Reichsführer-SS (help·info) was a special SS rank that existed between the years of 1925 and 1945. Reichsführer-SS was a title from 1925 to 1933 and, after 1934, the highest rank of the German Schutzstaffel (SS). The SS saw its largest growth during the tenure of Heinrich Himmler who also had this position longer than all others combined.
Reichsführer-SS was both a title and a rank. The title of Reichsführer was first created in 1926 by Joseph Berchtold. Berchtold's predecessor, Julius Schreck, never referred to himself as Reichsführer, but the title was retroactively applied to him in later years. In 1929, Heinrich Himmler became Reichsführer-SS and referred to himself by his title instead of his regular SS rank. This set the precedent for the commander of the SS to be called Reichsführer-SS.
In 1934, Himmler's title became an actual rank after the Night of the Long Knives. From that point on, Reichsführer-SS became the highest rank of the SS and was considered on paper the equivalent of a Generalfeldmarschall in the German army. However as Himmler's position and authority grew in Nazi Germany, so did his rank in a "de facto" sense. Further there was never more than one Reichsführer-SS at any one time, with Himmler holding the position as his personal title from 1929 (becoming his actual rank in 1934) until April 1945.
As highest-ranking officer of the SS, the holder of this position in effect held several roles and wielded an enormous amount of personal power. The Reichsführer-SS was responsible for all internal security within the Third Reich. He also had at his command the military force of the Waffen-SS which grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions and served alongside the German army, but was never formally part of it. Further, the Reichsführer-SS was overseer of the concentration camps, extermination camps (through the Concentration Camps Inspectorate and SS-TV), and Einsatzgruppen (through the RSHA). Because Nazi Germany developed into a dictatorship, his influence on both civil and foreign policy became marked, as the Reichsführer reported directly to Hitler and his actions were not tempered by democratic means. This meant the office holder could implement broad policy such as the Final Solution, or order criminal acts such as the Stalag Luft III murders, without impediment.
It is difficult to define precisely the full detailed duties and responsibilities of the Reichsführer-SS beyond that of leader and senior member of the SS, since, in the words of one historian, "(b)y the outbreak of the (Second World) war it would have been impossible to define exactly the role within the state" of the entire SS itself.
Office holders 
In all, five people held the title of Reichsführer-SS during the twenty years of its existence. Three persons held the position as a title while two held the actual SS rank.
- Julius Schreck (1925–1926)
- Joseph Berchtold (1926–1927)
- Erhard Heiden (1927–1929)
- Heinrich Himmler (1929–1945)
- Karl Hanke (1945)
In popular culture 
The rank of Reichsführer-SS has also appeared in fiction with the following some of the more notable examples:
- In the Robert Harris novel Fatherland, set in a parallel history where Germany won the Second World War, Reinhard Heydrich is depicted as having been promoted to the rank of the Reichsführer-SS, after Himmler was mysteriously killed in a plane crash in 1962. While the novel dealt with Heydrich's assumption of the rank at some length, the HBO film adaptation gives little reference to this. In the film, the only indication of Heydrich as the Reichsführer-SS is a quick three-second shot of a non-speaking extra (intended to be Heydrich), seen wearing a grey SS uniform standing on a VIP-platform with several German generals.
- The Star Trek episode Patterns of Force depicts an alien planet where a historian has recreated Nazi Germany in an attempt to form a benign fascist government marked by efficiency without sadism. In the episode, during a speech given by John Gill, the Federation historian turned Führer, a top SS general is seen wearing the complete uniform and insignia of the Reichsführer-SS. This character is not given a name in the episode, nor does he speak any dialogue. The Star Trek Reichsführer was portrayed by actor Frank da Vinci.
- Himmler appears as Reichsführer-SS, visiting a conquered Britain in November 1941, in the Len Deighton alternate history novel SS-GB.
- In Harry Turtledove's novel Colonization: Second Contact Himmler is depicted as succeeding Hitler as Führer, and continuing to rule Nazi Germany in the 1960s. Reinhard Heydrich succeeds Himmler as Reichsführer-SS.
- In another of Harry Turtledove's novels In the Presence of Mine Enemies, one of the antagonists is the Reichsführer-SS Lothar Prützmann, who attempts to overthrow the new Führer, Heinz Buckliger.
- The Reichsführer-SS (Heinrich Himmler) appears in the film The Aryan Couple (2004).
- McNab 2009, pp. 9, 17, 26-27, 30, 46-47.
- McNab 2009, pp. 9, 17.
- McNab 2009, pp. 9, 35-36, 46-47, 61, 64, 66-70.
- McNab 2009, pp. 9, 35-36, 46-47.
- It is difficult to separate the office from the duties assigned to the individual. As of 20 April 1934, Himmler in his position of Reichsführer-SS already controlled the SD and Gestapo. On 17 June 1936 Himmler was named chief of all German police thereby placing all uniformed (Orpo) and criminal (Kripo) police in Germany under his control, as well. McNab (2009), pp. 9, 46-47. It is not clear how much of this power would technically reside in the office of the Reichsführer-SS were those duties to be split up. As noted in, The SS (Time-Life, pp. 70-73.), "Himmler...was now the head of two important, separate organizations - the SS and the national police (emphasis added)." Much of his power and influence as Reichsführer-SS resided from control of the police, duties separate, yet linked.
- Windrow (1982). The Waffen-SS, p. 7.
- McNab 2009, pp. 16, 17.
- Flaherty, T. H. (1988). The Third Reich: The SS. Time-Life Books, Inc. ISBN 0-8094-6950-2.
- McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945. Amber Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-906626-49-5.
- Windrow, Martin (1982). The Waffen-SS, Osprey Publishing Ltd., ISBN 0-85045-425-5
Der Führer (as Head of State)