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Waffen-SS (Literally "Armed SS") was a designation for combat units of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the paramilitary organisation of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS fought alongside the German military during World War II and played a principal role in orchestrating the Holocaust, the Porajmos, and other Nazi atrocities. At its peak in 1945, the Waffen-SS consisted of almost a million personnel. The SS was completely annihilated in April-May 1945 following the Battle of Berlin and the German Instrument of Surrender, and most of its leadership was imprisoned, executed, committed suicide, or forced into hiding.

The term Waffen-SS was first used in official documents in late-1939 as a general term for armed units of the SS and police. In July 1940 however, the SS-Verfügungstruppe (combat units separate from both the Wehrmacht and the Ordnungspolizei, at Hitler's disposal) was officially renamed to the Waffen-SS, and in August 1940, the SS Leadership Main Office was established under the command of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. Units such as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd SS Panzer Divisions were designated as Waffen-SS, and many members of the Allgemeine-SS, the SS-Totenkopfverbände, and the Ordnungspolizei joined the branch.

The SS initially only consisted of ethnic German volunteers ages 17–23 who could prove that they had no traceable Jewish ancestry after 1800.[Note 1] Throughout the course of the war, however, due to a shortage of manpower, these restrictions were eased so that non-German volunteers who were still considered Germanic (e.g. the French and the Dutch) and eventually even non-Germanic volunteers (e.g. Ukrainians, Hungarians, and Estonians) could serve in the Waffen-SS. Conscription was even introduced in 1943, meaning that some people were forced to serve in the German military and the Waffen-SS against their will, although it should be noted that the vast majority of soldiers who served in the Waffen-SS were volunteers, not conscripts.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Exceptions were made for those who were declared "honourary Aryans".