The Schutzstaffel (SS) was founded in 1925 to provide party security. It was Hitler’s bodyguard and protected NSDAP events. Initially it was subordinate to the much larger Sturmabteilung (SA), a paramilitary organisation within the NSDAP. When Heinrich Himmler, an agriculturalist by training, took charge of the SS in 1929, it had only a few hundred members. Under his leadership, the SS rose to become one of the most powerful institutions within the Nazi state.
With Hitler appointed as Reich chancellor in 1933, the SS began its persecution of the political opponents of National Socialism. Its instruments of terror were the SS concentration camps, outside the ordinary reach of the law. In the years that followed, ever-larger sections of the population were sent to the camps: homosexuals, people described as “antisocial” or “career criminals” and people persecuted because of their race – Jews, Sinti and Roma.
By 1936, Himmler gained control over the entire police force. The intention was for it to merge with the SS into a Nazi “State Security Corps”, oriented not by law and justice but by the “will of the Führer” and of the “national community”, or Volksgemeinschaft. The SS, for Himmler, was a brotherhood with strict acceptance criteria, the nucleus of the racist new order in Europe.
When the war began, the SS and police provided security in the areas occupied by the Wehrmacht. Particularly in Eastern Europe, which was to be cleared for settlement by Germans in the future, SS units committed atrocities against the civilian population. The genocides of European Jews, Sinti and Roma were to a significant extent planned and executed by the SS.
The General Staff of the Reichsführer-SS coordinated the multifarious activities of the SS, which was active not only in police, secret service and military matters, but also in the economy, science and culture. Its office was located at Prinz-Albrecht-Straße 8.