Founded in 1925, the Schutzstaffel, German for “Protective Echelon,” initially served as Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguards, and later became one of the most powerful and feared organizations in all of Nazi Germany.
Heinrich Himmler, a fervent anti-Semite like Hitler, became head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), in 1929 and expanded the group’s role and size. Recruits, who had to prove none of their ancestors were Jewish, received military training and were also taught they were the elite not only of the Nazi Party but of all humankind.
By the start of World War II, the SS had more than 250,000 members and multiple subdivisions, engaged in activities ranging from intelligence operations to running Nazi concentration camps. At the postwar Nuremberg trials, the SS was deemed a criminal organization for its direct involvement in war crimes.