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SS Totenköpfe Verbände

The Waffen-SS was not the SS organization which protected concentration camps, such as Dachau, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen. Separate SS units did this. The SS Totenköpfe Verbände (SS Death's Head Units) was specially trained for this task. The "Death's Head" was the symbol of the SS-Totenkopfverbande (one of the original three branches of the SS, along with the Algemeine SS and the Waffen SS), whose purpose was to guard the concentration camps. Most of the original members of this organization were later transferred into and became the core of a Waffen SS division, the Death's Head Division.

In 1939 the distinction between the Waffen-SS and SS Totenköpfe Verbände became more fluid, when the Totenkopf Division was formed out of SS Totenköpfe Verbände. However, the SS Totenköpfe Verbände itself never became a full military unit and, as such, never became part of the Waffen-SS. Most soldiers of the Waffen-SS never saw a concentration camp. Only a few severely wounded Waffen-SS veterans, who never fully recovered, were transferred to the SS Totenköpfe Verbände to conduct guard duties.

In the spring of 1941, a permanent home administration to handle problems involving personnel, pay, and benefits for soldiers in the division was established in the Dachau concentration camp. The movement of SS personnel of all ranks back and forth between the division and the concentration camps was constant. Most men sent from the division to the guard units in the camps were transferred for individual reasons, such as disability from the war or punishment. Transfers from the camps to the division were less frequent and most of the time involved individuals who possessed certain skills required by the division, such as mechanics, doctors, radio operators, and others.

By the end of the War concentration camps were under the control of the Reichsfuerher SS through the Kommadeur der Koentrationslager (Commander of Concentration Camps) and the Inspekter der Totenkopf-Verbunde (IDTV - Inspector of Deaths Head Units), both of the SS Central Office. The IDTV was responsible for the guarding and security of camps, while the general administration came under the Wekrwirtschaft und Verwaltungs-Hauptamt (War Economy and Administration Headquarters).

Charles Sydnor Jr. explains in his book Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-1945 that the Totenkopf Division was an exception to the other Waffen-SS units. The Totenkopf Division had during the war still associations with the concentration and extermination camp system. The Shutzstaffel Totenkopf (SSTK) Division had its beginnings with the birth of the Third Reich. The division was an outgrowth of the concentration camp guard units, and many of the cruel and inhuman characteristics of these soldiers carried over into the SSTK. One of the founders of the SS concentration camp guards and one of the first commanders of the infamous camp at Dachau, Theodor Eicke, organized the division just after the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. Eicke showed a flair for innovation and a mastery of administration. A psychopathic, power-mad, cold-blooded devotee of National Socialism, he organized, trained, and produced a fighting machine that commanded the respect of his superiors in the SS as well as the Fuhrer himself.

Eicke demanded and got strict discipline. He drove the troops hard in training and would accept nothing less than perfection of execution. Initially estranged by the Army (Heer) for the conduct of the SS regiments during the campaign in Poland in 1939, the SSTK faced formidable obstacles in obtaining supplies and equipment during their early organizing days. To alleviate this problem, Eicke scrounged, begged, borrowed, and actually stole much of what he considered necessary to his training mission.

The SSTK baptism of fire came in France and the low countries in the spring of 1940. During this campaign there occurred the first recorded combat atrocity committed by the Waffen SS. At Le Paradis, France, on 27 May 1940, an SS company massacred 100 British POWs who had surrendered when their ammunition ran out. The pattern was to be repeated again and again at places such as Tulle and Malmedy and in the reprisal killings on the Arno. Despite a thorough investigation, little, if any, consequence resulted for the perpetrators.

When Hitler decided to invade Russia, the SS played an important, if notorious, part in the initial successes. Despite its penchant for cruelty and atrocity, the SS fought gallantly and well. In the final stages of the Russian debacle, when the Germans suffered so many devastating defeats, the efforts of the SS in fighting rear-guard actions prevented these defeats from becoming humiliating routs.

On 9 May 1945, SS Brigadefuhrer Hellmuth Becker, the Division Commander (Eicke was killed in Russia on 26 February 1943), surrendered to the Third US Army. The Americans then turned the entire Division over to the Russians. Little is known of the fate of the officers and men after they were removed to detention camps inside Russia.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:42 ZULU