As its name signifies, the key role of the SS was protection: Schutzstaffel means protection squad. It was originally set up as a small part of the SA to physically protect the Fuhrer.
Himmler Expands the SS
When Heinrich Himmler was appointed commander (or Reichsfuhrer SS) in January 1929, he saw an opportunity to develop the role of its 280 members into something much greater and more significant for the NSDAP.
The protection element was further developed into much more than just physical protection, and included the ideological protection and control of the NSDAP ideals along with a motivational role as an elite corps of perfect Aryans that would act as an inspiration to motivate the German people.
Himmler spent the following three years building its membership which by the end of 1932 had risen to 52,000 members. At the end of 1932 this had quadrupled into an incredible 209,000 members.
The emerging SS was designed around the principles of historical groups like the Templar Knights, the Jesuits, the ancient German Teutonic Knights, and the legendary King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table with the key principles of being loyal, valiant and totally obedient.
Its motto was vitally important to its role: ‘Meine Ehre heist Treue’ or ‘My Honour is called Loyalty’. Hitler wrote this about a group of SS who protected the Berlin Head of the NSDAP against the SA in the Stennes Revolt in April 1931.
The Revised Duties of the SS
The SS was established to fulfil internal (state) protection roles during the 1930’s which were:
1. Physical protection of the Fuhrer and other key leaders of the Nazi Party
All members of the SS had to swear a lifetime pledge of allegiance to Hitler personally which was: ‘We swear to you, Adolf Hitler, loyalty, fidelity and bravery. We solemnly pledge obedience to the death to you, and to those bestowed by you as leaders’.
From 1934, Hitler’s dedicated Honour Guard Battalion was named the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and known by the initials of LSSAH. Fighting combat units were developed which were eventually mobilised in 1939.
2. Internal security and ideological protection of the NSDAP
An SS intelligence and security service was established in 1931 and headed by Reinhard Heydrich in order to manage the security police forces of the Nazi Party and the German State. The Nazi Party Police force was called the Sicherheitsdienst, which simply meant ‘Security Service’ and was known as the ‘SD’.
3. The role of the SD was to manage all intelligence, espionage and counter espionage
In addition, the SD were to handle all the police duties of common law crime and most important of all, actively police and manage public opinion about the Nazi regime by the ordinary people of Germany, removing anyone who was considered a threat, a dissenter or a political enemy of the NSDAP. This included Communists, Jews, Church leaders, teachers who did not join the Party, and even members of Masonic Orders.
4. The SS took over the State Security Police
The duties of the State Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei or ‘Sipo’) and the ordinary Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei or Kripo) were assumed by the SS, but it wasn’t until 1939 that the 600-strong Political Police (Geheime-Staatspolizei, or Gestapo) was assimilated into the SS when Himmler replaced Göring as its overall Commander, amalgamating all three Police Forces into a new SS Department called the Reich central Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA).
The Gestapo had been established since 1933 under the command of Göring.
To become a member of the SS, candidates had to be taller than 5 foot 11 inches and be able to prove a pure Aryan background going back 150 years. SS members were only allowed to marry a woman of similar background, which was investigated by the ancestry department before final permission to marry was granted by Himmler.