The role of the SS in Nazi Germany was very important. Many historians, such as Schoenbaum, have argued that Himmler created an organisation which, “potentially superseded the state and perhaps even the party as well. ” Its members were totally dedicated to the supreme virtues of Nazi ideology, loyalty and honour. They saw themselves as the protectors of the German way of life and the defenders of the people against agitators, the criminal classes and those they saw as being responsible for the Jewish-Bolshevik threat.
They also saw it as their duty to supervise the process of gaining lebensraum or living space and the successful German colonisation of the newly acquired territories. However. Although it is true that the SS’ power came from Hitler it is also true that the power of the SS lay in the fact that it was a symbol, of fear and terror. By 1941, the “SS state” was a reality. Schoenbaum said of it, “in one form or another the SS made foreign policy, military policy and agricultural policy. ” The power the SS gained began after The Night of the Long Knives in 1934.
Himmler had demonstrated his loyalty to Hitler and thus gained his favour. This gave Himmler the “carte blanche” to create a racially pure SS empire. Himmler received preferential treatment. He had the pick of the cri?? me of the German youth and the German army to use as he wished. The power and influence the SS maintained has been contested by many historians. To discern exactly how much influence the SS had in Germany, as a “state within a state”, it is important to establish what is meant by a state. A state can be divided into individual state machinery.
This includes law and order, education, government, the military and the economy. A states functions are determined by the bodies which originate, plan, organise and implement economic and social policy. It can be shown that the SS had significant influence as one of these bodies. However, the SS’ organisation was overshadowed by other parts of the state like the foreign office. Yet the SS soon developed its totalitarian and autocratic nature. Himmler tried to gain mastery over as many areas of politics as possible ad by the outbreak of war the SS had influence in four large areas of Nazi Germany.
With regard to the area of domestic security the SS had achieved a monopoly based upon three instruments of power; the Sicherheitsdienst, the Gestapo and the police and the concentration camps. The secret service (SD) set out to monopolise all intelligence activities under Heydrich and eventually took over the Wehrmacht’s counter intelligence agency, the Abwehr. The concentration camps developed as a centralised, repressive machine, strictly policed by the SS’ Death’s Head Units.
The existence of these camps gave the SS freedom of action independent of the existing system of judgment. Anyone could be arrested and sent to the camps without legal procedure even when freed by the courts. This lack of legal security helped to intimidate the people and cripple the forces of opposition. However, it was the domination and eventual assimilation of the police force that demonstrated the most significant concentration of power. The police force was absorbed in several stages starting in 1933-34 when Himmler was given control of the secret police in the Lander.
This was extended in 1936 when he was made Reichsfuher -SS and chief of German police which made it possible to integrate the police force into the administrative structure of the SS. As a result the police force ceased to be an organisation of public service and became an instrument of the Fuher’s will. Also the Gestapo Act of 1936 ensured that the domestic courts were unable to interfere in Gestapo action. Thus they had become unchallenagble in any legal sense. By 1939 the SS-police-SD system was more than a “state within a state”.
It was a huge vested interest which had begun to obscure other interest groups in terms of power and influence. As the German control over more parts of Europe grew so to did the SS. The task of internal security became greater. By 1945 the Gestapo had grown to 40 000. However, this branch of the SS lacked the personnel to enact a direct threat to German society. The success of the SS relied on the co-operation of people who showed willingness to report on those deemed to be enemies of the regime. The denunciations were particularly random in nature and were more concerned with keeping the civilian population under-control.
And as such bureaucracy took over the and the Gestapo was “bogged down” with paperwork to exert a physical influence on Germany. Nevertheless, the network of informers grew and increased the levels of fear and suspicion felt at every level of the social system. The German people were completely suppressed. The SS managed to effectively advance into the field of the armed forces. Within a few years Himmler had organised a “Second Army” which took the form of the SS reserve troops, the core of the later Waffen-SS, which challenged the delicate balance of power between the political and the military powers in Germany.
In the early years of its growth Himmler deceived army generals with its small size and this deceit was not realised until 1938, when the troops numbered 14 000, because it was under the belief that it only had police-like functions. However, by 1938 it was a military force, as many of the officers had been trained by former army NCOs. The loss of beck and Fritsch in 1938 removed two of the most significant opponents to the rise of Himmler’s new force and the SS exploited this situation rapidly. Himmler gave the SS Reserve Troops a “mobile role as part of a wartime army” and later it developed into a full-time division.
The Waffen-SS rapidly grew into a separate army, though it did not challenge the power of the Wehrmacht until 1943. Himmler created an elite, politicised warrior caste. He wanted the SS to supplant the army to take over the policy of lebensraum. However, this changes to become units of elite troops because the war starts earlier than expected. However, the Waffen-SS was a small part of the army. In 1941, it had just over 900 000 men, 1/10 of the army. As a response to the July bomb plot the leadership of the army was purged and by 1945, due to the war losses, the SS had become diluted losing its elitist standing.
As early as 1933, the SS had began to influence the key areas of ideology and propaganda. They claimed to be the pioneers of the Nazi socialist movement and also a model for and educator of the German nation. The SS controlled the Ordensburgs – basically military schools to train the elite, to join the SS once they are older – and the NAPOLAS – an undergraduate school for promising Hitler Youth members. However, Himmler was only concerned wit this part of education because he was only concerned with creating a racially pure leadership elite for the use in the armed forces.
Himmler also sought to make the SS economically independent by forming companies to exploit the labour in the concentration camps. By 1938 it had begun systematic expansion and by 1945 had created a vast empire built o slave labour. The SS owned 40 different enterprises covering 150 works; quarrying, earthworks, food, drink, agriculture and forestry, timber and iron processing, leathers, textiles and publishing. Himmler had regular meeting with industrialists and business men through his friendship circles which supported the work of the SS with large sums of money and cheap loans.
The SS economy and administration board was set up in 1942 as part of Himmler’s plan to develop a vast SS armaments industry which would make the SS independent from the state budget. This changed their basic role, but despite the increasingly large numbers, who were sent to the camps to provide cheap labour, the SS did not care for them and the death rate was high in the face of repression, dehumanisation and physical extermination. However, as Albert Speer noted, “Himmler had put a foot in the door”, a method which he used for every part of the state he wanted a part of.
He was only interested in what would be beneficial for him and the SS, he did not want to take over the economy just have his pick at it. The concentration camps also changed as a result of Himmler’s economic interest into the war. As the demand for cheap labour increased, the camp strategy had to adapt and so a steadily increasing supply of prisoners was required – whose stays would be extended – allied to a greater degree of productivity. However, the latter aim was unsuccessful as conditions worsened and the policy of positive and negative encouragement failed.
According to Speer the average amount of work done by an inmate was only 1/6 of what a free labourer could achieve. Thus every conceivable effort was made to increase the number of inmates and the SS was empowered to detain in “protective custody” an ever widening circle of political, social and racial offenders. However, before the war they were aimed at neutralising the regimes internal enemies but after1942, this was increasingly superseded by mass extermination and economic exploitation, and therein lies a contradiction.
Economic exploitation required he preservation of the workforce; extermination meant its destruction. This influence that the SS had achieved in the vital areas of the Nazi regime shows that its ambitions were aimed at the reformation of society as a whole. However, the SS’ ideology and political apparatus would not have been taken seriously had it not been supported by the always-present threat of the Gestapo and the camps. The establishment of the SS would not have been possible without Himmler’s commanding position in domestic affairs.
Himmler feared that, particularly after the war had begun, that the wide variety of functions within the SS might result in the drifting apart of the individual parts. Thus he stressed even more the common ethic ideal in the education of young Nazi leaders, in order that they would be the glue which would keep the whole together. The SS had emerged during a period of political and social convulsions between 1933 and 1936 and Himmler was concerned that any stability might undermine the development of his organisation.
However, domestic turmoil was soon replaced by external violence and, inevitably, then war, enabling the SS to continue to evolve and flourish. Indeed the outbreak of the war gave the SS a unique opportunity to maintain its momentum and even extend its influence beyond German borders. Thus the war became a condition sine qua non for the further evolution of the SS as envisaged by Himmler. By the end of the 1930’s the influence of the SS was extensive and varied, but it had its limits.
The old elites remained, apart from the police force, and this meant that the SS reached the limits of its power when it had to compete with old or new leadership groups without having Hitler’s backing. The SS was also hampered by the fact that they were accountable to Hitler and if he disagreed with the policy they wanted to pursue then there was no way it would go ahead. Himmler had to compete with other Nazi officials to gain Hitler’s favour, which he eventually did. Thus it is not surprising that Himmler reached the zenith of his power at a time when the German defeat was no longer in doubt.