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The ideology of the SS refers to the idealized values and motivations of the SS (German: Schutzstaffel), the powerful paramilitary force of Nazi Germany. The British historian Michael Burleigh described SS values as a "...synthetic mixture of the novel and traditional, overlain with death-fixated kitsch".[1] The head of the SS Heinrich Himmler stated that, besides protecting Adolf Hitler, the primary mission of the SS was the fight against "subhumans" in accordance with the racial policy of Nazi Germany[2] In actual operation, the ideology shaped policy decisions, as in the German treatment of Soviet soldiers and civilians after 1941.[3] Indoctrination into the ideology was a central part of the training of SS members and soldiers.[4]

Training programs

Each SS unit had an education leader who taught the basic ideological fundamentals, especially belief in the superiority of the Nordic race, loyalty to "Blood and Soil," absolute obedience to Hitler, and hatred of inferior races, particularly the Jews. Anti-Semitism was heavily emphasized in the training program and the internal literature and lectures of the SS. Trainees studied the most intensely anti-Semitic passages of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The education leader was also responsible for general antireligious training and activities.[5]

Particular aspects of SS ideology were emphasized in training programs, such as sports as an intense conflict. All SS men were required to gain the sports badges of the Sturmabteilung (SA), thereby - according to ideology - promoting a "natural selection" and guaranteeing the formation of an elite group. The SS sports training had a large paramilitary component with an emphasis on total victory over the opponent.[6] The goal was not sports performance—that was too individualistic for the collective mentality of the SS. Instead the goal was creating the perfect warrior who exemplified willpower, hardness of temperament, and national purity.[7]

Beginning in 1938 the SS intensified the ideological indoctrination of the Hitler Youth Land Service (HJ-Landdienst). It set out the ideal of the German "soldier peasant." Special high schools were created under SS control to form a Nazi agrarian elite that was trained according to the principle of "blood and soil."[8]

SS versus religion

In the struggle for total control over German minds and bodies, the SS developed an anti-religious agenda.[9] No chaplains were allowed in its units (although they were allowed in the regular army). Himmler established a special unit in the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) to identify and eliminate Catholic influences. The SS decided the German Catholic Church was a serious threat to its hegemony and while it was too strong to be abolished it had to be stripped of its influence, for example by closing its youth clubs and publications.[10]

Himmler used the Jesuits as the model for the SS, since he found they had the core element absolute obedience and the cult of the organisation.[11] Hitler is also said to have called Himmler "my Ignatius of Loyola" .[11] As an order, the SS needed a coherent doctrine that would set it apart. Himmler attempted to construct such an ideology, and to this purpose he deduced a "pseudo-Germanic tradition"[12] from history. In a 1936 memorandum, Himmler set forth a list of approved holidays based on pagan and political precedents meant to wean SS members from their reliance on Christian festivities. However, these attempts were not entirely successful. Historian Höhne observes that the "neo-pagan customs" Himmler introduced into the SS "...remained primarily a paper exercise".[13]

Atheism was banned within the SS with all SS men being required to list themselves as Protestant, Catholic or "believer in God" (German language: gottgläubig).[14] Atheism was outlawed within the SS as Himmler believed it to be a form of egotism that placed the individual at the center of the universe, and thus constituted a rejection of the SS principle of valuing the collective over the individual.[15]

Class egalitarianism

In contrast to the German army's traditions, officer promotions in the SS were based on the individual's commitment and political reliability, not on Junker status or upper class family background.[16] Consequently the SS officer schools offered a military career option for those of modest social background, which was not usually possible in the Wehrmacht.[16] The relationship between officers and soldiers was also less formal than in the regular armed forces.[16] SS-officers were referred to as Führer ("leader"), not Offiziere, which had class connotations.[16] The military rank prefix Herr ("Sir") was forbidden, and all ranks were addressed simply by their title (for example, an SS private would address an SS Major general as Brigadeführer, never Herr Brigadeführer).[16] Off duty, junior ranks would address their seniors either as Kamerad ("Comrade") or Parteigenosse ("Party colleague"), depending on if both were members of the Nazi party.[16] Though SS membership was open to all who met Himmler's eugenic and genealogical standards, an inordinate number of SS men came from the aristocracy.[17] The British historian Michael Burleigh noted, "Aristocrats were submerged into a new synthetic elite within an organisation which espoused egalitarian meritocracy along with racial rather than social elitism".[18] The SS placed an intense emphasis upon elitism, and portrayed themselves as part of an elite order, which "...explicitly modelled on an a historical version of religious orders, such as the Teutonic Knights or the Jesuits, whose dedication to a higher idea was admired in these otherwise anti-clerical circles".[19]

Violence as SS value

The SS was built on a culture of violence, which was exhibited in extreme form by the mass murder of civilians and prisoners on the Eastern Front after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.[20][21] In his 1965 essay "Command and Compliance", which originated in his work as an expert witness for the prosecution at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials in 1963, the German historian Hans Buchheim wrote that the mentality and ideal values of the SS men were to be "hard" with no such emotions as love or kindness, hatred for the "inferior" and contempt for anyone who was not in the SS, unthinking obedience, "camaraderie" with fellow members of the SS, and an intense militarism that saw the SS as part of an elite order fighting for a better Germany.[22] The principal "enemy" of the SS, represented as a force of utter evil and depravity with which one could not compromise, was "world Jewry".[23] Burleigh wrote that "Compassion, humility or love of one's neighbour were dismissed as humanitarian weakness by an organisation which regarded hardness, sacrifice and self-overcoming as positive virtues".[24] Buchheim argued that the SS value of "fighting for fighting's sake" could be traced back to the values of the front-line German soldiers in World War I and the Freikorps, and in turn led SS members to see violence as the highest possible value, and conventional morality as a hindrance to achieving victory.[25] Bucheim maintained that for many in the SS what really mattered was a mentality that fostered violence and "hardness".[26] The ideal SS man was supposed to be in a state of permanent readiness for a fight against all comers with all his might and fury.[27] The British historian Michael Burleigh wrote the emphasis upon permanently ready for a fight at all times led to those SS men who attempted to live by that principle to having an unusually high suicide rate.[28] The "soldierly" values of the SS were specific to the German post-World War I concept of the "political soldier" who was to be indoctrinated to be a "fighter" who would devote his life to struggling for the nation.[29]

Troops of the SS Leibstandarte at a Nazi procession in 1939.

Buchheim wrote that though, this was not a SS document, the 1930 book Krieg und Krieger (War and Warriors) edited by Ernst Jünger with contributions by Friedrich Georg Jünger, Friedrich Hielscher, Werner Best and Ernst von Salomon served as an excellent introduction to the intellectual traditions from which the SS ideal arose.[27] The essays in Krieg und Krieger called for a revolutionary reorganization of German society, which was to be led by a new elite of "heroic" leaders who would create a "new moral code" based upon the idea that life was a never-ending, Social Darwinian "struggle" that could only be settled with violence.[30] The book claimed that Germany had only been defeated in the First World War because the Reich had been insufficiently "spiritually mobilized", and what was required to win the next war was the proper sort of "heroic" leaders, unhindered by conventional morality would do what was necessary to win.[31] The values of the "heroic realism" literature gloried the principle and practice of fighting to the death regardless of the military situation.[28] Out of the intellectual heritage of the “heroic realism” literature came a rejection as “sentimentalism” the traditional values of Christianity and the Enlightenment in favour of the new values of a cold indifference to value of human life.[28] Bucheim wrote that marriage of the image of the "fighter" from "heroic realism" literature and the practical need of the SS to serve as political cadres for the National Socialist state led to the elevation of the concept of "duty" as the highest obligation of the SS man.[32] The SS ethos called for "achievement for achievement's sake" with the ability to achieve whatever task one was assigned perfectly being the highest measurement of success.[33] As such, winning at all costs regardless of whatever was talking of a race, game, war, etc. was a supreme SS virtue.[28] The SS principle of loyalty above all, as reflected in the official slogan "My honour is loyalty" was severed from traditional moral considerations, and instead focused entirely upon Adolf Hitler.[28] As part of the process creating an elite order led to emphasis upon an idealized and distorted version of German history which was intended to instill pride in SS men.[34]

Obedience to criminal orders

Warsaw Jews being held at gunpoint by SS troops. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 1943.

Buchheim argues there was no coercion to murder Jews and others, and all who committed such actions did so out of free will.[35] Buchheim wrote that chances to avoid executing criminal orders "...were both more numerous and more real than those concerned are generally prepared to admit".[36] Buchheim commented that until the middle of 1942, the SS had been a strictly volunteer organization, and that anyone who joined the SS after the Nazis had taken over the German government in 1933 either knew or came to know that he was joining an organization that would be involved in atrocities of one sort or another.[37]

Buchheim wrote that he found no evidence that SS men who refused to carry out criminal orders were punished with execution or being sent to a concentration camp.[38] Other historians agree.[39] On the other hand there is no record of an SS officer refusing to commit an atrocity; they willingly did so, and then cherished the awards they received for so doing.[40] Buchheim notes that SS wartime rules, though calling for harsh and murderous treatment of Jews, prohibited acts of gratuitous sadism, as Himmler wished for his men to remain "decent", and that such acts of gratuitous cruelty were taken on the individual initiative of those who were either especially cruel and/or wished to prove themselves ardent National Socialists.[41] Finally, Buchheim argues that for those of a non-criminal bent who committed crimes did so because they wished to conform to the values of the group they had joined and were fearful of being branded "weak" by their by colleagues if they refused.[42]


  1. Burleigh, Michael The Third Reich A New History, New York: Hill and Wang, 2000 p. 194.
  2. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Vol. II. USGPO, Washington, 1946, pp. 173-237.
  3. André Mineau (2004). Operation Barbarossa: Ideology and Ethics Against Human Dignity. Rodopi. p. 65. ISBN 978-90-420-1633-0. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  4. Jay Hatheway, In Perfect Formation: SS Ideology and the SS-Junkerschule-Tolz (1999)
  5. James J. Weingartner, "'Blood and Soil' and Militarism: The Role of the Education Leader in the SS-Verfügungstruppe", Studies in History and Society (1969), Vol. 2 Issue 1/2, pp. 1-12.
  6. Berno Bahro, "Der Sport und seine Rolle in der nationalsozialistischen Elitetruppe SS," Historical Social Research (2007) 32#1 pp 78-91.
  7. John Hoberman, "Primacy of Performance: Superman Not Superathlete," International Journal of the History of Sport (1999) 16#2 pp 69-85
  8. Peter R. Hartmann, "Faschistische Agrarideologie und Kriegsvorbereitung," Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Universität Rostock: Gesellschafts- und Sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe (1972) Vol. 21 Issue 1, pp 143-147.
  9. Mark Edward Russ, "The Nazis' Religionspolitik: An Assessment of Recent Literature," Catholic Historical Review (2006) 92#3 pp 252-267
  10. Wolfgang Dierker, "Himmlers Glaubenskrieger. Der Sicherheitsdienst der SS, Seine Religionspolitik und die 'Politische Religion' des Nationalsozialismus," Historisches Jahrbuch (2002), Vol. 122, pp 321-344.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Höhne 1969, p. 135.
  12. Höhne 1969, p. 146.
  13. Höhne 1969, pp. 138, 143-5, 156-57.
  14. Burleigh, 2000, p. 195.
  15. Burleigh, 2000, pp. 196-197.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 Lumsden, Robin (1997). Himmler's Black Order 1923-45. Sutton. pp. 52–53. ISBN 0-7509-1396-7. 
  17. Burleigh, Michael The Third Reich A New History, New York: Hill and Wang, 2000 p. 193.
  18. Burleigh, Michael The Third Reich A New History, New York: Hill and Wang, 2000 p. 195.
  19. Burleigh, Michael The Third Reich A New History, New York: Hill and Wang, 2000 p. 191.
  20. Stephen G. Fritz (2011). Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination in the East. University Press of Kentucky. p. 94. 
  21. Hannes Heer; Heer Naumann; Klaus Naumann (2004). War Of Extermination: The German Military In World War Ii. Berghahn Books. p. 338. 
  22. Buchheim 1968, pp. 320-321.
  23. Buchheim 1968, p. 321.
  24. Burleigh, Michael 2000, p. 196.
  25. Buchheim 1968, pp. 323-327.
  26. Buchheim 1968, p. 320.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Buchheim 1968, p. 323.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 28.4 Burleigh, Michael 2000, p. 195.
  29. Buchheim 1968, pp. 321-323.
  30. Buchheim 1968, p. 324.
  31. Buchheim 1968, p. 325.
  32. Buchheim 1968, pp. 326-327.
  33. Buchheim 1968, p. 328.
  34. Höhne 1969, pp. 154-155.
  35. Buchheim 1968, pp. 372-373.
  36. Buchheim 1968, p. 373.
  37. Buchheim 1968, p. 390.
  38. Buchheim 1968, p. 381.
  39. Terry Goldsworthy (2010). Valhalla's Warriors: A History of the Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front 1941-1945. Dog Ear Publishing. p. 188. 
  40. Philip W. Blood (2006). Hitler's Bandit Hunters: The SS And the Nazi Occupation of Europe. Potomac Books. p. 17. 
  41. Buchheim 1968, p. 372.
  42. Buchheim 1968, pp. 386-387.


Further reading

  • Longerich, Peter (2011). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959232-6. 
  • Wegner, Bernd (1990). The Waffen-SS: Organization, Ideology and Function (Oxford: Basil Blackwell)

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