The Waffen-SS, Armed SS, was created as the armed wing of the Nazi Party’ Schutzstaffel, SS, “Protective Squadron”, and gradually developed into a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of Nazi Germany.
The Waffen-SS grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions during World War II, and served alongside the Heer, regular army, but was never formally part of it. Adolf Hitler resisted integrating the Waffen-SS into the army, as it was to remain the armed wing of the Party and to become an elite police force once the war was won. Prior to the war, it was under the control of the SS Führungshauptambt, SS operational command office, beneath Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Upon mobilization its tactical control was given to the High Command of the Armed Forces, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht.
Initially membership was only open to people of Germanic “Aryan” origin, who were said to be the Herrenvolk (master race), according to Nazi racial ideology. The rules were partially relaxed in 1940, although groups considered by Nazis to be “sub-human” like ethnic Poles or Jews remained excluded. Hitler authorized the formation of units composed largely or solely of foreign volunteers and conscripts. Foreign SS units were made up from recruits in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium (both Wallonia and Flanders), Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Galicia, Georgia, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia (including Cossack and Tatar, Turkic SSR Republics), Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Independent State of Croatia, Asian Regiment, Arab Regiment, USA (15-20 volunteers) and a small number of British troops, with the last unit being a significant propaganda tool.
At the post-war Nuremberg Trials the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organisation due to its connection to the Nazi Party and involvement in numerous war crimes Waffen-SS veterans were denied many of the rights afforded to veterans who had served in the Heer (army), Luftwaffe (air force) or Kriegsmarine (navy). An exception was made for Waffen-SS conscripts sworn in after 1943, who were exempted because of their involuntary servitude..
Total casualties amongst the Waffen-SS will probably never be known, but one estimate indicates that they suffered 180,000 dead, 400,000 wounded, and 40,000 missing. World War II casualties indicates that the Waffen-SS suffered 314,000 killed and missing, or 34.9 per cent. By comparison, the United States Army suffered 318,274 killed and missing in all theatres of the war.