An Old Man and His Mausers

Over on my Instagram page (@oldmauserman), I am sometimes asked why I have developed such an affinity for the Mauser line of rifles.  One might think that there is a simple answer to the question.  There isn’t.  It hasn’t always been that way.  I once preferred the M1903 rifles, and I always thought that the Lee-Enfield family of rifles looked like what military rifles should look like.  So, how did the Mauser (and specifically the German-built K98k) push aside all of those other outstanding rifles and end up being my favorite?

Frankly, this story goes back many years.  I was in the fifth grade when I started watching old World War II movies.  By the end of that school year, I had read whatever World War II books were in our modest school library.  I learned a lot about Eisenhower, Churchill, Iwo Jima, the Flying Tigers, and a little about the Sherman tank and the U.S.S. Arizona.  From what I can remember, there was not a lot of literature on World War II Germany in our little library.  My father, however, had a Reader’s Digest book on World War II that was packed with photographs.  I was hooked on any and all aspects of World War II, and I started looking for other information sources.

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1935 S/42G (Oberndorf) and 1942 bcd (Gustloff Werke) Rifles

The high school I attended had a larger library, and it was from the books I found there that I started to learn more about equipment.  By the time I was a senior, I could differentiate several models of Messerschmitt 109s, knew the difference between the P-51B and P-51D, could point out differences on the various models of the B-17, and could identify most standard rifles and machine guns fielded by the major powers.  Of course, being an all-American youth, I wanted an M1 Rifle, an M1903 Rifle, and any other U.S. equipment that was available.

During college, I was a history major, and had access to a monstrous collection of books, microfilm, newspapers, and magazines.  Among the books were several on the history and function of small arms.  It was from these books that I learned that the M1903 is widely acknowledged to be the most “beautiful” military bolt action rifle ever produced.  It was also from those books that I started to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the Mauser K98k.  When I learned that the M1903 largely copied the Mauser action, I found myself starting to lean towards the “original.”  Over time, and as I was able to see more photos of the Mausers in historic photos, the Mausers pushed the M1903 aside.

It was in the very early 1990s that I bought my first Mauser.  Certainly, once that rifle was in my hands, the bond was strong.  While the Mauser was not my first military surplus rifle (I bought a Kropatschek M1886 because it looked cool and was very inexpensive), it was certainly my favorite.  Unfortunately, I liquidated almost all of my very modest military surplus collection in 1992 so that I could pursue a career–including that first Mauser.

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The easily-identifiable Mauser bolt assembly.

A few years ago, when it came time to rebuild (and expand) my earlier collection, the Mauser was the first rifle I went after.  I came across this 1942 bcd (Gustloff Werke) rifle being sold by a local gentleman on GunBroker.  I bid on it and won.  Since then, I’ve collected bolt action rifles from every other major power of World War II (though I sold the M1903 to buy the M1 Rifle), and added a couple more Mausers.  I’ve also completed a collection of pistols from the World War I and World War II eras.  Of all of the pieces currently in my collection, the Mausers are my favorite.  Thus, when it came time to choose a name for my Instagram page, I had to find a way to work it in.  Just about the time I started that page, I hit the half-century mark.  At that point, it made sense that “old” could be a part of the name.  As for “man,” well…you’ll just have to take my word for that one!

What is your favorite rifle?  Do you have one?  How did it come to be your favorite?  I’d love to hear the stories!

Christmas in the Reich

Christmas in the Reich

History is often ugly, and physical pieces of history are sometimes very creepy.  To demonstrate this, I offer this article regarding Christmas in Hitler’s Third Reich.  In a small antique store, I recently came across a little collection of some of the creepiest pieces of history I’ve ever seen. Hidden away in a dimly-lit cabinet and packed in a musty old box were a tree topper and six glass ornaments. Unlike ornaments that evoke joy and happiness, these ornaments bore–of all things–a swastika. img_1160While I had seen a few photos of relics like these, I had never seen any of the actual pieces. My immediate reaction was strong and emotional. A feeling of sadness and bewilderment hit me. Seeing these creepy Christmas ornaments took me back to graduate school and memories of conversations I had with Dr. John Haag about how the Nazi government monitored public support for its initiatives, and how it cultivated support for programs and positions that, today, we find to be completely antithetical to human decency. Those discussions touched on how Nazi Leadership consciously sought to transform German society and how it indoctrinated the population to accept the State as the preeminent moral authority, with citizens as subordinate pieces. Dr. Haag talked about how religions posed a problem for the Nazi authorities since they taught that God was the ultimate authority and that the State and everything else was subordinate to Him. Christmas, the preeminent Christian holiday, posed a number of challenges for the Reich. Beyond the inconvenience of Jesus’s Jewish origins, a population that maintained an allegiance to God and Christ could not wholly give itself over to the Nazi State-first ideology. For the Nazis, this was unacceptable.

While many in the Nazi leadership circle wished to destroy Christianity quickly and outright, pragmatists knew that a direct assault on organized religion would cost the regime dearly in public support. Early actions to eliminate Christmas proved the pragmatists right, as many wives and sweethearts resisted efforts to change their traditional Christmas practices. A nation that had embraced Christianity for centuries would not abandon faith in God and Christ on orders from the State. The population would need to be indoctrinated to accept the Fuhrer as the ultimate authority, and old Christian practices would need to be erased. While attempts to transform a celebration of Jesus’s birth into a celebration of the Winter Solstice (Julfest) gained some traction–especially among the most committed Nazis–most Germans continued to celebrate Christmas and churches were allowed to perform traditional Christmas services. Unable to kill Christmas, the Nazis then sought to appropriate it for their own use. With careful and conscious efforts, the Nazis attempted to change everything about the celebration of Christmas. Discussions of the true meaning of Christmas disappeared from official German media. Lyrics to traditional Christmas songs were amended to remove references to God, Jesus, or familiar Christian themes. In their place, references to pagan figures and mystical themes appeared. In later years, the Nazis introduced new songs that emphasized their despicable racial ideology, the military, and the importance of service to the State. Traditional Christmas ornaments featuring bells, stars, birds, and angels gave way to the Nazi golden eagle, sun-burst symbols and other runes, toy cannon and tanks, and–of course–the swastika. Christmas trees were rebranded as “Light Trees” or “Yule Trees.” All of these moves were deliberately designed to move the German population away from Christ and ever closer to the State and its Führer.

Despite all of these efforts, Christmas endured. Indeed, once the war started, the focus on military and economic demands put the attack on Christianity on the back burner and active Nazi hostility towards Christmas faded away–there simply wasn’t time to devote to killing Christmas. Indeed, during the war, many Germans who had drifted away from traditional Christmas celebrations before the war came to appreciate them again. There is much evidence of troops in the field celebrating Christmas in a spirit of love, family, and a hope for peace. Letters and diaries of soldiers in foxholes and civilians on the home front continued to reflect an understanding of the meaning of Christmas, expressions of hope for peace, and wishes for joy, love, and happiness.  Wartime photos of civilian Christmas celebrations and small services in the military include traditional trees with familiar symbols. In the end, for all of the things the Nazis destroyed, they could not kill Christmas.  I hope that this post will remind everyone–regardless of your faith–that we should be mindful of and thankful for the gifts that God has given us, and we should all be thankful for those of the Greatest Generation who defended the world from those who would have us replace symbols of peace, love, and joy with this hideous and monstrosity.

For more photos and discussion of history, follow me on Instagram at @oldmauserman.