The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel ("Protective Squadron") or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside the Heer (regular army), but was never formally part of it. It was Adolf Hitler's will that the Waffen-SS never be integrated 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. During time of peace, it remained under the control of Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler's SS, through the SS Führungshauptamt (SS operational command office). Upon mobilization, however, its tactical control was handed over 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 in 1940 the rules were relaxed (although not ended completely) and Hitler authorized the formation of units composed largely or solely of foreign volunteers and consripts; by the end of the war ethnic non-Germans made up approximately 60 per cent of the Waffen-SS
After the war at the Nuremberg Trials, the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organization because of its essential connection to the Nazi Party and its involvement in war crimes. Waffen-SS veterans were denied many of the rights afforded to veterans who had served in the Heer (army), Luftwaffe or Kriegsmarine. The exception made was for Waffen-SS conscripts sworn in after 1943, who were exempted because of their involuntary servitude In the 1950s and 1960s, Waffen-SS veteran groups successfully fought numerous legal battles in West Germany to overturn the Nuremberg ruling and win pension rights for their members