The General SS was the administrative and non-combat part of the SS.
Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler leads an Allgemeine-SS ceremony on the anniversary of the death of Heinrich I at Quedlinburg, July 1938
|Dissolved||May 8, 1945|
|Headquarters||SS-Hauptamt, Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, Berlin
The Allgemeine SS (General SS) was the most numerous branch of the Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany, and it was managed by the SS Main Office (SS-Hauptamt). The Allgemeine SS was officially established in the autumn of 1934 to distinguish its members from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS Dispositional Troops or SS-VT) which later became the Waffen-SS, and the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS Death's Head Units or SS-TV) which managed the Nazi concentration camps.
Starting in 1939, foreign units of the Allgemeine SS were raised in occupied countries. From 1940 they were consolidated into the Directorate of the Germanic-SS (Leitstelle der germanischen SS). When the war first began, the vast majority of SS members belonged to the Allgemeine SS, but this proportion changed during the later years of the war after the Waffen-SS opened up membership to ethnic Germans and non-Germans.
Adolf Hitler in 1925 ordered Julius Schreck to organise the formation of a new bodyguard unit, the Schutzkommando ("Protection Command"). 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. 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. 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, it ended the year with the same number. There were 280 members in 1928 as the SS continued to struggle under the SA. After Heinrich Himmler took over the SS in January 1929, he worked to separate the SS from the SA. By December 1929, the number of SS members had grown to 1,000. 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. Himmler's ultimate aim was to turn the SS into the most powerful organization in Germany and most influential branch of the party. By 1930 Himmler had persuaded Hitler to run the SS as a separate organisation, although it was officially still subordinate to the SA.
Formation and service
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. By December 1933 the SS increased to 204,000 members and Himmler ordered a temporary freeze on recruitment.
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. 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.
Himmler was later named the chief of all German police in June, 1936. Therein, the Gestapo was incorporated with the Kripo (Criminal Police) into sub-branches of the SiPo. Heydrich was made head of the SiPo and continued as chief of the SD.
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:
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.
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. 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. Further, with Himmler as Chief of the German Police, the SS also controlled the uniformed Ordnungspolizei (Order Police).
Hierarchy and structure
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.
Full time SS personnel
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 that were considered part of the Allgemeine-SS. By 1942, these main offices managed all activities of the SS and were divided as follows:
- Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab Reichsführer-SS (Personal Staff of the Reich Leader SS; HaPerStab)
- SS-Hauptamt (Main Administrative Office; SS-HA)
- SS-Führungshauptamt (SS Main Operational Office; SS-FHA)
- Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office; RSHA)
- Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt (Economic and Administration Main Office; SS-WVHA)
- Ordnungspolizei Hauptamt (Main Office of the Order Police)
- Hauptamt SS-Gericht (Main Office of SS Legal Matters; HA SS-Gericht)
- SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (SS Office of Race and Settlement; RuSHA)
- SS-Personalhauptamt (SS Personnel Main Office; SS PHA)
- Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (Racial German Assistance Main Office; VOMI)
- SS-Schulungsamt (SS Education Office)
- Hauptamt Reichskommissar für die Festigung Deutschen Volkstums (Main Office of the Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of German Nationhood; RKFDV)
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
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 meaning "SS-Senior Sector" responsible for commanding a (region), which were subordinate to the SS-HA; SS-Abschnitt (SS-Sector) was the next lower level of command, responsible for administrating a (District); Standarten (regiment), which were the basic units of the Allgemeine-SS. 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.
In 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). 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. 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.
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. In September 1939, they operated in territories occupied by the German armed forces following the invasion of Poland. Men for the units were drawn from the SS, the SD, and the police. Originally part of the SiPo, in late 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 drawn from the SD, Gestapo, Kripo, Orpo, civilian (SS auxiliary) and Waffen-SS. All Einsatzgruppen personnel wore grey Waffen-SS type uniforms.
During World War II, security force personnel were deemed 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 in 1945. 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
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.
As the Nazi regime became more oppressive, the concentration camp system grew in size and lethal operation, and grew in scope as the economic ambitions of the SS intensified. Intensification of the killing operations took place in late 1941 when the SS began construction of stationary gassing facilities to replace the use of Einsatzgruppen for mass killings. Victims at these new extermination camps were killed with the use of carbon monoxide gas from automobile engines. During Operation Reinhard, run by officers from the Totenkopfverbände, who were sworn to secrecy, three death camps were built in occupied Poland: Bełżec (operational by March 1942), Sobibór (operational by May 1942), and Treblinka (operational by July 1942). On Himmler's orders, by early 1942 the concentration camp at Auschwitz was greatly expanded to include the addition of gas chambers, where victims were killed using the pesticide Zyklon B.
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) under Oswald Pohl. 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. 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.
The Allgemeine-SS also consisted of the SS-Frauenkorps was an auxiliary reporting and clerical unit, which included the SS-Helferinnenkorps (Women Helper Corps), made up of female volunteers. Members were assigned as administrative staff and supply personnel, and served in command positions and as guards at women's concentration camps in places such as Ravensbrück concentration camp. Like their male equivalents in the SS, females participated in atrocities against Jews, Poles, and others.
In 1942, Himmler set up the Reichsschule für SS Helferinnen (Reich school for SS helpers) in Oberehnheim to train women in communications so that they could free up men for combat roles. Himmler also intended to replace all female civilian employees in his service with SS-Helferinnen members, as they were selected and trained according to NSDAP ideology. The school was closed on 22 November 1944 due to the Allied advance.
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, in 1940 Hermann Fegelein held the Allgemeine SS rank of a Standartenführer (full colonel), yet was only ranked a Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) in the Waffen-SS. If this same SS member were an architectural engineer, then the SS-Hauptamt would issue a third rank of SS-Sonderführer.
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 (Berlin Document Center) records.
In 1944, nearly every SS general was granted equivalent Waffen-SS rank, without regard to previous military service. This was ordered so to give SS-generals authority over military units and POW camps and apparently to try to provide potential protection under the Hague Convention rules of warfare. 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.
In 1944, the stated membership estimate for the SS was 800,000. The Waffen-SS had approximately 600,000 of those members in their ranks. The Waffen-SS 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. In comparison, by the end of the war the Allgemeine-SS only had a little over 40,000 men still in its ranks.
Order of battle
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.
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