THE MYTH OF THE RZM
The scarcity of properly researched written information regarding the RZM (Reichszeugmeisterei der NSDAP or National Materials Authority of the National Socialist German Workers Party), and the volumes of incorrect material published on the subject have left collectors of Nazi material largely misinformed. Within the context of Nazi party organization the RZM is actually very easy to understand.
The Nazi Party (NSDAP) was founded in Munchen on 1 April 1920, drawing members and inspiration from veterans groups, the "German Workers Party", the Thule Society and others. As it grew, the inner circle of power within the NSDAP concluded that the restructuring of German society was of utmost importance to the reconstruction of the country in the wake of WWI.
1. For an extremely interesting view of these pre-war events as seen from the German side see, "Weitere Dokumente zur Kriegsausweitungspolitik der Westmachte", Auswartiges Amt publication number 5, 1940. This 100+ page German Foreign Office document provides reprints of a large number of secret French and British military documents turned up by German agents operating within their ranks or intercepted by the German secret service. The captured British and French documents make clear their intention to occupy a part or all of the countries of Belgium, Holland, Norway and even Sweden if necessary, to isolate Germany. The German Library of Information in New York published a full English translation of this book in 1940 under the title, "Allied Intrigue in the Low Countries". Copies of either edition are now very scarce.
2. Although long out of print, the book "Handbook of RZM Codes" by C.R. Davis, Runic Press, Box 2842, Houston, TX 77001, 1975, is highly recommended for a good understanding of the RZM.
Among those Nazis with a particular flare for paramilitary organization were Ernst Roehm, Josef Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler. As the little party grew each of its units was conceived and deployed along paramilitary lines and with a paramilitary purpose. Uniforms, insignia, flags and all other similar paramilitary trappings were understood well by the early Nazi leaders and their adoption and use was a major consideration within the Political Section of the NSDAP.
Throughout the 1920s the NSDAP was a "poor" party, depending heavily on charity, private contributions and private purchase to equip itself and its paramilitary units like the SA and the SS. Many photos of the period depict formations in similar but not the same uniforms. It is clear that the members did their best to look alike but that standards in uniforms and equipment could not be afforded or enforced.
With the Nazi accession to power in early 1933 party leaders found themselves in a position of adequate resources and staff to bring desired uniformity to their previously rag-tag paramilitary formations. They also recognized that to properly equip millions of their members (many of whom had uniforms for more than one organization) they would control a very large industry doing millions of Reichmarks (RM) of business each year. The Nazi party answer to the problem and the opportunity was the RZM.
Like every other element of the NSDAP the RZM was a paramilitary organization of the party and not of the German government.
It directed the specification of the production and distribution of clothing, insignia and equipment to be sold or issued to paramilitary units of the NSDAP.
It did not have any authority regarding the same items to be consumed by the armed forces or the government. The RZM was purely an administrative organization of the Nazi party.
The RZM was organized in 1934 as Hauptamt VIII (Head Office 8) of the NSDAP Treasury under party treasurer, Reichsleiter Franz X. Schwarz. The RZM street address was Tegernseer Landstrasse 210 in Munchen and its first Reichszeugmeister (National Materials Master) was Richard Bochner. Bochner was later replaced as Reichszeugmeister by SA Obergruppenfuhrer Wilhelm Helfer. A shop selling RZM merchandise was operated by the NSDAP at Schwanthalerstrasse 53-55 in Munchen. Most RZM approved merchandise was sold through independent shops operated by RZM authorized retailers.
Designs and or production specifications for items of clothing, insignia or equipment were generated by individuals, groups, companies and consultants and submitted to units of the NSDAP for approval. Once approved for use the specifications were passed on to the RZM which prepared standards, Standardmuster (samples) and production requests on which any RZM approved manufacturer in the item category could bid. The samples the RZM sometimes sent out were specially made for them and came with a wax or metal MPA = Materialprofungsamt (Supply Approvals Office) seal attached.
The selection, licensing and inspection of companies which could bid on, manufacture and/or sell RZM approved material was also a principal part of the RZM's business. Applicant firms were investigated to determine their production capacity, labor pool, quality control and ownership prior to acceptance and licensing.
Other factors such as the need to employ people in a specific city or village, and the political expediency of doing business with the people involved were major considerations. A great many people became wealthy making and/or selling RZM approved merchandise during the Third Reich. A RZM franchise was a very valuable asset for the Aryan firms lucky enough to get one.
This franchising was also very valuable to the RZM. A subscription to the RZM newspaper was obligatory for all RZM licensed firms and there was a good deal of pressure exerted by the RZM to get the licensed firms to place display advertising in it. Far more importantly, licensed firms were required to pay "fees" to the RZM which in reality were commissions on their gross sales of NSDAP merchandise.
Once the RZM Amt for Normierung und Zulassung (Office for Standardization and Admissions) had approved a manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer, they provided an Erlaubnisschein (permit) franchising the applicant to make and/or sell NSDAP merchandise. They also gave the licensee a RZM number denoting the category of product and the licensee's identity number. The normal form was:
The RZM number above is for the firm of Wilhelm Deumer of LOdenscheid (72) and the category M4 is for metal (M) belt buckles (4). The Deumer firm also held RZM number M5/230 for uniform parts like hooks and buttons of metal, and M9/39 for metal badges. They are still in essentially the same business today (1992) in spite of the destruction of Lodenscheid by bombing during WWII. The M (metals) categories of RZM production were M 1 - badges and insignia, M2 - subcontractors (badges and insignia), M3 - symbols, M3 - official seals, M4 - belt buckles, M5 - uniform parts, M6 - aluminium ware, M7 - edged weapons, M7 - subcontractors (edged weapons), M8 - accessories, M9 - metal badges, M10 - musical instruments, M11 - NSDAP service awards, M12 - NSDAP miniature service awards. There may have been others.
3. More complex RZM codes are frequently encountered. A variation of the RZM M4/72 code shown above could easily be RZM M4/72/39. In such a case the /39 at the end records that 1939 was the year of manufacture of the item the number was on. On occasion they issued their own contract numbers and they are found in at least two forms:
RZM SS 4107/42. or RZM SS 4107/42 M4/72
The first example is the SS contract number and the year of production while the second example is the same but with the addition of the RZM M series license number. Because RZM codes were sometimes attached to an item on a paper label that was later detached, many original items are encountered today with no RZM number at all.
Because the RZM system provided valuable franchises for manufacturers and/or sellers it also provided penalties for licensees who abused the privileges they were given. Among other things, licensees could run afoul of the RZM by substituting cheaper materials than specified or by selling to non-authorized retailers. Punishment for infractions of RZM rules could be a fine, imprisonment or even the loss of the RZM license.
To stay in touch with its manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing licensees as well as party officials concerned with insignia, uniforms and equipment the RZM published a weekly (later a bimonthly) paper, the Mitteilungsblatt der RZM der NSDAP (Announcement Paper of the RZM of the NSDAP). All the news any interested party needed to know was contained in the "Blatt". This illustrated tabloid carried official announcements, price changes, new licensee information, advertising and news of legal or punitive actions taken against those who violated RZM rules.
The Handbuch der RZM der NSDAP (Handbook of the RZM of the NSDAP) was published in 1935 and was intended to provide a comprehensive listing of RZM licensees with their addresses and code numbers as well as the rules and regulations which governed RZM procedures.
It is very clear from examining Nazi party items made under RZM control that the system didn't work particularly well, and/or that enforcement was not very rigid. The quality of the craftsmanship varied widely among supposedly identical pieces from various manufacturers. An excellent example of this problem can be found in the collectability of Nazi daggers. Those made by Eichhorn for instance, are sold today at higher prices than those made by lesser manufacturers largely because of differences in workmanship. In addition to the obvious differences in craftsmanship, RZM standards became far more lax and subjective as the war reduced the availability of many metals after the Winter of 1941. The RZM had no choice but to look the other way as substitutions became a way of life in Germany.
The RZM as an institution was certainly not unique to the NSDAP or even to Germany. A similar system could be found in use in many countries, and even the US Marine Corps used an "approved vendor" system during the same period.
AN INDUSTRIAL VIEW
The belief among some collectors of Nazi militaria that RZM licensees were required to make high quality merchandise is without basis. To come to that conclusion requires the same kind of logic that would describe any restaurant kitchen as clean because it had an inspection certificate from the Department of Sanitation. Everybody knows better.
Many firms that did not seek or have RZM licenses produced fabulous quality orders and decorations for the German armed forces and even for the Nazi party. Those firms that sought and got RZM "M" category licenses were mainly firms that were capable of producing large quantities of simple items on a normal industrial basis. The big producers of NSDAP knives and daggers were also the big producers of Bestecke or tableware - knives, forks and spoons. Big NSDAP badge and insignia producers were also the big producers of overshoe buckles, costume jewelry and souvenirs.
The common element in all firms licensed by the RZM to produce items in the M category was that they possessed the machinery and employed the die makers who could create light metal products. These firms were accustomed to manufacturing or assembling and applying an artistic finish (plating, antiquing, painting, etc.) to small metal items. Some of the metal firms were also among the leaders in Germany in the use of the then-new art of plastic injection molding.
The process by which something like a small metal badge or the eagle on a SS dagger handle is produced is very simple. A pattern, drawing or a sample is given to a die maker who cuts by hand or with rotary tools (like a Dremel tool) a reverse image into a piece of steel. By pressing a clay like material into the die and then examining the image on the clay the die maker can tell when his job is done properly. When he is satisfied that the relief or depth of the die is correct and that the finish is smooth enough, the tool is sent out and heat-treated to make it hard.
The hardened tool is then sent to the stamping department or to an outside stamping contractor who mounts it in a press which stamps out the required number of pieces from the proper material very quickly, just like coins at the mint. The pieces so stamped are finished and inspected and an appropriate back (such as a pin or rivet) is soldered on. After cleaning in a chemical "dip" the pieces are plated or otherwise finished according to specification.
This process was a highly automated one even during the Third Reich, and pieces made in a good die required little or no hand finishing after they were stamped out. It was quick, simple and efficient and satisfied the minimum standards specified by the RZM.
An assembled product like a dagger was only slightly more complicated. The firms that made them under RZM license also made things like kitchen knives and hunting knives. Their principal business was usually forging blades, and other parts like the hilt, pommel, handle and scabbard could be purchased from subcontractors and assembled into a unit by the RZM licensee. Some RZM M7 licensees may not have even made the blades, but simply assembled daggers from vended parts.
4. Semiautomatic die making machines that worked directly from oversize plaster models were also very common in Germany at the time.
The relationship between stamping firms, forging firms and assemblers is somewhat difficult for North Americans to understand because we live on such a large continent, with major cities and manufacturers separated by distances as great as 3000 miles. A trip to the area known in Nazi times as Gau 38 and 39 (Westfalen) or a look at a map of the area will make it much more understandable. Within a circle less than 35 miles in diameter one will find a substantial percentage of the firms that held RZM licenses in the M category.
The Westfalen area includes the cities of Solingen, Wuppertal, LOdenscheid and Remscheid along with the villages of Altena, Barmen, etc., all major factors in the RZM M category. The names of the firms located in this area are a Who's Who of Nazi insignia and edged weapons manufacture. An example of the proximity of these firms to each other is illustrated by the location of the factories of Wilhelm Deumer and F.W. Assmann & Sohne in Ludenscheid; only a street separates them, even today.
Naturally, as demands of war grew more intense in Germany these Westfalen firms produced less and less of the insignia and ceremonial weapons they were famous for and converted their capacity to more basic military needs. Factories that made light metal insignia could just as easily produce light metal parts for rockets and aircraft. As the firms in Westfalen converted to strategic products Allied planners moved them up from low priority bombing targets of opportunity to mission targets. In the late Winter and early Spring of 1944 these RZM M category cities were reduced to rubble by concentrated aerial bombing, with a great loss of life and property.
With the end of the war the people of the area returned to their former professions and the factories were rebuilt. Nazi dagger makers of Solingen went back to making scissors, silverware and small appliances and the badge and buckle makers of Ludenscheid returned to buttons, overshoe buckles and industrial stampings. They also mounted up their old dies now and then to turn out "Nazi warehouse finds" to supply the "war souvenir" trade driven by the demand of occupation soldiers. The post WWII years were good to Westfalen industries and the hardworking people who worked in them. So good in fact, that there were not nearly enough workers to produce the goods the companies could sell. In the 1960s "guest workers" from Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey came in droves to take advantage of the opportunity to learn a metals trade and earn a good living. Today these cities are heavily polluted industrial areas with high populations of "German-born foreigners" and the Wilkinson Sword logo hangs over the Solingen factory of a once proud Nazi dagger maker.
The postwar laws of occupied Germany in essence forbade the display of items containing a swastika and effectively discouraged most Germans from trading in and profiting from Third Reich material. For many years, Germans got rid of anything and everything that could in any way connect them or their family to the Nazi party. Much of the military equipment, uniforms (without Nazi insignia) etc., left over from the Nazi years was simply "used up" in a civilian role. Few people in Germany wanted to be reminded of the horrible war years or the years of cold, hunger and deprivation that followed them.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s collector demand for Nazi party regalia and German forces militaria from the WWII period had begun to professionalize a market-driven trade that could no longer be supplied easily from inside the old Westfalen industries themselves. New tooling was made from old patterns and was sent along with original tooling to places like Greece and Turkey where many former "guest workers" had returned to establish their own metals businesses. Other tooling went to England (Westfalen was in the British Occupation Zone) and from there to India and Pakistan where production took advantage of very cheap wages and a tradition of metalwork. In many cases the production of these small factories was smuggled back into Germany by shipping it along with fruits and vegetables, on some of the hundreds of Greek and Turkish trucks that made (and still make) the trip every day.
As German and occupation authorities relaxed their scrutiny of the sale of this "Nazi era" material in shops and flea markets many Germans and Austrians re-entered the manufacturing business in an effort to derail the Turks, Greeks and the British. By 1980 a great deal of original tooling was in place in the most modern factories in Taiwan and Korea, turning out undetectably fine replicas of very scarce and valuable Nazi relics. The business of "Nazi Business" had turned a corner.
5. There are many books that recount the terrible conditions faced by the German population in the years immediately following WWII. Two in English that are worth mentioning are, "From the Ruins of the Reich, Germany 1945 - 1949" by Douglas Botting, Crown, NY, 1985 and a much earlier book, "America's Germany, an Account of the Occupation" by Julian Bach Jr., Random House, NY. 1946.
6. Unlike the laws of the United States, the laws of Germany and Austria DO NOT require that imported articles be stamped or marked with the country of origin. A large portion of the "Black Forest" type of souvenir merchandise (from wooden nutcrackers to straw Christmas tree ornaments) found in German and Austrian shops is imported from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and similar places. These things are almost NEVER marked with the actual country of origin and in fact are usually found with local labels on them. Foreign tourists pay outrageous sums to carry the stuff away by the kilogram.
With the floodgates wide open and with the Germans and Austrians back in control of much of the manufacture using original tools and dies the "Nazi Business" grew rapidly. Enough "Hitler" silverware, table linens and glassware flooded the market to serve an army.
Uniforms of high ranking Nazis with personalized labels were everywhere. Even Hitler's "private diary", hidden for decades, turned up in 1983. Only because this obvious fake attracted too much attention, was it declared a fake. One of these days somebody will "turn up" the "original" Blutfahne (Blood Flag), the most sacred of all relics of the Third Reich.
Cowdery's law states that there are solid industrial reasons for unscrupulous people to create the products which satisfy any demand-driven collector market. At the point when the demand for a collectible item exceeds the supply, the price will rise. When that price has risen above the industrial cost of manufacturing that collectible item, someone will begin to make it. It has happened for centuries with paintings and other objets d'art and religious artifacts. It has happened with coins, Faberge eggs of the Tsars, Roman pottery, Egyptian jewelry and even industrially complex things like automobiles. There is no stopping it.
Ray R. Cowdery: "Nazi Militaria-Fake or Real", Self Published, 1993