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German Democratic Republic Deutsche Demokratische Republik 7th October 1949 - 3rd October 1990

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Old 10-21-2018, 10:26 AM   #21
desantnik
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Re: Stasi Decorations And Memorabilia Reference Book.

Book Review

Stasi Decorations and Memorabilia Volumes I-III

By Ralph Pickard

Reviewed by Dr. Marc T. Voss


The history of the twentieth-century is one of conflict, the pursuit of utopia, catastrophic wars, dramatic social upheaval, and also the era of dictatorship and authoritarian regimes. Throughout the world, the long standing traditional social, political, and economic order collapsed and radical new ideas in politics paved the way for world views that claimed to establish a paradigm that promotes human virtue and happiness. Political ideas that formed during the times of the French Revolution were in particular a powerful new force upsetting the old aristocratic system. Despite the promises of a better future, most of the radicals and revolutionaries that did manage to create what they claimed to be a utopia turned out to be a dictatorial nightmare in reality. In Italy in 1922, Benito Mussolini established a fascist regime that promised Italians a return to the glory of the Roman Empire. In Germany in 1933, Adolf Hitler promised to usher in a Reich that would last a thousand years. This was to be a utopia for the racial elite of the world, namely those who belonged to the Nazi Aryan racial community. In Russia from 1917 onwards, a communist revolution carried out by Vladimir Lenin and intensified by Joseph Stalin claimed to bring the world a proletarian classless society free from bourgeois oppression. Each regime created its own rites, rituals, regalia, ceremonies, and material culture that expressed the will of the state and encompassed the values of their ideology.

By 1945, the Nazi and Fascist utopias were destroyed in the wars they initiated. The regimes collapsed, their military were obliterated, and the leaders were either dead, fled justice, or were put on trial by the victorious Allies. With the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union as the ultimate victors in World War II, they became the occupiers and masters of continental Europe and thus inherited everything that the defeated dictatorships left behind. This included everything from advanced technologies to the massive amounts of Nazi and fascist material iconography. These objects became prized souvenirs by troops of the occupying forces. Allied soldiers stationed in Germany, for example, sought out anything that the Nazi dictatorship created to take home as war booty. This included everything from medals and badges to uniforms, helmets, weapons, daggers, and much more. An entire industry built up around providing soldiers and later, a general community of collectors resources for collecting Nazi memorabilia. As time went on, retired vets and their families began selling their war booty and a cottage industry for collecting sprouted up. All over the globe WWII buffs interested in collecting began hunting prized Nazi regalia. Books on how to detect postwar reproductions and price indexes appeared to help the collector community in their pursuit to build their collections.

This phenomenon, however, was not limited to WWII collectibles nor was it restricted to Nazi military antiques. Indeed, collecting material culture from other dictatorships became increasingly popular as well and, for the most part, a healthy research initiative usually conducted by veteran collectors helped create a body of knowledge that is, to this day, an important resource for contemporary historians, museums, and archives. In Germany in particular, the Nazi regime was replaced by another repressive dictatorship that became known as the German Democratic Republic, which was created out of the Soviet occupied zone in postwar Germany. Although the GDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR) claimed to be humanistic and for peace, it was a system based off of the dictatorial model designed by Stalin, which included its own secret intelligence service which was known as the Ministry for State Security (MfS or Stasi) in East Germany. Indeed, the early leaders of the DDR, who like General Secretary Walter Ulbricht were trained Stalinists, felt that the DDR had to be more Soviet than Soviet Russia because Germany still had to atone for WWII and appear to be the model Soviet state to their superiors in Moscow. These, among many other reasons, led to the DDR being a highly oppressive police state. East Germany also became a highly collectible dictatorship as well. Although Nazi Germany is one of the most researched fields in contemporary history, the history of the German Democratic Republik is still in the early stages of being explored in detail. This is especially true for the collecting of DDR memorabilia as a whole and MfS memorabilia in specific. With this in mind, finding literature that explores the intricacies and nuances of Cold War East German iconography is a challenging pursuit for anyone interested in understanding not only DDR history but also the symbolic and material culture of the socialist dictatorship on German soil.

Ever since the reunification of Germany in 1990, the collecting market was flooded with East German memorabilia. Until about 1993, most of the rarest and most difficult to find items had been snatched up or thrown into the garbage. Those items that were saved in those early years have now become highly sought after objects. Now, with almost thirty years having passed since East Germany disappeared, DDR memorabilia is becoming increasingly more expensive and collectible. As with Nazi militaria, East German objects have been reproduced, copied, and faked in ever increasing numbers based off of known original examples. Historians, museums, and educational institutions that study the Cold War may discover that finding good resources to examine original DDR items to be exceptionally difficult. Indeed, even novice collectors of militaria may unwittingly be accumulating objects that have been reproduced and sold to them as originals. This is one major reason why having literature on DDR collectibles is so important. Beyond this, preserving and analyzing in detail the material objects of a bygone dictatorship adds important historical clues to what the regime was really like. It is, therefore, crucial to have research conducted on the physical objects that represented some important meaning to the regimes that created them. In studying material objects, one can learn a tremendous amount about the society, its axioms, rituals, values, and norms. Although there is a divide in opinion from professional historians about the value of literature that focus exclusively on material objects, it is nonetheless important to know about the objects because, much like societies as a whole, changing circumstances forced not only changing social norms, customs, and values, but it also changed the material objects themselves. For example, in times of hardship, manufacturers may opt to simplify their production and cut costs by altering aspects of their product. This was very noticeable in WWII German helmets where minor adjustments in helmet production actually led to the design that would become the standard battle helmet of the DDR after the war. Hitler may have rejected what was known as the M46 (Model 1946) helmet because it no longer looked Prussian but the East German authorities who wanted to maintain but adjust their military equipment to reflect both German heritage and socialist ideals liked the M46 design and subsequently adopted it.

(continued...)
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Old 10-21-2018, 10:27 AM   #22
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Re: Stasi Decorations And Memorabilia Reference Book.

The discussion of the circumstances and significance of preserving and writing about material objects of dictatorships long lost to history is only a brief introduction to a much larger topic. The DDR in particular has been gone for almost thirty years and yet interest in its brief history is high. Indeed, collectors who cannot afford to build up their treasure trove of Nazi and other WWII era objects have turned with increasing numbers to collecting DDR memorabilia. It is with gratitude and great respect to early researchers who began to collect, preserve, and write about DDR memorabilia that the younger generations of historians and collectors now have to rely on. Their reference books are the foundation for what the future will provide collectors and historians moving forward. One of these historical compendiums on a difficult to research topic is Ralph Pickard’s three volume set Stasi Decorations and Memorabilia.

Mr. Pickard’s three volume compendium is exceptional in a number of ways. First, this set is the most in-depth analysis to date on Stasi related memorabilia. It is comprehensive in both object description and historical background information while simultaneously nicely illustrated with high quality photographs that show even the most minute details. Second, Pickard’s work is unique in that it is in English. Most work expounded thus far can only be found in the German language and is not readily available to an international readership. Even with the research that exists only in German, as of this writing, Stasi Decorations and Memorabilia remains the most comprehensive analysis of Stasi related material culture. Lastly, Pickard’s volumes are not limited to medals with their accompanying award documents. He also investigates pins, coins, pay structures with documents, uniforms, and porcelain that was made for the MfS in an effort to round off the scope of material produced and awarded to members of the Stasi.

Volume I covers Stasi medals and award documents in great detail and he explores how many variations of each document for every medal awarded to Stasi members exist. It is so detailed that, for example, Mr. Pickard accurately and concisely describes the three document types of Merit Medals of the People’s Army and how many variations of each type are known to exist. He then follows this up with detailed images and descriptions of each document type and the variations that exist within each version. To further highlight this example, on page 75, Ralph states that the Merit Medal award documents had three types and that type one had three known versions, type two has eight, and type three has six known versions. In the subsequent pages, he then details each type and provides visual examples that show down to the color and font style the differences. This level of due diligence and exactitude is found throughout the entire set.

The subsequent two volumes focus less on military type medals like volume I did. Instead, they expand into civil and foreign awards given to MfS members and uniquely East German material that was awarded to officers and enlisted men and women. He shows the reader just how much other non-medal regalia was produced and distributed to those in the service and explains their uses and purpose. For example, he provides pay scales and structures and follows this up with original pay stubs issued to Stasi members in an effort to highlight how much Stasi members were paid and how bonuses were given out and for what specific purposes this was done. He also explores MfS affiliated organizations and how they interacted or were part of the overall MfS. He explores and explains the academies created by the state to train Stasi officers as well. The historical information he provides is then followed up with images of material related to what he expounded.

In his final volume, Mr. Pickard explores anti-fascism and the MfS, medals and decorations presented to East Germans from other socialist nations, East German support for other security services, notably the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, books associated with the MfS, retirement and reserve abbreviations used on Stasi award documents, special combat forces of the Stasi, as well as updates that did not make it into his first two volumes. Together, these three volumes cover a wide range of topics associated with the security service of the German Democratic Republic.

What sets Mr. Pickard’s work apart from other collector’s guides is that his is by far the most comprehensive and all-encompassing study of Stasi decorations out there. The level of detail is such that one could compare it to an investigator who has worked in and is familiar with intelligence community activities. Indeed, while Mr. Pickard was station in West Germany during the Cold War, he worked in both special operations and intelligence assignments. Ralph also put his volumes together using his own collection, which he built up at a time when most people were not yet thinking of seriously collecting and studying this material. This gave him exclusive access to material that is now extremely difficult to source.

Given the nature of collecting memorabilia, either as a museum or a private collector, finding reliable and comprehensive studies on collectibles is a daunting challenge for numerous reasons. Just to list a few, most research is based on what is at hand and if it is very difficult to find authentic pieces, less material is available to study. Second, most collecting hobbies are niche markets and thus, publishing books for collectors is another unique challenge. If the market is large enough, such as WWII memorabilia collecting, many books can be found on the subject, albeit at a higher cost than books that are not so specialized. In the case of DDR collecting, it is far more difficult to find reliable collector reference books because that market is still maturing and, for the United States, is quite under-developed in terms of what historical material can be provided along with material objects. Even though a large amount of DDR material has ended up in the US since the end of the Cold War, specialty items remain elusive and so does information about them. There are very few collector books available to American collectors because most of the ones that do exist are in German. Even German reference books have to be scouted and are usually difficult to acquire outside of Europe. For authors looking to publish what they have found, there remains the issue of finding a willing publisher who understands the importance of the work and is willing to invest in publishing it. As with WWII collector books, many are in limited supply and can be quite costly due to the small market share that would be interested in these books. With all of this in mind, it is a tremendous achievement that Mr. Pickard has done with his three volumes. He has produced everything one can expect from a seasoned historian in order to provide outstanding work. For all his efforts, the community of historians and those who study Cold War iconography now have available what some have called the Bible of Stasi memorabilia collecting. This is indeed quite an accurate assessment of his books.

Dr. Marc T. Voss
Founder/Executive Director, Regimes Museum
Adjunct Professor of Sociology & World Languages & Culture, Chapman University
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