SS – Ehrenring – The Nazi Ring
SS – Ehrenring – The Nazi Ring
Adolf Hitler, otherwise known as the Fuhrer, and his band of Nazis perpetrated heinous crimes on the Jews. The horror stories about Auschwitz and other concentration camps can move the most cold and ruthless people to tears. Auschwitz was actually a network of concentration camps that were meant to exterminate the Jews after they were used to the maximum.
There are records that show that over a million prisoners were systematically exterminated at these camps. There were 45 other satellite camps, and frequent transfers of prisoners were a common occurrence. Several prisoners who were packed in confined spaces and transported died on route. Some of them could not bear the biting cold and froze to death. The concentration camps were manned by over 6,000 to 7,000 SS personnel who were trained to be ruthless.
Discrimination against the Jews peaked during the Nazi regime of terror, which was around 1933. Jews were denied the right to practice the legal profession, and were banned from entering the civil services. This was only the beginning; they were to be arrested and shunted to concentration camps and subjected to unheard of acts of torture, until they were finally exterminated. They were forced to work long hours, and were brutally punished if they dropped down due to exhaustion.
The very first of the infamous transfer of prisoners started in 1940, when a bunch of 30 criminal prisoners (so called by the Nazis) were herded into a train compartment, and transported from the Sachsenhausen camp to Auschwitz. The first Jews, around 20 in number, joined a group of 700 or so Polish prisoners that were transported from Tarnow prison in Poland to the dreaded concentration camp. The prisoners constituted a cross section of society; several of them were learned and comprised the intelligentsia and several political dissidents as well.
The Nazis had their own hierarchy in the party, and most of them were given paramilitary titles that sounded very impressive. While the supreme head Adolf Hitler called himself the Fuhrer, a special deputy Fuhrer position was created Rudolf Hess. The party ranks included positions like block leader, cell leader, and local group leader, and these were restricted to party activities.
The SS army, of course was headed by the general, who was the supreme group leader and was called the Genraloberst of the Waffen-SS. Directly under him was the general followed by the lieutenant general. This was followed by the brigadefuhrer, who was of the rank of Brigadier and was called the general major. This was followed by several senior leaders, who had specific tasks assigned to them.
It was the SS soldiers at the lower levels who were in direct contact with the Jewish prisoners. These soldiers were trained to be ruthless, and often took pleasure in torturing the prisoners in their control. They confiscated most of the things that were carried by the prisoners, including small personal items. Even small trinkets and memorabilia like photographs, wallets, key chains etc were not spared. Whatever pieces of jewellery the prisoners were wearing on their person promptly confiscated and handed over to the superior officers.
The soldiers were instructed to pull out the gold fillings that were found in the teeth of the prisoners. Often the prisoners were not given local anaesthesia before the fillings were pried out. The tools used to pry out the gold fillings were crude, and were never sterilized after each use. The Nazis were detestable enough to even cut off the hair of the prisoners. The hair was collected and used as stuffing for mattresses that were used by the wives of the SS officers. Even more abhorring was the practice of using the bones of the prisoners to make combs and other utilities. The women members of the families of the SS officers never found it repugnant to use such materials.
The gold that was retrieved from the tooth-fillings of prisoners was collected and converted into jewelry that went to the collections of the officers’ wives. Some of this gold probably found its way to be converted into the SS-Ehren rings, which were supposed to be honour rings that adorned the fingers of the officers. In unofficial circles, these specially crafted rings were referred to as Totenkopf ring or the Death’s Head Ring.
It was considered an honour to be awarded such a ring. However, it was never officially recognized as an award, though it was awarded by Heinrich Himmler to the soldiers of the SS. It was more of a personal gift that the Himmler chose to give to select soldiers for services rendered. There were other such unofficial awards like the SS Honour Sword, which was otherwise known as the SS-Ehrendegen or by the shortened version, SS-Degen.
This sword, which was a straight sabre, was worn along with the SS uniform. This sword was popular, and in use between 1935 and 1945. The sword was designed by Professor Karl Diebitsch, an officer in the SS who was responsible for anything to do with art objects within the SS. These swords have ornamental handles and were made of glistening steel. The scabbard was in jet-black, and the locket was of silver. Whenever the sword was awarded to an officer, it was accompanied by a certificate that was cherished by the officers who received it, and coveted by those who did not.
The death’s head rings were quite a different matter. When the award was instituted (unofficially) in the beginning, it was restricted to the senior officers of the SS, who were part of the Old Guard. The Old Guard or Honour Chevron was a decoration given by the Nazi party to its members. The Chevron was sported on the upper sleeve of the right arm of the officers. This decoration was personally authorized by the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, and all the officers who had joined the SS prior to 1933 were expected to wear this insignia.
Coming back to the Death’s Head Ring itself, this was only given to select people who had displayed exemplary courage. This was considered an honour by the officers, and only those who had demonstrated extraordinary leadership and valour were entitled to this coveted ring. The recipients were expected to wear it at all times. In case any officer happened to misplace or lose the ring, no replacements were given. Only officers who possessed clean disciplinary records were entitled to this decoration. In case the recipient got a blot on his record any time after receiving the ring, he was constrained to return the ring to the authorities.
Another condition was that only people who had put in a minimum of 3 years service were entitled to receive this decoration. During the course of the World War II, almost all the senior officers of the SS were decorated with this ring. The production of this exclusive ring was undertaken by Gahr & Co. who was given instructions to design it exactly as specified by the Fuhrer. The design is believed to have been inspired by the interest Himmler had in Germanic mysticism. During the ancient times, Germany and the surrounding regions that spoke the German language were steeped in mysticism that was practiced widely. The practices included Armanism and Ariosophy, systems of an esoteric kind first practiced by Guido Von List of Austria. This was primarily the study of wisdom related to the Aryans.
It was Karl Maria Wiligut, an Austrian occultist who was connected to the Austrian Empire who was designated the task of designing the Death’s Head Ring. Wiligut had served in the infantry regiment of the king of Serbia Milan I. Wiligut fought in World War I theatre and was decorated for gallantry while serving in southern and eastern fronts. He later became a colonel in the army and retired after 40 years of distinguished service.
Wiligut spent a lot of time designing the Death’s Head Ring, as it was an assignment that came from the Himmler. The ring depicted a skull and cross bones, crossing right behind the skull. This famous symbol belonged to the SS. It had been a symbol that was considered to be a part of the tradition followed by other German and Prussian military units for quite some time in the past.
While the rings themselves were made using a die press, and then later run through a design matrix, the skull was sculpted separately and soldered onto the ring later. The name of the SS officer receiving the ring was added along with the date. The ring was accompanied by a personal letter from the Himmler. He mentioned in the letter that the ring was being given as a reminder that the officers of the SS are expected to risk their lives for the noble cause.
The ring had intricate designs that were known as the Armanen runes. Otherwise known as the Armanen Futharkh, as referred to by Guido Von List, were a set of 18 runes that were in a set pattern believed to have been revealed to the mystic way back in 1902. The 19thcentury was the period when the interest and dabbling in runic alphabets were popular, and was based on a discipline known as runology. This then was based on Volkisch ideology, which was totally against liberalism, the concept of democracy, and the related capitalistic tendencies.
It is believed that only a total of 5,000 such rings were made during that period. Each recipient treasured the ring and the letter, and valued it more than his life. The letter described the meaning and significance of the ring in detail. The rings could not be bequeathed by the officers of the SS, and as a result, an order was propagated by the Himmler in 1938. The order specifically forbade the ring being passed on to the heirs, and had to be returned to the Reich upon the death of the recipient. The rings thus collected were stored in a war chest at the castle in Wewelsburg.
The returned rings were a means of keeping track of the vacancies caused by dead officers, and memberships were promptly renewed. No one knows what exactly happened to the rings stored in the chest. It is believed that thousands of rings stored in the chest were entombed in one of the local mountains. A cave was blasted on the face of the mountain and the rings were deposited inside and sealed. Though this is a rumour, there have been no efforts or expeditions to trace this entombed treasure (it can be called that) and the story still remains a mystery.
Today there are several jewellers who design and create special death’s head rings that are known as skull rings. Some of these exquisite tungsten rings are embedded with precious stones that fill in perfectly for the eyes that sparkle with a deadly gleam in the dark, giving the wearer a macho look and feel. Topaz is often a preferred choice for filling in for the eyes, as is a set of sparkling red rubies. There are yet others who prefer a set of flashy diamonds to be set as eyes, notwithstanding the cost. The variations are limitless, and it is the imagination of the designer and the handiwork of the skilled artisan that bring out myriad designs that all have the skull as the theme.
The reason why tungsten rings are so popular is probably because of the unique cementing process that adds strength to the rings. Very hard particles of carbide of tungsten are covered with a coating of metallic matrices like cobalt to give the ring added strength. Men who handle rough assignments in their day-to-day activities prefer such durable rings, which can stand the rigours as well as the test of time. The speciality with tungsten rings is that they are made to last a lifetime. It is no wonder then that men prefer macho tungsten rings that they feel let them make a manly fashion statement, unlike rings made of other materials like gold or platinum. What’s more is the affordability of tungsten rings, which are priced much lower than the ones made from other metals.
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