Joseph Berchtold (6 March 1897 – 23 August 1962) was an early senior
Nazi Party member and a co-founder of both the
Sturmabteilung (SA) and
Berchtold served in
World War I
World War I and upon Germany's defeat joined the
German Workers' Party
German Workers' Party (DAP), a small extremist organization at the
time. He remained in the party after it became known as the National
German Workers' Party
German Workers' Party (Nazi Party; NSDAP) and went on to
become the second commander of the
Schutzstaffel (SS) from April 1926
to March 1927.
After resigning as the SS leader, Berchtold spent much of his time
writing for Nazi magazines and journals. He survived the war, but was
arrested by the Allies. Berchtold was later released and died in 1962.
He was the last surviving person to hold the rank of Reichsführer-SS
and the only one to survive under it during the Second World War.
1 Early life
2 SA Career
3 SS Career
4 After the SS
6 SA promotions
7 Awards and decorations
Born on 6 March 1897 in Ingolstadt, Berchtold attended school in
Munich from 1903 to 1915. He went on to serve in the Royal Bavarian
World War I
World War I (1914-18) and held the rank of second
lieutenant at the end of the war. After the war, he studied economics
at the University of
Munich and gained employment as a journalist.
In early 1920, he joined the small right-wing extremist group the
German Workers' Party
German Workers' Party (DAP). He remained in the party after it became
known as the
National Socialist German Workers' Party
National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party;
NSDAP). Berchtold became the treasurer of the Nazi Party, until he
resigned at the end of July, 1921.
SA men taking part in the attempted coup d'état in Munich, 1923
Upon re-joining the party in 1922, Berchtold became a member of the
Sturmabteilung ("Storm Detachment"; SA), a paramilitary wing formed to
protect its speakers at rallies, and to police Nazi meetings. Adolf
Hitler, leader of the party since 1921, ordered the formation of a
small separate bodyguard dedicated to his protection only instead of a
suspected mass of the party in 1923. Originally the unit was
composed of only eight men, commanded by
Julius Schreck and
Berchtold. It was initially designated the Stabswache ("Staff
Guard"). Later that year, the unit was renamed Stoßtrupp-Hitler
On 9 November 1923 the Stoßtrupp, along with the SA and several other
paramilitary units, took part in what would become known as the Beer
Hall Putsch. The plan was to take control of
Munich and then seize
total power in Berlin. The coup d'état failed and resulted in the
death of 16 Nazi supporters and 4 police officers. In the aftermath of
the putsch both Hitler and other Nazi leaders were incarcerated at
Landsberg Prison. The
Nazi Party and all associated formations,
including the Stoßtrupp, were officially disbanded. Berchtold then
left Germany and fled to Tirol, Austria. Berchtold was tried in
absentia before the special People's Court in
Munich in 1924 for his
role in the
Beer Hall Putsch
Beer Hall Putsch and sentenced to a prison term. During
his time in Austria, Berchtold continued to be involved with Nazi
Party activities, even though it was illegal.
When Hitler was released from prison on 20 December 1924, Berchtold
was District Director of the
Nazi Party in Carinthia,
Austria and was
leader of the SA there. After the re-formation of the
Nazi Party on
20 February 1925, he again joined the party, documented as member
#964. In March 1926, Berchtold returned to
Munich from Austria. He
became chief of the SA in Munich.
On 15 April 1926, Berchtold became the successor to Schreck as chief
Schutzstaffel ("Protection Squadron"; SS), a special elite
branch of the party under the control of the SA. Berchtold changed the
title of the office position which became known as the
Reichsführer-SS. He issued new rules to establish the position of
the SS. The rules stated the unit was "...neither a military
organisation nor a group of hangers-on, but a small squad of men that
our movement and our Führer can rely on." He further stressed that
the men must follow "only party discipline". He was considered to
be more dynamic than his predecessor, but was still unable to keep the
party organizers at bay. He was frustrated in his efforts to have a
more independent unit and became disillusioned by the SA's authority
over the SS. On 1 March 1927, he handed over leadership of the SS
to his deputy Erhard Heiden.
After the SS
In 1927, he became a lead writer for Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi
Party newspaper. From 1928 to 1945, Berchtold was an SA leader on the
staff of the Supreme SA leadership (OSAF). In 1934, he became the
permanent deputy editor-in-chief of the Völkischer Beobachter
newspaper. In the following years, he operated primarily as a
journalist and propagandist. In 1928, Berchtold founded the newspaper
SA-Mann ("SA Man"). Until January 1938, he was the main writer of the
paper, which was published by the OSAF. Berchtold was also the author
of various Nazi publications and staff of additional magazines.
Additional posts in
Nazi Germany were of secondary importance to
Berchtold. From March 1934 to the end of the war, Berchtold was city
councilman of the town council in Munich. On 15 November 1935,
Berchtold was appointed to the Reich Culture Senator. Furthermore, he
belonged to the "Cultural Circle of the SA" since 6 March 1936. He
belonged to the Reichstag from 29 March 1936, forward. From 29 April
1940, Berchtold served as a captain of the reserve on a temporary
basis in the Wehrmacht.
World War II
World War II in
Europe ended in early May 1945, Berchtold was
temporarily in Allied detention. He was released and later died on 23
Berchtold's SA Ranks
18 December 1931
1 January 1933
9 November 1934
1 May 1937
30 January 1942
Awards and decorations
Iron Cross (1914) 2nd Class
The Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
Honour Chevron for the Old Guard
Golden Party Badge
Nazi Party Long Service Award (bronze, silver, gold)
^ a b Miller 2006, p. 92.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 8, 9, 11.
^ a b c d e Miller 2006, p. 93.
^ a b McNab 2009, pp. 14, 16.
^ Weale 2010, p. 16.
^ Hamilton 1984, p. 172.
^ Wegner 1990, p. 62.
^ Weale 2010, pp. 29, 30.
^ a b c Weale 2010, p. 30.
^ Weale 2010, p. 32.
^ Cook & Russell 2000, pp. 21-22.
^ a b c d e f g Miller 2006, p. 94.
^ a b Miller 2006, pp. 92, 94.
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Wewelsburg Ideological Center of the SS, 1934-1945.
Kressmann-Backmeyer. ISBN 978-0967044309.
Hamilton, Charles (1984). Leaders & Personalities of the Third
Reich, Vol. 1. R. James Bender Publishing.
McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945. Amber Books Ltd.
Miller, Michael (2006). Leaders of the SS and German Police, Vol. 1.
San Jose, CA: R. James Bender. ISBN 978-93-297-0037-2.
Weale, Adrian (2010). The SS: A New History. London: Little, Brown.
Wegner, Bernd (1990). The Waffen-SS: Organization, Ideology and
Function. Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-14073-5.
Reich Leader of the SS