And a Happy New Year from ARPLAN
The selection for this year’s Christmas article is a humorous, holiday-themed piece from SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps, first published on 12 December, 1935. Despite their stolid or villainous image in modern media and pop culture, humor was actually as important for National Socialists as it is for people of any other worldview. A later edition (23 July, 1936) of Das Schwarze Korps would go on to note: “People who have no sense of humor are like a punishment from God. They come in all shapes and sizes. They’re the ones who strut around like little demigods and who consider themselves above weakness and superior to everything and anything, even their fellow men,” which perhaps proves that even members of the blackshirted SS needed to laugh from time to time. Whether this particular article is genuinely funny, especially by modern sensibilities, is of course subjective, particularly as it is also intended to simultaneously act as a propaganda piece. Its topic is a satire of the absurd commercialization of National Socialism which was taking place in Germany in the aftermath of the ‘National Revolution’; much as certain transparently cynical companies today might try to move a few more products by slapping a rainbow flag on the packaging, in Germany at the time the emerging fashion was to increase sales by overzealous use of the swastika, leading to a deluge of ‘Nazi’-themed kitsch which Party-members feared would cheapen the Movement’s ideals among the public (the government did later make an active attempt to clamp down upon this practice). The Christmas theme of this piece is also interesting in light of the fact that bitter complaints about the commercialization and materialism of Christmas shopping practices are still a constant today – some things, apparently, do not change, regardless of the current government or ruling ideology! Finally, it should be noted that this article was not translated by myself, but was transcribed from the excellent collection The Third Reich Sourcebook, edited by A. Rabinbach and S.L. Gilman (I believe the translator was a Lilian Friedberg, based on the editors’ introductory notes). I hope that readers enjoy it, and I hope that you all enjoy a safe and happy Christmas.
What Will Santa Bring?
From Das Schwarze Korps of 12 December, 1935
The long December night has already descended upon the cities in the early hours of evening, and the sparkling rays of light streaming from the shop windows dissolve into nothing when they reach the middle of the sidewalk. The city streets are bustling with life. Fretting housewives carefully inspect the treasures on display, quietly calculating whether or not there’s enough in the Christmas budget to cover it.
What does Old King Cole really have in his bag? Inquisitive, bright-eyed children wonder. We’ve asked ourselves the same question and taken a careful peek in the bottomless bag of treasures, and we promise we’ll never do it again because it has ruined our Christmas surprises.
Give practical gifts! It’s been the battle cry of recent years. Oskar is in the SA and would certainly be happy to get a uniform. But who knows anything about uniforms? What color are the lapels, are the pants supposed to have piping or satin strips, or nothing at all?
But then, as coincidence would have it, the fashion pages of the Rundschau with the latest patterns appear on the table. The riddle has been solved! A delighted cry of “Eu…” leaps from the throat – but the “…reka” never escapes the lungs because the model in the sketch artist’s overimaginative design for the uniform of the SA-Gruppenführer is none other than the Führer himself! Who then would so much as dare to question the authenticity of this as a standard-issue brown suit? Aside from the fact that the epaulets are wrong, as well as the cap, and the waist belt, not to mention the fact that the Führer himself has never worn boots with shafts as stiff as that – but that’s how the sketch artist saw him; that was his vision of Adolf Hitler.
We won’t call him a sensationalist, fly-by-night artist: we can see from his rendering of Minister President Göring published alongside his portrait [of the Führer] that he is a member of the “Old Guard” because here the SS-Gruppenführer is wearing the swastika armband that was standard issue in 1923.
What manner of simple-minded, unbridled, fawning devotion screams from these images? They are symbols of the sanctimonious brain of a fashion designer who is apparently so obsessed day and night with National Socialism that he cannot forget about his heroes even while he is at work and uses his idols as fashion models!
But our question is, When are we going to see the Führer and Hermann Göring as mannequins in the shop windows rotating on the magical platform of a nickelodeon disk? But please, can we put wipers on the windows just in case anyone feels the need to retch?
“Give practical gifts!” is the resounding demand of the times… “and sensible!” the industry shouts after the roving shoppers. As its promotional brochure attests, J.M. Jäckel in Schwenningen, manufacturers of Black Forest cuckoo clocks, has gotten the message loud and clear:
During the National Socialist revolution, the German people reflected deeply on the energies found within themselves. And this idea is the source for the design of the Trumpeter Clock “People Take Arms!” The Germanic spirit guards over and resides in the Germanic house. And this is the house that every German young person, the whole German Volk, dreams of having. The ancient warrior lets his trumpet sound: “People take arms!” The door opens on the hour and the half hour, and the bugler blows his horn to mark the hour or the half hour before the door closes again.
The old familiar Black Forest clock has been recrafted into a Germanic brick frame house; to the left and right of the clock face, SA men in knapsacks wrangle impatiently at the door where the cuckoo used to quickly pop out, until the helmeted Germanic warrior, armed with a spear and his trumpet, emerges to announce his powerful call to arms: “People take arms!” Everything exquisitely handcrafted, available in your choice of stains. May that cuckoo some day catch up with those National Socialists who shot his job to hell!
People stare in reproach at Santa Claus standing there shrugging his shoulders. He digs into his bottomless bag one more time, and the hairs on his beard stand on end, horrified, as if he were pulling the accoutrement of the man with the cloven foot out of the sack.1 And we turn to stone, too, even without looking Medusa in the face or being bitten by a rabid dog.
Of course, the greeting card industry has issued its own “German salute” Christmas cards. A cute little winged angel with a candle in the background; the swastika appears in the foreground as a sort of fata morgana. The Christ child – notice the pair of wings, attributes of heavenly beings – is portrayed as some kind of Diogenes, “I come in search of Nazis!”
But for us mortal infants whose hearts grow fond in winter but for whom the fine art of letter writing has lost its charm, there is the greeting card. This tidal wave of romantic magic was unleashed by the perfection of photographic technology. Around 1913, photographs in the size of a postcard began to appear, picturing a soldier and a girl gazing dreamily into each other’s eyes beneath a lilac tree, accompanied by some scintillating sentimental verse. These were sent back and forth, with the stamp placed askew in the corner as a way of affirming a mutual burning desire to be together and looking forward to talking at the dance on Saturday. This time, though, the image personifying a man bursting with brute masculinity is not a pioneer from the first guard regiment, but rather – let us hope that the turntable does not collapse – an SA man. Demure and deferring, his bride stands at his side, and you’d almost half expect her to offer him the marriage certificates from generations of her maternal ancestors as a dowry instead of daisies. If there’s one thing the man decked out in warrior paint attests to, it is that any business-savvy photographer can get his hands on a uniform quicker than a member of the NSDAP can get a party badge if he doesn’t have the proper credentials.
What, you say what you’ve seen of Santa’s gift leaves your feet sleeping?2 Well, there’s a solution for that: “Serving your Volk!” And, just above the inscription, there is an eagle bearing the swastika flag in his claws. Too bad the bird resembles a ringdove more than an eagle. There’s a board-certified pedicurist selling his cure for ingrown toenails, bunions, calluses, and various and sundry as a noble service to the Volk, but he still doesn’t understand that what really sticks in our craw is that we no longer want to see any more of this shameless abuse of the symbols of our worldview, and it makes us want to puke to know that there is a certain class of people who are more drawn to a bunion bandage with a swastika seal than they are to a simple “Have a nice day!” [Lebewohl].
Lest we forget: there are also some reading materials under the tree. Let us not forget either that we are a warrior Volk. So line up for the drill! The publisher Paul Müller in Munich offers some reading on this subject: Boy Scout Stories from God’s Country, one of which is called “Come Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest.” Letters home from a child at camp. Roman à clef for the Rural Labor Service. Quotations? No need. Buy the book! This book is simply a must-have! It’s about a girl, obviously depicted as a National Socialist, who plays an almost despicable role. The only one who comes out clean is the brave little lad who peels potatoes on a wing and a prayer and writes his father about the Pharisees in search of their kith and kin – covered in a flour-white sprinkling of innocence. If we were to so much as suggest producing texts of this nature, a crimson tide of indignation would break out, leaving men from here to Rome shaking their heads in outrage.
That’s what Santa has to bring. And a dozen other things. But this alone ought to be plenty – don’t you think?
1. A reference to the Krampus figure, who accompanies Saint Nicholas on his visits to homes and businesses in December. The sack or basket which Krampus carries with him might contain lumps of coal (to be given to disobedient children in lieu of a present) or birch branches (used to swat or beat naughty children). In some regional variations, Krampus also kidnaps bad boys and girls by stuffing them into his sack.
2. This sentence sticks out somewhat, as it does not really make any sense. After consulting a German-English Dictionary of Idioms, what I believe has happened here is that the translator has translated a variation of a German idiom directly into English, without amending for context. In German, to say that someone or something puts your feet to sleep (“bei … da schlafen einem ja die Füße ein“) is, apparently, to effectively state that they are incredibly boring (an English equivalent would be the expression “a real drag”). I considered amending this sentence to something like “What, you say that what you’ve seen of Santa’s gifts is enough to put you to sleep?”, but as I do not have access to the original German text from which this article was translated, my own contribution would largely be guesswork and possibly inaccurate. Idioms can be notoriously difficult to translate from one language to another, and often look fairly peculiar if translated literally.