The Third Reich in 100 Objects

A look at 'A material history of Nazi Germany' first published in 2017

Roger Moorhouse has written several books about the war but he adopted a wide ranging approach with this unusual history of the Nazi regime. The Third Reich in 100 Objects follows several other popular histories in a “100 objects” but succeeds in its own terms.

By examining a diverse range of objects, … Pervitin, Hitler’s Mercedes, jackboots, concentration camp badges, a 1932 election poster, Wehrmacht mittens, Hitler’s grooming kit, the Tiger Tank, fragments of flak, the swastika and Mein Kampf are amongst themthe reality of life under the Nazis at peace and at war is brought to life.

It helps perhaps that the Nazis were so concerned with projecting a particular image and that many of these images have gained iconic status, even if it is a matter of grim fascination these days.

But the text tells the whole story and such objects as the Judenstern - the jewish yellow star - and Zyklon-B canisters are included here. So a well rounded picture emerges and even avid historians of the period are likely to learn something. Its available for Kindle but the hardback is of very good quality.

The two passages which follow are representative of the approach taken:

32 Elastolin Toy Figure

Like any regime with totalitarian ambitions, the Third Reich sought to bring Germany's children under its nefarious influence as early as was possible. To this end, toys were a useful weapon in the battle for hearts and minds, particularly those with a military or political theme - such as this Hitler figure.

Produced by the Ludwigsburg firm O. & M. Hausser, figures such as this one were highly sought-after by German children during the Nazi period. Standing 7 cm high, they are made from ‘Elastolin’, Hausser’s trademark composite material consisting of sawdust and resin, which was cast over a wire frame and then painted. Hausser offered a selection of Hitler figures, including him seated, standing or speaking at a podium hung with a swastika. Some of them had a hand-painted porcelain head; others — as in this example - even had a movable right arm, so that he could be made to salute.

They were part of a huge range of figures which included Mussolini, Hermann Goring, Francisco Franco and Rudolf Hess, as well as all manner of military vehicles and personnel, from the Hitler Youth to the SS. More elaborate models included artillery guns that fired a small projectile and rifles that released a puff of smoke. They would originally have sold for around 5 Reichsmarks each, and with the average weekly wage in 1938 at around 30 Reichsmarks, they were certainly not cheap.

Elastolin toys thrilled a generation of German children with the prospect of reenacting Hitler’s speeches or playing war games on their bedroom floors. Of course, they were never intended to be politically neutral; they were an integral part of Nazi propaganda.

Not only did they serve to inculcate in young minds a fascination with all tilings military, they also sowed the seeds of political indoctrination, fostering a hero-worship of the Nazi Party leadership. For this reason, the Nazi regime kept a very close eye on the business and Hitler even intervened to make the cast of his own head look more realistic.

Ironically, the sale of Elastolin figures was halted in 1943, when the shift to a ‘total war economy in Germany put an end to almost all non-military production. By that time, of course, many of those Germans who had been raised playing with toy soldiers in the 1930s were already fighting for real on the battlefields of Europe.

54 Stick Grenade

Like the Stahlhelm steel helmet, the stick grenade or Stielhandgranate — ‘stalk hand grenade' is one of the most widely recognisable German icons of World War II, which nonetheless had its origins in the First.

When it first appeared in 1915, the stick grenade — dubbed the ‘potato-masher’ by the British — consisted of a hollow wooden handle, with a 170g charge of TNT contained in its cylindrical steel head. To use it, a soldier would pull on a small porcelain ball, attached to a cord which ran inside the handle, thereby activating a five-second friedon fuse. The beauty of the design was that the wooden handle enabled the grenade to be thrown as much as twice the distance of the contemporary British example — the egg-shaped ‘Mills bomb'.

In the years after World War I, the stick design was revived in Germany as the M24 grenade. Essentially the same as the original, it had a smaller explosive head and a longer handle, thereby making it easier to use and throw. Also, as with the 1917 version, its detonator cord was safely stowed behind a metal screw cap in the base of the handle, so that it could not be set off accidentally.

Further versions would later be developed, such as the M39 ‘egg grenade’, and the simplified M43, which dispensed with the hollow wooden shaft and so was better suited to mass-production. But it was the M24 stick grenade that would become a staple weapon of German soldiers after 1939.

Over 75 million examples were manufactured - some containing a smoke charge and others with an additional fragmentation sleeve for maximum effect. In the field, a number of M24 grenades could be connected together to make an improvised 'bundle charge’, for use against larger targets such as tanks or buildings. Used in every theatre, the M24 stick grenade was ubiquitous, even iconic. It can often be seen in contemporary photographs, tucked into German soldiers’ belts or into the tops of their boots, ready for action.

From The Third Reich in 100 Objects.

These excerpt appears by kind permission of the publisher, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, copyright remains with author.