EPILOGUE

By the autumn of 1944, the Black Order had secured almost total political, military and economic power in Germany, and there were only two men who really mattered in the whole of the Reich – Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. The Swedish press was already referring to Himmler as ‘Dictator of Germany’, and with Göring long since disgraced it seemed to many that the Reichsführer-SS was merely waiting for Hitler’s death to place himself at the head of the Nazi régime. As Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, it was Himmler who drew up plans for the last-ditch defence of the Fatherland and threatened that every deserter would be punished not only by his own execution but also by that of his entire family. Flying Waffen-SS courts martial swung into action right across the country, and began hanging shirkers and lead-swingers from trees and lamp-posts as a warning to others. Allgemeine-SS men serving in the Wehrmacht and with the Volkssturm increasingly kept their ears to the ground for defeatist talk, and reported whether the sentences passed on offenders by regular military courts martial measured up to Himmler’s severe standards. In November, the Reichsführer’s power reached its peak, for on the 9th of the month he was granted the unique and symbolic privilege of taking Hitler’s place for the delivery of the traditional beer hall speech commemorating the Munich putsch.

In the background, however, lurked a shadowy rival in the power struggle. Martin Bormann, Head of the Party Chancellery and Hitler’s closest NSDAP adviser, wore the Blood Order not because of any involvement in the Munich putsch, but because he had served a year in prison as a political murderer. He was an SS-Obergruppenführer, but felt only jealous hatred towards Himmler and longed for his downfall. Bormann knew that the Reichsführer was no military tactician, and in a wily effort to discredit him persuaded Hitler to nominate the SS chief to the vacant post of Commander of Army Group Upper Rhine in early December. This, in effect, gave Himmler the responsibilities of a Wehrmacht Field Marshal at the critical time when the armed forces were collapsing on all fronts. As expected, Himmler the arch-policeman completely buckled in his new soldierly role and did no better when reassigned to take charge of Army Group Vistula in January 1945. Haunted by the spectre of defeat, unable to cope with his now massive personal responsibilities, and no longer sure of Hitler’s favour in these volatile times, Himmler went on extended sick leave with ‘severe influenza’ and took refuge in the SS hospital at Hohenlychen run by his old friend Karl Gebhardt. On 20 March, a disillusioned Führer relieved him of his army command on the Vistula. Bormann’s scheme had worked perfectly, and had made him the new favourite to succeed Hitler as head of the NSDAP.

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The Reichsführer-SS in November 1944, by which time he had become accepted as Hitler’s heir-apparent.

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Hitler greeting ‘der treue Heinrich’ at Führer Headquarters, while Martin Bormann lurks in the background. On his left breast pocket, Himmler wears the Pilot Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds, which was a personal gift from Hermann Göring.

Having suddenly lost face, and consequently all realistic hope of the succession, Himmler now determined to save his own skin and that of his SS comrades by opening secret peace negotiations with the western Allies, using important concentration camp inmates as bargaining counters. At the beginning of April, Count Folke Bernadotte, Vice-President of the Swedish Red Cross and agreed intermediary in the talks, paid his second visit to Himmler at Hohenlychen to discuss the possibilities of arranging a German capitulation on the western front. Bernadotte was prepared to appeal to Eisenhower only if Himmler would declare himself Hitler’s successor, dissolve the NSDAP and release all Scandinavian prisoners held in Germany. Himmler, however, was unable to make up his mind. He dreamed of himself as the new saviour of Nazi Germany, but still could not wrench free from Hitler’s overpowering psychological influence to which he had been subject since 1923. As late as 13 April 1945, Himmler personally denounced his old adjutant Karl Wolff as a traitor when Wolff opened up his own independent peace negotiations with the Allies in Switzerland. The situation worsened dramatically when other notable SS leaders panicked and began to abandon the sinking ship in considerable numbers. Three SS-Obergruppenführer, namely Felix Steiner, Curt von Gottberg and Richard Hildebrandt, seriously considered a plan to assassinate Hitler as a means of swiftly putting an end to the war, and even Ernst Kaltenbrunner of the RSHA plotted the surrender of Austria to the Americans. The general consensus among the SS was that their postwar interests would be best served if Himmler was Head of State and able to negotiate on their behalf.

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The abandoned Waffen-SS recruiting office at Calais, 12 October 1944. Over 8,000 Frenchmen joined the Waffen-SS during the Second World War.

On 19 April, SS-Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg, Kaltenbrunner’s subordinate, implored Himmler for the last time, on behalf of a growing section of the SS leadership, to depose Hitler and make peace. The Reichsführer wavered, but his courage evaporated once more. The following day, he journeyed to the Chancellery Bunker to pay his respects on his master’s birthday, and tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hitler to quit the capital and continue the battle from an alpine redoubt in southern Germany. After the meagre birthday celebrations, Himmler bade a final farewell to Hitler and left Berlin for his field headquarters at Hohenlychen. On 28 April, news was relayed to the Führerbunker that Schellenberg, acting on behalf of the Reichsführer-SS, had offered the western Allies the conditional capitulation of Germany, which they had duly rejected. Himmler had been reluctant to sanction Schellenberg’s offer, but Hitler was none the less paralysed by the apparent revelation of ‘der treue Heinrich’s’ betrayal. He immediately ordered SS personnel in the room to leave his presence and thereafter issued Bormann with instructions for Himmler’s arrest, simultaneously expelling the Reichsführer from the NSDAP and all his government offices. Hitler then appointed SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Hanke, Gauleiter of Lower Silesia, as the new Reichsführer-SS. However, Hanke never received word of his promotion, having already abandoned his post in the besieged city of Breslau and flown off in one of the few helicopters then in operation.

Forty-eight hours later, Hitler was dead and the Third Reich was at an end. In its stead, confusion and chaos reigned. Grand Admiral Dönitz, head of the rump Nazi government, confirmed that he had no place for Himmler in his short-lived administration. SS officers and men from all branches of the organisation, fearful of the reprisals which they were sure would be directed against them, burned their uniforms, files and identity papers, cast aside their daggers, swords and death’s head rings, gathered what loot and booty they could, and fled into hiding. Those captured were put to work clearing up the mess, then herded into Dachau and other camps pending a de-Nazification process and possible criminal proceedings. The dreaded day of reckoning had arrived.

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One of the veteran Totenkopf NCOs at Belsen being searched by British soldiers after the liberation of the camp, 17 April 1945.

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SS officers and men clearing dead bodies at Belsen, 17 April 1945. At the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945, the prisoners at Auschwitz, Majdanek and the other extermination camps were marched westwards in front of the Russian advance and deposited at concentration camps in Germany. These were the ‘human skeletons’ whom the British and Americans freed at the end of the war.

For Himmler, the cease-fire concluded by Dönitz on 5 May 1945 marked the end of the road. All the Wehrmacht officers who had hastily gathered around the Grand Admiral, desperate to avoid charges of war crimes being levelled against them, now shifted the blame for Nazi Germany’s conduct totally on to the SS and the person of the Reichsführer. On 6 May, Himmler mustered his remaining faithful entourage including his brother Gebhard, Hans Prützmann, Léon Degrelle, and various Hauptamt chiefs, police generals and Waffen-SS leaders, and gave a final farewell speech. He ended by handing out prepared false identity documents, and advised his followers to ‘submerge in the Wehrmacht’. Each then went his own way. Himmler furnished himself with the papers of a former military police sergeant named Heinrich Hitzinger, who had earlier been executed by the SS for defeatism. He also carried a phial of cyanide, and had a hole drilled in one of his molars to accommodate it. There was no doubt in his mind about his fate and that of his chief accomplices should they fall into enemy hands.

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SS-Standartenführer Walther Rauff (left), head of the security police in Milan, surrenders to the Americans on 30 April 1945. Rauff was also a Korvetten-Kapitän der Reserve in the navy, and took part in Kriegsmarine actions in North Africa, for which he received the ‘Afrika’ campaign cuff title, seen here being worn on the sleeve of his SS uniform.

On 10 May, Himmler set out on foot from Flensburg to Bavaria. He was escorted by SS-Obersturmbannführer Werner Grothmann and SS-Hauptsturmführer Heinz Macher, both in army uniform. Grothmann, only twenty-nine years old, had been the Reichsführer’s personal aide-de-camp since 1943, and was one of his most loyal subordinates. Macher, although four years younger, was a hardened combat veteran and had won the Oakleaves to his Knight’s Cross in 1944 while serving with ‘Das Reich’ in Russia. It was Macher who had blown up Wewelsburg Castle the previous month on Himmler’s direct instructions, to prevent its capture by the Allies, and he had also been charged with the task of burying the castle’s treasures, including over 9,000 death’s head rings held in the shrine to commemorate SS men killed in action. Protected by these two stalwarts, Himmler intended to join the many other SS and NSDAP leaders who had fled south-east to the Alps. On 21 May, however, the three men were arrested by the British at a routine check-point between Hamburg and Bremen. Two days later they arrived at an interrogation centre at Barfeld, near Lüneburg, where the former Reichsführer’s identity was confirmed. As his elated captors began to question him, Himmler bit on the cyanide capsule and was dead within minutes, thus escaping the humiliation of a show trial and the certain fate of a hangman’s noose. He was subsequently buried in an unmarked grave on Lüneburg Heath, and his false identity disc, spectacles and few other meagre possessions were distributed among the attendant Allied intelligence personnel as souvenirs.

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Leibstandarte and ‘Der Führer’ officers attached to the 24th SS Division surrender to the British near Treviso in northern Italy, 7 May 1945. The Obersturmführer on the left, with the tropical field cap and shorts, wears the Guerrilla Warfare Badge in Silver above his other awards.

Only a small number of SS leaders followed Himmler’s example by committing suicide. Among them were Hans Prützmann, Philipp Bouhler, Herbert Backe, Leonardo Conti, Odilo Globocnik, Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger and Ernst-Robert Grawitz, the latter blowing both himself and his family up with hand grenades. Christian Weber, the old Stosstrupp veteran, was killed in action in Bavaria at the end of the war and Karl Hanke, the last Reichsführer-SS, was beaten to death by Czechs a couple of months later. Many SS officers, including the Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller, the Concentration Camp Inspector-General Richard Glücks, and the infamous Dr Josef Mengele, simply disappeared underground as Himmler had recommended.

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Himmler after his suicide, 23 May 1945.

During the second half of 1945, the victorious Allies engaged upon a concerted effort to root out and round up all former members of the SS, which they declared had been an illegal and terrorist organisation. Their primary objective was to put the leaders before a military tribunal, to answer charges of war crimes. Mass arrests followed and 32,000 ex-SS men were incarcerated at Dachau alone by the end of the year. Franz Breithaupt died at Prien soon after being taken into British custody, and Maximilian von Herff suffered a similar fate at Cornshead Priory POW camp on Lake Windermere in September, the same month in which Walter Schmitt expired in Dablice as a captive of the Czechs. Those who were duly put on trial at Nürnberg and elsewhere during 1946–7 received a variety of sentences. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Oswald Pohl, Arthur Greiser, Karl Hermann Frank, Kurt Daluege, Karl Gebhardt, Friedrich Jeckeln, Karl Brandt and Albert Forster, along with a further eighteen less well-known SS and police generals, were condemned to death and executed for their involvement in the Nazi extermination policy. Large numbers of more junior personnel who had staffed concentration camps, served in Einsatz-gruppen or taken part in Waffen-SS atrocities were similarly dealt with. Gottlob Berger was sentenced to twenty-five years’ imprisonment, Werner Lorenz and Hans Lammers each received twenty years in jail, Wilhelm Keppler got ten years, and Walter Buch was condemned to five years’ hard labour before committing suicide. Gustav-Adolf Scheel and Walter Schellenberg were each given five years’ imprisonment, and Otto Dietrich one year. Erich von dem Bach, a prime candidate for the death sentence, saved his neck and avoided extradition to Poland by acting as a witness for the prosecution at Nürnberg. The majority of these men served out their terms of imprisonment, which were often reduced on appeal or for good behaviour, and went on to enjoy comfortable lives in postwar West Germany. Indeed, for years thereafter, Allied intelligence agencies frequently sought the advice of Schellenberg and his former RSHA colleagues, and paid handsomely for the benefit of their expertise in espionage and interrogation techniques.

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A chart depicting the organisation of the RSHA is displayed at Nürnberg during the trials of SS and SD men, 20 December 1946.

As for the other former SS commanders and notable personalities, Franz Xaver Schwarz succumbed to ill-health in Regensburg internment camp in 1947, while Ulrich Greifelt died in February 1949 at Landsberg, also after a long illness. Ulrich Graf perished a pauper in Munich in March 1950, followed by Richard Hildebrandt in 1951. Richard Walther Darré expired from liver failure two years later, Rudolf Diels accidentally shot and killed himself during a hunting expedition in November 1957, and Max Amann died in poverty the same year having had all the wealth which he accrued from publishing Mein Kampf confiscated by a de-Nazification tribunal. Heinz Reinefarth, the first SS member to win the Knight’s Cross and commander of police units involved in crushing the Warsaw uprising, was luckier, taking up a career in local government and rising to the post of Bürgermeister of Westerland in 1958. His close police associate, Alfred Wünnenberg, died in Krefeld in 1963. Karl Wolff, always a ‘smooth talker’, built up a successful public relations business until he received a belated ten-year prison sentence in 1964, following revelations at the Eichmann trial. Hans Jüttner died at Bad Tölz in 1965, and in 1966 four former Waffen-SS generals, namely ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, Georg Keppler, Herbert Gille and Felix Steiner, all succumbed to various illnesses and were buried after funeral services openly attended by hundreds of Waffen-SS veterans. Julius Schaub pursued his profession as a Munich chemist until his demise in 1967, while Karl Fiehler and Jakob Grimminger both died in obscurity in 1969. Emil Maurice, the part-Jewish holder of SS membership number 2 (Hitler held number 1) lived until 1972, the same year as ninety-two-year-old Paul Hausser, the revered ‘Father of the Waffen-SS’, was laid to rest in the presence of his old comrades. Werner Lorenz died in 1974, Gottlob Berger in 1975, and August Heissmeyer in 1979. The last surviving Hauptamt chief, Karl Wolff, gave up the ghost at Rosenheim in 1984. With his death, the former top-ranking SS leadership and the lingering Old Guard of the organisation were finally extinguished.

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Otto Ohlendorf pleading ‘not guilty’ at Nürnberg, 15 September 1947. Behind him sit his former RSHA colleagues Heinz Jost, Erich Naumann, Werner Braune and Walter Hänsch. As one-time commander of Einsatzgruppe ‘D’ in Russia, and chief of the SD in Germany, Ohlendorf was sentenced to death.

However, while the majority of the very highest SS leaders were too well known to avoid detection and arrest by the Allies at the end of the war, there were many more anonymous and rather faceless individuals who quite easily evaded capture. Prominent among such men were Heinrich Müller, Richard Glücks and Dr Josef Mengele, whose associations with the extermination programme earned them death sentences ‘in absentia’ from the Nürnberg tribunal. Hundreds of junior SS officers and NCOs from concentration camp guard units, policemen who had served with Einsatzgruppen in the east, and foreign volunteers such as Léon Degrelle who were regarded as arch-traitors in their own countries, managed to flee to the safety of sympathetic nations and set up new and comfortable lives for themselves after 1945. Their ability to do so was due almost entirely to the assistance provided by a vast and typically efficient escape network organised by the SS in its terminal stages.

At the end of 1944, Himmler ordered the RSHA to prepare false identity documents and passports bearing fictitious names which were subsequently distributed to selected leading members of the SS and NSDAP. After the surrender was signed, many top Nazis went into hiding or operated openly under their new pseudonyms. In front of the very eyes of the Allied administration, valuable contacts were established between high-ranking Nazis in prison and new underground groups outside, using secret codes devised by the SD before the collapse of the Third Reich. The initial overall organisation which co-ordinated these activities was called ‘Spinne’, or ‘Spider’, and was restricted to operating within Germany itself. Most important ex-SS men did not want to hang around the Homeland for too long, however, and by 1946 they decided that the time had come to set up a worldwide escape network. As a result, the ODESSA (Organisation der SS-Angehörigen, or Organisation of SS Members) came into being the following year.

In a surprisingly short time, using the expertise of its RSHA veterans, ODESSA built up an efficient system of couriers who managed to smuggle wanted SS men and other Nazis out of the country. A few enterprising individuals even secured jobs driving US Army trucks on the Munich–Salzburg autobahn, and hid fugitives in the backs of the vehicles, which were seldom searched by the American military police, to get them safely across the Austrian border. Every forty miles or so, an ODESSA Anlaufstelle, or reception centre, was established, run by at least three but not more than five people, who knew only the Anlaufstellen on either side of them along the route. These relay points covered the entire German–Austrian frontier, with the most important ones being situated at Ostermiething in Upper Austria, Zell-am-See in the Salzburg District, and Igls near Innsbruck in the Tyrol. Many SS men on the run ended up at either Bregenz or Lindau, both on Lake Constance, from where they crossed into Switzerland and thereafter boarded civil airline flights to the Middle East or South America. ODESSA also ran a so-called Monastery Route, between Austria and Italy, where sympathetic Roman Catholic clergy, particularly Franciscan friars, passed hunted SS men down a long line of religious ‘safe houses’. Moreover, the organisation had connections with professional smugglers in all frontier areas, and cultivated valuable contacts in the Spanish, Egyptian, Syrian and numerous South American embassies in various European capitals. One of the main organisers was Obersturmbannführer Franz Roestel, formerly of the Waffen-SS division ‘Frundsberg’. Although not on the ‘wanted’ list himself, he operated under the assumed name of Haddad Said, and found places for many of his ex-colleagues as military advisers to the governments of developing Arab states.

All this cost money, a resource which ODESSA conveniently had in virtually unlimited supply. The huge profits amassed through the SS economic enterprises, the substantial donations received over many years from members of the Freundeskreis RfSS and the Fördernde Mitglieder, and the cash raised by the sale of confiscated Jewish property and art treasures looted from the occupied territories had filled the wartime coffers of the SS to the point of overflow. Early in 1945, the WVHA and RSHA conspired to liquidate all remaining SS assets and transfer the bulk of its money into bank accounts opened in neutral countries. These were subsequently used to establish and finance over 750 SS-sponsored companies which sprang up all over the world, including 112 in Spain, 58 in Portugal, 35 in Turkey, 98 in Argentina, 214 in Switzerland and 233 in other countries. Trusted former SS officers suddenly and unexpectedly had substantial sums deposited into their personal bank accounts, which explains how so many of them became ‘successful businessmen’ in later life. One ex-Obersturmbannführer paid a visit to his bank in 1947 to discover that his account, which had stood at a modest 12,000 Marks the previous week, had risen abruptly to over 2,600,000 Marks! He had no idea where the additional money had come from, until he recalled a mysterious visit he had had in the autumn of 1944 from two senior SS officers, who wanted to know the number of his bank account and asked for a specimen of his signature on two blank sheets of paper. Although no explanation had been given at the time, they had evidently been preparing the groundwork for the distribution of SS funds after the war.

It has been estimated that between 1945 and 1948 the SS managed to hide the present-day equivalent of around £1,000,000,000 in money and assets in various parts of the world. The six lists of the people authorised to dispose of, and benefit from, these funds are probably the most important undiscovered documents of the Third Reich. Two were in the hands of the men who organised ODESSA in 1947, two are said to be in the safe-keeping of banks, and one of the remaining two is believed to be lying at the bottom of Lake Töplitz in Austria, where a large quantity of Nazi loot was hurriedly sunk in 1945. The vast majority of those named on the lists are now dead, but their children live on. There can be little doubt that many respected family businesses currently operating successfully across the globe owe their origins and continued existence to ODESSA and the funds of the SS.

While ODESSA was always a secret network, geared towards securing the escape of SS war criminals and the continuance of Nazi ideology, a second well-publicised organisation for ex-SS men was established at about the same time. It was the Hilfsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit der Soldaten der ehemal Waffen-SS, or HIAG, the Welfare Association of Former Soldiers of the Waffen-SS. HIAG consistently denied any connection with ODESSA, but the latter undoubtedly financed it in the early days. Its avowed purpose was to campaign for and achieve the payment of state benefits to exservicemen of the Waffen-SS, particularly the war-wounded, who did not qualify for regular Wehrmacht disability pensions. In that aim, it was moderately successful. Over the years, as its original membership progressively died off, HIAG dwindled in importance to become only a pale shadow of its former self, devoted almost entirely to the running of a small publishing house, Munin-Verlag GmbH of Osnabrück, which produced literature celebrating the combat achievements of SS field troops during the Second World War. The dismemberment of HIAG in the early 1990s saw the end of the last acknowledged active remnant of the SS.

However, while the SS may now be consigned to the history books, interest in the story of the organisation, and its regalia, has never been greater. The Waffen-SS in particular continues to hold a position of unique interest, with recent analyses setting aside the atrocities and reappraising the Waffen-SS as an élite multi-national fighting force, even a forerunner of NATO, whose soldiers earned the respect not only of their Wehrmacht comrades but also of their enemies.

A veritable multi-million pound business has grown up around the buying and selling of SS militaria and other memorabilia. Indeed, the collecting of SS regalia began even before the cessation of hostilities in May 1945. As German towns and cities, and concentration camps, fell to the Allies, SS items rapidly discarded by their owners were just as quickly ‘snapped up’ by souvenir-hunting British and American troops. Like their counterparts in armies throughout history, the victors of the Second World War eagerly traded in and bartered with the spoils taken from the vanquished. Large stockpiles of SS uniforms at Dachau were liberated en masse; SS stores and military retailers had their premises stripped; prisoners-of-war had their badges confiscated; and so on. Such was the availability of SS effects that no great value was put on any of them. Soldiers might exchange an SS general’s peaked cap for an Iron Cross 2nd Class, a death’s head ring for a belt buckle or a Reichsführer’s sword of honour for a steel helmet. Few knew exactly what was passing through their hands: they merely swapped things according to individual preferences. When the Allied troops returned home with this booty they found a ready market for their acquisitions. With some elementary research into the subject, a more discerning breed of collector soon evolved and the whole business took off.

During the 1950s and 1960s, such was the demand for all manner of National Socialist regalia, both military and civil, that several unscrupulous dealers began to have it reproduced and passed their fakes off as genuine articles. The 1970s and 1980s witnessed an even bigger boom in the trade and a resultant explosion in the creation of improved fakes to meet the ever-increasing demand. While the collecting of SS items will always be distasteful to many, for quite understandable reasons, the fact remains that these are now the most sought after pieces of Nazi regalia. Not an insignificant number of Jewish businessmen have ‘had the last laugh’ by dealing in fake SS militaria for which they charge exorbitant prices, making considerable profits as a result. The cash benefit of selling SS items was brought to a head during the late 1980s, when the official in charge of the German archives storing wartime SS personnel records amassed a fortune by removing documents signed by Himmler, Heydrich and the like and selling them on the open market. He subsequently received a lengthy jail sentence for his efforts, and collectors throughout the world were obliged to return to the authorities in Germany items which they had bought in good faith.

Among the SS pieces now in greatest demand are peaked caps, tunics, camouflage clothing and insignia of all types. Originals are hard to find, and to meet the demand the fakers have turned to producing ‘fantasy’ items which had no authentic counterparts during the Third Reich! Foremost among these are the following ‘fantasy’ cuff titles, none of which existed before the end of the Second World War:

Berlin

Böhmen-Mähren

Britisches Freikorps

Dirlewanger

Galizien

Junkerschule Tölz

Kaminski

Leibstandarte

Lettland

Lützow

Nibelungen

Otto Skorzeny

Schill

Seelager

SS-Polizei

Totenkopf I

Totenkopf II

Totenkopf III

Ungarn

Wallonie

While the fakers have always tended to concentrate on the lucrative areas of collar patches, shoulder straps, arm eagles and so on, every type of SS badge has been copied. Reproductions include sports vest insignia, unit ciphers, the whole range of foreign volunteer arm shields, mountain troop edelweisses, Old Campaigner’s chevrons, breast runes and the rank insignia for camouflage clothing. Copy piping and Tresse for collars and shoulder straps are available by the metre, and even RZM labels have been faked for sewing on to bogus uniforms and badges. Moreover, dozens of other SS collectables have been reproduced. Belt buckles, cap cords, tunic buttons, sword knots, identity papers and discs, flags, pennants and rings are just a small selection. Waffen-SS recruiting posters, driving licences and even song books have been reprinted. Convincing new fakes regularly appear with plausible ‘pedigrees’ designed to assist their acceptance. In 1992, for example, a ‘batch of SS uniform thread’ was allegedly ‘found in the former East Germany’ and rolls of it, complete with RZM labels attached, circulated widely on the collectors’ market. Suspicions were soon aroused by the sheer quantities of thread available, however, and these suspicions were duly justified when one buyer cut open his newly acquired roll to reveal the words ‘Made in Pakistan’ stamped inside. Yet another ‘Eastern bloc find’ had been exposed!

The point of all this is that there would be no purpose in producing such fake trash if there were not a vast and lucrative market for it. Most buyers think they are acquiring true relics of the SS, and are still captivated by the death’s head and runes, even with the full knowledge of what these came to represent during the Second World War. It therefore becomes all the easier to understand how Himmler’s Black Order could hypnotise so many ordinary Germans in the 1930s and set them eagerly along the road to perpetual damnation.

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