Identification documents of the SS
by Chris William
When Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP — Nazi Party) came to power in 1933, the black-uniformed vanguard of the movement, christened the Schutzstaffel (SS), had already began its momentous rise to power and stringent control over the Third Reich. Within a few years of Hitler’s new German government, the SS would direct many of the country’s policing, administrative, and welfare functions, along with terrorizing any opponents of the regime, or those deemed unworthy of being citizens in Hitler’s utopia.
During the SS organization’s 20-year lifespan, members of the Third Reich’s “Black Knights” carried a variety of identification credentials that followed one of the core beliefs of the SS: That official documents, in common adherence to the secrecy of the order, did not contain more information than was essential to communicate the immediate needs at hand. SS identification documents (id’s), in general, contained two vital characteristics: Identification of the carrier as a qualified member of the elite SS, and to provide no more superfluous information about the individual than was absolutely necessary.
Different identification documents were issued to members whose functions (and sometimes rank) dictated the types of paperwork provided and levels of authority associated with each document. The basic, entrance-level identification document of the Allgemeine (General) SS was the SS-Ausweis (SS identification card). This 12 x 9cm card bore the title, “Schutzstaffel der NSDAP,” and contained a stamped photo of the SS member, his name, rank, unit, birth date, ID number, Nazi party number (if he was a party member), ink stamps, and raised seals. The reverse of the card contained the document’s issuance date, facsimile Himmler signature, authorized unit signature, and validation stamp.
If an SS man was promoted to a non-commissioned officer rank, he received an Unterführer Ausweis (non-commissioned officer — NCO — identification card). This 12 x 9cm card was similar to the standard Ausweis, but contained the subheading of “SS Unterführer.” The reverse showed his promotion date and was signed by the local section leader. Due to security purposes, NCOs would often carry their Ausweis documents instead of the later Soldbücher that contained more specific personal information.
Each SS officer carried a Führer Ausweis (leader identification card) to denote his rank and status in the organization. This card contained the same basic information and format as the enlisted and NCO cards, but had the sub-heading title of “Führer Ausweis.”
As Hitler’s reign of terror developed across Germany and the occupied countries, hundreds of Konzentration Lager (“KZ” —concentration camps where small multiple holding jails were “concentrated” into larger centers) sprang up in isolated areas.Here, those who the Nazis deemed as social outcasts (for political, religious, criminal, racial or other reasons) were incarcerated and forced to do hard labor while kept in horrendous living conditions. Still others, sent to designated “death” camps, were brutally and quickly murdered by the thousands.
The Totenkopf Verbände (Death’s head unit of the SS) were the first group to guard the swelling ranks of prisoners in the concentration camps during the 1930s. Members of this group were issued an SS Dienstausweis specific to the Totenkopf Division.These documents contained the title “SS Totenkopf Verbände” at the top, with information listed below, such as the bearer’s name, rank, place and date of birth, SS identity number, physical description, and location where stationed. A stamped photo was attached at the base below the member’s signature, adjacent to an authorization stamp.
Later on, other men, as well as women auxiliaries, were employed by the SS as staff members in these prisons. Each was issued an SS Lager Ausweis (SS Camp ID Cards) while serving in the KZ administration or as camp guards. Their cards often varied slightly by location, and were produced in either a two sided single sheet, or of a bi-fold construction.
Both types contained the title of “Konzentrationslager” followed by the name of the individual camp. The document number, member’s name, rank, and unit were written next to their corner-stamped photo with signature applied below. Depending on the locale, the member’s birth date, and the document’s issue date were sometimes included.
Another crucial part in the dark side of the regime was the security services (the Geheimestaatspolizei — “Gestapo,” Kriminalpolizei — “Kripo,” and other state police forces) which would became notorious for carrying out Hitler’s terror edict of unwanted people going into the “night and fog” (the seizing, detention ,and disappearance of countless citizens).Many members of these secretive police forces were issued an SS Dienstausweis that gave them (along with their metal warrant discs) almost unlimited access to any and all places within the country in order to ferret out those they accused of creating crimes against the Reich. These small pink cards with attached, stamped photos, contained the bearer’s name, rank, service number, department affiliation, issuance date, region, signature, and authorized endorsement.
Though not official members of the SS, all other police forces of the Reich eventually came under the control of the SS as the war progressed. These police officers continued to use the same documentation that they had been issued in the past, but often had SS entries and stampings applied to their police Soldbücher and other paperwork.
As the Waffen SS became a more recognized part of the German military, SS members began to be issued identification papers that were similar to those carried by other members of the armed services, but somewhat unique to their elite corps. Wehrpass documents were 14.5 x 10.5cm, 52-page administrative booklets that contained records of all of the paramilitary and military histories of a male member of the Third Reich. SS Wehrpässe contained an ink-stamped “Waffen SS” on the lower front cover, while the interiors contained the member’s name, photo, personal history, military assignments, and awards.
Like all other military servicemen in the mid to late 1930s, members of the growing Waffen SS began to carry Truppenausweisse as their main form of their identification. These two-sided, single-page oilcloth (materials could vary) documents contained a physical description of the holder, his rank, birth date, and card issuance dates. Most, but not all, had a corner ink stamped photo and acceptance stamp attached at the base.
As the recording space in the Truppenausweis became inadequate, Soldbücher (military pass books / pay books) came into use to record the information of each service person. The 32-page Waffen SS Soldbuch came in either a brown or light gray cover with “SS Soldbuch zugleich Personnalausweis” printed on the front. The inside pages contained a photo of the recipient mounted over his signature. A photo of Adolf Hitler preceded pages with information as to the recipient’s physical characteristics, rank, promotions, service records, service locations, awards received, equipment issued, and medical notations.
As the devastation of the war required a constant need for replacement troops on the battlefields, the Waffen SS began to integrate non-Germans into their ranks, in order to fill their combatant requirements. Norwegians, Belgians, Frenchmen, Russians, Latvians, and others joined the Waffen SS in order to fight the communist hordes which steadily advanced across Europe following Hitler’s failed war in the East. Shortened SS-Soldbücher of 21 pages were quickly tailored for foreigners. Many editions were printed in various languages to meet the needs of the new recruits.
Members of the Waffen SS were required to earn a Führerschein (military driver’s license) before they could operate military vehicles.The cover of this booklet contained the title, SS Führerschein” under which was printed the bearer’s name, rank, unit, date, and place of birth. The inside pages contained the classifications of vehicles that he was permitted to operate, date of issue, and main office stamp. The recipient’s photo was sometimes included with stamps above his signature.
One of the final documents “issued” to more than 250,000 Waffen SS men would be a remembrance card printed for those who died fighting for what they believed was a just cause. Through Adolf Hitler’s regime of propaganda and mass manipulation, Germans and foreign volunteers joined the SS ranks and died in what proved to be a hopeless and unwarranted conflict. Surviving relatives, both during and after the war, purchased remembrance cards (collectors often refer to these as “death cards”) to be distributed in honor of their loved ones who had died in battle.
Because of the millions of soldiers and civilians who were needlessly sacrificed at the hands of Hitler’s regime, retribution by friend and former foe alike became a driving force for many at the end of the war. With the vengeful Allies and victims in pursuit, high-profile members of the SS were often hunted down and punished for their crimes, while many other SS men and women who destroyed their identification documents melted away into the obscurity of history.