The Anarchy of Nazi Memorabilia : From Things of Tyranny to Troubled Treasure book cover
1st Edition

The Anarchy of Nazi Memorabilia
From Things of Tyranny to Troubled Treasure

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after January 31, 2022
ISBN 9780367422004
January 31, 2022 Forthcoming by Routledge
288 Pages 39 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Compared to the numerous books and articles on the Third Reich, few address its material culture, and fewer still discuss the phenomenon of Nazi memorabilia. This is all the more surprising given that Nazi symbols, so central to sustaining Hitler’s movement, continue to live long after the collapse of his 12-year Reich. Neither did Nazi ideology die, far-right populists would like to see the swastika flown over the White House or Buckingham Palace. Against a backdrop of right-wing extremism, military re-enactors think nothing of dressing up in Waffen-SS uniforms and romanticising the Third Reich in the name of living history. Auctioneers are prepared to hammer down Nazi artefacts to the highest bidder, but who is buying them, and why do they do so? Should collectors be allowed to decorate their homes with Nazi flags?

The Anarchy of Nazi Memorabilia begins by examining the creation and context of Nazi artefacts and symbols during the volatile Weimar Republic to their wider distribution during the Third Reich. There were few people in Nazi Germany who did not wear a badge or uniform of some sort. Whether it be mothers, soldiers or concentration camp inmates, they were all branded. The chapter on the Second World War even demonstrates that German soldiers were highly cynical about being given medals in exchange for freezing in Russia. They still continued to fight, however, for which more decorations were awarded. A large proportion of this book is therefore given to the meaning that Nazi symbols had before Nazi Germany was eventually defeated in May 1945. Equally important, however, and one of the characteristics of this book, is the analysis of the meaning and value of Nazi material culture over time. The interpreters of Nazi symbols that this book focuses on are internationally based private collectors and traders. Sustained attention is given in a chapter outlining the development of the collectors’ market for Nazi memorabilia from 1945 onwards. No matter how much collectors go out of their way to paint the hobby in a positive light, their activities are not fully able to escape the troubled past of the material that they desire. So contested are Nazi symbols, that another chapter is devoted to the ethics and morals of destroying or preserving them. As part of this chapter the issues surrounding private versus public custody and ownership of Nazi artefacts are also discussed. So far, in this book, the examination of Nazi artefacts has been restricted to physical objects within societies that are generally aware of the consequences of Hitlerism. As we increasingly move into the digital age, however, and there are few survivors of the Second World War left to relay their horrific experiences, the final chapter contemplates the future of Nazi symbols both digitally and physically, fake or real.

This book will appeal to all those interested in the Third Reich, Nazi Ideology, Neo-Nazism, perceptions of the Nazis post-1945, Modern European History and political symbolism. It will also hold particular appeal to those interested in the collecting and trading of contested and highly emotive artefacts. It considers aesthetics, authenticity, commodification, gift exchange, life histories of people and objects, materiality and value theory.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction


Material Culture

Authenticity and the Aura



Gift Exchange

Collecting (An Economic Focus)

Oral History


2 From Weimar to the Third Reich

Imperial Legacy in Weimar

The NSDAP and the Deployment of Symbols

The Efficacy of Symbols

Co-ordination (Gleichschaltung)

Nazi Kitsch

The Brooch of Fear: The NSDAP Membership Badge

3 The Materiality of the People’s Community

Human Cogs?

Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) (KdF)

The Nürnberg Rallies

The Winter Help Program (Winterhilfswerk) (WHW)

(Includes a discussion of badges made from plastic)

4 Pre-war Awards: More Than Just Eagles and Swastikas

The Hindenburg Cross

Rewarding Sinister Service

The German National Prize for Arts and Sciences

American Recipients of the German Eagle Order

5 Medals for Babies: The ‘Honour Cross of the German Mother’ (Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter)

A Racist Form of Pro-natalism

Iconography and Symbolic Value

Patriarchal Propaganda

From ‘Dearest Wish’ (sehnlichster Wunsch) to Rejection

Medal as Agency

Comparative Perspective



6 Wartime Awards: All Ironed Out

An Icon of Iron

The Weapon Badges

Limbs for Medals

Himmler’s Bandit Badge

7 Objects as Texts and Trade

Collectors’ Literature as Artefacts

Collecting and the Market

8 Trash or Treasure: How do you solve a problem like Nazi memorabilia?

To Preserve or Destroy

The Moral Dimension

The Legalities of Nazi Memorabilia

Private Versus Public Ownership and Possession of Nazi Memorabilia

Never Mind the Swastikas

9 Collecting Nazi Memorabilia in the 21st Century and Beyond

Collecting and Re-enacting the Nazi Past in the Present

Gender Dimension

Collecting Immortality

Simulating and Trading Futures Digitally and Physically

Appendix A Price Data

Appendix B Times Series Graphs

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Michael Hughes obtained his Doctorate from the University of Glasgow in Economic and Social History in 2016. His life changed when he fully lost his eyesight in 1998. It gave him the opportunity, however, to change direction away from Quality Engineering and to devote more time to collecting military artefacts. He subsequently combined his academic ability and interest in the social life and function of military and political symbols to complete his Doctorate and conducted further research resulting in this book. He describes himself as a reformed collector and is doing his best to resist accumulating things.