23 February 2023
Duncan Evans takes a look the Nazi decorations awarded for victory in annual trade competitions.
The origins of these awards goes back to 1934 when the first National Trade Competition of the German Youth (Reichsberufswettkampf der Deutschen Jugend) was instituted. The idea was to reward excellence by young people in manual, technical and artistic endeavours related to trades. The trades themselves covered everything from office practice, handicrafts and catering, to more rigorous outdoor pursuits likes forestry, mining and building. The competition was therefore a joint exercise, organised by Hitler Youth (HJ) leader Baldur von Schirach and German Labour Front (DAF) leader Dr Robert Lay. All members of National Socialist affiliated organisations who were manual, commercial or technical workers; apprentices or students in those fields; male or female; and under 21 years of age could take part.
The first competition was held in Berlin on 1 May 1934 with participants receiving a badge for taking part, making the final, and then, being a winner. In 1938 a new series of three decorations were unveiled, each one representing a level of victory. The first rank were the winners in each local district, or Kreis, who were awarded the Kreissieger badge in bronze. They then competed against each other in that Gau, or region, to be awarded the Gausieger badge in silver. The winners then competed against each other, in all the various fields, to become the National Champion, and be awarded the Reichssieger badge in gold. All winners of the Reichssieger received a certificate as well and were presented to Hitler himself.
Left: The Reichssieger 1938/39 award is rare, sought after and now both correspondingly expensive and also faked
The badge itself was a heavy, attractive piece made from tombac, featuring the national eagle holding a cog wheel (representing the DAF), surmounted by the Hitler Youth emblem, over a circular white enamel background, with the relevant award title and date on it, surrounded by an oak leaf wreath. The wreath, eagle and cog were in the finish appropriate to the level of the award while it was fastened by a pin and hook on the back. The awards were produced mainly by the firms of Gustav Brehmer and Hermann Aurich with the manufacturer name on the reverse.
Left: The 1944 version of the highest award still comes up for auction – but buy from a reputable dealer
Thousands of the new awards were bestowed on 1 May 1938, which was Labour Day in Germany, but the largest ever competition final were held the following year in Cologne. To give you an idea of the scale, von Schirach and Dr Lay handed out 508 Reichssieger awards alone to the ultimate victors. Leading up to the finals, some 40,000 Kreissieger and 6,600 Gausieger awards had already been awarded. With the advent of war competitions carried on (then known as Kriegsberufswettkampf)but no further badges were awarded.
However, in 1944, the award had a final swansong, when inferior quality versions were awarded, made from zinc (as with many awards in the Reich by that time) with the background and HJ symbol simply painted. These were handed out by Herbert Backe, Reich Food Minister, and Artur Axmann, Reichsjugendführer of the Hitler Youth, but by that point most young people were in the armed services so the age criteria was binned and many of the final recipients were over 50 years of age. Prices are lower than the ‘38/’39 versions. Note that only Gausieger and Reichssieger versions were awarded, so any Kreissieger 1944 awards are fakes.
Right: The reverse of all three awards has the manufacturer’s name and a pin clip
Re-enactor repros: £25-£50
Kreissieger 1938/39: £250
Gausieger 1938/39: £375
Reichssieger 1938/39: £2,500-£3,000
Left: The Gausieger came with a silver finish, featuring the eagle holding a cog, with the HJ emblem on it
Left: War shortages meant the 1944 awards were made from zinc with the background and HJ elements coloured with paint
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