On December 18th, I read an article on BBC News about the Arbeit Macht Frei sign that was stolen from the entrance to the Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp . Hundreds of thousands of prisoners passed under the sign into the camp during the Holocaust, but the majority were murdered or worked to death. My sister Hannah alerted me to the fact that the date the article was published held a special meaning. Our grandfather, Max Heinz Cahn, was born in Königswinter, Germany on December 18th, 1915. He was a prisoner at Buchenwald but managed to escape and changed the spelling of his name after coming to America. This synchronous event encouraged further sibling investigation. My sister took the time to delve further into our family lineage and uncovered several gems. On such beauty is this poem by English poet and wit, C. S. Calverley (born on this very day in 1831) that notes our family brow and peculiar disposition:
I love to gaze upon a child ;
A young bud bursting into blossom ;
Artless, as Eve yet unbeguiled,
And agile as a young opossum :
And such was he. A cahn-brow’d lad,
Yet mad, at moments, as a hatter :
Why hatters as a race are mad
I never knew, nor does it matter.
She also discovered that we have distant cousin who was a corsetière and left Germany for Australia in the late 19th Century. As whalebone is a key component in the construction of corsets, placing herself so close to the Ocean must have proved quite lucrative. Fashion holds an extreme power in human society. Men and women will go to great lengths to “possess” the right aesthetic. Indeed, the desire is not merely to possess the style, but also to be possessed by it. Like a haunted mask, anyone who adorns their body in the distinct aesthetic will be magically transformed into something new and different. Sometimes ideas and experiences organically form around a growing fashion trend, giving the style a historical context and an particular psychological feel. In the opposing scenario, a unique aesthetic is consciously fabricated to be the material manifestation of a specific ideology. This type of propaganda may be exemplified by the attractive qualities sown into the psychic fabric of the Third Reich Fashion.
The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses.
::Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf::
The most dramatic uniforms were worn by the Nazi soldiers of the German army. With their mania for black leather, brass buttons, medals, and armbands, the Nazis proved as bold in their fashions as they were brutal on the battlefield. The German uniform style during the Nazi period was so eccentric that the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut called it “madly theatrical.” Where other totalitarian societies, such as Russia, opted for functional dress codes and muted color schemes that de-emphasized individuality, the Nazis preferred expressive styles designed to make the ordinary citizen feel like part of a grand national enterprise. The development of smart looking uniforms for everybody provided visible evidence of German unity.
Nowhere was this sense of identity more evident than in the German military. The Nazis believed that their army represented a modern recreation of the Teutonic (or ancient German) Knights, the mysterious military order of medieval Europe. Instead of the chain mail and plate armor the knights would have worn, the Nazis substituted black leather. No one in the Nazi high command, not even Adolf Hitler himself, felt fully “equipped” without an extensive leather wardrobe.
In the case of the Nazis, black leather acted as the mercurial solutio allowing individuals to be possessed by a collective fervor. In the book Black Sun, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke reports how Carl Gustav Jung described “Hitler as possessed by the archetype of the collective Aryan unconscious and could not help obeying the commands of an inner voice”. In a series of interviews between 1936 and 1939, Jung characterized Hitler as an archetype, often manifesting itself to the complete exclusion of his own personality. “‘Hitler is a spiritual vessel, a demi-divinity; even better, a myth …the messiah of Germany who teaches the virtue of the sword. ‘The voice he hears is that of the collective unconscious of his race.'” The early Jung was influenced by Theosophy, solar mysticism and völkisch nationalism in developing the ideas on the collective unconscious and the archetypes. Jung’s suggestion that Hitler personified the collective Aryan unconscious deeply interested and influenced Miguel Serrano, who later concluded that Jung was merely psychologizing the ancient, sacred mystery of archetypal possession by the gods, independent metaphysical powers that rule over their respective races and “occasionally” possess their members.
The actual design and construction of Nazi fashion is even more fascinating. The all-black uniform of the Nazi S.S. was designed by Prof. Dr. Karl Diebitsch and graphic designer Walter Heck who worked intimately with HUGO BOSS. From 1933, the Hugo Boss company was the main firm that produced these black uniforms along with the brown SA shirts and the black-and-brown uniforms of the Hitler Youth. Some workers are acknowledged to have been prisoners of war forced into labor. This information is striking when looking at the 2009 Hugo Boss Men’s Line. Note the familiar black, white, and red color scheme and the carefully selected Aryan specimens that would make Himmler’s rotting skeleton smile with appreciation…
And why not? Even if the Third Reich was a failure, the imagery was a success. This is because the minimalist design evokes an emotional response independent of Hitler’s ideology. Visually, black and white with red highlights is a very seductive color scheme. The black and white create a visual contrast that is clean and orderly, while the provocative touches of red stimulate and awaken the senses. Success stories of this combo abound from typewriter ink to Sin City to the design of this very blog. The infamous adage “the medium is the message” fits snugly inside the realm of aesthetics. Adagium (Latin) or Adage or can be further separated into two to create Ad Age, a clever nod toward the symbolic reality. The Nazi’s weren’t the first to understand the power of symbols. The Catholic Church, Tibetan Buddhism, Medieval Alchemy, Surrealism, all owe their success to symbols. Man needs a world of symbols as well as a world of signs. Both sign and symbol are necessary but they should not be confused with one another. A sign is a token of meaning that stands for a known entity. By this definition, language is a system of signs, not symbols. A symbol, on the other hand hand, is an image or representation which points to something essentially unknown, a mystery. A sign communicates abstract, objective meaning while a symbol conveys living, subjective meaning. A symbol has a subjective dynamism which exerts a powerful attraction and fascination on the individual. It is a living, organic entity which acts as a carrier, releaser, and transformer of psychic energy. Symbols are spontaneous products of the archetypal psyche. The archetypal psyche is constantly creating a steady stream of of living symbolic imagery. Ordinarily this stream of images is not consciously perceived except through dreams or through waking fantasy when the conscious level of attention has been lowered. However, even fully awake this stream continues to flow underneath the ego without notice. Symbols seep into the ego, causing it to identify with them and act them out unconsciously; or they spill out into the external environment via projection, causing the individual to become fascinated and involved with external objects and activities. This is what Jung was viewing in Hitler.
No wonder there is such obsession with Nazism and the Occult. According to Goodricke-Clarke the speculation of Nazi occultism originated from “post-war fascination with Nazism.” The “horrid fascination” of Nazism upon the Western mind emerges from the “uncanny interlude in modern history” that it presents to an observer a few decades later. The idolization of Hitler in Nazi Germany, its short lived and brutal dominion on the European continent and Nazism’s irrational and gruesome Antisemitism set it apart from other periods of modern history. “Outside a purely secular frame of reference, Nazism was felt to be the embodiment of evil in a modern twentieth-century regime, a monstrous pagan relapse in the Christian community of Europe.” By the early 1960s, “one could now clearly detect a mystique of Nazism.” A sensationalistic and fanciful presentation of its figures and symbols, shorn of all political and historical contexts gained ground with thrillers, non-fiction books and films and permeated “the milieu of popular culture.” Both Nazism and the Occult fulfill a deep human need to become part of of something that transcends the individual in the realm of the archetypes. Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism provide a similar structure. When this desire is suppressed by a culture, there is danger of sudden eruptions or perverse fetishism.
Nazi chic refers to the approving use of Nazi-era style, imagery, and paraphernalia in clothing and popular culture. In the 1970s Punk Subculture, several items of clothing designed to shock and offend became popular. Among these punk fashion items was a T-shirt displaying a Swastika, an upside-down crucifix and the word DESTROY — which was worn by J. Rotten. Uniforms and other imagery related to Nazi Germany have been on sale in East-Asia, where some considered it cool. Hong Kong and Japan have each witnessed a growth in the casual wearing of SS-uniforms, as well as increased interest in the music-genre known as Rock Against Communism. Sometimes in east Asia, Nazi uniforms are used as part of cosplay. In South-Korea, an area generally isolated from Nazi cultural influences during the Nazi era, TIME Magazine observed in 2000 “an unthinking fascination with the icons and imagery of the Third Reich.” Nazi-inspired imagery are also featured in various early releases from Japanese band The 5, 6, 7, 8’s. This trend will continue to thrive until another significant channel can be created to redirect psychic energy.
Still there is something disturbing about the overwhelming interest in Nazi Fashion. Hetalia: Axis Powers is a webcomic, later adapted as a manga and an anime series, by Hidekaz Himaruya. The series presents an allegorical interpretation of political and historic events, particularly of the World War II era, in which the various countries are represented by anthropomorphic characters. Hetalia is a portmanteau combining hetare (Japanese for “useless”) and Italia. This is to make light of Italy’s apparent cowardice during World War II. This fan video seems to glorify the style. I could tell you what I think about it, but it’s better to simply let the comments speak for themselves. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MONTAGE IS EPIC.