Political leaders of the Third Reich

In a dictatorship, members of the ruling leader’s circle are placed in key spots to insure complete control. Such was the case when Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” (NSDAP — Nazi Party) took over the government of Germany in 1933.
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“Gold Pheasants”

Germany’s Nazi Party relied on a vast network of “political leaders.” Working as civil servants, they provided a network to educate the public about Party doctrines. The party leader above wears a standard armband on a tunic with no tunic piping — not uncommon for lower ranking officials.

Germany’s Nazi Party relied on a vast network of “political leaders.” Working as civil servants, they provided a network to educate the public about Party doctrines. The party leader above wears a standard armband on a tunic with no tunic piping — not uncommon for lower ranking officials.

Historically, every country’s ruling political party has appointed its own members to the highest positions of government. In multi-party republics, this one-sidedness is kept under control by a series of checks and balances. But in a dictatorship, members of the ruling leader’s circle are placed in key spots to insure complete control. Such was the case when Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” (NSDAP — Nazi Party) took over the government of Germany in 1933.

Nazi party members had been included in one of the 46 groups vying for power in the post-WWI Weimar Republic. But rather than being just members of a political organization, many National Socialists became completely mesmerized by the “mystical cult” of Hitler and his dreams of an Aryan utopia. These ardent members were willing to go to any extreme to further the unethical ambitions of Hitler and his Führerprinzip (Leader’s principal). Hitler’s declarations became laws, rubber-stamped by the Nazi-controlled Reichstag (parliament) thus bypassing normal parliamentary procedure. To keep this idea of an ongoing, fanatical revolution alive among the German people and to enforce the stream of ever changing decrees flowing from Berlin, Hitler depended on his corps of political leaders.

This early political leader was a WWI combatant who was awarded the 2nd Class Iron Cross and Hindenburg Combatant’s Medal. He wears the standard brown shirt, armband, and NSDAP membership pin on his tie.

This early political leader was a WWI combatant who was awarded the 2nd Class Iron Cross and Hindenburg Combatant’s Medal. He wears the standard brown shirt, armband, and NSDAP membership pin on his tie.

As the Weimar Republic was dismantled, Nazi political leaders were assigned to watch over areas of the new Third Reich, working in conjunction with the existing civil positions to enforce the doctrines of the party. Their long-term goal was to create Gleichschaltung (coordination) of the Nazi party and the civil service, eventually eliminating any person not favorable to the Nazi cause. When civil officials were deemed to be “disloyal” to the Hitler government, party officials were assigned to take their place. The old servants were detained in political camps for “re-education.”

Many non-party member governmental workers rushed to join the NSDAP. They hoped to insure that their careers would not be destroyed, nor their lives put into jeopardy. In situations where existing civil servants had been forced out, zealous Nazi members, or Alte Kämpfer (old fighters — those who had been early party members during Hitler’s rise to power) were given preference for the newly vacated positions.

ORGANIZING THE POLITICAL DISTRICTS

After 1933, Germany (and, eventually, its reclaimed lands) was divided into multiple party controlled areas. These consisted of Ortsgruppen (local levels — the smallest areas consisting of large city blocks, towns or small villages), Kreisleitungen (districts — equivalent to a county), Gauleitungen (regional — an area the size of a state or province), and Reichsleitung (National — the entire country).

Following Hitler’s organizational instruction that members of the government should not be allowed to accumulate too much individual power (due to his mistrust), political leaders within these sections acted independently from leaders of the other levels. This caused ongoing internal strife and animosity between the various sections as they competed for resources, prestige and control.

To provide a hierarchy governing each level, 31 different political leader ranks were established. These ranged from the lowest of Anwärter (political leader candidate) to Reichsleiter (a national political leader second only to Adolf Hitler).

When political leaders were not engaged in the duties of civil servants (such as a Burgermeister — local mayor), they worked to educate the public concerning the doctrines of the Nazi Party. National Socialist dogma was repeated in countless public speeches. These included gratitude for past veterans’ services, German national pride, crediting the Führer for any good news, and continued harassment for those minorities whom the NSDAP deemed unacceptable. Special attention was paid to the German youth, as Hitler understood that it was imperative to sway young people into the National Socialist train of thought.

Besides education, leaders worked through the existing civil administration to enforce new laws dictated from the central government. This became especially prevalent as the war progressed, and leaders took a more active part in organizing support for the war effort.

Fund raising was another important aspect of the political leaders’ roles. The Nazi party, like all political machines, needed vast amounts of cash to operate the many facets of its organization, and to provide public assistance to its constituents if required. Political leaders coordinated with other groups, such as the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (NSV — Nazi People’s Welfare organization) to help promote the Hitler Youth driven Winterhilfswerk (WHW — Winter Relief of the German People). This was a fund raiser to provide warm clothing and heating coal for the poor.

Other public and private donation drives, lotteries and fund raising events were pushed along by leaders who bathed the events in a patriotic fervor in order to extract as many funds as possible from the common man. Small placards and tokens were given and displayed for each donation to show which “good citizens” had dutifully donated to the current cause — and to single out those who had not.

Early Nazi Party rank insignia (1930). National Archives

Early Nazi Party rank insignia (1930). National Archives

Besides the educational, charitable and administrative duties of political leaders, they acted on behalf of the central Nazi administration by monitoring the public temperament towards the economic, social, political, and warfare involvement in their respective areas. In addition, political leaders worked with other paramilitary groups, the local police, and the Gestapo (secret state police) to ferret out and punish opponents of Hitler’s dictatorship.

DISTINGUISHING THE POLITICAL LEADERS

During the Nazi regime, political leaders dressed in a variety of uniforms that became more elaborate over time. This level of personal adornment earned them the nickname of Goldfasanen (golden pheasants).

At first, political leaders wore simple brown shirts (akin to those of the Sturmabteilung — SA. These were worn with collar tabs designating the rank and section of the wearer. In addition, a series of armbands were developed that also showed the rank and level of the leader.

Later, political leaders adopted a brown tunic with piping and rank- and section-colored collar tabs. These collar tabs were constructed of colored cloth fields (golden, red, brown, etc.). Bullion thread or metal rank devices were attached to the face of the tabs. Piping denoted the wearer’s section.

An Ortsgruppe tunic as worn by a low level official with party pin, regular party armband, belt buckle and Nuremburg pin.

An Ortsgruppe tunic as worn by a low level official with party pin, regular party armband, belt buckle and Nuremburg pin.

Various colored tunic piping denoted the wearer’s section: Light blue for Ortsgruppen, white (originally, black) for Kreisleitung, dark red for Gauleitung, and golden yellow for Reichsleitung.

Ironically, tunic piping and collar insignia were not always used by the both highest political ranks of the party. Hitler, Bormann, Goebbels, and other top Nazis were considered above the highest level of political leadership. Conversely, the lowest leaders sometimes could not afford complete insignia (or it was not made available), so those at the lowest ranks may not have piped tunics or collar insignia.

Each leader wore an armband was worn on the left sleeve of the tunic. Any military or paramilitary awards were attached at their proper places on the tunic front. A brown leather (or brocade) belt with either a guild double claw or a more elaborate, round buckle with a gold wreath enclosing a spread-winged eagle was worn around the tunic waist. In inclement weather, a political leader could wear a long, brown wool overcoat with a belt and buckle.

Detail on political leader buttons showing the static swastika with eagle above.

Detail on political leader buttons showing the static swastika with eagle above.

For formal occasions, political flag bearers could wear magnificent, gold-colored gorgets. These beautiful shields contained a spread-winged eagle on a plain background surrounded by an oak leaf border. They hung by a gold toned chain of alternating swastikas and eagle-embossed links.

The tunic was worn over a brown shirt and tie. Riding pants or trousers were worn for more formal occasions and administrative wear.

Political leaders could carry small-caliber sidearms (usually 7.65mm) in brown leather holsters. Some more elaborate holster rigs featured golden eagles on the suspension rings (attached to a brown shoulder strap) and a large eagle on the closure flap.

The political leader round buckle was a beautiful piece with its brown belt and matching keeper.

The political leader round buckle was a beautiful piece with its brown belt and matching keeper.

Initially, political leaders typically wore light brown visor caps, each decorated with a short-winged political eagle mounted on the front above an enameled roundel of canted black swastika in a silver circle surrounded by a blood-red enamel ring. By 1939, the eagle had changed to a larger winged gilt device over the enameled roundel surrounded by a large bundle of outstretched, golden oak leaves. Two gold-toned buttons held the gold, woven chinstrap. The cap band was wrapped with a Havana brown strip. The sectional colored piping of the peaked visor caps ran along the top and bottom of the center hat band, and around the cap top rim.

At public meetings, the pomp and prestige of the political leaders’ offices were on constant display. They would often have their podiums and back walls adorned with eagle and swastika banners and national swastika flags.

Nazi Party Political Armbands (1943)

Nazi Party Political Armbands (1943)

As the war progressed and Germany’s fate became more dire, political leaders intensified their efforts to help the military, paramilitary and civilian groups in support of the war efforts. When the Allies ran across the borders of the Reich, political leaders reported losses of civilian lives and infrastructures to administrative departments of the spiraling central government.

By the spring of 1945, the political leaders’ inspiring speeches and blatant threats had lost their effect on the demoralized people of the Third Reich. When Adolf Hitler died by his own hand, the party and positions of the political leaders suddenly came to an end. Not believing that their lives could continue without National Socialism, many political leaders took their own lives. Those who remained, were held accountable for the crimes and chaos they and the Nazi Party had committed while flamboyantly ruling over the people of Germany.

Armband of a mid level administrative leader at the Gau (county) level.

Armband of a mid level administrative leader at the Gau (county) level.

Garish flags, banners and podium banners could be used during political leaders’ speeches. This example is constructed of silver thread with matching bottom fringe sewn to a red and black background.

Garish flags, banners and podium banners could be used during political leaders’ speeches. This example is constructed of silver thread with matching bottom fringe sewn to a red and black background.

An Ortsgruppe visor with 1939 eagle and wreath. Light blue piping designates the Ortsgruppe level.

An Ortsgruppe visor with 1939 eagle and wreath. Light blue piping designates the Ortsgruppe level.

A flag bearer’s gorget with alternating eagle and swastika hanging chain.

A flag bearer’s gorget with alternating eagle and swastika hanging chain.

Many political leaders would have worn a 10 year NSDAP service award in one of the forms shown.

Many political leaders would have worn a 10 year NSDAP service award in one of the forms shown.