It recently struck me that, although anything marked with the SS Sigrunen is a magnet for the collector and is such a powerfully iconic symbol today that it is both ubiquitous and widely banned, I knew nothing of its origins. I also realised that I was not even aware of when the SS-Runes were adopted as the primary symbol of the SS and that I had merely assumed that they predated the seizure of power in 1933.
Having looked through whatever books I have here and various internet sources, it seems that, despite the great fascination with this insignia, there is little reliable information available about its origins and adoption. Most statements seem to draw on information traceable to Robin Lumsden, one of whose books explains:
‘The Sig-Rune, also known as the Siegrune, was symbolic of victory. In 1933 SS-Sturmhauptführer Walter Heck, a graphic designer employed by the badge manufacturing firm of Ferdinand Hoffstätter in Bonn, drew two Sig-Runes side by side and thus created the ubiquitous ‘SS-Runes’ used thereafter by all branches of the organisation. (The SS paid him 2.50 Reichsmarks for the rights to his design!) Heck was likewise responsible for the ‘SA-Runes’ badge, which combined a runic ‘S’ with a Gothic ‘A’.’ (Robin Lumsden, The Allgemeine SS (1993), p. 18)
However, even these details seem to open to dispute. The date for the innovation is given elsewhere by Lumsden as 1931 (Himmler’s Black Order (1997), p.146). Andrew Mollo in Uniforms of the SS states that the SS-Runes where ‘probably introduced in 1932’ (1991, Vol 3, p. 44). Another source, which I will mention below, says 1929. As to Walter Heck’s rank, a member of the Axis History Forum notes of him: ‘(SS #1947, party member) […]. SS-Dienstalterslisten 1934 lists him as SS-Obersturmführer with SS-Standarte 58 (Köln), though some books mention him also as Sturmhauptführer.’
Finally, elsewhere it is stated that: ‘The SS symbol was actually designed by an out-of-work illustrator named Walter Heck in 1929, and was chosen less for its symbolic or magical significance than for its graphic impact’ (Philip L. Kohl and Clare Fawcett, Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology (New Directions in Archaeology) (1996), p. 78). The author’s source for this is apparently Ulrich Hunger, ‘Die Runenkunde im Dritten Reich’ (1984), which I believe is a PhD thesis. As such it was presumably based on primary sources, but I do not have access to this text so cannot say what they are. In fact none of these quoted texts provide any primary source for their statements.
Knowing that there are some very knowledgeable people on here, with a special interest in the SS, I wondered if it would be possible to improve on the slight and unreliable available knowledge? It would also be interesting to see some very early uses of the SS-Runes, from no later then 1933, if anyone has any examples to post.