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The Waffen-SS: Hitler's Elite Guard at War, 1939-1945 Paperback – Mar 1984

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Product details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1st New edition edition (Mar. 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801492750
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801492754
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.6 x 2.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 673,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Draws upon Heinrich Himmler's records in providing an account of the military arm of the SS, following its development and assessing its importance in the history of the Third Reich.

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SHORTLY before noon on Monday, January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took the oath of office administered by President Hindenburg and became the twenty-second Chancellor of the German Republic. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Elite warriors, brutal murderers - deserving of both titles 10 Dec. 2004
By Mannie Liscum - Published on
Verified Purchase
"Waffen SS-Hitler's Elite Guard at War, 1939-1945" by George H. Stein is a fabulous work of historical literature. Many an author, popular and academic, has tackled the topic of the SS and Waffen SS but very few have done so in an objective fashion like Stein. Far too many presentations of the Waffen SS have been from apologist and revisionist authors who fail to recognize and/or admit the complicity of portions of the Waffen SS in the atrocities committed in the name of the NSDAP and Adolf Hitler. At the other end of the spectrum are those authors, again large in number, who simply paint ALL that served in the Waffen SS with broad strokes of guilt. Stein captures a story that falls between the extremes and thus is more realistic and truthful, and thus more historically accurate with clear lack of hysterics.

"Waffen SS" begins with a historical perspective on the establishment of the SS [initially the Allgemeine (General)-SS] and formation of the earliest incarnations of the armed SS - initially from the units such as the Leibstandarte SS "Adolf Hitler" (Hitler's Chancellery Guard) and the SS-Totenkopfverbande (Death's Head Units, early concentration camp guards), to organization of the Waffen SS as war approached. This presentation provides considerable information that allows the reader to connect (or disconnect as appropriate) various components of Himmler's greater SS. This is critical to the process of a reader drawing objective conclusions about guilt of the Waffen SS in non-combatant war crimes.

Stein then spends considerable time discussing the military exploits of the Waffen SS, both early and oft strained integration into the Wehrmacht during the initial phases of the war up to the defeat of France and the AEF, as well as their later fierce and destructive battles fought east across the Soviet Union and their return west in defense. Stein's prose does not fail to convey a picture of a fanatical and determined fighting force. Clearly the Waffen SS (especially the early incarnations that were still volunteer and elite) was an accomplished "army". Stein also discusses how the elite Waffen SS was in later years of the war converted through conscription (mostly) into a hodge-podge of a force that often was worth very little and sometimes more trouble than it was worth.

In the third major section of "Waffen SS" the author presents a clear and concise (without simply rehashing particular atrocities covered in depth elsewhere) description of crimes that can be connected to the Waffen SS, whether directly or indirectly. While crimes can clearly be attributed to battle formations, both combatant- and non-combatant-related, it is also clear from Stein's presentation that a majority of Waffen SS units were not likely involved in such events. This is not to say that Stein presents an apologist view, quite to the contrary - he presents an honest assessment of guilt - the Waffen SS was guilty but it is unfair to claim all units were simply butchers. Yet equally unfair would be a claim that the Waffen SS was simply an army free of guilt. When it comes to connections between the Waffen SS and the holocaust the story is one mostly of semantics. As Stein points out it is beyond doubt that the SS represented the system by which Hitler attempted (and nearly succeeded) to murder all of the European jews and other "Untermensch" (subhumans). It is also clear that many of the units involved were, at least on paper, part of the Waffen SS. Moreover, much of the concentration camp staff turn over was between the camps and the front lines. Yet it is not at all clear that fighting units of the Waffen SS were directly involved in these acts. Thus it becomes an issue of semantics because it depends upon how one defines "Waffen SS". Again this is not to say that Stein presents an apologist view or one of strict and total condemnation. In fact Stein presents a picture in which the facts are presented and the reader is free to define the culprits for themselves.

In the final section Stein gives a very concise and extremely well written summary. This section itself is worth the price of the book. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Stein is liberal in his use of sources and yet it also becomes clear that Gerald Reitlinger's "SS: Alibi of a Nation" is one he favors and must feel captures much of the story of the SS (although not in the concise manner in which Stein sets out to do - as he states right up front). This is a five star effort worth a read!!!
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
An excellent narrative of the Waffen SS - Hitler's soldiers 13 Feb. 2001
By Richard Nicholas - Published on
This literary work provides a comprehensive yet concise historical narrative of the Waffen SS - the elite Nazi militarized wing of the vast Armed Forces of Germany. When on the offensive, the Waffen SS spearheaded Nazi Germany's military victories. Subsequently, in Germany's years of defeat, the idealogical fanatics of the Waffen SS fought to the bloody and bitter end to defend their Fuhrer and Fatherland. One dominant fact emerges overall from George Stein's book; and that is the fact of the existence of the thorough military professionalism of the Waffen SS and its soldiers and officers.
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
A Scholarly, Unbiased Account 22 Mar. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
I strongly recommend "Hitler's Elite Guard at War" as a measured, unbiased account in a field which is typically dominated by neo-Nazi literature and apologist "history" books. Anyone interested in the bizarre mechanics of the Waffen-SS but wary of the fact that most books on the subject are written by Nazi sympathizers will be pleased to find a serious, professional study of all aspects of the Waffen-SS, including creation, organization, volunteer composition, and war crimes. A good book on a particularly dark chapter of history indeed.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Truly the base line reference work on the Waffen SS 18 Sept. 2006
By Grey Wolffe - Published on
This volume by George Stein was originally published in 1966. Most of the publication facts are based on the SS and Wehrmacht histories written during the war and supplemented by information from both Hitler's and Himmler's personal records and recordings. At some points you may find that the documentation is a little overwhelming, but most of it is in bottom page notes.

The original formation of the SS (Schutzstaffel-Protection Squad) were the black uniformed elite personal body guard for Adolf Hitler set-up by Heinrich Himmler. It was envisioned as an elite corps that would be the 'police' of the Nazi Party, replacing the less than repudable SD (Brown Shirts). After becoming Chancellor in 1933 the The Waffen-SS (Armed-SS) branch was expanded and divided into three subgroups: the Leibstandarte, Hitler's personal bodyguard; the Totenkopfverbande (Death's Head Battalions), which administered the concentration camps; and the Verfugungstruppen (Disposition Troops).

By the end of the war the Waffen SS had grown to 39 divisions (always under the command of the Wehrmacht). But in reality, only six of the formations were ever a true fighting force mostly made up of German residents of the Reich. Another two or three made up of Volksdeutsch and Western Volunteers in World War II were also considered 'first line' troops. The other formations were made up of Eastern European 'Volunteers' many of whom were ex-POWs or conscripted Volksdeutsch. Some of these formations never fought or came any way near Division strength (15,000) and were as small as battallions (200). What the extra 26 divisions did was spread out needed German officers and equipment.

Beginning with the invasions of the Low Countries and France, the Waffen SS participated in all the major battles of WWII including Stalingrad, Kursk, Normandy and the final battle in Berlin. Hitler used them as his 'Fire Brigade' when he needed immediate help in Italy after the fall of Mussolini, in Normandy after D-Day and as the spearhead of the troops in the 'Battle of the Bulge'. These were the troops that became the fearsome SS-Panzer and Panzergrenadiers that fought with 'abandon' and to the death in so many rearguard battles.

But the Waffen-SS was also seen as the 'peacetime' armed state police. They would be a combination of Carabenari, Prison Camp Guards, Secret Service and FBI. Many of the early Concentration Camp guards, later became members of the 4th-SS Polizeidivision of the Waffen-SS and it wasn't unusual for wounded or disabled Waffen-SS to be transfered to the Concentration Camp Guard troops. As to the massacres at Paladis, Oradur and Malmedy; according to the 'apologists', well 'boys will be boys' and sometimes get 'out of hand'.

Though a lot of work has been done since 1966, this is a great reference work from which to begin.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Waffen-SS 14 Nov. 2010
By Tom Houlihan - Published on
This book is an update of Stein's classic reference work on the Waffen-SS. It begins with the initial formations of the SS, and takes the reader through the end of the war. More than just a historical record, this work also discusses some of the ideological issues and political battles that plagued the Waffen-SS.

The history is broken down within the chapters, as follows:

1. The Formative Years: 1933-1939: This chapter discusses the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) purpose, organization, selection, and training, as well as the difficulties in the relationship between the SS and the Army.

2. From Verfügungstruppe to Waffen-SS: In this chapter, the SS-VT goes to war. The problems and solutions found during the Polish campaign are analyzed before the campaign in the west. Also discussed are problems with official recognition, as well as the fights for recruits and equipment. The transition from SS-VT to Waffen-SS also takes place.

3. Toward a Military Reputation: In the third chapter, the Waffen-SS goes to war in the west. It is during these campaigns that the reputation as fearless fighters begins to develop, along with the reputation for atrocities in the field.

4. From West to East: The Development of the Waffen-SS: During the period between the fall of France, and the invasion of Russia, the Waffen-SS still had to struggle for men and equipment. This chapter goes more into the difficulties they had with the Wehrmacht. The reorganization of the Waffen-SS leading to the Russian campaign, as well as the Balkans campaigns are also discussed.

5. Some Military Consequences of an Ideology: Stein focuses on the ideological aspects of the war in this chapter, and how it affected the Waffen-SS.

6. The West European SS: Mobilisation of Foreign Nationals, I: One of the aspects of the Waffen-SS that was trumpeted after the war was the Pan-European aspect of the organization. It is in this chapter that this phenomenon is discussed. The differences between the Germanic SS and the Eastern SS units is also discussed.

7. The East European SS: Mobilisation of Foreign Nations, II: Though Himmler initially dictated strict racial standards for his SS, the fortunes of war caused him to make changes in that policy. This chapter discusses Baltic, Ukrainian, Balkan, and Ethnic Germans units formed under the auspices of the Waffen-SS. Also discussed are failed attempts to develop units such as the Indian Legion, or the British Free Corps.

8. The Waffen-SS Comes of Age: 1942-1943: This chapter pretty much brings the previous chapters together, and provides an overview of what was going on throughout the Waffen-SS in this time period.

9. To the Bitter End: The Waffen-SS and the Defence of the Third Reich, 1943-1945: Picking up where the previous chapter left off, this chapter tells of the ferocity of the fighting as the war came to a close, and Germany was defeated. Each front is discussed, as is the final fight for Berlin.

10. The Tarnished Shield: Waffen-SS Criminality: It is in this chapter that the crimes and atrocities of the SS are discussed. These range from the first concentration camps, through the death camps, murder squads, and other combat atrocities.

11. Reprise and Assessment: This chapter functions as a summary.

There is also an appendix, with added material from previous editions. Included are comparative rank tables, rank charts, lists of units, divisional insignia, and a chart of the overall SS organization. There are also a number of photos in the book that were not in previous editions.

This book is useful for both the novice, or knowledgeable reader. It has become one of the more standard references used for the Waffen-SS. Originally written before the advent of digital means of information retrieval, it has withstood the test of time for accuracy and depth.
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