So, I recently realized I am an ignorant American, and don't know anything really about WWII beyond what you can get from Axis and Allies and Casablanca. Specifically, I don't know anything about the SS other then that they wear leather and I think they were Nazis. My big questions: How does one normally join the SS, and what do they do?
The SS started out as Hitler's personal bodyguard when the Nazi party was just beginning. The Nazi party at that time was growing at a phenomenal rate, and the leadership was funneling these new members into paramilitary organizations like the SS and the Stormtroopers.
A little digression here: The best way to explain the sheer preposterousness of the Nazi rise to power, and the role of the SS in it, is through analogy. Imagine if the Republican Party decided to organize its membership into its own private army. The NRA, absorbed into the Party, armed and trained Party members into an actual combat organization that marched through the streets. The Party also developed its own Republican Protective Force (RPF), dedicated to protecting the life of the Party's Leader (Pat Robertson).
Now imagine that the Party gained control of the White House and both houses of Congress through a fair and democratic election. Congress passes a resolution instituting martial law (even though America is not at war) and gives the Leader dictatoral powers. The Leader outlaws other political powers, making America an official Republican State. Elections are suspended. The Supreme Court and Congress are disbanded. The regular military is absorbed into the Republican Army, and the armed forces take oaths of fealty to the Leader personally. The RPF, in an effort to ingratiate itself with the Leader and expand its power, murders in cold blood all high-level Republicans who either appear politically moderate or potential rivals to the Leader.
Also, the RPF begins to round up "criminals" such as the Democrats and Green Party leadership and sends them to prison camps. The Party also declares that non-Protestant Christians (particularly Mormons and Hispanic Catholics) are no longer citizens and are not protected under the law. Shortly after that, the RPF organizes the new holiday of English Language Day, where the public is encouraged to break the windows of stores displaying Spanish-language signs, and to "take the streets" back from Hispanic thugs and drug-dealers. The RPF organizes in each major city an Segregated Zone, roughly six square city blocks, in which these undesirables are forced to live ("for their own protection"). Later, residents of these Segregated Zones are relocated wholesale to RPF-operated "Conversion Camps" and never heard from again.
Needless to say, political dissent in America is a risky proposition. The RPF has long since absorbed the CIA, the FBI, DEA, all state law-enforcement agencies and the "real" secret service. (The DIA and other purely military intelligence organizations, on the other hand, are left alone due to territorial squabbles.) The resources of these agencies is turned, in large part, to squashing dissent and rooting out non-citizen undesirables.
Most of this has been taking place out of the public eye. Newspapers print exactly what the Republican Party tells them to publish, and Mr. and Mrs. White Suburban America are inundated with messages that Everything is Just Fine. The RPF has also been developing an image as clean-cut, honest, well-scrubbed, all-American boys. The RPF actively seeks exposure in the public eye by prominent placement of its agents at social events. Bill Gates and Kevin Costner are given honorary agent-ship, along with several other prominent businessmen and celebrities. RPF Agents accompany Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman to the Oscars, and soon no social gala is complete without a few RPF Agents as escorts or window-dressing. RPF Agent, along with astronaut and fireman, become the profession that every little boy and girl dreams of, and young people apply en masse. The RPF, however, selects only the elite and most fanatic, after a thorough investigation to ensure that the applicant has only a purely Baptist or Fundamentalist lineage. The schools are of course run according to a Republican-approved curriculum, and the RPF even goes so far as to set up special academies of its own. The Boy Scouts is turned into the Republican Youth Corps.
A few minor fire-fights (which turn out to have been staged) between the US border Border Guard and Mexican aliens trying to enter the country are used as a pretext to invade Mexico. Mexico is defeated in roughly two weeks. The RPF organizes "cleaning crews"(composed of RPF agents) to operate just behind the rapidly-moving front line. The sole purpose of these cleaning crews are to round up Catholics trapped on now-American territory and kill them. Later, the effectiveness of the cleaning crews are estimated at roughly 450 Catholics killed per Agent (for a total of well over a million Catholics killed).
The RPF also organizes combat battalions of its own, which gain notoriety as vicious soldiers who show no mercy and obey orders at all costs. The RPF also forms anti-resistance squads that seek out the remnants of the Mexican resistance and resistance sympathizers. Suspected resistors and sympathizers are, of course, rounded up and shot in the back of the head. No trial, just a mass grave that the victims were forced to dig for themselves in a field somewhere. When the American-appointed Governor of Tiajuana is assassinated by a young man from the village of San Serbano, the RPF destroys it. Every man, woman and child in San Serbano is killed.
And so on.
Fantasy? No. This is exactly what happened. The SS was Hitler's bodyguard squad waaaaay back at the beginning, did take over all domestic and political intelligence, were in charge of the administration and organization of the Final Solution, came up with the idea of the Final Solution, werethe most vicious soldiers of battlefield, were in charge of hunting down and killing French, Czech and Polish partisans, did have battalions solely for finding and killing Jews found in newly-conquered Russian territory, and so on. They were the most fanatic followers of Hitler to be found anywhere.
On the other hand, it is hard to know exactly how much of this was known to the public at the time. It turns out to not be unreasonable that the German populace had no clear idea of the KZs (concentration camps), since all German media was under Nazi control. It is clear, though, that the SS's public face was that of the German elite. They were respected for their integrity and lack of corruption, generally admired, and to be an officer in the SS was the aspiration of an entire generation of German youth. There is no reason that your character would know about any of the atrocities listed above (or rather, their Nazi equivalents) if he didn't want to know. But you (Pete) should know that from a historical perspective, the SS was more or less pure evil.