This is neither a combat history of the Waffen SS nor a history of the Holocaust. Instead, using newly released intelligence files and photographs, and describing the organization's history, ideology, and decision-making processes, Weale chronicles the evolution of a ragtag group of political intimidators into a criminal organization responsible for the Holocaust. He effectively argues that the Holocaust neither was perpetrated by psychopathic sadists (more often than not the perpetrators were career opportunists), nor was the Waffen SS an elite military formation whose guilt for crimes against humanity was by association only. Particularly interesting is that Weale rejects the idea that the Waffen SS were an elite force. Standards for recruitment were often low (criminal elements were admitted), often based on favoritism, and efforts to recruit foreign volunteers were by and large useless. The organization was but an arm of the SS that was never strong enough nor intended to counterbalance the German army and, ultimately, was a drain on valuable resources. VERDICT Intended for general readers, and best for them.—PM
Riveting look at the formation of the Schutzstaffeln (aka the SS), from Hitler's early private bodyguards to Heinrich Himmler's elite extermination squads. Weale (Patriot Traitors, 2001, etc.) plots the evolution of the SS as the embodiment and implementation of the Nazi racist ideology. Organized in 1925 as a personal security detail for the National Socialist leader on the rise, the SS was conceived as a self-conscious elite force set apart from the party's thuggish, ill-disciplined paramilitary force, the Sturmabteilung, or SA. Once the young Bavarian Nazi-organizer Himmler took over the restructuring process, the SS was soon imbued with new discipline, uniforms, recruitment and ideological framework that embraced the pseudo-science of eugenics current at the time. Weale breaks down the criteria for SS selectivity, which required not only absolute political loyalty, but a kind of physical perfection, including height restrictions and proof of "strictly Nordic German" blood; marriage by SS officers had to be approved by the Race Office. By 1933, Hitler was chancellor, and tension among the German army, the SA and the SS was eliminated by the Night of the Long Knives of July 1934, when Himmler's SS became the fully independent organization within the Nazi party in charge of security and policing--soon to be armed and sent into invasion action in Poland and elsewhere. Step by step, Weale delineates the consolidation of Himmler's power, including the implementation of the concentration camp system, first at Dachau, then in the "special task groups" sent in to mop up after Nazi invasion in Eastern Europe as the SS soldiers evolved into instruments of genocide. A chilling examination of the SS makeup, structure and ideology.