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Walter Heck and the Origins of the SS Sigrunen

Article about: 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 ban

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    Default Walter Heck and the Origins of the SS Sigrunen

    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.

    Regards, Philip

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    Walter (or Walther) Heck was no Sturmhauptführer (he was promoted to Sturmführer on 24 Dec. 1932 and to Obersturmführer on 9 Nov. 1933, the rank he still held in the summer of 1944), the year was 1929 and the meagre salary was paid by the Hoffstätter company (not the SS) but otherwise, Mr. Lumsden has pretty much got it right.

    An unemployed draftsman at the time, Heck did occasional design work for the Hoffstätter company, which was owned by a fellow NSDAP member. One of these jobs was designing the SS-Zivilabzeichen - which was the first usage of the twin Sigrunen - in 1929, for which he was indeed paid only 2.50 RM. In dire financial straits at the time, Heck worked for very small sums of money and routinely waived copyright for his designs.

    In 1944, Gauleiter Josef Grohé informed the Reichsführer-SS Himmler about the identity of the symbol's designer and the circumstances of its creation; facts of which Himmler had been completely unaware up until then.

    Himmler wrote to Heck that he intended to express his gratitude after the war by giving Heck a family home and garden in a location of his choice, but only if Heck had married and fathered at least two children by then!

    Here is said letter: http://www.eot-press.org/files/gimgs/20_xx24.jpg

    The German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) list this correspondence under file no. 19/3329

    (see: http://www.argus.bundesarchiv.de/ns1...C&searchPos=38 . It's under C.2.2.8 H.)

    This material was discovered by a team of German design students undertaking research for a work on - of all things - the history of the "SS key" on Third Reich-period typewriters.

    For two (German-language) articles on this, see:

    Elisabeth Hinrichs u. a.: XX - Die SS-Rune als Sonderzeichen auf Schreibmaschinen: In der Gewissheit des Sonnensiegs war das Heil inbegriffen - Sachbuch - FAZ
    Tödliches Detail (Archiv)


    (Heck was, however, not the designer of the "SA" symbol; we have an earlier thread on that matter, where Wim Saris set this straight: Is the designer of the SA symbol known? )
    Last edited by HPL2008; 06-14-2014 at 08:49 PM.

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    If the SS gave Heck only 2.50 RM for their lightning rune design, I hate to think what the thugs in the SA gave him for Theirs...10 pfennig?
    William

    "Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it."

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    HPL2008, Thank you for your full and very helpful answer to my question - that was just what I as looking for.

    Concerning the SS-Zivilabzeichen, in the Ulric of England book it says: 'The first actual order relating to the SS-Civilian badge is dated the 11th of September 1933, although the awarding of the badge itself was occurring from earlier in 1932.' (p. 292) Of course this says nothing of the date of the original design.

    It is interesting that SS-Sigrunen seem to have been more or less stumbled upon as an unintended consequence of the design of the SS-Zivilabzeichen. It leads me to wonder whether the translation of 'SS' into a runic form was part of the design brief or at the initiative of Walther Heck. Presumably the völkisch culture which was so important to National Socialism would have easily provided the idea. It is easy to imagine that once the design was on paper, it looked so 'right' that everyone wondered why it hadn't been thought of before!

    Regards, Philip



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    Bravo, Andreas. Thanks for your find contribution and that of our other friends. Very compelling.
    There is such remarkable research being done today in Germany.
    The book review in the FAZ is very interesting.
    Is this book still in print?
    damit, basta.

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    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	702589Apropos Sta. 58.

    - - ------- - -

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ID:	702590Apropos Koeln and the SS. Die Firma Carl and or Karl Isken, Muetzenfabrik.
    damit, basta.

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    I studied in Bonn four decades ago and worked there with great pleasure three decades ago.
    I had no idea all of this started there. Thanks to Dr. PMC for the thread.

    Here are some pages from this astonishing book on the SS key on German typewriters of the epochClick image for larger version. 

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    damit, basta.

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    Excellent thread, gentlemen...A perfect example why I consider WarRelicsForum to be the top source for information...
    cheers, Glenn

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    Quote by DrPMC View Post
    It is interesting that SS-Sigrunen seem to have been more or less stumbled upon as an unintended consequence of the design of the SS-Zivilabzeichen. It leads me to wonder whether the translation of 'SS' into a runic form was part of the design brief or at the initiative of Walther Heck. Presumably the völkisch culture which was so important to National Socialism would have easily provided the idea. It is easy to imagine that once the design was on paper, it looked so 'right' that everyone wondered why it hadn't been thought of before!
    Good points.

    It is also noteworthy that the SA symbol - which, too, utilizes the Sigrune for the letter "S" - was also created in 1929 (See the thread linked in my above post). One wonders whether the SA designers copied from Heck, or vice versa, or if it was a chance case of parallel development born from the general love of all things "Nordic".

    By the way, here is a brief period description of the SS-Zivilabzeichen:

    "The civilian insigne of the SS consists of two runic characters, both of which stand for the S-rune of the Nordic runic alphabets. As the runic alphabet knows no vertical or horizontal strokes - for these were more difficult to carve - it is to be made sure that the runic characters are always slanting."

    - From Die Uniformen der Braunhemden, 1934, pg. 82 (translated by me) -
    Last edited by HPL2008; 06-14-2014 at 11:20 PM.

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    Quote by HPL2008 View Post
    Good points.

    It is also noteworthy that the SA symbol (which, too, utilizes the Sigrune for the letter "S") was also created in 1929. (See the thread linked in my above post) One wonders whether the SA designers copied from Heck, or vice versa, or if it was a chance case of parallel development born from the general love of all things "Nordic".

    By the way, here is a brief period description of the SS-Zivilabzeichen:

    "The civilian insigne of the SS consists of two runic characters, both which stand for the S-rune of the Nordic runic alphabets. As the runic alphabet knows no vertical or horizontal strokes - for these were more difficult to carve - it is to be made sure that the runic characters are always slanting."

    - From Die Uniformen der Braunhemden, 1934, pg. 82 (translated by me) -
    Bravo.
    damit, basta.

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