Allgemeine SS

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General SS
Allgemeine SS
Flag Schutzstaffel.svg
The General SS was the administrative and non-combat part of the SS.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H08449, Quedlinburg, Heinrichs-Feier, Heinrich Himmler.jpg
Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler leads an Allgemeine-SS ceremony on the anniversary of the death of Heinrich I at Quedlinburg, July 1938
Agency overview
Formed September, 1934
Preceding agencies
Dissolved May 8, 1945
Jurisdiction Germany Germany
Occupied Europe
Headquarters SS-Hauptamt, Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, Berlin
52°30′26″N 13°22′57″E / 52.50722°N 13.38250°E / 52.50722; 13.38250
Employees 100,000 c.1940
Minister responsible
Parent agency Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Schutzstaffel
Child agencies

The Allgemeine SS ("General SS") was the most numerous branch of the Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany. It was managed by the SS-Hauptamt (English: SS Main Offices). The Allgemeine SS was officially established in the autumn of 1934 to distinguish its members from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT which later became the Waffen-SS) and the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) (concentration camp guards).

Starting in 1939, foreign units of the Allgemeine SS were raised in occupied countries. They were later consolidated into the Leitstelle der germanischen SS (English: Directing Center of the Germanic SS) from 1940.

Early years[edit]

Adolf Hitler in 1925 ordered Julius Schreck to organise the formation of a new bodyguard unit, the Schutzkommando ("Protection Command").[1][2] Hitler wanted a small group of tough ex-soldiers like Schreck, who would be loyal to him. The unit included old Stoßtrupp members like Emil Maurice and Erhard Heiden.[3][4] The unit made its first public appearance on 4 April 1925. That same year, the Schutzkommando was expanded to a national level. It was also successively renamed the Sturmstaffel ("Storm Squadron") and then finally the Schutzstaffel ("Protection Squadron"; SS) on 9 November 1925.[5] The SS was subordinated to the SA and thus a subunit of the SA and the NSDAP. It was considered to be an elite organization by both party members and the general population.

The main task of the SS was the personal protection of the Führer of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler. In 1925 the SS had only 200 active members and in 1926, only 1,000.[1][6] The numbers then fell to 280 in 1928 as the SS continued to struggle under the SA.[7] After [Heinrich Himmler]] took over the SS in January 1929, he worked to separate the SS from the SA.[8] By December 1929, the number of SS members had grown to 1,000 once again.[9] Himmler began to systematically develop and expand the SS with stricter requirements for members as well as a general purge of SS members who were identified as drunkards, criminals, or otherwise undesirable for service in the SS.

As the SS grew even further, Himmler on 29 January 1930 announced to SA leader Ernst Röhm, that:

The Schutzstaffel is growing, and will probably number 2,000 by the end of this quarter.[10] From that point on the SS would be considered, therefore, de facto independent.

By December of that same year, the SS had a membership of 3,000. Himmler now looked to another source of recruits for the SS: the SA. Many former members of Röhm's Frontbann joined the SS. In 1926 it had been specified that the SS had to subordinate itself absolutely to the SA, and with that any arbitrary action of the SS was prevented. With local recruitment, SS men owed their loyalty to the respective SA leader. However, by 1929, many SA Unterführers had already gone over to Himmler's SS. Hitler assisted Himmler in his first great victory over the SA, by decreeing on 7 November 1930: "The task of the SS is first the practice of the police service within the party. No SA leader is entitled to give instructions to the SS!"

This order split the two organizations from each other, and confirmed thereby the de jure independence of the SS from the SA.

Formation and service[edit]

After the Machtergreifung (seizure of power) by the NSDAP in January 1933, the SS began to expand into a massive organization. By the end of 1932 it included over 52,000 members.[6] By December 1933 the SS had increased to 204,000 members and Himmler ordered a temporary freeze on recruitment.[6] Himmler ordered that "no one else is taken on, from the end of 1933 to the end of 1935, who is not suited for the SS."

On 20 April 1934, Göring and Himmler agreed to put aside their differences (largely because of mutual hatred of the SA). Göring transferred control of the Gestapo to Himmler, who was also named chief of all German police forces outside Prussia; two days later Himmler named Reinhard Heydrich the head of the Gestapo.[11] The SS was further cemented when both it and the Gestapo participated in the destruction of the SA during the Night of the Long Knives from 30 June to 2 July 1934. They either killed or arrested every major SA leader – above all Ernst Röhm.[12]

Himmler was later named the chief of all German police in June, 1936.[13] Therein, the Gestapo was incorporated into the SiPo with the Kripo (Criminal Police). Heydrich was made head of the SiPo and continued as chief of the SD.[14]

In August 1934, Himmler received permission from Hitler to form a new organisation from the SS Sonderkommandos and the Politischen Bereitschaften, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT). This was a standing armed military force, which in war was to be subordinate to the Wehrmacht ("Armed Forces"), but remained under Himmler's control in times of peace and under Hitler's personal control regardless. According to this restructure, the SS now housed three different subordinate commands:

  1. Allgemeine-SS,
  2. SS-Verfügungstruppe
  3. SS-Totenkopfverbände

Himmler further conducted additional purges of the SS to exclude those deemed to be opportunists, alcoholics, homosexuals, or of uncertain racial status. This "house cleaning" removed some 60,000 SS members by December 1935. By 1939, the SS was again up to an estimated 240,000 members.[15]

By the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the SS had solidified into its final form. Correspondingly, the term "SS" could be applied to three separate organizations, mainly the Allgemeine SS, SS-Totenkopfverbände and the Waffen-SS, which until July 1940 was officially known as the SS-VT.[16][17] When the war first began, the vast majority of SS members belonged to the Allgemeine SS, but this statistic changed during the later stages of the war when the Waffen-SS opened up membership for non-Germans.[18] Further, with Himmler as Chief of the German Police, the SS also controlled the Ordnungspolizei, (the uniformed Order Police).

Hierarchy and structure[edit]

The term Allgemeine-SS referred to the "General-SS", meaning those units of the SS considered "main, regular, or standard". By 1938, the Allgemeine-SS was administratively divided into these main sections:

  • Full-time officers and members of the main SS departments, including the RSHA
  • Part-time volunteer members of SS regional units
  • SS security forces, e.g., the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo – Gestapo & Kripo) and Sicherheitsdienst (SD)
  • Concentration Camp staffs of the Totenkopfverbände
  • Reserve, honorary or otherwise inactive SS members

After World War II began, the lines between the Allgemeine-SS and the Waffen-SS became increasingly blurred, due largely to the Allgemeine-SS headquarters offices having administrative and supply command over the Waffen-SS. By 1940, all of the Allgemeine-SS had been issued grey war-time uniforms. Himmler ordered that the all-black uniforms be turned in for use by others. They were sent east where they were used by auxiliary police units and west to be used by Germanic-SS units such as the ones in the Netherlands and Denmark.[19]

Full time SS personnel[edit]

Approximately one third of the Allgemeine-SS were considered "full time" meaning that they received a salary as government employees, were employed full-time in an SS office, and performed SS duties as their primary occupation. The vast majority of such full-time SS personnel were assigned to the main SS offices, considered part of the Allgemeine-SS, and divided as follows:

Main office commanders and staff were exempt from military conscription. Although many, such as Heydrich, served as reservists in the regular German military. Main office members did join the Waffen-SS, where they could accept a lower rank and serve in active combat or be listed as inactive reservists. By 1944, with Germany's looming defeat, the draft exemption for the Allgemeine-SS main offices was lifted and many junior members were ordered into combat with senior members assuming duties as Waffen-SS generals.

SS regional units[edit]

The core of the Allgemeine-SS were part-time mustering formations spread throughout Germany. Members in these regional units would typically meet once a week in uniform, as well as participate in various Nazi Party functions. Activities including drill and ideological instruction, marching in parades, and providing security at various Nazi party rallies.

Regional SS units were organized into commands known as SS-Oberabschnitt (region), Abschnitt (district), and Standarten (regiment). Before 1934, SS personnel received no pay and their work was completely voluntarily. After 1933, the Oberabschnitt commanders and their staff became regarded as "full time" but the rank and file of the Allgemeine-SS were still part-time only.

Regular Allgemeine-SS personnel were also not exempt from conscription and many were called up to serve in the Wehrmacht. By 1942, most of the part time Allgemeine-SS had either joined the Waffen-SS or had been conscripted into the regular German military. The senior levels of the Abschnitte and Oberabschnitte were considered draft exempt, but most of these SS leaders and staff were themselves merged into the offices of the SS and Police Leaders which were considered as quasi-military commands with Waffen-SS authority, although on paper still part of the Allgemeine-SS. Draft exemption for these senior leadership staffs was itself lifted in 1944, and most of the remaining Allgemeine-SS personnel were assigned to the Waffen-SS as reservists.

Security forces[edit]

From 1936, the state security police forces of the Gestapo and Kripo (Criminal Police) were consolidated. The combined forces were folded into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo) and placed under the central command of Reinhard Heydrich, already chief of the party Sicherheitsdienst (SD).[13] Later from 27 September 1939 forward, the SD, Gestapo, and Kripo were folded into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) which was placed under Heydrich's control.[14] As a functioning state agency, the SiPo ceased to exist. The ordinary uniformed German police, known as the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) were also under SS control after 1936 but never incorporated into the Allgemeine-SS, although many police members were also dual SS members.[13]

The death squad units of the Einsatzgruppen were formed under the direction of Heydrich and operated by the SS before and during World War II. Originally part of the SiPo, in September 1939 the operational control of the Einsatzgruppen was taken over by the RSHA. When the units were re-formed prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the men of the Einsatzgruppen were recruited from the SD, Gestapo, Kripo, Orpo, civilian (SS auxiliary) and Waffen-SS.[20] All Einsatzgruppen personnel wore grey Waffen-SS type uniforms.

During World War II, security force personnel were seen as performing "essential duties" to the Reich and thus were exempt from conscription into military service. Many such personnel, however, typically joined the Waffen-SS or served in the Wehrmacht military reserve. SS-Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, for instance, was an Untersturmführer in the Waffen-SS Reserve while Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler was a Reserve Feldwebel (sergeant) in the German Army.

As Germany began losing World War II, the draft exemption for security forces was slowly lifted, although due to the nature of the Nazi regime, there was a constant need for security personnel up until the very end of the Third Reich. For this reason, many Gestapo, SD, and Kripo members who served as reservists never saw combat until the very last days of the war, if at all.

Concentration camp personnel[edit]

All Concentration Camp staffs were originally part of the Allgemeine-SS under the office of the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (Inspektion der Konzentrationslager or IKL). First headed by Theodor Eicke, the Concentration Camps were formed into the Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV) after 1934, but then increasingly became divided into the camp service proper and the military Totenkopf formation controlled by the SS-VT (the early Waffen-SS). Consequent to the escalation of World War II, the SS-Totenkopfverbände began an even larger expansion of the concentration camp system, one that developed into three branches covering each type of camp the SS operated.[21]

After 1942, the entire camp service was placed under the authority of the Waffen-SS for a variety of administrative and logistical reasons. The ultimate command authority for the camp system during World War II was the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (WHVA). By 1944, with the concentration camps fully integrated with the Waffen-SS and under the control of the WVHA, a standard practice developed to rotate SS members in and out of the camps, based on manpower needs and also to give assignments to wounded Waffen-SS officers and soldiers who could no longer serve in front-line combat.[22] This rotation of personnel is the main argument that nearly the entire SS knew of the concentration camps, and what actions were committed within, making the entire organization liable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.[23]

Other units[edit]

By late 1940 the Allgemeine-SS also controlled the Germanische SS, which were collaborationist organizations modeled after the Allgemeine-SS in several Western European countries.

The Allgemeine-SS also consisted of a female volunteer corps (known as the SS-Helferinnen). Members were assigned to a wide variety of activities such as administrative staff, supply support personnel, and female guards at concentration camps.[24] Himmler set up the Reichsschule für SS Helferinnen at Oberenheim in 1942 to train a corps of women who, among other things, were taught Nazi ideology, specialist communications, "mother schooling", and fitness. Female administrators and those who obtained leadership within the SS were placed in commanding positions, particularly within the concentration camp system where they gained unprecedented power as a revered and uniformed member of the Nazi government.[25] Like their male equivalents in the SS, female members, whether in integrated environments where they worked as clerical assistants or in places like Ravensbrück concentration camp where they predominated as guards, participated in atrocities against Poles, Jews, and others in the process of making mass murder a standard operating procedure in the Nazi regime.[25]


The ranks of the Allgemeine SS and the Waffen-SS were based upon those of the SA and used the same titles. However, there was a distinctly separate hierarchical subdivisions of the larger Waffen-SS from its general-SS counterpart and an SS member could in fact hold two separate SS ranks. For instance, a Brigadeführer ("brigadier general") of the Allgemeine SS[26] might only be ranked as a Rottenführer ("lance corporal") in the Waffen-SS. If this same SS member were an architectural engineer, then the SS-HA would issue a third rank of Sonderführer ("Lead Technical Specialist").

SS members could also hold reserve commissions in the regular military as well as a Nazi Party political rank. Add to this that many senior SS members were also employees of the Reich government in capacities as ministers, deputies, etc., and an SS member could in the end have as many as five ranks in various organizations as well as a number of additional titles. Per one SS historian:

Multiple and overlapping commands were very commonplace... A man could hold one post while temporarily assigned to another and hold rank in the Allgemeine-SS, Waffen-SS and Polizei simultaneously... I'm thoroughly convinced even Berlin was not 100% sure who was in certain positions at exact points in time, confirmed by individual BDC records. – Mark Yerger, Allgemeine-SS [27]

In 1944, nearly every SS general was granted equivalent Waffen-SS rank, without regard to previous military service. This was mainly ordered so to give SS-generals authority over military units and POW camps. Also, in the event of capture by the Allies, SS-Generals would be given status as military prisoners rather than captured police officials. This distinction was observed by British and American forces in the West, but hardly ever even noticed by the Soviet Red Army, in particular in situations where SS and Police Leaders or other SS units involved in genocide, would fall into Soviet hands. Friedrich Jecklen, who was granted Waffen-SS rank in 1944, was captured by the Russians and held as a criminal with no status given to his military rank.

Total manpower[edit]

In 1944, the stated membership estimate for the SS was 800,000 and by 1945 some membership estimates rise up to one million.[28] The majority of the members by 1945 were in the Waffen-SS, which had grown from three regiments to over 38 divisions during World War II, and served alongside the Heer (regular army) but was never formally part of it.[28]

Order of battle[edit]

The mustering formations of part-time SS members, considered before 1938 to be the core of the Allgemeine-SS, were maintained in their own order of battle, beginning with regiment sized Standarten units and extending upwards to division strength Oberabschnitte commands. Within the Allgemeine-SS Standarten there were in turn subordinate battalions of Sturmbann themselves divided into company Sturme.

For most rank and file members of the Allgemeine-SS, the Sturm level was the highest which the ordinary SS member would typically associate with. The Sturm itself was further divided into platoon sized Truppen (sometimes known as Zug) which were in turn divided into squad sized Scharen. For larger Allgemeine-SS commands, the Scharen would be further dividied into Rotte which were the Allgemeine-SS equivalent of a fire team.

It was the ultimate aim of Heinrich Himmler to merge the Allgemeine-SS units into the police and security forces of the Third Reich, thus creating formations known as Staatsschutzkorps which would serve to enforce Nazi Doctrine as well as provide homeland police services. In the concept of the Lebensraum, Himmler had even grander visions with plans to build twenty eight SS cities in the conquered lands of Russia. These lands would be overseen by SS-Lords, militarily guarded by the Waffen-SS, and worked and lived on by "Peasant warriors" of the Allgemeine-SS. As Germany was defeated in World War II, Himmler's dream were never realized although the construction of the Wewelsburg SS fortress was seen as a possible first step.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Lumsden 2002, p. 14.
  2. ^ Weale 2010, p. 26.
  3. ^ Weale 2010, pp. 16, 26.
  4. ^ McNab 2009, pp. 10, 11.
  5. ^ Weale 2010, pp. 26, 27, 29.
  6. ^ a b c McNab 2009, p. 16.
  7. ^ Weale 2010, pp. 32, 33.
  8. ^ Weale 2010, pp. 45–47.
  9. ^ Weale 2012, p. 49.
  10. ^ Höhne 1992, pp. 56, 57.
  11. ^ Williams 2001, p. 61.
  12. ^ Hildebrand 1984, pp. 13–14.
  13. ^ a b c Williams 2001, p. 77.
  14. ^ a b Lumsden 2002, p. 83.
  15. ^ Snyder 1994, p. 330.
  16. ^ Stein 1984, p. 23.
  17. ^ Flaherty 2004, p. 156.
  18. ^ Lumsden 1993, p. 24.
  19. ^ Lumsden 2002, p. 56.
  20. ^ Longerich 2010, p. 185.
  21. ^ Wachsmann 2015, pp. 196–198.
  22. ^ Reitlinger 1989, p. 265.
  23. ^ Stein 1984, pp. 258–263.
  24. ^ Schwarz 1997, pp. 223–244.
  25. ^ a b Lower 2013, p. 109.
  26. ^ equivalent to a generalmajor
  27. ^ Yerger, p. 10. Yerger attempted to list all HSSPF, SSPF, Oberabschnitt, Abschnitt, and Standarten of the SS, plus maps, photos, and mini-biographies. The BDC (the Berlin Document Center) a US managed collection of captured Nazi documents in Berlin, was one of his sources. The collection is now part of the German Bundesarchiv.
  28. ^ a b McNab 2009, pp. 56, 57, 66.


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  • Hildebrand, Klaus (1984). The Third Reich. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-0494-3033-5. 
  • Hoehne, Heinz (1992) [1969]. Der Orden unter dem Totenkopf, Weltbild-Verlag. ISBN 3-89350-549-0
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  • Stein, George H. (1984). The Waffen SS: Hitler's Elite Guard at War, 1939–1945. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-9275-0. 
  • Wachsmann, Nikolaus (2015). KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-37411-825-9. 
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Further reading[edit]