by Chris William
After following Germany’s disheartening loss in World War One, Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP — Nazi party) began the long struggle to defeat their many rival nationalist and communistic parties. At the same time, they were trying to attain the leadership of the weakening Weimer Republic.
During these dangerous times, Hitler and the other ranking Nazi officials required protection. Adversary groups who attended meetings and marches often attempted to disrupt and attack the Nazi leadership.The first members chosen for this task came from the general ranks of the Sturmabteilungen (SA — Assault detachments). But, by 1925, they were replaced by a newly formed subsidiary group of the SA named the Schutzstaffel (SS).
The Allgemeine (general) SS were chosen from candidates who were young, healthy, sober men, 25 to 35 years of age. They were required to possessthe Nazi-defined “Aryan” traits and would adhere to the NSDAP principals.
As the Allgemeine SS carried out the function of guards to party dignitaries, they were not well-received by the main SA leadership. The SA leaders who feltthe new branch was unnecessary and redundant, relegated the Schutzstaffel to menial tasks such as selling party newspaper subscriptions.
After going through several leadership changes, and seeing their ranks diminish from a high of 1,000 to fewer than 280 members, the SS saw a dramatic change in January 1929. This is whenwhen the diminutive administrator, Heinrich Himmler, was appointed as the group’s new leader.
Despite his meek appearance and quiet nature, Himmler was considerably to be more adept at the new position than had been his predecessors. He proved to be intensely driven, possessing a hard work ethic, consistency, and extreme attention to detail that was needed to pull the organization back together.
Under Himmler’s direction, the SS membership changed from a small insignificant group of guards into the most powerful arm of the Third Reich.Himmler viewed the SS as the enforcers of the NSDAP’s more notorious doctrines and the guardian of the German people’s racial purity.
The members of the SS were to be the Aryan aristocracy of the Nazi Party, with officer’s proving their Germanic racial purity back to the year 1750, and regular members proving theirs back to 1800. Training of the new recruits (officers later attended special schools) involvedindoctrination on Germanic racial ideals, strict personal discipline, replacing Christian practices with pagan and ancient mystic rituals, and how to follow an idealized code of conduct within both service and off duty activities.
SS men were under constant supervision and control, even to the point of restricting to whom they could marry. Since they were considered to be the best of German society, any children they fathered out of wedlock (providing the women were of appropriate racial makeup) were taken care of by the state.Above all, SS men were taught a code of strict obedience to Adolf Hitler, with their motto being, “Meine Ehre heisst Treue” (My Honor is Loyalty). Under Himmler’s management, the SS soon became the true elite of the regime, with membership increasing from 280 men in 1929, to 3,000 in 1930, and over 200,000 members by the beginning of 1934.
As the SS expanded, it acquired control over a variety of newly formed and existing organizations to bolster its power. In June1931, Himmler created the” (Security Service—SD) to keep internal control of the activities concerning SS members, party and police affiliates. He appointed an eloquent, but brutal former naval officer, Reinhard Heydrich, to head of the SD. Heydrich grew the organization into one of the more powerful of the Nazi security groups.
In 1933, WW1 national aviation hero and Nazi Party second- in-command, Hermann Göring created the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo — Secret State police). Himmler and the SS took over the control of the Gestapo in 1934. Two years later, on June 17, 1936 Hitler gave Himmler direct control of the majority of the police forces in Germany,cementing the SS power over the people and organizations within the Third Reich.
With Hitler in power, many of the racial and political policies of the NSDAP were beginning to take effect as SA and police departments began to arrest those deemed as undesirable, incarcerating them in jails and small locally operated detention camps.In 1933, Hitler authorized the centralization and expansion of these camps under the leadership of Himmler and the SS.
In 1934, Himler established the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS death’s head units) to command and run the concentration camps. The inmates of these camps were used as forced labor to help fuel the German economy and future war efforts. As the distorted racial ideologies of the Nazi party became reality, the camps grew dramatically in number to take the lives of millions of innocent people.
During 1933 and 1934, two more essential SS groups were formed as armed guards and small private armies for the Nazi leadership: the Leibstandarte Schutzstaffel (LAH — Adolf Hitler Life Guards) and the SS Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT — special purpose troops). Both of these groups later became part of the wartime Waffen-SS, taking their place alongside the regular armed forces during the conquest of Europe.
COLLECTING THE ALLGEMEINE SS
As the Allgemeine SS was under the command of the SA during its earliest days, they wore the same brown shirts as their parent organization. SS men differentiated themselves by wearing black caps with Totenkopf (skulls and crossbones), black ties, SS black-bordered party armbands, and unique collar tabs and arm insignias.
After separating from the SA, the brown shirt remained, but was now worn under a smartly tailored black jacket with black pants, tie, belt with cross strap, boots and visor cap. Silver and black shoulder boards on the jackets designated rank classification, rather than actual rank. SS rank was shown on collar tabs through the use of a series of pips, stripes and oak leaves, while group designation was shown by a series ofsymbols or numbers, such as the “doppelte Siegrune” (SS victory runes — double “lightning bolts”) or death’s heads.
Cuff titles were attached to the sleeves of SS black tunics to signify the number or branch of the corps to which the member belonged. In 1938, a field gray model of the general SS tunic was introduced which substituted an eagle and swastika insignia for the traditional SS armband.
Military and other authorized awards could be worn on the appropriate breast side of the jackets, while SS daggers or swords were often worn during walking out or formal occasions.
The basic SS dagger was first produced in 1933, taking the general design of a 16th century Swiss hunting dagger. The hourglass-shaped wood handle was dyed black secured by by a nickel silver stepped cross guard, pommel, and tang nut.A silvered eagle perched on an encircled swastika was inlet into the handle below an enamel circle containing the black and silver SS runes. The 1933 model dagger was carried in an anodized black scabbard with nickel throat and drag, suspended by a leather hanger strap, or vertical leather marching hanger.
Makers’ marks, and later RZM (Reichszeugmeisterei — national control office) stampings were embossed on the double edged blade ricasso, while down the front face was etched the SS motto, Meine Ehre heisst Treue. The 1936 model dagger remained relatively the same withonly the scabbard changed to include a suspension chain of alternating skulls and SS runes.
SS swords came in either NCO or officer grades.Both models took the same general form of police swords, having long thin straight blades mounted with silver “D” ring handles, oak leaf ferrules, and black grips with silver wire wrap (on officer’s).Candidate swords featured SS runes on the pommel cap, while officer swords had inlet circles in the handles containing silver SS runes. Sword scabbards had single suspension rings, were painted black with ornate swirl patterned throats, and (on officers’ models) had silver drags.
Belt buckles took the forms of rectangular shapes for enlisted men, and round models for officers. Both had centers containing an eagle over a static swastika and wreath under which was cast the SS motto.
One of the most prestigious items worn by the SS were the officers’ SS-Ehrenring (death heads honor ring).The heavy silver pieces were decorated with a skull and series of runes. The inner surface bore the recipient’s name, date, and Himmler’s signature.While at first only awarded to SS veterans, by 1939 the rings were given to officers after completing at least three years of service to the corps. They were to be worn on the left ring finger. In the event of the wearer’s death, the rings were tobe returned to the SS organization.
When not in uniform, an SS member could display his affiliation by wearing a simple small enamel and silver SS badge. These wereproduced for private sale in either stickpin or pin back versions.
When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the Allgemeine SS began its rapid downward spiral.Many of its younger members transferred to the armed SS units or other branches of the military, while those older men that remained were relegated to guard positions and lesser political duties.
As the war progressed and Germany’s fortunes worsened, the black SS uniforms all but disappeared from the public view. With the allied victory, men who wore the black uniforms became the hunted instead of the hunters, being seen as the main enforcers behind the atrocities committed by Hitler and his Nazi regime.
Ed.’s note: Part II will look at the history and collectibles of the Waffen SS.