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The SS (Schutzstaffel): Unterscharführer

Unterscharführer was a paramilitary rank of the Nazi Party that was used by the Schutzstaffel (SS) between the years of 1934 and 1945. Translated as “Junior Squad Leader,” the SS rank of Unterscharführer was created after the Night of the Long Knives which caused a reorganization of the SS and the creation of several new ranks to separate the SS from the Sturmabteilung (SA).

The rank of Unterscharführer was created from the older SA rank of Scharführer. After 1934, an SS-Unterscharführer and SA-Scharführer were considered equivalent positions; the rank of SS-Unterscharführer was junior to SS-Scharführer and senior to the rank of SS-Rottenführer.

Unterscharführer was the first non-commissioned officer rank of the SS and was considered the equivalent of an Unteroffizier in the German Wehrmacht. Unterscharführer was also the most commonly held NCO rank in the SS and the duties of those holding the position were wide and extensive throughout the entirety of the SS.

Within the Allgemeine-SS (General SS), an Unterscharführer typically commanded squad sized formations of seven to fifteen SS troopers. The rank was also held commonly as an NCO staff position and could be found in all of the Nazi security agencies from the Gestapo, SD, and the Einsatzgruppen.

Within the Concentration Camp service, those holding the rank of Unterscharführer were often assigned to a position known as Blockführer, which was a supervisory position overseeing order within a prison barracks of a Concentration Camp. The position of Blockführer is also of note in the Holocaust, as it was typically Blockführeren in charge of various Sonderkommando, who performed the actual physical act of gassing Jewish and other “undesirable” persons of the Third Reich.

The Waffen-SS use of Unterscharführer was as a junior squad commander, one of several attached to company and platoon sized formations. The rank was also considered the equivalent to the first Waffen-SS Officer Candidate rank of SS-Junker.

Since the requirements of a battlefield non-commissioned officer were higher than that expected of an Unterscharführer in the General SS, those aspiring this rank in the Waffen-SS were required to undergo a screening and selection process before being promoted. During this time the aspirant was known as an Unterführer-Anwärter and, upon completion of required evaluations, trainings, and passing a promotion board, the “Junior Leader Candidate” would be promoted to the rank of Unterscharführer.

The insignia for Unterscharführer consisted of a single button pip centered on a collar patch opposite an SS unit insignia collar badge. The field grey SS uniform displayed the rank with silver collar piping and the shoulder boards of an Unteroffizier. Most modern day rank comparisons list the rank of Unterscharführer as equivalent to a Corporal in other military services, but there is ample evidence that the rank held responsibilities more befitting a Sergeant in some armies.

Unterscharführer has also made several appearances in culture and modern films. The most notable is the character of “Unterscharführer Albert Hujar,” portrayed in the film Schindler's List, who blindly obeys an order to execute a defense woman when told: “Unterscharführer…shoot her” by his superior Amon Göth.

Sources: Wikipedia; Picture courtesy of: U.S. National Archives