"Waffen SS"
 ‘SS’ stood for ‘Schutzstaffel’, and was the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party.  It came into existence in 1923, initially as a small unit to provide personal protection to Adolf Hitler.  Their influence on creating the ‘Final Solution’ was considerable, given that their leader and deputy were Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich.  As Himmler put it, the SS’ role was to guarantee “the security of Germany from the interior, just as the Wehrmacht guarantees the safety, the honour, the greatness and the peace of the Reich from the exterior”.  Throughout the thirties and the war years, they became an enormous organisation and a large number of different ranks, branches and distinctions were created.

The Waffen-SS were combat trained and were sent to fight in campaigns against France, Poland and the Sudetenland.  The personnel responsible for running the concentration camps were generally recruited from this branch (sometimes wounded soldiers etc) and the Allgemeine-SS, but by 1942 all were considered Waffen-SS for administration purposes.  Most staff were rotated

around various camps, which meant that in terms of culpability, there was little excuse for personnel not knowing the extent of the genocide taking place.  In 1945, the Auxiliary-SS were established in a desperate attempt to keep the camps running alongside the approach of Allied forces.  These people had little training or equipment and their presence at the camps when they were liberated meant they were held responsible when in some cases they had only been there for a few days or weeks. 

It is also worth knowing about the branch of the SS known as ‘Einsatzgruppen’, or ‘Death Squads’.  They would be assigned to perform mass killings; by the end of WW2 they bore responsibility for the deaths of over 1,000,000 people.  These massacres often took the form of mass shootings, in countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.  They would also arrange transportation to death camps.