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The SS-Ehrenring ("SS Honour Ring"), unofficially called Totenkopfring (English "Deaths Head Ring"), was an award of Heinrich Himmler's Schutzstaffel (SS). It was not a state decoration, but rather a personal gift bestowed by Himmler.

Contents

Award

The ring was initially presented to senior officers of the Old Guard (of which there were fewer than 5,000) who had displayed extraordinary valor and leadership skill in battle. An additional requirement was a clean disciplinary record, and a subsequent blemish on it would require the wearer to return the ring. By 1939, disciplinary issues aside, it was available to any officer with 3 years service in the SS, and in WWII virtually the entire SS leadership, including the Waffen-SS and Gestapo, had the ring.

On October 17, 1944 production of the rings by Gahr & Co. of Munich was cancelled due to the increasing economic stresses of the final stages of the war. The rings were cast using the lost-wax process, with the recipients name, the award date, and Himmler's signature engraved on the interior of each ring.

In addition every recipient got a standard letter of Himmler which described the meaning of the ring. The name of the recipient and the conferment date was added on the letter.

In 1938 Himmler ordered the return of all rings of dead SS-men and officers to be stored in a chest in Wewelsburg Castle. This was to symbolize the ongoing membership of the decedent in the SS-order.[1]

Design

The design of the ring reflects Himmler's interest in Germanic mysticism. Karl Maria Wiligut has been credited with the design.

The ring shows skull and crossed bones - the SS symbol - on its top. The skull (or Totenkopf) was the traditional symbol of the SS, taken from other German and Prussian military units of the past.

The meaning of the skull described in Himmler's accompanying letter, literally:

"The skull is the monition to be prepared anytime to risk the life of our own I for the life of the entity."

Armanen runes appear prominently on the ring.

  • One Sig Rune left and right of the skull framed by a triangle represent the lightning flash runes of the Schutzstaffel.
  • A Hagal rune (framed by a hexagon) which represents the faith and camaraderie that was idealised by the leaders of the organisation. The esoteric meaning of the Hagal rune according to Guido von List: "Enclose the universe in you and you control the universe".
  • A Swastika (standing on the vertex) framed by a quadrat. The SS liked to portray the Swastika as another influential symbol of the power of the Aryan race.
  • The runes on the rear of the ring framed by a circle were to be Heilszeichen (literally: signs of salvation) of the past. They were a creation of the SS designers rather than historical runes. They have similarities with a double Sig rune and a Tiwaz rune. The Tiwaz rune is interpreted as a kind of battle rune. The rune-group symbolizes the family tradition of Wiligut.[2]

The ring is wreathed with oak leaves.

On the inside of the ring was engraved the name of the bearer, initial followed by full surname, the date of presentation, and a facsimile of Himmler's signature, plus the abbreviations S Lb. for "Seinem Lieben" or "to his dear (name)...' Recipients also received a specially designed box decorated with the SS runes for storage or carrying.

Post-Nazi era

Wewelsburg Castle - depository of rings of dead SS-members during the Third Reich

After all further awards of the ring were halted in 1944, Himmler ordered all the remaining rings blast-sealed inside a mountain near Wewelsburg Castle. Their present location is unknown.

All rings were to be returned to Himmler upon the bearer's death or when they left the SS, to be kept at Wewelsburg as a kind of individual memorial to the holder. When a ring-holder was killed in battle, his SS comrades were to make every effort to retrieve the ring and prevent its falling into enemy hands. By January 1945, 64% of the 14,500 rings made had been returned to Himmler. After the end of the war, many rings were also (per Himmler's instructions) buried with the people who were awarded them.

Around 3,500 rings are thought to be in existence today, and therefore are very rare, collectable items. Copies and fakes are also common. There appears to be difficulty in verifying the authenticity of examples bearing the name "Müller" and "Maier".

Trivia

US musician Lowell George recorded a song called Himmler's Ring (written by Jimmy Webb) on his album Thanks I'll Eat It Here.

Literature

  • Patzwall, Klaus D.: Der SS-Totenkopfring (in German) publisher: Patzwall, 4th edition 2002. ISBN 3931533476
  • Gottlieb, Craig.: The SS Totenkopf Ring, from Munich to Nurnberg. Publisher: Schiffer, 1st Edition.

Footnotes

  1. ^ Nicholas Goodrick Clarke: Die okkulten Wurzen des Nationalsozialismus (The occult roots of national socialism), page 163
  2. ^ Nicholas Goodrick Clarke: Die okkulten Wurzen des Nationalsozialismus (The occult roots of national socialism), page 163

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