In the early days of the
SS (Schutzstaffel), it was determined that a specialized unit was
needed for the purpose of overseeing political prisoners opposed to
the National Socialist cause. Beginning in 1933, these prisoners
were quickly organized into "labor camps" that included communists,
criminals, and other people determined to be "undesirable" according
to rising National Socialist political and racial views. The
first concentration camps held several thousand prisoners, however
this number eventually grew to hundreds of thousands by the end of the
Second World War. The creation of a system of labor camps (later
to become extermination camps) necessitated the formation of guard
units to oversee their operations. Within the SS, these
responsibilities differed from those normally associated with security
or the protection of key leaders1.
In the Spring of 1934 a
number of concentration camps were put under the authority of Heinrich
Himmler, who was also in charge of police security units in the
various states within Germany.
On July 4, 1934, Heinrich Himmler appointed Theodor Eicke the
commandant of the Dachau concentration camp. As Inspector of
Concentrations Camps and SS Guard Units
(Inspekteur der Konzentrationslager und
Eicke was quick to form units associated with guarding prisoners.
These guard units later became known as Death's Head Units (SS-Totenkopf-verbände).
Eicke's role as
concentration camps required that he come under the
authority of the SS Main Office (SS-Hauptamt).
Men who served under his organization were trained in the usual SS
military methods. The equipment provided to these men were
identical to those associated with other SS units save for specialized
insignia that feature the Death's Head (Totenkopf) symbol.
Helmets issued to these men consisted of black painted M1916, M1917,
M1918, and Austrian pattern helmets. A specialized Death's Head
insignia was used for a very short period of time prior to the
introduction of standard SS decals used on both sides of the helmet.
Members of the the SS-Wachverbände
were later issued standard M1935, M1940, and M1942 helmets configured
in the same fashion as those of the Armed-SS (Waffen-SS).
held the primary responsibility for overseeing prisoners held in the
Other SS units were assigned to administrative and military tasks
outside the central concentration camp system.