The Waffen-SS (, Armed SS) was created as the armed wing of the Nazi Party's Schutzstaffel ("Protective Squadron"), and gradually developed into a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of Nazi Germany.
The Waffen-SS grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions during World War II, and served alongside the Heer (regular army) but was never formally part of it. Adolf Hitler resisted integrating the Waffen-SS into the army, as it was to remain the armed wing of the Party and to become an elite police force once the war was won. Prior to the war it was under the control of the SS Führungshauptamt (SS operational command office) beneath Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Upon mobilization its tactical control was given to the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).
Initially membership was open to "Aryans" only in accordance with the racial policies of the Nazi state, but the rules were partially relaxed in 1940, although Jews and Poles remained banned; and Hitler authorized the formation of units composed largely or solely of foreign volunteers and conscripts. By the end of the war, ethnic non-Germans made up approximately 60 percent of the Waffen-SS.
At the post-war Nuremberg Trials the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organization due to its essential connection to the Nazi Party and involvement in war crimes. Waffen-SS veterans were denied many of the rights afforded to veterans who had served in the Heer (army), Luftwaffe (air force) or Kriegsmarine (navy). An exception was made for Waffen-SS conscripts sworn in after 1943, who were exempted because of their involuntary servitude.
Read more about Waffen-SS: Origins (1929–1939), Commanders, Casualties, War Crimes, HIAG
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