The Waffen SS began as Hitler's elite bodyguard and grew into one of the most formidable fighting forces of Nazi Germany. Although part of the infamous SS - and indelibly linked with the excesses of the feared Gestapo, the concentration camps, and the extermination squads, the men of the SS saw themselves as combat soldiers, respected for their courage, feared for their ruthlessness and fanaticism. For these were political soldiers; mature men, recruited for their physical perfection and pure Aryan ancestry. They were drilled in Nazi ideology, indoctrinated to believe in themselves as the master race and their enemies as subhuman. They became the cornerstone of the German defences, who carried on fighting, even when all hope was gone. But they are remembered for their brutality. They killed captured British, Canadian and American soldiers in cold blood, and massacred unarmed French, Belgian and Russian civilians. They were Gladiators on the battlefield, who fought on against impossible odds, but the Waffen SS will forever be tarnished by the atrocities they committed as the willing servants of an evil regime.