SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), literally translated as Death's Head Units, was the SS organization responsible for administering the Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps for Nazi Germany, among similar duties. While the Totenkopf (skull) was the universal cap badge of the SS, the SS-TV also wore the Death's Head insignia on the right collar tab to distinguish itself from other Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) formations.
The SS-TV originally created in 1933 was an independent unit within the SS, with its own ranks and command structure. It ran the camps throughout Germany and later in occupied Europe. Camps in Germany included Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Buchenwald; camps elsewhere in Europe included Auschwitz-Birkenau in German occupied Poland and Mauthausen in Austria among the numerous other concentration camps, and death camps handled with the utmost of secrecy. The extermination camps' function was genocide; they included Treblinka, Bełżec, and Sobibór built specifically for Aktion Reinhard, as well as the original Chełmno extermination camp, and Majdanek which was fitted with mass killing facilities, along with Auschwitz. They were responsible for facilitating what the Nazis called the Final Solution, known since the war as the Holocaust; perpetrated by the SS within the command structure of the Reich Main Security Office, subordinate to Heinrich Himmler, and the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office or WVHA.
At the outbreak of World War II, one of the first combat units of the Waffen-SS, the SS Division Totenkopf, was formed from SS-TV personnel. It soon developed a reputation for brutality, participating in war crimes such as the Le Paradis massacre in 1940 during the Fall of France. On the Eastern Front, the mass shootings of Polish and Soviet civilians in Operation Barbarossa were the work of special task forces known as Einsatzgruppen, which were organized by Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich.
|Death's Head Units|
Right collar insignia (second version, 1934–1945)
SS-TV officers at Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp (October 1941)
|Dissolved||8 May 1945|
|Headquarters||Oranienburg, near Berlin|
|Employees||22,033 (SS-TV 1939 and |
SS Division Totenkopf c.1942)
After taking national power in 1933, the Nazi Party launched a new programme of mass incarceration of the so-called enemies of the state. Originally there were only wild camps in operation. Springing up in every town across Germany "like mushrooms after the rain" (Himmler's quote), the early camps utilized lockable spaces usually without infrastructure for permanent detention (i.e. engine rooms, brewery floors, storage facilities, cellars). Following the fall from power of the paramilitary Brownshirts of the SA during the NSDAP purge known as the Night of the Long Knives (30 June to 2 July 1934), the SS took control of the fledgling camp system. The SS founded state-run concentration camps at Dachau, Oranienburg, and Esterwegen, which held the total of 107,000 'undesirables' already by 1935.
On 26 June 1933, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler appointed SS-Oberführer Theodor Eicke the Kommandant of the Dachau concentration camp. Eicke requested a permanent unit that would be subordinate only to him and the SS-Wachverbände was formed. Eicke began his infamous tenure by issuing new orders about the killing of inmates trying to escape (Postenpflicht). He developed the first Nazi Punishment Catalogue regulating the system of extreme disciplinary sanctions for detainees (Lagerordnung). His rules were adopted by all concentration camps of Nazi Germany as of 1 January 1934. Eicke was promoted to SS-Brigadeführer (equivalent to Major-general in the army) on 30 January 1934. Following the Night of the Long Knives, Eicke – who played a role in the affair by shooting SA chief Ernst Röhm – was again promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer and officially appointed Inspector of Concentration Camps and Commander of SS-guard formations. Thereafter, all remaining SA-run camps were taken over by the SS. In his role as the Concentration Camps Inspector, Eicke began a large reorganisation of the camps in 1935. The smaller camps were dismantled. Dachau concentration camp remained, then personnel from Dachau went on to work at Sachsenhausen and Oranienburg, where Eicke established his central office.
In 1935, Dachau became the training center for the concentration camps service. Many of the early recruits came from the ranks of the SA and Allgemeine SS. Senior roles were filled by personnel from the German police service. On 29 March 1936, concentration camp guards and administration units were officially designated as the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV). In the summer of 1937, Buchenwald became operational, followed by Ravensbrück (near Lichtenburg) in May 1939. There were other new camps in Austria, such as Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, which opened in 1938. All SS camps' regulations, both for guards and prisoners, followed the Dachau camp model.
In 1935, as the concentration camp system within Germany expanded, groups of camps were organized into Wachsturmbanne (battalions) under the office of the Inspector of Concentration Camps who answered directly to the SS headquarters office and Heinrich Himmler. When the SS-Totenkopfverbände were formally established in March 1936, the group was organized into six Wachtruppen situated at each of Germany's major concentration camps. In April 1936, Eicke was named commander of the SS-Totenkopfverbände and the number of men under his command increased from 2,876 to 3,222; the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (CCI) was also provided official funding through the Reich's budget office, and Eicke was allowed to recruit future troops from the Hitler Youth based on regional needs. In 1937, the Wachsturmbanne were in turn organized into three main SS-Totenkopfstandarten (regiments).
By 1936, Eicke had also begun to establish military formations of concentration camp personnel which eventually became the Totenkopf Division and other units of the Waffen-SS. In the early days of the military camp service formation, the group's exact chain of command was contested since Eicke as Führer der Totenkopfverbände exercised personal control of the group but also, as it was considered an armed SS formation, authority over the armed units was claimed by the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT), which had been first formed in 1934 as combat troops for the Nazi Party. But at this time, Himmler and Eicke envisioned the armed SS-VT as a force for internal "police and security operations". Later by 1938, it became clear that the SS-VT troops were to be used for front-line "purposes", as well.
Eicke in his role as the commander of the SS-TV, continued to reorganize the camp system by dismantling smaller camps. By August 1937 only Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Ravensbrück remained in Germany. In 1938 Eicke oversaw the building of new camps in Austria following the Anschluss, such as Mauthausen. Eicke's reorganization and the introduction of forced labor made the camps one of the SS's most powerful tools, but it earned him the enmity of Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst (SD) chief, Reinhard Heydrich, who wanted to take over control of the concentration camp system. Himmler wanted to keep a separation of power, so Eicke remained in command of the SS-TV and camp operations. This kept control of the camps out of the hands of the Gestapo or the SD.
By April 1938, the SS-TV had four regiments of three storm battalions with three infantry companies, one machine gun company and medical, communication and transportation units. On 17 August 1938 Hitler decreed, at Himmler's request, the SS-TV to be the official reserve for the SS-VT; this would over the course of the war lead to a constant flux of men between the Waffen-SS and the concentration camps. Himmler's intention was simply to expand his private army by using the SS-TV (as well as the police, which he also controlled) as a manpower pool. Himmler sought and obtained a further decree, issued on 18 May 1939, which authorized the expansion of the SS-TV to 50,000 men, and directed the army to provide it with military equipment, something the army had resisted.
During the invasion of Poland, Eicke's SS-TV field forces numbered four infantry regiments and a cavalry regiment, plus two battalions placed in Free City of Danzig. The SS-TV role in the attack on Poland was not military in spite of close proximity to combat. "Their military capabilities were employed instead in terrorizing the civilian population through acts that included hunting down straggling Polish soldiers, confiscating agricultural produce and livestock, and torturing and murdering large numbers of Polish political leaders, aristocrats, businessmen, priests, intellectuals, and Jews." Eicke's three regiments, Oberbayern, Brandenburg and Thuringen, were reformed as the first Einsatzgruppen; the Oberbayern and the Thuringen (EG II and EG z. B.V) followed the Tenth Army in Upper Silesia; the Brandenburg (EG III) followed the Eight Army across Warthegau. The behavior of these Standarten in Poland elicited some protests from officers of the army, including 8th Army commander Johannes Blaskowitz who wrote a memorandum to Walther von Brauchitsch detailing the SS-TV atrocities, unaware that they were planned years in advance by the Central Unit II P-Poland under Heydrich who himself coordinated secret extermination actions including Operation Tannenberg and the Intelligenzaktion both targeting more than 61,000 members of Polish elites during the opening stages of World War II.
At the beginning of war in Europe on 1 September 1939 the SS forces consisted of roughly 250,000 servicemen spread out across multiple branches, with transferable ranks and service records from police regiments and the army. Himmler's military formations at this time comprised several subgroups, including the SS-Verfügungstruppe, which would become the basis of the Waffen-SS. Hitler approved further expansion of the armed SS formations. By October 1939, a new SS military division the SS-Totenkopf was formed. The Totenkopf was initially formed from concentration camp guards of the Standarten (regiments) of the SS-TV and soldiers from the SS-Heimwehr "Danzig. Members of other SS militias were also transferred into the division in early 1940; these units had been involved in multiple massacres of Polish civilians, political leaders and prisoners of war.
From fall 1939 to spring 1940 a massive recruitment effort in Germany raised no fewer than twelve new TK-Standarten (four times the size of the SS-Verfügungstruppe) in anticipation of the coming attack on France. Both Eicke personally and his Totenkopf Division performed poorly during Fall Gelb therefore Himmler resolved to curb his decisions which had spurred a conflict with Hausser and Dietrich; especially his designation of TK-Standarten as reserves for his Totenkopf Division alone, and the fact that the SS-Verfügungstruppe military supplies were stored at Eicke's concentration camps. On 15 August 1940 Himmler dissolved Eicke's Inspectorate of SS-Totenkopfstandarten using as justification several well-publicized atrocities committed by the Division in France, and transferred the Totenkopf Division, the independent TK-Standarten, and their reserve and replacement system to the newly formed Waffen-SS high command. In February 1941 the Totenkopf designation was removed from the names of all units other than the Totenkopf Division and the camp Totenkopfwachsturmbanne, and their personnel exchanged the Death's-Head collar insignia for the Waffen-SS Sig-runes. The camp system expanded greatly after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, when large numbers of Soviet soldiers were captured. Some were transferred to the camps, where their inhumane treatment became normal.
The Totenkopf Division still had close ties to the camp service and its members continued to wear the Death's-Head as their unit insignia. They were known for brutal tactics, a result of the original doctrine of "no pity" which Eicke had instilled in his camp personnel as far back as 1934, together with the fact that the original Totenkopfstandarte had "trained" themselves. The Division's ineffectiveness in France, as well as its war crimes, can in part be explained by its personnel who were more thugs than soldiers. When first formed a total of 6,500 men from the SS-TV were transferred into the Totenkopf Division. However, over the course of the savage fighting in the East (during which the Division was twice effectively destroyed and recreated), the Totenkopf became one of the crack combat units of the German military. Very few of the men who were part of the 1939 Standarten in Poland were still in the Division by 1945.
After the close of the Battle of France, the SS-Verfügungstruppe was officially renamed the Waffen-SS in a speech made by Hitler in July 1940. Himmler also gained approval for the Waffen-SS to form its own high command, the Kommandoamt der Waffen-SS within the SS-Führungshauptamt, which was created in August 1940. It received command of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (the Leibstandarte and the SS-Verfügungs-Division, renamed Reich) and the armed SS-TV regiments (the Totenkopf-Division together with the independent Totenkopf-Standarten). The Waffen-SS was greatly expanded and allowed to recruit volunteers from conquered territories from the ethnic German and Germanic populations.
After Eicke was reassigned to combat duty, his Chief of Staff SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks was appointed the new Concentration Camps Inspectorate (CCI) or IKL (Inspektion der Konzentrationslager) chief by Himmler. By 1940, the CCI came under the control of the Verwaltung und Wirtschaftshauptamt Hauptamt (VuWHA; Administration and Business office) which was set up under Oswald Pohl. Then in 1942, the CCI became Amt D (Office D) of the consolidated main office known as the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic and Administrative Department; WVHA) under Pohl. Glücks continued to manage the camp administration until the end of the war. Therefore, the entire concentration camp system was placed under the authority of the WVHA with the Inspector of Concentration Camps a subordinate to the Chief of the WVHA.
By 1941, prior to the "Final Solution", the concentration camps run by SS-TV, both in Germany and across occupied territories, grew into a massive system of institutionalized forced labour for the SS. The concentration camp personnel began to arrive from the front-line SS formations upon medical discharge. Attack dogs were introduced to compensate for the personnel shortage. Special death camps of Aktion Reinhard had also come into existence. Under the WVHA, the camps were separated into divisions of forced labor, concentration, and extermination camps, all linked by record-high profit margins propped up by the theft of cash and assets from the Holocaust victims. Gigantic camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek were built with the expectation of Soviet prisoners of war entering the camp labour after 1941.
During the war, almost half of the concentration camp officers served with the Waffen-SS combat divisions, including the Leibstandarte, Das Reich, Wiking, the Nord Division, and Totenkopf. Some concentration camp officers served as division commanders in the Waffen-SS. By October 1944 the Waffen-SS membership reached 800,000 and up to 910,000 men.
Within the camps themselves, there existed a hierarchy of camp titles and positions which were unique only to the camp service. Each camp was commanded by a Kommandant, sometimes referred to as Lagerkommandant, who was assisted by a camp adjutant and command staff. The prison barracks within the camp were supervised by a Rapportführer who was responsible for daily roll call and the camp daily schedule. The individual prisoner barracks were overseen by junior SS-NCOs called Blockführer who, in turn had one to two squads of SS soldiers responsible for overseeing the prisoners. Within the extermination camps, the Blockführer was in charge of the prisoner Sonderkommando and was also the person who would physically gas victims in the camp's gas chambers.
The camp perimeter and watch towers were overseen by a separate formation called the Guard Battalion, or the Wachbattalion. The guard battalion commander was responsible for providing watch bills to man guard towers and oversaw security patrols outside the camp. The battalion was organized on typical military lines with companies, platoons, and squads. The battalion commander was subordinate directly to the camp commander.
Concentration camps also had supply and medical personnel, attached to the headquarters office under the camp commander, as well as a security office with Gestapo and Kripo personnel attached to the camp. Heydrich had been successful in getting control over the "political departments" of the camps. These security personnel were under direct command of Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo) commanders until September 1939 and thereafter, the RSHA commanders independent of the camps.
In addition to the regular SS personnel assigned to the Concentration Camp, there also existed a prisoner system of trustees known as Kapos who performed a wide variety of duties from administration to overseeing other groups of prisoners. The Sonderkommando were special groups of Jewish prisoners who assisted in the extermination camps with the disposal of bodies and other tasks. The duty of actually gassing prisoners was, however, always carried out by the SS.
In 1942 Glücks was increasingly involved in the administration of the Endlösung, supplying personnel to assist in Aktion Reinhardt (although the death camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor were administered by SS-und Polizei-führer Odilo Globocnik of the General Government). In July 1942, Glücks met Himmler to discuss medical experiments on concentration camp inmates. All extermination orders were issued from Glücks' office to SS-TV commands throughout Nazi Germany and occupied Europe. He specifically authorized the purchase of Zyklon B for use at Auschwitz.
Already in 1943 the SS-TV units began to receive orders to conceal as much of the evidence of the Holocaust as possible. Himmler was most concerned about covering up Nazi crimes ever since the Polish 22,000 victims of the Soviet Katyn massacre were discovered well preserved underground near Smolensk. The cremations began shortly thereafter and continued until the camps' official closure. Camps were meticulously destroyed, sick prisoners were shot and others were marched on death marches away from the advancing Allies. The SS-TV were also instrumental in the execution of hundreds of political prisoners to prevent their liberation.
By April 1945 many SS-TV had left their posts. Due to their notoriety, some removed their death head insignia to hide their identities. Camp duties were increasingly turned over to so-called "Auxiliary-SS", soldiers and civilians conscripted as camp guards so that the Totenkopf men could escape. However, many were arrested by the Allies and stood trial for war crimes at Nuremberg between 1946 and 1949. "Immediately after their seizure by the Russians on May 9–10, 1945 – wrote Sydnor – the officers and men in the Totenkopf Division were transported to several detention camps inside the Soviet Union. Within six months of the end of the war, many prominent SSTK officers, including Becker, disappeared, most likely the victims of secret executions."
From the SS-TV inception, Eicke fostered an attitude of "inflexible harshness" exercised by the masters. This core belief continued to influence SS guards in all concentration camps even after Eicke had taken over command of the SS Totenkopf Division. Recruits were taught to hate their enemies through tough training regimes and Nazi indoctrination.
Within camps, guards subjugated the inmates in an atmosphere of controlled, disciplined cruelty. This environment of formalized brutality influenced some of the SS-TV's most infamous commandants including Rudolf Höß, Franz Ziereis, Karl Otto Koch, Max Kögel, and Amon Göth.
In the last days of World War II, a special group called the "Auxiliary-SS" (SS-Mannschaft) was formed as a last-ditch effort to keep concentration camps running and allow regular SS personnel to escape. Auxiliary-SS members were not considered regular SS personnel, but were conscripted members from other branches of the German military, the Nazi Party, and the Volkssturm. Such personnel wore a distinctive twin swastika collar patch and served as camp guard and administrative personnel until the surrender of Germany.
The SS, individually and collectively, benefited financially from the Holocaust. Slave labour at the camps was sold to private companies, or used to run lucrative SS-run industries, while the cost of prisoner upkeep was minimal. Himmler intended to make concentration camps into a profitable industry for the financial benefit of the SS. Wartime labour shortages meant that the concentration camps ended up as a significant labour source for all sectors of the German economy. The property of murdered Jews was stolen and auctioned off to the German public. Individual personnel at the camps often embezzled some of the stolen property for themselves, and some were charged for theft.
The Allgemeine SS (General SS) was a major branch of the Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany, and it was managed by the SS Main Office (SS-Hauptamt). The Allgemeine SS was officially established in the autumn of 1934 to distinguish its members from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS Dispositional Troops or SS-VT), which later became the Waffen-SS, and the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS Death's Head Units or SS-TV), which were in charge of the Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps, where millions were killed.
Starting in 1939, foreign units of the Allgemeine SS were raised in occupied countries. From 1940 they were consolidated into the Directorate of the Germanic-SS (Leitstelle der germanischen SS). When the war first began, the vast majority of SS members belonged to the Allgemeine SS, but this proportion changed during the later years of the war after the Waffen-SS opened up membership to ethnic Germans and non-Germans.Anton Geiser
Anton Geiser (surname also spelled Geisser; October 17, 1924 – December 26, 2012) was a Yugoslav-born member of the SS-Totenkopfverbände during World War II, who served as a guard at both the Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps. In 1956 he moved to the United States, settling in Sharon, Pennsylvania, where he had family. In 1962 he became a naturalized American citizen. In 2006 he was stripped of his citizenship on the grounds that it would not have been granted had the full details of his role in the German military been known; in 2010 a US judge ordered him deported to Austria, the country from which he had immigrated. He died in Pittsburgh on December 21, 2012 while still battling his deportation.Blood
Blood is a body fluid in humans and other animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells.In vertebrates, it is composed of blood cells suspended in blood plasma. Plasma, which constitutes 55% of blood fluid, is mostly water (92% by volume), and contains proteins, glucose, mineral ions, hormones, carbon dioxide (plasma being the main medium for excretory product transportation), and blood cells themselves. Albumin is the main protein in plasma, and it functions to regulate the colloidal osmotic pressure of blood. The blood cells are mainly red blood cells (also called RBCs or erythrocytes), white blood cells (also called WBCs or leukocytes) and platelets (also called thrombocytes). The most abundant cells in vertebrate blood are red blood cells. These contain hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein, which facilitates oxygen transport by reversibly binding to this respiratory gas and greatly increasing its solubility in blood. In contrast, carbon dioxide is mostly transported extracellularly as bicarbonate ion transported in plasma.
Vertebrate blood is bright red when its hemoglobin is oxygenated and dark red when it is deoxygenated. Some animals, such as crustaceans and mollusks, use hemocyanin to carry oxygen, instead of hemoglobin. Insects and some mollusks use a fluid called hemolymph instead of blood, the difference being that hemolymph is not contained in a closed circulatory system. In most insects, this "blood" does not contain oxygen-carrying molecules such as hemoglobin because their bodies are small enough for their tracheal system to suffice for supplying oxygen.
Jawed vertebrates have an adaptive immune system, based largely on white blood cells. White blood cells help to resist infections and parasites. Platelets are important in the clotting of blood. Arthropods, using hemolymph, have hemocytes as part of their immune system.
Blood is circulated around the body through blood vessels by the pumping action of the heart. In animals with lungs, arterial blood carries oxygen from inhaled air to the tissues of the body, and venous blood carries carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism produced by cells, from the tissues to the lungs to be exhaled.
Medical terms related to blood often begin with hemo- or hemato- (also spelled haemo- and haemato-) from the Greek word αἷμα (haima) for "blood". In terms of anatomy and histology, blood is considered a specialized form of connective tissue, given its origin in the bones and the presence of potential molecular fibers in the form of fibrinogen.Erich Muhsfeldt
Erich Mußfeldt, (18 February 1913 – 24 January 1948) was a German war criminal, an SS NCO who served in two extermination camps during World War II in occupied Poland - Auschwitz and Majdanek. He was arrested and charged by the Allies originally in 1946, then transferred to Poland where the full extent of his war crimes was revealed thanks to new evidence. He was retried by the Supreme National Tribunal at the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków, and found guilty of crimes against humanity. Muhsfeldt was sentenced to death by hanging in December 1947, and executed on 24 January 1948.Muhsfeldt was a baker in civilian life. At the time of his service in the SS-Totenkopfverbände he was reportedly married with one son. The fate of his wife is unclear. According to Miklós Nyiszli, his wife was killed in an air raid, and his son sent to the Russian front.Fritz Hartjenstein
Friedrich Hartjenstein (3 July 1905 – 20 October 1954) was a German SS functionary during the Nazi era. A member of the SS-Totenkopfverbände, he served at various Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen. After the Second World War, Hartjenstein was tried and found guilty for murder and crimes against humanity.Standarte (Nazi Germany)
In Nazi Germany, the Standarte (pl. Standarten) was a paramilitary unit of NSDAP, Sturmabteilung, NSKK, NSFK, and Schutzstaffeln. Translated literally as "Regimental standard", the name refers to the flag paramilitary formations carried in formations and parades.Unterscharführer
Unterscharführer ([ˈʊntɐ.ʃaːɐ̯.fyːʀɐ], "junior squad leader") was a paramilitary rank of the Nazi Party used by the Schutzstaffel (SS) between 1934 and 1945. The SS rank was created after the Night of the Long Knives. That event caused an SS reorganisation and the creation of new ranks to separate the SS from the Sturmabteilung (SA).
The insignia was a button pip centred on a collar patch opposite an SS unit insignia collar badge. The field grey SS uniform displayed the rank with silver collar piping and the shoulder boards of an Unteroffizier. Rank comparisons list the rank of Unterscharführer as equivalent to a corporal in other services, but that the rank held responsibilities of a sergeant in some other armies.
|Police and security services|
|Foreign SS units|