The black uniform of the SS with its death's-head insignia has come to symbolize cruelty, while the organization's actions—most particularly its administration of the death camps—have come to identify it with a unique kind of evil.
The first stage in the analysis of the SS held that it was a collection of criminal and sadistic individuals. During World War II, Hollywood productions consistently portrayed SS men as lacking all feeling and being sadistic—though the movie producer never seemed to be aware that this portrayal involved a contradiction. Ellie Cohen, in one of the first serious studies of the psychodynamics of the German concentration camp, defined the men as individuals with a criminal superego. This interpretation reached its logical conclusion during the Nuremberg trials which condemned the SS as a criminal organization and made membership in it ipso facto proof of criminal guilt. This almost demonic view of the SS was reinforced by the various memoirs of concentration camp inmates, who—with the exception of Kautzky and Kogon—painted a radically undifferentiated picture of evil.
Nor was this view without a foundation, for the prisoner situation had produced a radical cognitive distortion which led inmates to see only the uniform. Thus Reimund Schnable, who had before becoming a prisoner been a Hitler Youth leader and had some acquaintance with the system from another perspective than that of victim, wrote: “The brutal faces of the men in uniform with the symbol of death on their caps and collars, with a lack of expression, a whip in the hand and a pistol around the belt…made an unforgettable impression on the new prisoners.” Or an academically educated Jewish prisoner comments: “For me they were all the same. If you asked me how they looked I can only reply: they all wore boots. These dull, evil and uncritical automatons, educated for murder in the school of Himmler will whenever they receive an order carry out their shameful craft.” Or:
All SS officers have something dominating, almost like supermen. All SS noncoms are brutal individuals, sadists and robbers who attempt wherever possible to organize for themselves. They are convinced that prisoners are not human beings but rather embody all the evil in the world. The prisoner is some kind of animal for them which must be punished and which must be made to suffer with all means available before one finally exterminates it.
On the basis of the available evidence—memoirs of Wiesenthal, Kogon