FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider rejects the idea of collective guilt for troops of the Waffen-SS, a Nazi legion involved in notorious atrocities of World War II.

Instead, ``individual guilt is what matters,'' he said in a Die Welt newspaper interview Tuesday. ``It can never be the Waffen SS as such but only individuals ... who bear the responsibility'' for crimes committed by the organization.

Haider's father was a member of the SA, the Nazi brownshirt storm troopers who also served as Adolf Hitler's body guards. The SS _ short for Schutzstaffel, or Protection Squad _ was an offshoot of the SA and became a special formation in 1929 when Heinrich Himmler took command.

SA chief Ernst Roehm eventually fell out of favor with Hitler, and he was arrested and shot in 1934, the year after the Nazis took power. That left the SS unchallenged as the elite unit, and it became the most powerful instrument of Nazi control.

SS units were responsible for operating and guarding Nazi concentration camps, including death camps, during World War II. Fiercely loyal to Hitler, the SS followed an extreme racist ideology and members were touted as examples of the German master race.

The Waffen-SS, or armed SS, was formed in 1939 as the fighting branch of the SS. Some divisions were involved in killing sprees such as the slaughter of more than 70 unarmed U.S. prisoners at Malmedy, Belgium, and the massacre of 642 French villagers at Oradour-sur-Glane in 1944.

Better equipped than regular Wehrmacht soldiers, the Waffen-SS was used notably to secure Nazi-occupied areas and to combat partisans or other opposition forces. They also fought on the front lines next to the Wehrmacht.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan caused an uproar in 1985 when he visited a German military cemetery at Bitburg, Germany, where 49 Waffen-SS members were buried. Jewish groups, U.S. congressmen and veterans' groups assailed Reagan for the cemetery visit, which German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had included on the presidential itinerary in an effort to mark U.S.-German reconciliation 40 years after the end of the war.