Death’s heads were not worn solely by the SS during the Third Reich. The Prussian style on the left was used by the army’s 5th Cavalry Regiment, while the Brunswick pattern, right, was sported by members of the 17th Infantry Regiment. Panzer units, the Naval Kustenschütz Danzig and the Luftwaffe’s Schleppgruppe 4 and Kampfgruppe 54 all chose the Totenkopf as their distinctive emblem.
An Austrian 1916-pattern steel helmet with hand-painted death's head, as worn by various Freikorps formations c. 1919–20.
Himmler prized the plain and simple Blutorden, or Blood Order, above all his other decorations. This medal, also known as the 'Ehrenzeichen vom 9. November 1923', recognised NSDAP members who had participated in the Beer Hall putsch or rendered outstanding services to the Nazi party during its formative years. The award became steeped in a deliberately cultivated mystique which guaranteed the wearer special privileges wherever he went.
Black service uniform as worn by an SS-Oberscharführer in the 12th Sturm, 3rd Sturmbann, 88th SS Fuss-Standarte (Bremen), c. 1935. The ‘swallow’s nests’ at the shoulders denote his position as a member of the unit’s drum corps, and his decorations, including the Turkish War Star, indicate extensive First World War service.
The SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps alongside copies of FM-Zeitschrift, the magazine for SS Patron Members, and Storm SS, the periodical of the Germanic-SS in the Netherlands.
The 1936-pattern SS chained dagger was an ornate item of dress weaponry, and is depicted here alongside the 1933-pattern with hanging strap. Every facet of their design harked back to the medieval and Dark Age Germanic past.
The SS death’s head ring. This particular example was awarded to SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Taschner on 9 November 1942. Taschner, an administrative officer in both the Allgemeine-SS and the Waffen-SS, served at various times in the 61st SS Fuss-Standarte (Allenstein), the 11th SS-Totenkopf Regiment, ‘Das Reich’, ‘Deutschland’, the WVHA and finally the Latvian SS Brigade.
Three unofficial rings, bearing death’s heads and runes. These were popular among SS officers and men, and are known to have been manufactured to order by concentration camp inmates who were jewellers by trade.
An oak casket carved with Sig-Runes, a swastika, a Hagall-Rune, oakleaves and acorns. The symbolism apparent on this artefact is akin to that used on the SS death’s head ring. The casket was employed at SS wedding ceremonies as a container for the presentation copies of Mein Kampf which every newly married couple received.
The SS Cavalryman was one of Allach’s equestrian subjects. It could not be purchased on the open market, but was reserved for presentation by Himmler to notable personalities of the Third Reich.
This exquisitely formed Dachshund puppy was a typical product of the SS porcelain factory at Allach, and is shown here overlooking a model SS man in traditional unifoim. A range of Nazi toy soldiers of this type, made from a sawdust and glue mixture, were manufactured by the firms of Elastolin and Lineol for the mass market during the 1930s.
Allgemeine-SS man’s peaked cap, C. 1935. It sports the 1929-pattern NSDAP eagle over a 1934-pattern SS Totenkopf.
The rectangular belt buckle for SS NCOs and other ranks, alongside the circular version for officers. These were designed personally by Hitler, who was also responsible for the SS motto ‘Meine Ehre heisst Treue’.
This ornate wine cooler in hammered silver plate was given to a member of the signals platoon, 2nd battalion, 3rd SS regiment as a twenty-seventh birthday present from eight of his colleagues. The SS runes have been finely engraved into the central body of the piece.
Typewriters with special runic keys were introduced during the first half of 1936 for use in SS offices. This portable example bears the mark of a Dutch retailer but was reputedly ‘liberated’ by a British officer from Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. Presumably, the original owner was transferred from Holland to the camp, taking his typewriter with him.
A selection of documents including Allgemeine-SS identity cords, a Woffen-SS Soldbuch and an FM membership book. The two ‘death cards’ at lower right commemorate SS men killed in battle, and were distributed by their families to friends and acquaintances as keepsakes. Of particular note is the use of the Toten-Rune on the card relating to Gustav Kräter.
Documents signed by Himmler, his adjutant Wolff and Heydrich are displayed beside a sheet of the Reichsführer’s official headed notepaper and a New Year card from Adolf Hitler to SS-Oberführer Ulrich Graf, who saved Hitler’s life during the Munich putsch.
This unique version of the M42 steel helmet, in black with white stencilled insignia, is the only known surviving example of its kind. It may have been worn unofficially by a section of the Germanic-SS, or by Allgemeine-SS Alarmstüme units engaged in frontline defence fighting with the Volkssturm during the spring of 1945. It is certainly a late war item, bearing a hitherto undocumented form of the SS runes badge.
The Germanic Proficiency Rune in Bronze, less than twenty of which are still known to survive. The striking design is finely executed in plated zinc and enamelled bronze, and typifies the high qualify of Nazi decorations even during the latter stages of the war.
Police field service uniform as worn by a Hauptmann of Gendarmerie, c. 1944. This outfit features breast runes denoting full membership of the SS. It also sports the Old Campaigner’s Chevron, adjutant’s aiguillette, the German National Sports Bodge in Silver, War Merit Cross and, interestingly, the basic NSDAP membership badge pinned to the left breast pocket, a fairly common practice among the civil police during wartime.
Recruiting poster for the Norwegian Legion, dating from 1941. If reads: ‘With the Waffen-SS and the Norwegian Legion against the common enemy – against Bolshevism’. Such exhortations persuaded 6,000 Norwegians to sign up with the SS for combat service on the eastern front.
M42 Waffen-SS steel helmet, clearly showiag the regulation SS runes decal and distinctive sharp silhouette. The Leibstandarte motorcycle registration plate below again features the SS runes, and dates from around 1938. Such registration numbers eventually ran into hundreds of thousands, with the plate ‘SS – 1’ being reserved for Himmler’s personal heavily armoured staff car.
1940-pattern tunic with field-grey collar, as worn by an artillery Rottenführer of the ‘Götz von Berlichingen’ division, spring 1944. The ribbons are those of the Iron Cross 2nd Class and Russian Front Medal, and the General Assault Badge and Wound Badge in Black are also displayed. The dress bayonet and knot were carried when walking out.
BEVO-pattern woven cuff title introduced in 1943 for men of the 16th SS-Panzergrenadier Division ‘Reichsführer-SS’, named in honour of Himmler. Since SS units were normally called after dead, rather than living ‘heroes’, Himmler’s rank was used in preference to his actual name. The division is best remembered for its massacre of 1,200 Italian civilians at Marzabotto in September 1944, in reprisal for the activities of a partisan brigade in the Apennines.
Recruiting poster for the Flemish Legion, declaring ‘Flemings Rise Up !’ It depicts a Waffen-SS soldier as the direct descendant of a national hero, a theme common to recruiting drives in the Germanic countries.
The other ranks’ 1940-pattern Schiffchen field cap, or ‘Feldmütze neuer Art’, with machine-woven eagle and death’s head.
SS subjects featured on a number of postage stamps during the Third Reich. The red example on the left depicts a Waffen-SS mortar crew in action, while the black one was issued in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to commemorate the assassinated Reinhard Heydrich. It shows Heydrich’s death mask, by the sculptor F. Rotter, alongside the SS runes.
The field-grey fez with dark-green tassel was issued to members of the Muslim SS divisions ‘Handschar’ and ‘Kama’ instead of the Einheitsfeldmütze. Traditionally, Muslim troops wore the peakless fez, and even brimless steel helmets during the First World War, so that they could press their foreheads to the ground during prayer without removing their regulation headgear.
The Guerrilla Warfare Badge in Bronze, one of the most symbolically potent of all Nazi decorations.
1944-pattern camouflage drill tunic, as worn by an infantry Obersturmführer of tbe Waffen-SS. It was not uncommon for full rank insignia and decorations to be worn on the camouflage tunic, contrary to regulations. Most notable here are the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross at the neck and the Close Combat Clasp above the ribbon bar.
This Waffen-SS recruiting poster by O. Anton was the best known German poster of the Second World War, being printed in a number of different languages and displayed prominently in public places throughout the occupied territories.
A Waffen-SS officer’s classic ‘old style’ or ‘crusher’ field cap, which was custom-made in Italy in 1943. It bears the trade mark 'Successori Fare – Milano/Roma/Toreno/Modena’, and features a leather peak and narrower than usual black velvet band. This pattern of cap came to be the mark of the veteran Waffen-SS officer.
Sturmbannführer Hermann Buchner of the SS-Tofenkopf-Division was one of the ‘heroes’ of the Waffen-SS, winning the following awards before he was killed in action outside Warsaw in November 1944: (a) Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross; (b) German Cross in Gold; (c) Iron Cross 1 st and 2nd Classes; (d) Close Combat Clasp in Gold; (e) Wound Badge in Gold; (f) Infantry Assault Badge in Silver; (g) Demjansk Shield; (h) War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords; (i) Russian Front Medal; (j) Czech Occupation Medal with Prague Castle Bar.