January 14, 2003

The Waffen SS

Some historical notes on the SS. The upshot is (a) recruits were chosen from the most physically perfect specimens available, ages 17 1/2 to 22; (b) many were ill-educated country boys; (c) they had to prove Germanic roots back to 1800 (officers to 1750); and (d) they had to have been members of the Hitler Youth.

The "Waffen SS" seems to have been the military division of the SS. I confess I'm not quite clear on what the other divisions were called, or how they differed in recruitment, or even if other divisions actually existed.

From Elite Forces of the Third Reich, a military history site, about the Waffen SS:

The Waffen SS' training methods in the early years, were probably the single most factor that elevated them to elite status with more emphasis placed on physical fitness, weapons training and fieldcraft than their army counterparts who still adhered to the old style of army training. The SS-VT's pioneering training methods were implemented by Hausser and Steiner who placed great emphasis on aggression in the attack.

The Waffen SS, unlike any other army of the day fostered a great camaraderie between officers and NCO's unlike that of the British army who although a formidable fighting force had in place a class divide between officers and men which sometimes nurtured ill-feeling and resentment between the two. Hausser was strictly against this type of class system which was also present in the German army to some degree. All Waffen SS NCO's had to work their way up through the ranks, where they had to spend at least two years and only after being specially selected could they be sent forward to Officer training school. This was all regardless of the candidates class background and up-bringing.

So why did so many men volunteer for the Waffen SS? Although Himmler had overall control of the SS he was more of a hindrance than a help with his ideals on Aryan mysticism, astrology, homeopathy and Eastern conquest, which at the time had nothing to do with Hausser's or Steiner's plans and was a constant source of irritation to them as their intentions were strictly military. Himmler's insistence of selecting only the most physically fit however, meant that the best physical specimens would be selected which turned out to be a distinct advantage. Political motivation does not seem to be the primary reason for joining.

Most recruits were from rural areas of Germany which in the 1930's had meant that they had led a rather simple way of life and had received only a basic education, as opposed to their army counterparts who mostly came from the cities. This proved advantageous to the recruits as they would be used to outdoor life and living off the land which was taught in their training.

As with any elite formation, entry into the Leibstandarte was not easy though. Himmler insisted that the candidate be racially pure, that is being of good German stock and able to prove his Germanic roots back to 1800 (officers back to 1750). If it was later discovered that the candidate had Jewish ancestry then he would be thrown out of the Waffen SS. This sometimes infuriated Sepp Dietrich who complained that some first class soldiers were being expelled from his ranks. Also the candidate could have no criminal record, have no history of mental illness and be aged between 17 and a half and 22. Also he hd to be the correct height (5 ft 11 inches) and build with perfect vision, even as far as no filled teeth! Alcoholism was a definite refusal of entry. They could afford to be choosey at that time and besides the Waffen SS was to mirror the master race so candidates had to be physically and mentally perfect. Every candidate had to have been a member of the Hitler Youth and completed their six-months in the R.A.D. (labour corps). However these rules were relaxed slightly when the SS-VT was formed. It is worth noting that very little attention was paid to the recruits educational background. Many recruits had received only a minimum amount of education and were sometimes barely literate or numerate. This did not seem to be a setback as the reasoning was that a good education did not necessarily make a good soldier. This was another bone of contention with the Wehrmacht who were disgusted at the idea of a soldier coming from peasant stock, with no formal education becoming an officer. ... No recruit could join the Waffen SS without first gaining clearance from the local military authority. Himmler and BrigadeFührer Gotlob Berger-head of recruitment for the Waffen SS, side-stepped these restrictions by recruiting from existing police units and the Totenkopfverbande who provided the guards for the concentration camps.


By 1937 the V-SS had grown to three regiments:the Leibstandarte, 1st SS regiment Deutschland, based in München and the 2nd SS regiment Germania based in the Hamburg areas of Rodolszell and Arolsen.

And here's what looks like an important bit:

When Western Europe was conquered, BrigadeFührer Gotlob Berger who was head of recruitment for the SS decided to accept volunteers who were racially qualified into the SS. These were so-called "Germanic peoples from the conquered Western European countries such as Danes, Norwegians, Dutch and Belgians as well as other Volksdeutsche from the Balkans and Poland. Recruitment centres were set up in these conquered territories and thousands of volunteers came forward. A training centre was set up in Sennheim in Alscae where these recruits were trained.

It seems likely the backgrounds of these conquered peoples cannot have been as carefully screened as native German recruits. On the other hand, it seems they'd have more difficulty getting trusted with secret material.

Posted by colin at January 14, 2003 01:50 PM


Posted by: harrison on March 4, 2004 11:04 PM
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