It's Good To Be Number 1
First and foremost is the question of what number was on the back of Hitler's Gold Party Badge. Several have surfaced recently and have commanded extraordinary prices at auction, as befits such a significant piece of historical memorabilia. Unfortunately, the "Hitler" badges that have recently appeared have all had one thing in common - the number 7 on the reverse.
The biggest problem is Hitler never had party number 7 - he was No. 1. Where did this myth come from that has tripped up forgers of his Gold Party Badge?
When Hitler joined the Deutsche Arbeiter Partei, the forerunner of the NSDAP, he officially held party membership no. 555. He was actually the 55th member of the tiny D.A.P., but the party started it's membership at 500 to look bigger. Hitler was popularly referred to as "Parteigenosse 7", because he was the 7th member of the D.A.P.'s executive committee, but this was not his membership number. Hitler's D.A.P. membership card dated Jan 1, 1920 with shows he held no. 555
Hitler liked to claim he was the 7th member of the original D.A.P. before it was dissolved after the Putsch and then refounded on February 27, 1925. Hitler spoke at length about how he personally founded "The Movement" in the old days, and that before he joined the Deutsche Arbeiter Partei in 1920 it was just a group sitting around the beer hall without a vision. He made numerous speeches about the "Old Fighters" and how he founded the NSDAP's predecessor, the DAP. It was part of his rewriting of history to make him the central figure of everything. This untruth that he had held number 7 of the old D.A.P. was stated in Mein Kampf, and repeated frequently afterwards, including by Bulloch in the first major biography.
Hitler took NSDAP No. 1 in 1925 after the refounding of the NSDAP following his release from Landsberg prison. When the NSDAP was refounded in February 1925, Hitler announced all old party memberships were revoked - including his own - and made everyone reapply for new numbers. That's when he took No. 1, symbolic of his being in charge, since there were still rivals for his leadership of the new NSDAP. It also allowed Hitler to centralize and control Party finances under Franz Xaver Schwarz, Party Treasurer, later head of the RZM and ultimately responsible for the office of the Gold Party Badge.
In January 1940, Aton Drexler, the real founder of the D.A.P., drafted a letter to Hitler to tell him to stop saying he was member no. 7 of the old D.A.P. The letter that was drafted but never sent, said:
"No one knows better than you yourself, my Führer, that you were never the seventh member of the party, but at best the seventh member of the committee, which I asked you to join as recruitment director. And a few years ago I had to complain to a party office that your first proper membership card of the DAP, bearing the signatures of Schüssler and myself, was falsified, with the number 555 being erased and number 7 entered."
(see: Kershaw, Hitler: Hubris 1889-1936, Penguin Books, p. 127).
What annoyed Drexler was Hitler downplaying his role as he was the real founder of the D.A.P. Also Drexler had been ignored and pushed aside by Hitler and the new NSDAP. Drexler wasn't so much complaining that Hitler had taken No. 1 of the refounded NSDAP - just that he was repeating the untrue story that Hitler had been member no. 7 of the old party when he was in fact member no. 555.
Hitler's Gold Party Badge
Several genuine examples of Hitler's Gold Party Badge exist in private collections. Hitler had a number in various locations and on various uniforms. One such example came out of his apartment in Munich, along with a traditional brownshirt and his Blood Order. Sadly I cannot show you a photo here. His Gold Party Badge is described as simply having the number "1" on the reverse with no other markings.
For some reason the photographic record shows Hitler did not start wearing his badge until late 1936.
It is reported that his regular issue Gold Party Badge was later replaced with one made of real gold as a presentation from members of his inner circle.
Fakes of Hitler's Gold Party Badge always come with a good story, as they would have to in order to explain their provenance and justify the price. Two that have recently surfaced claim to have come from two recorded incidents in Hitler's life.
The first concerns Otto Meissner, Head of the Presidential Chancery and State Minister. Meissner was a career bureaucrat and a survivor. He had headed the Presidential Chancery from 1920 under the various governments of Weimar, von Hindenberg, and then served Hitler. Supposedly Hitler at a meeting with Meissner saw that he was not wearing his Gold Party Badge, so Hitler pinned his own on him. The one the auction house sold in 2001 was a small Fuess 24mm Gold Party Badge with the number "7" on the reverse.
Meissner had never joined the NSDAP, but received his own Gold Party Badge in 1937. Here is an extract from the Völkischer Beobachter, South German edition, 1 February 1937:
"In view of the anticipated re-opening of the rolls for Party membership, the Führer as the first step in this regard, personally carried out the enlistment into the Party of the members of the Cabinet who so far had not belonged to it; and he handed them simultaneously the Gold Party Badge, the supreme badge of honor of the Party. In addition, the Führer awarded the Gold Party Badge to Colonel General Baron von Fritsch; Generaladmiral, Dr. Raeder; the Prussian Minister of Finance, Professor Popitz; and the Secretary of State and Chief of the Presidential Chancellery, Dr. Meissner. The Führer also honored with the Gold Party Badge the Party members State Secretary Dr. Lammers, State Secretary Funk, State Secretary Körner and State Secretary General of the Air Force Milch."
Perhaps the incident took place, however the badge that surfaced and was sold with this story clearly was marked "7" on the reverse, but not in a number style known to Fuess badges. There are no known photographs of Hitler ever wearing a small Gold Party Badge, and it is unlikely he ever did. In civilian clothes Hitler wore a small eagle in his lapel, if anything. In the very early years he wore a simple party membership pin.
The above 30.5 mm badge was also recently auctioned for an astounding amount of money as the badge that Hitler supposedly presented to Magda Goebbels in the bunker on April 17, 1945. It came with affidavits from no less than Hitler's personal valet, Heinz Linge and Heinrich Hoffmann, personal photographer, testifying it is the one made for Hitler about 1937 and worn until 1945. It is .750 solid gold with a screwback attachment. The reverse is marked with the .750 gold mark, a facsimile Hitler signature and the number "7".
There are several issues with this badge, over and above the mistaken use of the number 7. It is hard to understand why Hitler's signature would appear on his own badge, especially if it is a presentation. The screwback attachment would make it very hard to keep attached. One of the most glaring errors is that the wreath on the front has been attached at an angle. The crossed ribbons that should be directly beneath the "D.A.P." are almost a quarter turn to the left. Surely something made to present to the Führer would have better quality control.
The story about the Magda Goebbels presentation has problems as well. While the event certainly took place, there is no verification that she was wearing Hitler's badge when she died. Frau Goebbels also had her own Gold Party Badge, awarded some years earlier. There is no explanation of how the badge sold above as belonging to her through presentation by Hitler left the bunker after the Russians seized control. Magda's body was cremated and there is no sign of damage to the pin, especially as it is soft gold. If it was left in the bunker, how did it get back into the market?
This badge shown above sold for almost $100,000 US at auction.
One of Hitler's real Gold Party Badges was evidently taken from the Berlin bunker by the Soviet GRU, and was later placed in the archives of the NKVD (then KGB, then FSB). It is unknown if it came from Hitler's personal quarters or if it was the one given to Magda Goebbels and found among the things in her room in the Bunker. This badge was kept in the secret police archives and placed on display in 2005, only to be stolen, as the article below describes. Hitler's badge in the Russian secret police archives is clearly identified as bearing number 1, and from the admittedly poor photo below, appears to be an ordinary Gold Party Badge.
A second "Hitler" Gold Party Badge surfaced a few years ago. It also was marked .750 gold and is clearly cast from the same mold (see the "Z" and top of the "T"). This one has the wreath put on straight.
The back has an atypical jewelery type clasp and is again numbered "7" on the reverse, as well as displaying a facsimile Hitler signature. The leaves have a cast look to them.