introduction of the waffen-ss
"Together in combat in an army of soldiers from many
European nations, like it today, and hopefully not too late,
is being urged by the western powers - This thought was already
then set into real life with us. In the ranks of Division Wiking
stood representatives of most of Europe's countries and nations.
It was no Foreign Legion, neither a collection of vagabonds
and workless - as has often been the claim after the war.The
majority were idealists, with a strong national feeling towards
their own country. But they realized already 10 years ago that
Europe could only be defended by joint efforts."
- Oberstgruppenführer (ret.) Herbert-Otto
Gille, October 26th 1952 -
The Leibstandarte was Hitler's bodyguard unit, his personal
They were troops, handpicked as the perfect specimens of the
Aryan ideal and the most faithful and committed to the Nazi
Purpose of the SS :
"...The Gods of the new Germany
will be the SS" - Reichsführer-SS
The birth of the SS
Hitler was still convinced
that his opponents, both within and outside the Nazi Party,
would try to kill him if they had the opportunity. On his release
from prison he moved quickly to re-establish his bodyguard.
1925 only eight men were in the group that was soon renamed
the Schutz Staffel, or Protection Squad. This title was quickly
abbreviated to SS, creating the infamous name and, because of
their distinctive black uniforms, they were soon nicknamed the
Black Guard or Black Order. Their uniforms were adorned with
the letters SS, stylized as distinctive Nordic runes.
For the next four years the SS was a small, elite group of bodyguards
that travelled with Hitler wherever he went. They were initially
volunteers who did their security work in the evenings or at
weekends. Only a small number of the 300 or so SS men were full-time
on the Nazi Party payroll.
As Hitler moved to establish the Nazi Party as a national body
outside of his Bavarian power base, the SS was expanded and
small detachments were set up in every major German city to
protect local leaders and party meetings.
The SS was deliberately kept small so its total loyalty to Hitler
could be assured.
Ever since 1933 a portion of the SS has been armed and
trained along military lines and served on a full-time
basis, living in special barracks. These troops were
originally known as the SS-Verfügungstruppen (SS-VT), the
name indicating that they were held at the disposition of
Hitler for any purpose whatever. By 1939 four regiments
(Standarten) of these troops had been organized.
Already, Hitler was growing suspicious of Ernst Röhm and the
SA because their "hot-headed" behavior was threatening his attempts
to re-brand the Nazi Party as a "respectable" political force
(Röhm saw the SA as the nucleus of a revolutionary army).When
Hitler began WWII, RFSS Himmler wanted to ensure that the SS
- guardians of the internal security of the Reich - got their
share of the military glory. In early 1940, he combined the
above three units into the "Waffen-SS."
By August 1940, Hitler and Himmler
further defined the purpose of the Waffen-SS:
were a political-ideological elite military formation akin to the
Teutonic Knights; brave soldiers that represented both the Nazi
ideal and were the future aristocratic spine of the German Empire.
However, WWII created massive changes in the structure and purpose
of the Waffen-SS.
- The Waffen-SS will help execute
the authority of the state within the borders of the Greater
- The Waffen-SS will be a paragon
of both Aryan racial purity and of National Socialist philosophy.
- The Waffen-SS will be organized
along military lines, function as a "state police,"
but be prepared for any & all "special tasks" that may be required.
- The Waffen-SS will earn its
authority through front line combat.
- The Waffen-SS will concentrate
on internal enemies of the state; the Wehrmacht will concentrate
on the external enemies.
- The Waffen-SS will be an
exclusive formation, limited in size.
"Ich schwöre Dir, Adolf Hitler, als Führer und Kanzler
des Reiches, Treue und Tapferkeit.
Ich gelobe Dir und den von Dir bestimmten
Vorgesetzten Gehorsam bis in den Tod, so wahr mir Gott helfe".
"I swear to you Adolf Hitler as Fuehrer and
Chacellor of the German Reich, loyalty and courage.
I vow you and to the superiors appointed to you, obedience unto
deatch, so help me God".
The Aryan recruit
also had to show no traces of Jewish or other Untermenschen
blood in his ancestry, in the case of ordinary soldiers back to
1800 and to 1750 for officers. Those with "undesirable" blood
were refused entry and if racial impurities came to light during
his service an SS man could be summarily dismissed.
The future brides of SS men were also subjected to the same
level of racial profiling to ensure any offspring were "pure"
Aryans. With the strength of the armed SS limited by the Army,
meant that it was very hard to join the armed force of the Nazi
Party. However, such was the mystique built up around the armed
SS that every place was over-subscribed, helping to build its
image as an élite force. Unlike army conscripts, ordinary
enlisted SS men had to serve a minimum of 4 years,
non-commissioned officers 12 years and officers 25 years.
In January 1929 Hitler appointed a chicken farmer, Heinrich
Himmler, as head of the SS with the brief to build it up as a
force to rival the SA. Even though the SS was nominally part of
Röhm's force, Himmler was totally loyal to Hitler and threw
himself into expanding his new fiefdom. Over the next four years
he expanded the SS to some 52,000 men, which not only included
bodyguards but also a covert secret intelligence organization
called the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service, or SD).
Loyalty to Hitler was at the core of the SS ethos. The expanded
SS organization was essentially a shadow internal security
apparatus that would help the Nazis gain and keep power in
A crucial development was the setting up in Berlin in March 1933
of a new, elite grouping within the SS under the command of one
of Hitler's old henchmen from Munich. Josef "Sepp" Dietrich was
an old party crony of Hitler, whom he trusted implicitly (he had
been appointed commander of Hitler's bodyguard in 1928).
The new group was initially only 117 men strong and was dubbed
the SS-Stabswache Berlin.
Its job was to guard Hitler and his official residence in the
SS racial offices
As well as its armed and security
branches, the SS also eventually boasted unusual organizations such
as the SS marriage bureau, the Rasse-und Siedlungshauptamt (Central
Office for Race and Resettlement, or RuSHA), which first had the
responsibility of confirming the racial purity of the brides of
SS men. There was also the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (German Racial
Assistance Office, or VOMI), which was charged with protecting the
well-being of ethnic Germans living outside the borders of the Reich.
These groups then helped in the establishment of the Reichskommisariat
für die Festigung des Deutschen Volkstums
(Reich Office for the Consolidation of the German Nationhood, or
RKFDV), which was nominally responsible for the movement of ethnic
Germans back into Reich territory, but was really a cover for the
deportation and eventual extermination of Jews, Slavs and other
groups considered untermenschen (sub-humans) by Hitler.
It finally spawned the SS Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (Economic
and Administrative Central Office, or WVHA), which was in charge
of the concentration camp system and the "Final Solution" of the
Jewish problem (the leaders of these organizations developed bland
euphemisms for the mass-murder of most of Europe's Jews).
Growth of the SS
By the end of the 1930s, the SS organization had ballooned to some
200,000 men, of whom the vast majority were in its police, security
and concentration camp guard units rather than in
SS-VT. During this period the SS became central to Hitler's "folk
myth", with senior figures in the organization being portrayed as
Nordic gods in Nazi propaganda.
The racial purity of SS recruits was given great prominence, and
Hitler tried to build on this as a way to indoctrinate the German
people with his theories of racial superiority. The SS also had its
own rank system that gave members prestige and power over ordinary
mortals in the army, the Nazi Party and in civilian branches of
During the course
of WWII, the Waffen-SS grew form an elite force of 4 division of
ethnic Germans to a polyglot force of 900,000 men in 41 divisions
and other units, with over half of its troops foreign volunteers
or conscripts. It gained a fearsome combat reputation and committed
many war crimes.
Waffen-SS strength event at its peak represented only 10% of the
German Army compliment - although SS panzer units made up 25% of
all German Armed forces Panzer strength!
However, SS fighting capability did not increase proportionally
to its growth in size. By 1944, the Waffen-SS order of battle was
inflated with "divisions" with the strength of battalions and a
plethora of mixed bag foreign conscripts.
Although the Waffen-SS is most famous for its battlefield exploits
during the latter part of the war, and is often thought of as a
military formation exclusively, it is important to recognize that
the Waffen-SS never entirely dissassociated itself from internal
security duties for the Reich, either in practice or purpose.
TRAINING FOR THE WAFFEN-SS
"Each young man who was accepted into the Waffen-SS
- a veteran recalled - was very proud of this. Out of
500 volunteers in my group, only 28 qualified.
Being accepted at
all was a great honor because such a strict selection process".
Only the best applicants were accepted. Of those,
only the most promising were
selected for officer training, and only 60% of these passed their
courses. Those men who became battalion and higher-level commanders
in the SS-V after beginning their careers as simple enlisted men
were in many ways the “best of the best”, and in that light, it
is not surprising that so many were highly considered.
Credit: Marc Rikmenspoel.
Image: Waffen-SS recruits at a medical examination - late 1930s.
The role of the Waffen-SS
Although the Waffen-SS was primarily an armed force at Hitler's
disposal for the maintenance of order inside Germany, Hitler also
decreed that in time of war it was to serve at the front under army
command. He believed that frontline experience for the Waffen-SS
was essential if such a force was to command the respect of the
German people. He also insisted that its human material was to be
of the highest caliber, and so restricted the size of the Waffen-SS
to between five and ten percent of the peacetime strength of the
The highest standards
Hausser readily accepted the responsibility for the organization
and training of the SS-Verfügungstruppe, which enabled him to formulate
the directives and codes of practice it was to use. Hausser remained
in his post until the outbreak of World War II, when he took command
of the Das Reich Division. During the war, the SS established two
additional Junker schools at Klagenfurt in Austria and Prague in
The Waffen-SS offered advancement to promising candidates regardless
of their education or social standing, but those charged with grooming
the new SS élite set their sights high. They called their academies
Junkerschulen (schools for young nobles) and devised a curriculum
to transform the sons of farmers and artisans into officers and
gentlemen. For some, this required basic training in matters that
were not exclusively military. For example, incoming cadets were
issued an etiquette manual that defined table manners. Correct form
was further encouraged through cultural activities and lectures
on Nazi ideology.
When off-duty, officers and men addressed each other as "kamerad".
Locks were forbidden on wardrobes (much emphasis was placed on trust),
and obedience was unconditional at all times.
At the heart of training was a mixture of athletics and field
exercises designed to turn the Junkers into commanders. Thus, the
facilities at Bad Tölz included a stadium for soccer, track and
field events, separate halls for boxing, gymnastics and indoor ball
games, and a heated swimming pool and sauna. The complex attracted
outstanding talent. At one time, for example, eight of twelve coaches
at Bad Tölz were national champions in their events.
Felix Steiner was the luminary when it came to the actual training
program of the Waffen-SS. He was 16 years Hausser's junior, and
his motto was "sweat saves blood". Steiner believed strongly in
the creation of élite, highly mobile groups whose training put the
emphasis on individual responsibility and military teamwork rather
than on rigid obedience to the rule book. His ideas had been formulated
and refined during World War I, when he served as the commander
of a machine-gun company, witnessing the formation of "battle groups",
which had greatly impressed him. They were made up from selected
men, withdrawn from the trenches and formed into ad hoc assault
groups. Specially trained for close-quarter fighting, usually carried
out at night, they wreaked havoc in their trench raids, employing
individualized weapons such as knuckle-dusters, cluster grenades
and entrenching tools sharpened like razors. The enemy's customary
notification of an impending attack, a long artillery barrage, was
often dispensed with, thus reinforcing the element of surprise.
As their value became recognized,
Steiner's reforms gradually filtered throughout the SS hierarchy.
In concert with the "battle group" ideology, his training stressed
three main points: physical fitness, "character" and weapons training.
He structured a recruit's day with a rigorous hour-long physical
training session beginning at 06:00 hours, with a pause afterwards
for breakfast of porridge and mineral water. Intensive weapons training
followed, then target practice and unarmed combat sessions. The
day was broken by a hearty lunch, then resumed with a comparatively
short but intensive drill session. The afternoon was then punctuated
by a stint of scrubbing, cleaning, scouring and polishing and rounded
off with a run or a couple of hours on the sports field. As a result
of his men spending more time on the athletics fields and in cross-country
running than on the parade ground, they developed standards of fitness
and endurance enabling them to perform such feats as covering 3km
(1.8 miles) in full kit in 20 minutes, feats that could not be matched
by either army recruits or members of the Leibstandarte (who spent
a lot of time on the parade square, hence their nickname "asphalt
Ideology and passing out
The training program stressed aggressiveness and included live-firing
exercises. It was interrupted three times a week by ideological
lectures, which included understanding the Führerprinzip (leadership
principle) and unraveling the meanings of Hitler's Mein Kampf (ideology
formed an important element in examinations, and was responsible
for failing one candidate in three during the five-month course).
For the successful candidates, there was a passing-out parade where
they took the SS oath, at 22:00 hours on the occasion of the 9 November
anniversary celebrations of the Munich Putsch. This took place in
Hitler's presence before the Feldherrnhalle and the 16 smoking obelisks,
each of which bore the name of a fallen party member. The oath was
a major ingredient in the SS mystique, binding each successful candidate
in unswerving loyalty to Adolf Hitler.
The price of excellence
Bad Tölz and Braunschweig were the premier Waffen-SS training
centers for officers from their inception in 1934 until the end
of the war. By 1937, the SS schools were graduating more than 400
officers a year, in two sets of classes. These officers were very
well-trained and in due course often later earned distinguished
military reputations. The spirited aggressiveness taught at the
school was not without cost, though, for by 1942 nearly 700 Waffen-SS
officers had been killed in action, including almost all of the
60 graduates of the 1934-35 Bad Tölz class. During the war, the
Junker schools accepted recruits from occupied countries. Most foreigners
enlisted to fight the Soviet Union, so the SS lectures shifted from
the sanctity of Nordic blood to the evils of Bolshevism.
The SS Recruiting Office
Himmler established an
SS Recruiting Office within the SS-Hauptamt on 1 December 1939.
The running of this office was entrusted to the steady hands of
Gottlob Berger. The armed forces were unwilling to relinquish the
cream of German manhood to the SS as they were suspicious of all
paramilitary forces outside their control.
Their passive resistance made Berger's
task of locating the recruits who were required all the more difficult.
His pool comprised those who were too young and too old to be eligible
for military service in the German armed forces, and by 1940 the
SS was having difficulties in finding recruits. However, Berger
was able to circumvent the armed forces' restrictions by recruiting
from abroad. He availed himself of Himmler's contacts outside the
Reich to encourage ethnic Germans living abroad, as well as non-Germans
of Nordic blood, to enlist. Not only were these groups allowed to
become members of the SS, they were also exempt from conscription
in the German armed forces. By May 1940, more than 100 foreigners
were serving with the Waffen-SS. Following the defeat of France
in the summer of 1940, a vast recruiting ground had opened up, over
which the Wehrmacht had no jurisdiction.
In preparation for the attack on Russia, the German Army was expanded,
but the SS was allowed to recruit only three percent of the newly
enlisted age groups, which meant that it had to fall back on foreign
manpower. Hitler was insistent that the Waffen-SS should remain
a small, exclusive police force, but he did agree to the formation
of a new SS division on condition that mainly foreigners were recruited.
In addition, his own personal bodyguard was to be expanded from
a regiment to a brigade.
From the beginning of the war, German recruits had been apportioned
on the basis of 66 percent to the army, 8 percent to the navy and 25
percent to the air force. Those for the Waffen-SS were subtracted
from the army's percentage on a quota established by Hitler himself.
During the Polish and French campaigns, German casualties had been
moderate. From its share of the available German manpower, the SS
had been able to replenish its losses, but it would be forced to
cast its net further afield for its replacements when it began to
look as if the war would last longer than expected. Hitler's
decision to invade the USSR was announced in July 1940. One of the
first to be informed was Himmler, who wasted no time in informing
Berger. On 7 August 1940, he drew up his SS manpower forecast.
In August 1940, there was still a strong possibility that England
would be invaded, thus the navy and air force were demanding an
increase of their percentages to 40 and 10 percent respectively.
Berger estimated that 18,000 recruits per year would be required by
the SS, but assumed that it would receive only 12,000 men, or two
percent. Consequently, the Germanic areas of Western Europe,
together with the ethnic German populations of southeastern Europe,
were the areas where recruiting should begin in earnest. As long as
the SS recruited personnel who were not available to the Wehrmacht,
Berger did not anticipate any objections. He also requested
permission to establish a recruiting office to deal with foreign
In Western Europe, Berger's recruiting staff had sufficient response
to form two new regiments, Nordland and Westland, and to make the
new Germania Division, later named Wiking, a feasible proposition.
Nevertheless, when the first enthusiastic rush of pro-German and
National Socialist volunteers had been signed up, recruiting figures
began to drop. Even when an existing SS regiment, Germania, was
transferred to the new formation, and other Reich Germans provided
cadres, there were still large gaps in its ranks. When the Soviet
Union was invaded, for example, the Wiking Division contained Reich
and ethnic Germans to such an extent that a mere 630 Dutchmen, 294
Norwegians, 216 Danes, 1 Swede and 1 Swiss were to be found in its
The SS-V addressed the creation of an organic officer corps creating
two officer candidate schools. SS-Brigadeführer Paul Hausser's
schoolschool system was designed to provide necessary
education to men who demonstrated
potential. By 1936, the SS-V was highly selective. For recruits, it
only accepted young men who were healthy, in good physical shape,
and who had clean police records. Additionally, recruits had to show
proof of pure Germanic ancestry back to 1800, while those who became
officers had to further demonstrate this to 1750. Officers and men
exercised and trained together, breaking down social barriers and
creating comrades, with each man prepared to take the place of his
superior, should the latter become a casualty. Party membership was
not required for joining the SS-V.
On selection to the SS school, the individual was designated an
SS-Führeranwärter, or SS officer candidate. After completing the
initial phase, he became an SS-Standartenjunker. Towards the end of
the training period, the commandant of the SS-Junkerschule bestowed
the designation of SS-Junker on qualified personnel, and when
achieving this position the SS-Junker put on the rank insignia of an
SS-Scharführer. Upon successfull completion of training, but before
being commissioned to the rank of SS-Untersturmführer, the officer
candidate was elevated to the position of SS-Oberjunker, and was
thus authorized to wear the rank insignia of an SS-Hauptscharführer.
The term Waffen-SS became official during the spring of 1940, and it
indicated those units concerned with frontline
duty.The men of the Waffen-SS had considered themselves as elite
soldiers since well before World War II. This was because
of the teachings of their officers, inspired by SS-Brigadeführer
Paul Hausser and SS-Standartenführer Felix Steiner, and a logical
consequence of their rigorous military training. Numerous Waffen-SS
men who only attained junior officer rank during the 1930´s become
effective division commanders during World War II, including Theodor
Wisch, Werner Ostendorff, Hermann Priess, Karl Ullrich, Otto Kumm,
Sylvester Stadler, Heinz Harmel, Fritz von Scholz, Fritz Witt, Georg
Bochmann, Bruno Streckenbach, Franz Augsberger and Jürgen Wagner.
Augsburger earned the Knight's Cross, and all others attained the
Oakleaves or higher to that decoration.
Credit: Marc Rikmenspoel.
Images: SS-Junkerschule Bad Tölz.
The anti-Bolshevik crusade
German diplomatic agencies received offers of help from individuals
living in the occupied countries, as well as in the Independent
State of Croatia and in neutral Spain and Portugal following the
German attack on the Soviet Union. The German Government decided
to accept these offers of assistance and to establish contingents
of foreign nationals. On 29 June 1941, Hitler gave his formal approval
to the establishment of legions for foreigners who wished to take
part in the crusade against the Soviet Union. Legions from the Germanic
countries were to be the responsibility of the Waffen-SS, while
the German Army was to organize those from non-Germanic countries.
A Spanish formation was established on 25 June, and almost simultaneously
Danish and Norwegian units were brought into being.
The German Foreign Office convened a meeting of interested parties
on 30 June 1941. Represented at the meeting were the Foreign Office,
the SS-Führungshauptamt, the Foreign Section of the Oberkommando
der Wehrmacht (OKW), the German Plenipotentiary in Copenhagen and
the Foreign Section of the Nazi Party. Its brief was to settle the
details pertaining to the formation of the new units. Because of
international law, it was agreed that non-German volunteers were
to fight in German uniforms but would wear national badges. It was
not envisaged that German citizenship would be conferred upon the
volunteers, but they were to receive the same pay and allowances
as German serviceman while those with previous military experience
would hold ranks equivalent to their former ones. The meeting also
considered how the volunteers were to be organized. It was decided
that they should be deployed only in closed units, some of which
had already been formed. The Waffen-SS, being responsible for volunteers
from the Germanic countries, had already set up a Freikorps in Denmark
and a Freiwilligenverband in Norway, both independent of Regiment
Nordland, a separate Freiwillingenkorps for the Netherlands and
the Flemish parts of Belgium, in addition to and independent of
The delegates expected that other European countries would yield
few volunteers. It was agreed not to approach the Swiss Government
or to launch an appeal for Swiss recruits, but Swiss volunteers
were to be accepted if they presented themselves (in fact, some
Swiss were already serving in the Waffen-SS). The conference reached
no decision about whether Walloons and Frenchmen were to be accepted.
Finns could hardly be expected to volunteer for the German Army
when Finland was already fighting the Soviet Union, though some
were already serving in Regiment Nordland. Swedes would probably
prefer to volunteer for the Finnish armed forces, but if enough
came forward a Swedish Volunteer Corps could be formed under the
auspices of the SS. If equipping and training of Swedish volunteers
was outside the capacity of the Finnish Army to cope with, they
were to be directed to German reception centres. It was also considered
probable that a number of Danes would prefer the Finnish forces.
Portugal was expected to produce few volunteers, but if enough presented
themselves there was the possibility of incorporating them in the
Spanish formation. In fact, no Portuguese legion was formed, and
it is doubtful if any Portuguese volunteered at all.
For the German Army, Hitler's newly authorized non-German legions
did not represent an important increase in size, but for the Waffen-SS
they provided a considerable accession of strength. Himmler was
interested only in raising legions of Danes, Norwegians, Dutchmen
and Flemings on racial grounds. The SS could have had a far larger
share of Western European manpower but for this policy. Although
in need of additional manpower, it relinquished to the army the
Walloon Legion that it had sponsored because Himmler maintained
that Walloons were not Germanic and that their presence in the SS
might offend the Flemings.
Maintaining racial purity
In some cases, the Germans opposed enlistment. Russian émigrés
had expressed a willingness to serve the Germans, but they were
to be refused. However, some White Russians served as interpreters,
and others served in both the French Volunteer Legion and in the
Danish Freikorps. Czechs of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
who offered their assistance were not to be accepted. The newly
occupied Baltic areas were to be dealt with by the local German
military commander while Balts in Germany who presented themselves
were to be dealt with in a derogatory manner.
Himmler probably thought that it was just not worthwhile compromising
the racial purity of the SS for the sake of short-lived units that
might never see action (a long campaign against the Soviet Union
was not anticipated in the summer of 1941). In any case, the SS
would have had difficulty in providing facilities and cadres for
a division of Spaniards, a regiment each of Frenchmen and Croats,
and a battalion of Walloons, in addition to those already employed
- even if it had wanted to.
Finland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Italy were allied with Germany.
Small as they were, their legions had considerable propaganda value.
The presence of Western Europeans and Croats in the ranks of the
German forces gave Germany's act of aggression the semblance of
a European crusade against Bolshevism.
Apart from meeting the strict racial standards of the SS, volunteers
for the Waffen-SS had to be perfect physical specimens. They signed
on for an initial period of four years before the war. For the most
part, volunteers came from the ranks of the Hitler Youth via the
Algemeine-SS. In 1938, Himmler authorized the enlistment of Germanics
into the Waffen-SS. Now, SS men needed only to be of Germanic origin,
provided that they were of Nordic blood. By the end of the year,
20 foreign volunteers had been accepted. In the Waffen-SS, one could
enlist for as long as 12 years and become eligible for German citizenship.
Like their German comrades, foreigners could on retirement take
up a career in the German police or civil service or receive land
in the Incorporated Territories.
Foreign nationals who volunteered for service in the Germanic
legions found their conditions of acceptance were less stringent
than those for the Waffen-SS. Candidates still had to be able to
prove Aryan decent for two generations, and to possess an "upright"
character. They also had to be between 17 and 40 years of age, although
for former officers and NCOs the upper age limit was raised. The
minimum height was reduced to 1.65m (5.5ft) and later disregarded.
They received the same pay and allowances as members of the Waffen-SS,
and were subject to the same penal code. They wore the uniform of
the Waffen-SS but with additional national insignia. Those accepted
into the legions were not members of the Waffen-SS but of units
attached to it. The material inducements for joining the legions
were less than those of the Waffen-SS for the simple reason that
the legions were a temporary creation, in which a volunteer was
not expected to make a career. In many cases, the legionnaires were
not affected by the advantages that other nationals received when
they joined the Waffen-SS proper.
A badge for Nordic principles
Himmler wanted a badge that would be available to both the General
SS in Germany and the Germanic SS abroad, and which would not only
require a high standard in various sports but also ability in military
activities and National Socialist ideology. But the badge had to
reflect all of the Nordic principles, and be an emblem of commitment
to the SS. On a much grander scale, he aimed at strengthening the
pan-Germanic idea within the entire political SS organization.
The badge that Himmler introduced was called the Germanic Proficiency
Runes, and its very design was geared to appeal particularly to
the Germanic SS. The two runes of the SS were superimposed upon
a mobile swastika, the formation sign of the Wiking Division, and
later adopted by III Germanic SS Panzer Corps (made up largely of
volunteers from Germanic countries). The badge was instituted in
two grades, bronze and silver, with a higher standard required for
the attainment of the silver. It was worn in the centre of the left
breast pocket of the service uniform.
The Germanic Proficiency Runes
From his headquarters on 15 August 1943, Himmler officially
introduced the Germanic Proficiency Runes. In the institution document,
he stated that it, "should be an example in physical training and
tests in the use of weapons in the National Socialist spirit, and
confirmation of the voluntary attainment of the Germanic joint destiny".
Physical requirements for award of the badge included the sprint,
long jump, grenade throwing, swimming, shooting and camouflage skills
(observation and description of objective), climbing and digging
The Germanic Proficiency Runes were open to members of the German
General SS. Although all four branches of the Germanic SS were eligible,
and the rules and requirements were published in the newspapers
of each, record has only been found of awards in Holland, Denmark
and Norway. It is possible that the runes were awarded to members
of the Flemish SS, but as this formation was on the decline in 1944
it is believed that none of its members received them. Only one
presentation ceremony is recorded for each of the three countries
concerned, although there may have been others later in the war.
Presenting the award
The awards of the Germanic Proficiency Runes in Denmark were
made at Hovelte on 2 June 1944 by Berger. The presentation took
place at a memorial ceremony for SS volunteers from Denmark killed
in action, and in fact the test schedule had been timed so that
the results would be ready for this ceremony. Berger spoke of the
Danish SS volunteers killed in action, and how "their spirits could
rest in peace knowing that new columns of Germanic fighters stood
behind them". He stated that it was in the memory of the dead Danish
SS volunteers and in their spirit that the first Germanic Proficiency
Runes were being awarded on Danish soil. No details are available
of the number of badges awarded, or of the recipients. However,
photographs suggest that the badges went to members of the Schalburg
Corps, who were wearing black service uniforms.
The only recorded awards of the Germanic Proficiency Runes in Norway
were made at the Norwegian SS school on 16 August 1944, when the
Higher SS and Police Leader in Norway, SS-Obergruppenführer Rediess,
acting on instructions from Himmler, awarded 10 in silver and 15
in bronze to members of the Norwegian SS.
Rediess spoke of the badge's meaning, and how the 25 recipients
had, though their behaviour, been a good example to their comrades
in the Germanic SS and to the youth of Norway. After the awards,
Rediess made a short speech on the meaning of the SS victory runes
and the sun-wheel swastika design of the badge.
Once the SS Main Office handed over Waffen-SS training to the SS-Führungshauptamt
(SS-FHA), it was left with only ideological training, physical training
and vocational training through its Branch C - offices CI, CII and
CIII respectively. It was CII that was responsible for the testing.
SS-Standartenführer der Reserve Herbert Edler von Daniels, Chef
SS Hauptamt Amt C II, was the commanding officer and authorizing
signatory for the test document. The office was in Prague, and it
was here that the tests were now taken, with exams being held in
the Beneshau/Prague area of Czechoslovakia. The first recorded test
following on from those in Norway was held from 23 September 1944
until 26 September 1944, then from 26 October 1944 until 29 October
1944, and the last from 6 March 1945 until 9 March 1945.
A Settling of Scores
Technically, all those foreign nationals who fought for Germany
in World War II were traitors, and as such deserved a traitor's
fate. Stalin was more than happy to shoot or work to death all those
from the Soviet republics who had taken up arms against him, and
also wreaked vengeance on their families for good measure. In the
West, although there were thousands of trials after the war for
collaborators, justice rather than revenge was the prime motive.
At the end of World War II, there were millions of men and women
of non-German origin who had served Nazi Germany between 1939 and
1945 and whose fate had to be determined by the victorious Allies.
The German Army, the agent for spreading Nazi ideology throughout
Europe, made use of great numbers of foreign volunteer units. These
included "sub-human" Slavs, although Hitler had categorically forbidden
the use of Russians by the German forces (an order that was largely
ignored by divisional commanders). Their utilization not only occurred,
it occurred on a vast and vital scale. It is a strange and ironic
truth that without Russian aid Germany's war against Stalin could
not have continued as long as it did. Desertion from the Red Army
was massive in the early stages of the 1941 invasion. Many of the
defectors offered their services to the Wehrmacht. Reluctant to
turn away willing hands, the army took them on, albeit "off the
record", as Hiwi's. They may have been given uniforms and rations
but old prejudices died hard - there was a kind of racist supremacy
pleasure in seeing Hiwis digging ditches and latrines. But, then,
especially during the winter of 1941-42, hundreds of Hiwis were
sucked into the vortex of battle and became de facto combatants.
Their courage and steadiness under fire, and their uncomplaining
fortitude in the face of hardship and danger, won for them the respect
of the German soldier at the front and did much to break down the
psychological barrier between "sub-human" Slavs and "supermen" Aryans
created by Nazi propaganda. Berlin would have never agreed, of course,
and so the German Army never declared the Hiwis, and thus thousands
of Russians never appeared on the recorded strengths of German divisions
in the East. By the end of 1941, around 150,000 Russians were in
the employ of the Wehrmacht. Less than a year later, this had risen
to 500,000; of these, some 200,000 were in combat units. By the
end of 1943, this figure had doubled. Large proportions of this
manpower pool were later absorbed into the Waffen-SS.
Western and Eastern foreign nationals
The foreign volunteer programme was always central to the development
of the Waffen-SS as the war developed, but was it worth it, both
in terms of manpower and contribution to the German war effort?
The SS was able to tap a useful source of high-grade manpower in
the case of Western European volunteers, which the German armed
forces would otherwise have found unavailable. The Western volunteers
were usually highly motivated and their units well equipped, although
there were a number of initial problems, not least that SS training
grounds, officer and noncommissioned officer (NCO) schools were
not set up to readily accommodate non-German recruits. As a result,
the Western recruits fought well on the battlefield, the ultimate
criterion for any military organization, and the Nordland and Wiking
Divisions were among the best fielded by the Waffen-SS.
Disaster in the East
If there were problems integrating Western volunteers, then
German policy with regard to the Eastern volunteers can only be
seen as an almost unmitigated disaster. On the credit side, the
German invasion of the Soviet Union did serve to galvanize foreign
nationals, Western Europeans that is, by suggesting that it was
a "European" undertaking intent on ridding the world of communism.
This had less appeal to the Eastern volunteers, who may have wanted
to rid their homelands of the Bolsheviks but also wanted national
self-determination. This was anathema to the Germans, of course,
and so the Eastern volunteer units were never used to their full
potential. They were employed for rear-area tasks, or even shipped
off to the Atlantic Wall for garrison duties. And once away from
their homelands, their morale plummeted. How much more effective
they could have become had they been used to fight for the re-establishment
of their homelands will never be known, but the ill-conceived German
policy towards them hampered Nazi aims in the East. The ultimate
example of this is the fiasco of Vlassov's army, which only became
a reality when the war was already lost.
The whole Eastern program could have been excused in 1941 or perhaps
even as late as 1942 for its propaganda potential, but thereafter
it siphoned off trained officers and NCOs desperately needed elsewhere
when manpower and material shortages began to bite in 1943. In the
same way, it frittered away essential stocks of war munitions on
The Waffen-SS recruited many foreign volunteers into its ranks.
After the May 1940 "Victory in the West," the SS began an active
program to gain Western European recruits for several new Wafffen-SS
volunteer legions. This effort intensified after June 1941, as the
SS exhorted volunteers to join the "anti-bolshevik" campaign in
the Soviet Union.
Why were the Waffen-SS were so interested in Western European volunteers?
This effort was in response to Hitler and the German army setting
strict quotas on the number of German youth the SS could recruit.
Over 125,000 West Europeans volunteered for the SS. Although their
experiences really need to be researched on a unit by unit basis,
here are some common elements regarding their service:
They took slightly different oath than Germans
They were often (at least
at first) treated as 2nd class citizens by German SS officers
Language differences were an issue
Language differences were an issue
They were exposed to less Nazi
indoctrination, or the Nazi propaganda was tailored to their nationality
The were often partly motivated by their own
political or nationalistic agendas
They were often the most disciplined and fanatic
As the war progressed, they realized
that their countrymen began to look on them as traitors and collaborators
At first Nazi racial polices determined
acceptance level of volunteers. For example: Flemish volunteers
were considered "aryan" enough to volunteer for the Waffen-SS, whereas
Walloons were not; which is why the Walloon volunteer legion was
assimilated at first by the German Army, not the SS. These racial
standards were increasingly ignored as the German war fortunes declined
and the SS was in desperate need of manpower.
Eastern/Central European/Balkan volunteers :
The Waffen-SS also recruited great numbers of Volksdeutsche from
central and eastern European countries as well. Despite their ethinc
background, these troops often suffered greater language and motivation
difficulties that the western legions. Volksdeutsche seemed to have
a bit of a mixed reputation among the Reichsdeutsche Waffen-SS -
in some instances they were considered good soliders, yet in others
the volksdeutsche were considered cowardly and untrustworthy.
As the German fortunes steadily declined, the Waffen-SS took to
recruiting or conscripting increasing numbers of foreign recruits
that were by no stretch of the imagination bore any relation to
the Nazi "ideal". These troops, although numerous, were perhaps
the least motivated of all.