During the Holocaust, millions of Jews and others perished. The SS played an important role in the aid of murdering millions of people during the Holocaust. Heinrich Himmler, the reichsführer (leader) of the SS, was responsible for raising the SS to power. By the middle of WWII, the SS was made up by more than 52,000 people and was running concentration camps all around Germany.
By the end of WWI, the US was the victor and Germany took defeat. To end the war, the Treaty of Versailles was created. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was to take the blame for the start of WWI. Germany was forced to pay 31.4 billion dollars to make up for the damage, had to give up most of their army except for six naval ships and a small army, and had much land taken away. The League of Nations formed out of the treaty to help maintain peace, but Germany and their union with Austria were not allowed to join. The German people went into a great depression from these conditions, and the people now viewed their government as weak because they gave into these terms. When Hitler came into the picture, he used the German’s despair and longing to reach the end of their depression to gain supporters. With Hitler’s promises, he started to rise in power.
The League of Nations had believed in appeasement and wanted to do anything to maintain peace. Hitler and the Nazi party had started to grow, and they became greedier for power. To get more power, the Nazi’s needed to get more land and expand Germany. With this need for the growth of German superiority, the Munich Agreement was made by the League of Nations and Germany, which gave Germany part of Czechoslovakia. Under the terms of the Munich Agreement, Germany was to not take over more land. Hitler took advantage of the League’s appeasement and easily took over the rest of Czechoslovakia without anyone trying to stop him. The German people saw how Hitler was expanding German territory, and he gained even more power. Although Hitler was gaining supporters, Germany was still in their depression. Hitler used the chaos and corruption of the public to demand his immediate rise in power. After a German government building was set on fire, Hitler claimed that he needed power to stop the chaos. On January 30th, 1933, Hitler became chancellor of Germany.
A major help to Hitler’s rise in power was the SS. Before WWII, the Schutzstaffel served as Hitler’s personal bodyguards. Before Heinrich Himmler became the leader of the SS, the Schutzstaffel was not feared. When Himmler expanded the SS’ role and size to prepare for the actions taken in the Holocaust, that’s when the group was truly feared. The recruits for the SS had to prove that they were not Jewish and had no past Jewish family and received special training. The SS men were taught that they were the best out of the whole human race. Among these people who supported Hitler was Heinrich Himmler. Himmler was born into a middle-class family and grew up very patriotic. He had always dreamed of becoming an officer and left high school to train to be an officer candidate. Before Himmler’s training was complete, Germany signed the armistice that ended WWI on November 11th, 1918. Himmler then went back to high school and completed it. After high school, Himmler was forced into taking a job in a manure processing factory in Schleissheim. In that factory, Himmler contacted the SA chief of staff (Ernst Röhm) and that brought him to contact with the National Socialists. Himmler joined the Nazi party in August 1923 and devoted his whole life to it. After he quit his job, he found work as a secretary and personal assistant of Grego Strasser was the Propaganda Leader of the Nazi party in 1926. From that job, Hitler gained a reputation as a speaker and organizer for the Nazi party. While he built his political reputation, Himmler married Margarete Boden in 1928 and had a daughter, Gudrun in 1929.
On January 6th, 1929, Hitler made Himmler leader of the SS. During this time, the SS was only made up of 280 men. Once Hitler began to rise in power and the Nazi party expanded, the SS became larger than roughly 52,000 men. The goal of the SS was international security and guardship over racial purity. The SS later adopted the motto “my honor is loyalty.” The men of the SS had to be dedicated to Nazi work. Himmler created a Race and Settlement Office of the SS to evaluate men who were looking to marry under a “marriage decree.” This decree was said to maintain “racial purity” and in wartime decided whether someone was German or not. Deciding to marry or not to marry could lead to good perks such as a job and better rations or could lead to death. Himmler built a strong reputation for the SS by taking control of German police forces. On March 9th of 1933, Heinrich was appointed provisional president of police. Three weeks after he was appointed, Himmler was named Commander of the Bavarian Political Police. Himmler was in command of each of the state political police departments in 1934. On June 17th, 1936, Himmler was appointed leader of the SS and Chief of German police. Between 1933 and 1934, Himmler had control over a centralized concentration camp system. Several concentration camps were made, but Dachau was the very first and modeled as a school of violence for Nazi commanders. Soon after Dachau was made, Hitler gave Himmler permission to create a centralized concentration camp system. The SS Insectorate of Concentration camps reduced the number of concentration camps in 1937 to four, but the number increased to 30-40 main camps and hundreds of subcamps during war time. In those concentration camps, Nazi men killed around 2 million prisoners which included Jews, political prisoners, Gypsies, recidivist convicts, homosexuals and many others.
After the SS had killed one of Hitler’s political opponents, Ernst Röhm, Hitler announced illegally that the SS was an independent organization which was ran by Hitler and co-ran by Himmler. This illegal announcement gave Himmler immense power and allowed him to commit mass murder. In July of 1943, Himmler was appointed Minister of the Interior. Himmler eventually persuaded Hitler to create an armed SS force (Waffen SS) and it eventually consisted of half a million armed men. Himmler was appointed commander of the Replacement Army on July 20th, 1944. By this time the SS took control over the Armed Forces Intelligence Service. With all of this power, Himmler was able to give command of matters relating to prisoners of war. Himmler’s end goal was to eventually run the SS behind the scenes. Himmler knew how to stabilize men’s loyalty to the SS. Himmler gave the SS men the freedom to do what they want and kill how they wanted, so a lot of their goals were accomplished and fast. Himmler saw how important international security and determination of racial purity was important, so he expanded the function of the SS. Expanding the function of the SS spread Nazi terror among the people. Himmler also convinced Hitler the separation of legal boundaries and fusion of police power and the SS would help them to reach their long term ideological goals.
Himmler was trusted by Hitler to help carry out the plans and completion of the “Final Solution.” On October 4th, 1943 Himmler ensured the mass murder of European Jews in a speech. According to the speech that Himmler gave, “we had the moral right, we were obligated to our people to kill this people which wanted us to kill” (Heinrich Himmler 2). Himmler carried out the plans through his many concentration camps and prisoners of war camps. Himmler had started to negotiate a separate peace with the western Allies, while still fighting with the Soviet Union. For this negotiating, Himmler used concentration camp prisoners to bargain with. In April of 1945, Himmler tried to meet with the representative of the World Jewish Congress to discuss openings for negotiations. During the same month, Himmler asked the Vice President of the Swedish Red Cross to offer the surrender on the western front to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commander-in-chief of the Allied Forces. Hitler found out about these meetings and took all of Himmler’s power and ordered his arrest. Shortly after, Himmler changed his name to Heinrich Hitznger and dressed as a Secret Field Police Man. On May 20th, 1945, Himmler was caught by Russian soldiers and was turned over to the British. He eventually confessed his true identity to the British. On May 23rd, 1945, Himmler killed himself by biting down on a cyanide capsule while being searched.