Waffen SS in Nazi Germany

In December, 1940 Heinrich Himmler, head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), established the Waffen SS. This new army grew rapidly and within six months grew to over 150,000 men. By October 1944 the Waffen SS had grown to over 910,000 men.

The Waffen SS had a reputation for committing war crimes in occupied territory. At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial a large number of its leaders were executed.

Waffen SS in Nazi Germany
David Low, In Occupied Territory (10th July, 1942)

© John Simkin, May 2013

Primary Sources

(1) The Manchester Guardian (16th January 1937)

Two thousand 'S.S.' (Blackshirts) have been assembled at Munich and are about to leave for Spain. The assembled 'military division' of the SS are a fully trained and equipped military formation, 30,000 or 60,000 strong, and have the value of a Regular Army. Their function in case of war is chiefly the maintenance of order at home - this, as the German authorities conceive it, is a military task, for the menace of rebellion at home is reckoned with as the accompaniment of war abroad.

The reason why SS and not Regulars (Reichswehr) are being sent to Spain would seem to be, partly at least, that they are to gain experience in street fighting. The 2,000 men have been withdrawn from various 'divisions' of the SS and tanks have been assigned to them. They are to go via Austria to Italy, and will embark for Spain at an Italian port.

There is some discontent in the SS because their men are being sent to Spain as 'volunteers'. A good deal of grumbling is heard, and some SS men have been saying that the Regulars ought to go to Spain because 'that is what they are there for'.

The fact that German troops are fighting on the side of the Spanish rebels is becoming more and more widely known in Germany, in spite of the recent official German denial that there is a single German soldier in Spain. Reports of German casualties are spreading and have, no doubt, influenced the attitude of the SS.

(2) Heinrich Himmler, speech to Schutzstaffel (SS) officers at Poznan (4th October, 1943)

In the months that have gone by since we met in June 1942 many of our comrades were killed, giving their lives for Germany and the Fuhrer. In the first rank - and I ask you to rise in his honor and in honor of all our dead SS men, soldiers, men, and women - in the first rank our old comrade and friend from our ranks, SS Lieutenant General Eicke. [The SS Gruppenfiihrers have risen from their seats.] Please be seated.

One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the SS men - we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and to nobody else. What happens to a Russian or to a Czech does not interest me in the slightest. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us. Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only so far as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise, it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an antitank ditch interests me only so far as the antitank ditch for Germany is finished. We shall never be rough and heartless when it is not necessary, that is clear. We Germans, who are the only people in the world who have a decent attitude toward animals, will also assume a decent attitude toward these human animals.

I also want to talk to you, quite frankly, on a very grave matter. Among ourselves it should be mentioned quite frankly, and we will never speak of it publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on 30 June 1934 to do the duty we were bidden and stand comrades who had lapsed up against the wall and shoot them, so we have never spoken about it and will never speak of it. It was that tact which is a matter of course and which I am glad to say, inherent in us, that made us never discuss it among ourselves, nor speak of it. It appalled everyone, and yet everyone was certain that he would do it the next time if such orders are issued and if it is necessary.

I mean the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish race. It's one of those things it is easy to talk about, "The Jewish race is being exterminated," says one party member, "that's quite clear, it's in our program-elimination of the Jews and we're doing it, exterminating them" And then they come to me, eighty million worthy Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. Of course the others are vermin, but this one is an A-1 Jew. Not one of all those who talk this way has watched it, not one of them has gone through it. Most of you must know what it means when one hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred, or one thousand. To have stuck it out and at the same time - apart from exceptions caused by human weakness - to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written, for we know how difficult we should have made it for ourselves, if with the bombing raids, the burdens and the deprivations of war we still had Jews today in every town as secret saboteurs, agitators, and troublemakers. We would now probably have reached the 1916-1917 stage when the Jews were still in the German national body.

© John Simkin, April 2013