Although official Nazi policy barred non-Germans from joining the regular German army, the Wehrmacht, volunteers from most occupied countries and even a small number from some Commonwealth countries (British Free Corps). were permitted to join the ranks of the Waffen SS and the auxiliary police (Schutzmannschaft). Overall, nearly 600,000 Waffen-SS members were non-German, with some countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands contributing thousands of volunteers. Various collaborationalist parties in occupied France and the unoccupied Vichy zone assisted in establishing the Légion des volontaires français contre le bolchevisme (LVF). This volunteer army initially counted some 10,000 volunteers and would later become the 33rd Waffen SS division, one of the first SS divisions composed mostly of foreigners.
Following is a list of the 18 largest Waffen SS divisions composed mostly or entirely of foreign volunteers (note that there were other foreign Waffen SS divisions composed mostly of forced conscripts).
Apart from frontline units, volunteers also played an important role in the large Schutzmannschaft units in the German-occupied territories in Eastern Europe. After Operation Barbarossa recruitment of local forces began almost immediately mostly by initiative of Himmler. These forces were not members of the regular armed forces and were not intended for frontline duty, but were instead used for rear echelon activities including maintaining the peace, fighting partisans, acting as police and organizing supplies for the front lines. In the later years of the war, these units numbered almost 200,000.
By the end of World War II, 60% of the Waffen SS was made up of non-German volunteers from occupied countries. The predominantly Scandinavian 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland division along with remnants of French, Italian, Spanish and Dutch volunteers were last defenders of the Reichstag in Berlin.
The Nuremberg Trials, in declaring the Waffen SS a criminal organisation, explicitly excluded conscripts, who had committed no crimes. In 1950, The U.S. High Commission in Germany and the U.S. Displaced Persons Commission clarified the U.S. position on the Baltic Waffen SS Units, considering them distinct from the German SS in purpose, ideology, activities and qualifications for membership.
Read more about this topic: Collaboration During World War II
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“Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies and the misfortunes of others. Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another?”
—Thomas Jefferson (17431826)