Reichsführer-SS (German: [ˈʁaɪçsˌfyːʁɐ ˈɛs
ˈɛs] (listen), lit. "
Reich Leader-SS") was a special title
and rank that existed between the years of 1925 and 1945 for the
commander of the
Reichsführer-SS was a title from
1925 to 1933, and from 1934 to 1945 it was the highest rank of the SS.
The longest serving and most noteworthy
Reichsführer-SS was Heinrich
3 Relationship with the Waffen-SS
4 Kommandostab Reichsführer-SS
5 Office holders
Reichsführer-SS was both a title and a rank. The title of
Reichsführer was first created in 1926 by the second commander of the
SS, Joseph Berchtold. Julius Schreck, founder of the SS
and Berchtold's predecessor, never referred to himself as
Reichsführer. Yet, the title was retroactively applied to him in
later years. In 1929,
Heinrich Himmler became
Reichsführer-SS and referred to himself by his title instead of his
regular SS rank of Obergruppenführer. This set
the precedent for the commander of the SS to be called
Prior to the Night of the Long Knives, the SS was an elite corps of
Sturmabteilung (SA or storm troopers), and the Reichsführer-SS
was subordinate to the SA's operating head, the Stabschef. On 20 July
1934, as part of the purge of the SA, the SS was made an independent
branch of the Nazi Party, responsible only to Hitler. From that point
on, the title of
Reichsführer-SS became an actual rank, and in fact
the highest rank of the SS. In this position, Himmler was
on paper the equivalent of a
Generalfeldmarschall in the German Army.
As Himmler's position and authority grew in Nazi Germany, so did his
rank in a "de facto" sense. Further, there was never more
Reichsführer-SS at any one time, with Himmler holding the
position as his personal title from 1929 (becoming his actual rank in
1934) until April 1945.
Under its original inception, the title and rank of Reichsführer-SS
was the designation for the head of the Allgemeine-SS
(General-SS). In this capacity, the SS
Reich Leader was the
direct commander of the SS Senior District Leaders (SS-Oberabschnitt
Führer); by 1936, the
Reichsführer-SS was head of the three main SS
branches: the Allgemeine-SS,
SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT; Political
Action Troops), and the
SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV; Concentration
During the Second World War, the
Reichsführer-SS in effect held
several additional roles and wielded enormous personal power. He was
responsible for all internal security within Nazi Germany. He was
overseer of the concentration camps, extermination camps (through the
Concentration Camps Inspectorate
Concentration Camps Inspectorate and SS-TV), and the Einsatzgruppen
mobile death squads (through the RSHA). Over time, his
influence on both civil and foreign policy became marked, as the
Reichsführer reported directly to Hitler and his actions were not
tempered by checks and balances. This meant the office holder could
implement broad policy, such as the Nazi plan for the
extermination of the Jews, or order criminal acts such as the Stalag
Luft III murders, without impediment.
It is difficult to separate the office from the duties assigned to the
individual. As of 20 April 1934, Himmler in his position of
Reichsführer-SS already controlled the SD and Gestapo. On
17 June 1936 Himmler was named chief of all German police, thereby
placing all uniformed police (Orpo) and criminal police (Kripo) in
Germany under his control. In the latter role, he was nominally
subordinate to the Interior Minister, Wilhelm Frick. It is
not clear how much of this power would technically reside in the
office of the
Reichsführer-SS were those duties to be split
up.[Note 1] These questions became moot by the time Himmler
became the Interior Minister in 1943.
It is difficult to define precisely the full detailed duties and
responsibilities of the
Reichsführer-SS beyond that of leader and
senior member of the SS, since, in the words of historian Martin
Windrow, "(b)y the outbreak of the (Second World) war it would have
been impossible to define exactly the role within the state" of the
entire SS itself.
Relationship with the Waffen-SS
The rank of
Reichsführer-SS was defined in the SS hierarchy as the
highest possible rank of the Allgemeine-SS. The exact position of the
rank within the military
Waffen-SS evolved over many years, ranging
from clearly defined to vaguely associated. The
originally a small armed SS unit called the SS-Verfügungstruppe, and
in the 1930s was under the command of Himmler who, in his position as
Reichsführer-SS, issued directives and orders to SS-VT commanders.
Hold-outs existed for some aspects of the armed SS however, as well as
within the special bodyguard unit known as the SS-Leibstandarte.
Although the unit was nominally under Himmler,
Sepp Dietrich was the
real commander and handled day-to-day administration.
Waffen-SS eventually grew from three regiments to over 38
divisions and served alongside the German Army, but was never formally
part of it. During World War II, the authority of the
Reichsführer-SS over the
Waffen-SS was mainly administrative in that
certain General-SS offices controlled supply and logistics aspects of
the Waffen-SS. Himmler also held authority to create new Waffen-SS
divisions as well as order the formation of various smaller SS combat
units. The daily association with the Waffen-SS, however, encompassed
Waffen-SS troops and presenting high-ranking
medals to its members.
Reichsführer-SS further never exercised direct operational
Waffen-SS units until the very end of the war and then
only through his capacity as an Army Group commander and not as the
head of the SS. Top
Waffen-SS commanders, such as Sepp Dietrich,
Wilhelm Bittrich, and Matthias Kleinheisterkamp, further held a
certain derision for Himmler, describing him as "sly and
Main article: Kommandostab Reichsführer-SS
Attached to the office was the 18,438-strong SS formations managed by
Kommandostab Reichsführer-SS ("Command Staff Reichsführer-SS")
reporting directly to Himmler. To head the Command Staff, Himmler
appointed career army officer Kurt Knoblauch, who acted as chief of
staff for the units. Prior to the launch of the invasion
of the Soviet Union in June 1941, these formations included two
motorized SS-Infantry Brigades, two SS-Cavalry Regiments combined into
the SS Cavalry Brigade, a bodyguard battalion, flak units and a number
of companies of support troops. Units were temporarily placed under
army command for operations, but the Reichsführer could call them
back at any time. Despite the name, it was not employed as a unified
HQ unit. Instead, its individual units were sent to occupied areas,
subordinated to local Higher SS and Police Leaders (HSSPFs) and used
for "pacification actions" alongside the Einsatzgruppen. Often these
actions were atrocities and mass murders, targeting
In all, five people held the title of
Reichsführer-SS during the
twenty years of its existence. Three persons held the position as a
title while two held the actual SS rank.
Time in office
Schreck, JuliusJulius Schreck(1898–1936)4 April 192515 April
19261 year, 11 daysNSDAP
Berchtold, JosephJoseph Berchtold(1897–1962)15 April 19261 March
Heiden, ErhardErhard Heiden(1901–1933)1 March 19276 January
19291 year, 311 daysNSDAP
Himmler, HeinrichHeinrich Himmler(1900–1945)6 January 192929 April
194516 years, 113 daysNSDAP
Hanke, KarlKarl Hanke(1903–1945)29 April 19458 June
1945 †40 daysNSDAP
Hanke was appointed SS leader in April 1945, but not informed until
early May. He was killed on June 8, 1945, while attempting to escape a
Czech POW camp. Historians have often speculated that Reinhard
Heydrich would have eventually held the rank had Himmler in some way
been killed or removed from his position earlier in World War II, and
indeed Heydrich was often seen as Himmler's heir apparent by senior SS
leaders. However, at a diplomatic function in
Italy in 1941, Heydrich
was reported as stating that he had no desire to succeed
Time in office
Himmler, HeinrichSS-OberführerHeinrich Himmler(1900–1945)September
19276 January 19291 year, 4 months
Heydrich(1904–1942)17 June 19364 June 1942 †5 years,
^ As noted in, The SS (Time-Life, pp. 70–73.): "Himmler...was now
the head of two important, separate organizations - the SS and the
national police (emphasis added)." Much of his power and influence as
Reichsführer-SS resided from control of the police, duties separate,
^ Weale 2010, p. 30.
^ a b c d e f McNab 2009, pp. 16, 17.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 18, 29.
^ Weale 2010, p. 47.
^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 309–314, 316.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 9, 17, 26–27, 30, 46–47.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 9, 17.
^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 313, 316.
^ Stein 2002, p. 23.
^ Flaherty 2004, p. 156.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 9, 35–36, 46–47.
^ Evans 2005, p. 54.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 9, 46–47.
^ Windrow 1982, p. 7.
^ Cook & Bender 1994, pp. 19, 33.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 9, 35–36, 46–47, 61, 64, 66–70.
^ Messenger, Charles (26 September 2005). Hitler's Gladiator (Re-issue
ed.). London: Conway Maritime Press. p. 51.
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^ Hale 2011, pp. 160–162.
^ Stein 2002.
^ Yerger 1997.
^ McNab 2009, p. 18.
^ McNab 2009, pp. 17, 23, 151.
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Hale, Christopher (2011). Hitler's Foreign Executioners: Europe's
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Kershaw, Ian (2008). Hitler: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton &
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McNab, Chris (2009). The SS: 1923–1945. Amber Books Ltd.
Stein, George (2002) . The Waffen-SS: Hitler's Elite Guard at
War 1939–1945. Cerberus Publishing. ISBN 978-1841451008.
Weale, Adrian (2010). The SS: A New History. London: Little, Brown.
Windrow, Martin (1982). The Waffen-SS. Osprey Publishing.
Yerger, Mark C. (1997). Allgemeine-SS: The Commands, Units and Leaders
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Senior RankOberster Führer der Schutzstaffel
SS and police leader
Personal Staff Reichsführer-SS
SS Main Office
Head Operational Office
Reich Main Security Office (RSHA)
Economics and Administration Office
Office of Race and Settlement (RuSHA)
Main Office for Ethnic Germans (VOMI)
Office of the
Reich Commissioner for Germanic Resettlement (RKFDV)
Das Schwarze Korps
SS-Junkerschule Bad Tölz
Police and security services
Uniformed police (Orpo)
Criminal police (Kripo)
Secret State police (Gestapo)
State Security police (SiPo)
SS Security Service (SD)
Customs Border Guards (ZGS)
SS-Begleitkommando des Führers
Belarusian Auxiliary Police
Latvian Police Battalions
Lithuanian Security Police
Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalions
Ukrainian Auxiliary Police
Estonian Auxiliary Police
Police Regiment Centre
SS Division Das Reich
SS Division Totenkopf
SS Polizei Division
SS Division Wiking
Foreign SS units
Germaansche SS in Nederland
Germaansche SS in Vlaanderen
Germanske SS Norge
S.S. Sturmbrigade R.O.N.A.
Finnish Volunteer Battalion
Nazi Germany paramilitary
Nazi Party ranks
National Socialist Motor Corps
National Socialist Flyers Corps
Chief of German Police
Minister of the Interior
Ideology of the SS
Personal Staff Reichsführer-SS
Reichsführer-SS ("Circle of Friends of the
Reinhard Heydrich (Chief of the RSHA)
Ernst Kaltenbrunner (successor as Chief of the RSHA)
Karl Wolff (Chief of Personal Staff)
Hedwig Potthast (secretary)
Rudolf Brandt (Personal Administrative Officer to RFSS)
Hermann Gauch (adjutant)
Werner Grothmann (aide-de-camp)
Heinz Macher (second personal assistant)
Walter Schellenberg (personal aide)
Karl Maria Wiligut (occultist)
Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion
Responsibility forthe Holocaust
Crimes against Poles
Crimes against Soviet POWs
Persecution of Slavs in Eastern Europe
Persecution of homosexuals
Persecution of Serbs
Suppression of Freemasonry
Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses
Persecution of black people
Margarete Himmler (wife)
Gudrun Burwitz (daughter)
Hedwig Potthast (mistress)
Gebhard Ludwig (older brother)
Ernst (younger brother)
Katrin Himmler (great-niece)
Heinz Kokott (brother-in-law)
Richard Wendler (brother-in-law)
Army Group Oberrhein
Army Group Vistula
Claus von Stauffenberg
Henning von Tresckow
Erhard Heiden (predecessor as Reichsführer-SS)
Karl Hanke (successor as Reichsführer-SS)
Falk Zipperer (closest friend)
Karl Gebhardt (personal physician)
Felix Kersten (personal masseur)
Hugo Blaschke (dentist)
Sidney Excell (man who a