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he Schutzstaffel (SS for short) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party within the Third Reich, and later throughout German-occupied Europe during World War Two. It began as a small guard unit known as the Saal-Schutz (“Hall Security”) made up of NSDAP volunteers to provide security for the Nazi party meetings in Munich.

In 1925, Heinrich Himmler joined the unit and under his direction until 1945, the SS would go on to grow into one of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany and throughout the Third Reich’s occupied territories, striking fear wherever they went.

What is surprising is the kind of people who joined this force. In Germany, there were strict restrictions on who could actually join the SS. The Nazi poster boy look was required, blond hair and blue eyes. But other countries had their own SS divisions with differing requirements to enter but still displayed the same ferocity that the German SS force did. Today we will look at one such example.

5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking”

Divisional insignia of the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking” Source: Wikimedia Commons

The 5th SS Division was made up of volunteers recruited from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Even though the division was made up of mostly foreign volunteers, it was still put under the command of German officers.

This division’s main purpose was mainly for propaganda. Hitler believed that the Aryan race would rule once he had taken over Europe and as a result, he wanted to promote this idealistic concept of a human to all of Germany.

The nordic people fit his criteria very well so as a result, they were used to show the German people that even unaffiliated members of other countries would join the noble cause that the Nazis were fighting for.

The Eastern Front

The “Wiking’s” would go on to do more than just volunteer for the SS. As part of this feared unit of the Nazi government and with teeming anti-communist feelings the 5th SS Panzer division would go on to wreak havoc on the Eastern Front.

As part of Operation Barbarossa, the Division would go on to fight in the East and commit many crimes against humanity such as the slaughter of innocent Ukrainian civilians, partisans, and Jews as they advanced through the USSR.

Josef Mengele. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Even more surprising was that during the early period of the war the infamous doctor Josef Mengele, notorious for his despicable tests conducted at Auschwitz, served with this unit earning himself an Iron Cross for saving two men from a burning tank.

After being injured while serving as the division’s combat doctor, Mengele would be taken into the concentration camp system of the Third Reich as one of their doctors and would become infamous for his vile experiments on the residents of Auschwitz and his obsession with twins in his quest to create the perfect superhuman using the Führer’s ideals.

When we think of the atrocities committed by the Third Reich’s SS, we don’t really think about the international aspect of it. Through this series, I will try to open a discussion about the not so often talked about perpetrators of the same massacres we only attribute to the Germans.

In fact, people of different nationalities and religions would go on to serve for the infamous SS with many of who you would be surprised about. In the next part of this series, we will look at the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS “Handschar”, the SS division made up of Bosnian Muslims.

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