secret political police of Prussia. In 1934, the ss led the assault against Ernst Rohm and the sa and destroyed it decisively. In July 1934 after the assault, the ss became independent of the sd within the party. Afterwards there were no potential rivals to its power and its status rose.

The ss, the political police, and the concentration camps acted as a three-fold system devised to shadow the enemies of the regime and intern or destroy them politically or physically. Of particular importance was the vesting of the authority over concentration camps in the ss system and not subordinated to government authority, thus constituting what became known as the ss-state. In the process of differentiation of special tasks of the ss, special units were established, such as ss Totenkopfverbaende (Death's Head Units) to guard the concentration camps and ss Verfuegungstruppe, which served as a nucleus of the armed (Waffen) ss.

In 1936, Himmler became head of the entire German police, as the Reichsfuhrer ss and Chef der Deutschen Polizei im Ministerium des Innern. Himmler created a series of homes for wives of the ss men and single mothers to breed the master race – Lebensborn, the Well of Life. The Ancestral Heritage Society tried to document the superiority of the master race. The ss was envisioned by Himmler as the paradigm of the master race, the core of its future development.

Until World War ii

By the time World War ii broke out (1939), the ss numbered hundreds of thousands of members and millions of helpers. The duplication and competitiveness of the departments in the complicated, vast ss administration were intentional. To control the administration of both state and party functions, Himmler set up a field organization of ss and higher police leaders (Hoehere ss – und Polizeifuehrer – hsspf). A nucleus of ss men engaged in work abroad, including intelligence work against future victims of Germany, and, last but not least, the "mobile killing units" (the Einsatzgruppen), which followed along with the Wehrmacht to the occupied countries to deal with "internal security matters."

Some ambitious younger men, including Adolf *Eichmann, Dieter Wisliceny, and Herbert Hagen, became experts in the Jewish question. Section ii/112 of the sd began dealing with classifying world Jewry and its institutions according to the German organizational tables, studied Jewish literature and newspapers, and spied on Jewish leaders and organizations, in the full belief that the Jews had a worldwide intelligence service. The sd also began pressing to speed up Jewish emigration by all means and sought to work out practical ways to do so. One suggestion was to incite and organize riots such as the *Kristallnacht, carried out two years later. The annexation of Austria in March 1938 permitted the sd executive initiative to establish (through Eichmann) the *Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung in Vienna, the first compulsory Jewish emigration center. Eichmann personally supervised the registration of Jews and expropriation of their property prior to their emigration. This first initiative led to the establishment of similar offices in the Protectorate of Bohemia–Moravia and in Germany itself. Eichmann headed the centers, and the director of the Gestapo, Heinrich *Mueller, acted as the chief supervisor. Thus the sd became an executive arm alongside the Gestapo, and finally the two authorities, the sd and the Gestapo, were united under the ss reorganization scheme in November 1939.

The ss organization now split up into main offices (Hauptaemter), among which the most important were the *rsha – Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt); wvha – Main Office for Economy and Administration (Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt); and rusha – Main Office for Race and Settlement (Rasseund Siedlungshauptamt). The rsha, which was essentially a combination of the security police and the sd, was given charge over internal security, the liquidation of enemies in the first stages of conquest by the Germans, and the dispatch of prisoners to camps. The prisoners were subordinate to the wvha, on a combined ideological and "economic" base. The wvha exploited the prisoners in the giant ss enterprises and in private German enterprises, while life in the camps and the work itself were functionally organized to bring about the physical "neutralization" or decimation of many of them. The wvha also carried out pseudo-medical experiments on human beings on orders given by "scientific and research" institutes of the ss and by Himmler, who wished to establish proofs for his racial concepts.

With the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the ss attained almost sole responsibility for the Jews of Poland. The security police and sd, together with the regular police, interned the Jews in ghettos, deprived them of all their means, and starved them. To reduce all the Jews to the same level in the uniform repression scheme, *Judenraete were set up to assume direct and personal collective responsibility for the Jews, with the German authorities in charge. In the rsha, several suggestions for a radical "Solution of the Jewish Question" were made during 1940, including the concentration of Jews in a "reservation" in Poland or their dispatch to Madagascar (see *Madagascar Plan). Historians have come to view local initiatives to deal with the local problem of Jews as an essential component of what later developed into the "Final Solution." Many emphasize the functionalist approach, with the destruction of Jews being a priority in solving a local problem, the apparatus of destruction evolving locally before being centralized and implemented throughout the German-controlled areas. Meanwhile, the invasion of Soviet Russia was in the offing. It commenced on June 22, 1941. Hitler decided that in the final stage of the "struggle for the vast Lebensraum in the East," the Jews of Russia and the Baltic states along with gypsies and Soviet commissars should be murdered by ss Einsatzgruppen with the cooperation of the army and the civil occupying administration. The Einsatzgruppen were divided into Einsatzkommandos (assault commando units) and Sonderkommandos (special commando units).

The "Final Solution."

The killing of Jews evolved in stages. First the mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen, went into towns and villages captured by the Wehrmacht and alone or together with local gendarmeries, and native antisemites assembled the Jews, confiscated their possessions, and murdered them one by one, town by town, village by village. After the murder of several hundred thousand Jews in the East by execution, gas vans were developed by the ss personnel on the ground, using retrofitted trucks. Many of these initiatives were taken locally, but this process proved to be too public, disquieting for inhabitants of conquered territories, and psychologically difficult for the killers. Thus a new mode of achieving the "Final Solution" (a camouflage term – see *Nazi-Deutsch) of the "Jewish Question" in all of Europe was initiated. The rsha, with Eichmann as its Jewish expert and Mueller as the chief executor, was in charge of the dispatch of Jews to the death camps. The extermination centers differed from the older concentration camps as the former were constructed to deal with the immediate mass murder of the arrivals under the direction of the wvha. A gigantic network was organized for the mass-scale plundering of property and possessions of the murdered, and for exploiting the victims' clothing, hair, and gold teeth. Not infrequently, concentration camps were set up alongside the death camps for exploiting the condemned for slave labor until the inmates, suffering from starvation and maltreatment, were "selected" for the gas chambers for automatized murder run by the ss technicians. Through its various agents, of which the ss was chief, the German occupiers compelled the various Judenraete in the ghettos to supply them with batches of victims for the death chambers and, until the ghettos' liquidation, with slave laborers for German industry. Throughout, the goal of utilizing Jewish labor by economic arms of the ss was at odds with the overriding goal of the "Final Solution" – the killing of the Jews. Dead Jews could not work. The ghettos were steadily reduced, until the final liquidation of all their inhabitants at the end of 1943 (with Lodz, the most notable exception). The use of camouflaged language and the dispatch of Jews in varying stages and by different bodies – sometimes by the rsha and sometimes by the security police commanders (all of which were part of the ss and served one aim) – helped to keep in check any possible revolt or resistance by the Jews. In the Western countries and satellite states of the Reich, the ss maintained experts whose task was to dispatch the Jews.

The organizational principles that aided Himmler in his first steps turned the ss finally into a monster organization with millions of officials and soldiers with thousands of multiple and duplicate functions. In 1943 Himmler, the Reichsfuehrer ss, also became minister of the interior of the Reich, and in 1944 he drafted many foreigners to the legions of the Waffen-ss, including members of those considered by Nazi ideology to be of "inferior races." The attempts in 1939–41 of the ss to solve by mass extermination such problems as the existence of mentally ill and retarded children in German society, or its war against the churches, failed largely due to protests among the German public. But the murder of Jews, gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, and members of "inferior peoples" was carried out without inhibition and virtually without protest. At the end of 1944, Himmler, as commander of the reserves and battlefront, retreated from the "Final Solution." He apparently still believed that the Jews under his control could be used as a bargaining chip to divide the Allies and forge a separate peace with the United States and Great Britain against the Soviet Union. He presumed that the Allies would accept his ss organization as an instrument of order and security in Germany. However, the Allies condemned the ss at the Nuremburg trials as a criminal organization and sentenced some of its heads to death. Many others were sentenced to severe punishments, but received amnesty. From the 1960s, the German judiciary dealt with the subsidiary organizations of the ss in a series of trials.


G. Reitlinger, ss, Alibi of a Nation (1956); H. Hoehne, The Order of Death's Head: The Story of Hitler's ss (1969); H. Krausnick, et al., Anatomy of the ss State (1968); S. Aronson, Reinhard Heydrich und die Fruehgeschichte von Gestapo und sd (1970); E. Neusuess-Hunkel, Die ss (1956); L. Stein, Die Waffen-ss (1965); E. Kogon, The Theory and Practice of Hell (19602); A. Bullock, Hitler, a Study in Tyranny (19622), index. add. bibliography: R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1961, 1985, 2003).

[Shlomo Aronson /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]