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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. SS formations committed many war crimes against civilians and allied servicemen.
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.
Approximately one third of the Allgemeine SS were considered “full time” meaning that they received a salary as government employees, were employed full-time in an SS office, and performed SS duties as their primary occupation. The vast majority of such full-time SS personnel were assigned to the main SS offices that were considered part of the Allgemeine SS. By 1942, these main offices managed all activities of the SS and were divided as follows:
Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab Reichsführer-SS (Personal Staff of the Reich Leader SS; HaPerStab)
SS-Hauptamt (Main Administrative Office; SS-HA)
SS-Führungshauptamt (SS Main Operational Office; SS-FHA)
Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office; RSHA)
Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt (Economic and Administration Main Office; SS-WVHA)
Ordnungspolizei Hauptamt (Main Office of the Order Police)
Hauptamt SS-Gericht (Main Office of SS Legal Matters; HA SS-Gericht)
SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (SS Office of Race and Settlement; RuSHA)
SS-Personalhauptamt (SS Personnel Main Office; SS PHA)
Hauptamt Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (Racial German Assistance Main Office; VOMI)
SS-Schulungsamt (SS Education Office)
Hauptamt Reichskommissar für die Festigung Deutschen Volkstums (Main Office of the Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of German Nationhood; RKFDV)
Main office commanders and staff were exempt from military conscription, although many, such as Heydrich, served as reservists in the regular German military. Main office members did join the Waffen-SS, where they could accept a lower rank and serve in active combat or be listed as inactive reservists. By 1944, with Germany’s looming defeat, the draft exemption for the Allgemeine SS main offices was lifted and many junior members were ordered into combat with senior members assuming duties as Waffen-SS generals.
The core of the Allgemeine SS were part-time mustering formations spread throughout Germany. Members in these regional units would typically meet once a week in uniform, as well as participate in various Nazi Party functions. Activities including drill and ideological instruction, marching in parades, and providing security at various Nazi party rallies.
Regional SS units were organized into commands known as SS-Oberabschnitt meaning “SS-Senior Sector” responsible for commanding a (region), which were subordinate to the SS-HA; SS-Abschnitt (SS-Sector) was the next lower level of command, responsible for administrating a (District); Standarten (regiment), which were the basic units of the Allgemeine SS. Before 1934, SS personnel received no pay and their work was completely voluntary. After 1933, the Oberabschnitt commanders and their staff became regarded as “full time” but the rank and file of the Allgemeine SS were still part-time only. Regular Allgemeine SS personnel were also not exempt from conscription and many were called up to serve in the Wehrmacht.
In 1936, the state security police forces of the Gestapo and Kripo (Criminal Police) were consolidated. The combined forces were folded into the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo) and placed under the central command of Reinhard Heydrich, already chief of the party Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Later from 27 September 1939 forward, the SD, Gestapo, and Kripo were folded into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) which was placed under Heydrich’s control. As a functioning state agency, the SiPo ceased to exist. The ordinary uniformed German police, known as the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo), were also under SS control after 1936 but were never incorporated into the Allgemeine SS, although many police members were also dual SS members.
The death squad units of the Einsatzgruppen were formed under the direction of Heydrich and operated by the SS before and during World War II. In September 1939, they operated in territories occupied by the German armed forces following the invasion of Poland. Men for the units were drawn from the SS, the SD, and the police. Originally part of the SiPo, in late September 1939 the operational control of the Einsatzgruppen was taken over by the RSHA. When the killing units were re-formed prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the men of the Einsatzgruppen were drawn from the SD, Gestapo, Kripo, Orpo, civilian (SS auxiliary) and Waffen-SS.