Relics of History
by Frank Thayer
It is often said that history begins for you the day you were born. For me, history began with the most destructive war in modern history. At the end of the war, when I was still a child, the troops—including my relatives and the parents of my friends, came home with the military treasures they had liberated. From that early time I was a committed collector of war memorabilia. Decades later I still collect and have been able to contribute some small measure to the history of WWII. Appended in this section is an article first published in The Military Advisor , a long-standing high quality journal for historians and military collectors.
Oakleaf insignia for high rank holders of the WWII German SS.
Cufftitle for an officer in the French volunteer division Charlemagne of the Waffen-SS.
Some are curious as to why German military artifacts are more sought after by collectors than most war souvenirs. The regalia of the United States reflected its philosophy of going to war as a job that had to be done in order to come back and resume the mantel of civilian life; however, the Germans approached the military and paramilitary in the character of a Holy Order and, within two decades from 1920 to 1945, the Germans created a dizzying spectrum of regalia, all meticulously designed and manufactured, from the flags and banners to the uniforms, weapons, insignia and decorations. It is possible to spend thousands of dollars just accumulating the post-war references describing and explaining the organizations, uniforms and distinctions of that era. Internet searches will reveal a great many sites that offer military relics and information about collecting military items.
One panel of an aluminum thread on black velvet drum drape for the SS.
First published in the Military Advisor Vol. 13 Nr. 2, Summer 2002
Frank Thayer © copyright 2006 All Rights Reserved
Secrets of Ordensburg Vogelsang:
The 1st Lehrgang
"Der neue Staat wird dann ein Phantasieprodukt sein, wenn er nicht einen neuen Menschen schafft." Adolf Hitler
"The new state will then be a fantasy product, if it does not create a new human being."
The three towers sprang up in the sandy soil of Falkenburg in Pomerania, the hills of the Eifel of western Germany, and in the Allgau at Sonthofen, resurrecting the spirit of the Teutonic Knights of 13th Century Prussia in both the architectural form and the spirit of knightly education. These were the Ordensburgen, designed to last a thousand years in structure, and conceived to educate the leaders of a nordic empire that would last as long as the buildings.
The rough-hewn foundations of Ordensburg Vogelsang were laid 22 September 1934, and less than two years later, the first instructional class entered to receive the spiritual education of the new Reich. The construction of three order castles was the project of Reichsleiter Robert Ley who, as head of the DAF, was in a position to marshal the labor and the construction funds for an unprecedented educational enterprise.
While not a great deal has been written about the nature of the Ordensburgen and their function, their purpose was clear. The Junkers were to spend a year at each castle, including the first year at Ordensburg Falkenburg at Krössinsee, the second year at Ordensburg Vogelsang in the Eifel, and the third year at Ordensburg Sonthofen in the Allgau. Had the plan been fully implemented, a fourth year would then have been spent at Marienburg in East Prussia, the ancestral home of the Teutonic Knights.
Above: Cufftitle for a cadet assigned to the Order Castle at Vogelsang on the Eifel in western Germany, now being used as a training camp for Belgian armored troops.
The original plan was for Ordensburg Krössinsee to provide the physical and military training of the future leaders, Ordensburg Vogelsang to educate the Junker in the political and spiritual principles of the Third Reich, while Ordensburg Sonthofen was to provide the professional training that would channel each future leader into a career that would place the reins of government into their hands. This was resonant of the three degrees of initiation employed by the 13th Century Cathars in southern France and the Order of Teutonic Knights in East Prussia. Though the ambitious plans of Ley were accomplished in record time, given that the construction was in stonework, the coming of war kept the grand plan from developing as fully as it was intended.
The Castles of the Order were constructed of the best materials in stone, marble, and virgin timber in a unique combination of medieval and National Socialist architectural concepts. All the schools were begun within a year of the national elevation to power of the Nazis, and all were functional by 1936. Each had sportsfields and ceremonial centers, with Vogelsang's deep dish amphitheater being reminiscent of the Greek model. Photographs show its massive flagpole decorated as a Maypole for the 1st of May ceremonies in 1936 and, presumably each year thereafter.
Krössinsee was constructed at a cost of approximately 20 million Reichsmarks. Its landmark feature was a pair of 150-foot stone towers that served as water towers for the complex. At this castle, Junkers studied military tactics and were able to develop horsemanship at the equestrian center unique to that Ordensburg.
Vogelsang, whose design molded it into the hills of the Eifel, was an outstanding architectural feat with a 165-foot medieval tower that, like the two at Krössinsee, served as water tower for the school. By the time Vogelsang was dedicated on 24 April 1936, the 1st Lehrgang was ready to take up residence the very next day. One of its most memorable features was the Adlerhof courtyard guarded by two massive stone fledgling eagles poised for flight at either end of the quadrangle.
Sonthofen was begun in 1934 and was also dedicated on 24 April 1936. The 140-foot signature tower of Sonthofen differed from the other two Ordensburgen in that the tower was completely compartmentalized and occupied.
While Krössinsee and Vogelsang produced, respectively, classes of militarily and spiritually trained cadets, Sonthofen was used primarily as an Adolf Hitler Schule for Hitler Youth members and it never received its intended classes of Junkers. It should be remembered that the term "Junker" is equivalent to the English term "squire" or knight in training.
So imposing was the setting of the Ordensburgen, and so impressive was their discipline and enthusiasm that even foreign visitors were awed by what they observed. The French journalist Alphonse de Chateaubriant who wrote in 1937 of his 1936 visit to the 1st class of Vogelsang: "All this whiteness was due to an array of a thousand immaculate place settings, each enveloped in its impeccable napkin, folded in the shape of a flower, while near each glass, in its crystal vase, reposed in its vast flowering bloom, a large satiny, shiny royal marguerite, reflects its white light, much like some work of art from he sublime workshop of Meissen."
Further, Chateaubriant wrote: "Such a candid, pure whiteness and such a flowering cultivated by these thousand young men, says a great deal, in this age of defilements, concerning the worthiness of blood and soul brought by this people rising up to become an unwavering force…I cannot keep from thinking about the souls of Lohengrin and of Parsifal, of seeing in these two purities a relationship of thousand-year-old faithfulness and of indestructible lineage, of seeing that through the same blood, the purity of legend and the purity of the new man stem from the same branch of the tree of God."
While the first official class of young Junkers may have begun their path through the Ordensburgen starting in 1938, a class of young Gau-level party administrators were hand-picked in 1936 to serve as the first cadets at the schools. These Gau Amtsleiter, or provincial administrators, were chosen from all over Germany to be the initial class to receive the highest form of education available in the Reich.
One of those first participants was Hamburg party official Adolf Barth who was ordered to report to Vogelsang to begin the 1st course at the school on 25 April 1936. His collected papers and photographs reflect his impressions of the school and the importance he accorded to its personnel and the curriculum he experienced.
As one of 50 members of the III Bereitschaft or Kameradschaft, all housed in one barracks, Barth recorded enthusiastically in a letter home that one of the students sharing the same quarters was "a holder of the Blood Order," something that was of significance in the Third Reich.
Life at Vogelsang
Barth documented his experiences at Vogelsang by keeping a large number of official documents issued to him, and through many letters he sent to his father and his teen-age son. Included are representative lesson plans and mimeographed copies of lectures distributed to the cadets.
Along with expected subjects for classroom discussion such as the Blücher's thoughts to his wife after the award of the Grand Cross of the "Iron Order," is an interesting class paper that is highly critical of Julius Streicher's viciously anti-Semitic newspaper "Der Stürmer."
The general daily schedule at Vogelsang in 1936 follows:
5.50–6.10 Early sport (calisthenics)
6.15–7.05 Wash, dressing, living quarter cleanup
7.10 Raising the flag
8.00–9.30 Each Bereitschaft in their own classroom for
10.00–11.45 All Ordensjunker together in the large auditorium
12.15 Announcements, mail distribution
12.30 Mid-day meal
13.00–14.00 Quiet Time
14.30 Afternoon service in sport, games, labor,
sport competition between Bereitschaften, etc.
18.15 Taking down the flag
18.30 Evening meal
19.30–22.00 Either free time, celebrations, comrades' evenings,
films or theatre
22.20 Lights out
Weekdays, retreat is at 22.00
Saturdays, retreat is at 24.00
Sundays, retreat is at 23.00
As an example of the curriculum studied at Vogelsang, the lesson plans for the week of 13–17 July 1936 included lectures on racial questions and racial hygiene, history of the Iron Age, other early history topics, and research into family. Further schedules show in detail how Barth's III. Bereitschaft (also called "Kameradschaft" on his printed stationery) occupied themselves in the afternoons from 20–25 July 1936:
Monday 14.30–16.00 Field service such as map reading
16.30–17.45 Exercise, including individual and group
Tuesday 14.30–16.00 Physical exercises both with and without
16.20–17.45 Field Service
Wednesday Service Free!
Thursday 14.30–16.00 Exercise, including close-order drill
16.25–17.45 Exercise, including light athletics, running,
jumping, and throwing
Friday 14.00 SA Sport badge trials for III.Bereitschaft
Saturday 8.00–9.15 Exercise including individual close order drill
as preparation for honor guard service
9.35–11.00 Shooting service
For the same week in July 1936 the classroom mornings were devoted to the following subjects:
Monday All day visit of the 9th and 10th
Bereitschaften, and combined group work
Tuesday Biological foundations of Jewry
Wednesday Early history of the Jews and the
institution of the Old Testament & history
of the Jews up to Pippin
Thursday The Middle Ages, Overview
Friday The Middle Ages
Documents show a strong link between the Ordensburg Vogelsang and the SS went deeper than the SS-Ehrenhalle that was part of the architecture of the Burg, and this is revealed in the fact that the anthem of Vogelsang was "Wenn Alle Untreu Werden" that was sung regularly and was also an important part of the 9 November ceremonies in 1936 at the Burg. The permanent guard at Vogelsang was supplied by the SS, and while it is not clear which unit was involved, photos show it was possibly a detachment from 3.Totenkopfstandarte "Thüringen" that was so assigned. It is of course possible that different honor guards from the SS-VT and SS-TV were assigned to the school on rotation basis.
Barth saved the mimeographed program for Vogelsang's dramatic 9 November observance that closely parallels a Musikdrama such as might have been written by Richard Wagner. A choir sings the "Fahnenchoral" with such lyrics as: "Who is to the banner sworn…in our Volk can never die."
A speaker calls out, "The oath to the Blood Standard binds us," and the choir responds accordingly. It is presumed that this ceremony at Vogelsang was a midnight event, just as it was for many throughout the Reich who used 9 November as a time for oath-swearing.
What is apparent from Barth's voluminous records is that the education and training at Vogelsang was indeed designed to train and galvanize the entire personality, physically, mentally, and spiritually, thus answering some of the post-war questions as to how the Germans could fight to the end of the war, despite a sure knowledge, in 1945, that they were defeated. Their indoctrination was unique and powerful, as is seen in the life lived in the Castles of the Order—the Ordensburgen.
Uniforms and Insignia
The uniforms of the Ordensburgen were consistent from the Ist Lehrgang to the end of the Reich, consisting of an open collar 4-button front tunic w/pleated upper pockets, hidden slash lower pockets, and french cuffs, in the fashion of the Allgemeine-SS style tunic. Ordensburg uniforms were in Melangebraun (mixed brown) very similar in shade to the body of the NSDAP standard overcoat, but the shade was unique to the schools. Bloused brown breeches were sometimes the same shade as the tunics but were also issued in a darker brown, as confirmed by photographs, and worn with black or brown boots
Tunic collars were piped in golden yellow for Reichs-level affiliation under which the Ordensburgen were attached, and the paired shoulderstraps were in plaited copper-colored cords on yellow underlay for Ordensjunker and plaited/twisted cord for Stammführer on the staff of the schools. Examples exist of gold/silver cord combinations on staff shoulderstraps, and there was a system of pips added in accord with the political rank or school position of the Stammführer, but published references to the system are not available to the author. The 1936 model uniform employed silver-colored political leader buttons w/raised eagle and swastika. In 1938 the NSDAP uniform button color was changed to gilt, but the earlier version of the tunic apparently continued to be worn at the Ordensburgen.
A wide political brown belt with cross strap was worn with a white metal twin-claw open frame buckle until 1938 when the gilt political leader eagle-and-wreath buckle was introduced.
Cadets or Ordensjunker at the Ordensburgen did not wear collar insignia, but school staff wore regular Reichs-level political rank insignia. The highest rank was the Burg commandant, and at Vogelsang in 1936 that was Hauptamtsleiter Manderbach.
Above: Cufftitle for a staff member attached to the order castles of the NSDAP. Although officially limited to use for a year in 1937, it was apparently used by some staff members to the end of the war
Staff and students wore the cufftitle of the school which was machine woven in aluminum thread on a tan cotton tape band. There is evidence that a later pattern title may have been issued, woven in gold on tan. The title "Ordensburgen" existed in woven aluminum thread on black and on a tan band probably for members of the Reichsleitung coordinating the work of the three schools, but personnel assigned to a particular Ordensburg wore the name of the school on the sleeveband. All lettering in period sources and on existing bands examined was in gothic letter form.
Both the standard political visor cap with standard political hat and metal rosette, and the political overseas cap were worn at the Ordensburgen. While the Organisationsbuch der NSDAP shows gilt capcords with the visor cap for staff and students, there is a pattern of Ordensburg visor cap, probably for staff members, that displays twisted copper-brown cap cords on the standard political visor cap that also uses political eagle, wreath and rosette. The overseas cap in mixed brown to match the tunic used a machine-woven aluminum thread eagle on tan triangle affixed to the left side of the cap, while the front employed a plain button in pebbled white metal--gilt metal after 1938. Photographs appear to show that the visor cap for the Ordensjunker was in the same shade of brown as the tunic rather than the Hellbraun (light brown) of the standard political visor cap.