The Waffen-SS ( Armed SS) was the armed wing of the Nazi Party’s Schutzstaffel (SS, “Protective Squadron”). Its formations included men from Nazi Germany, along with volunteers and conscripts from both occupied and un-occupied lands.
The origins of the Waffen-SS can be traced back to the selection of a group of 120 SS men in March 1933 by Josef “Sepp” Dietrich to form the Sonderkommando Berlin. By November 1933 the formation had 800 men, and at a remembrance ceremony in Munich for the tenth anniversary of the failed Munich Putsch the regiment swore allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
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 (did you know) resisted integrating the Waffen-SS into the army, as it was intended 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 Führungshauptamt (SS operational command office) beneath Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. Upon mobilization its tactical control was given to the High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW), but it would also remain a “unit of the NSDAP”, according to Hitler.
Initially, in keeping with the racial policy of Nazi Germany, membership was only open to people of Germanic origin (so-called Aryan ancestry. 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 conscript. Foreign SS units
were made up of men mainly from among the nationals of Nazi occupied Europe.
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 the military veterans. An exception was made for Waffen-SS conscripts sworn in after 1943, who were exempted because they were not volunteers.
Total casualties among 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 theaters of the war.