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 monstrosity.

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

Bringing the Nambu Back to Life

Bringing the Nambu Back to Life

Of all the firearms I own, one has generated more comments and cautious advice than all of the rest of them put together. In itself, it might not have surprised me that one model drew such criticism, but the fact that all of that criticism has been concentrated into a two month period indicates that there is real concern about the old warhorse. The pistol in question? The Nambu Type 14.

You’ve all heard (or maybe even said) the following:  “Cases won’t eject.”  “The firing pin breaks.”  “You can fire it by putting it in a holster.”  “I can’t find ammunition for it.”  “It is a suicide machine.”  On and on, the complaints continue.  Every now and then, someone offers some useful criticism, and a few folks have even expressed satisfaction and even admiration for the old firearms, but the majority of the feedback I’ve seen has been markedly negative.  So, you can imagine that it was not with a lot of enthusiasm that I purchased this Nambu.

Before I took the Nambu plunge, I did do a little bit of research.  Generally, the Nambu

Nambu Type 14 produced in 1930 at Tokyo Arsenal

series of pistols dates back to 1902, when Lieutenant General Kijiro Nambu introduced the Type A, followed in 1909 by the Type B (the Baby Nambu).  The Type 14, on which this article focuses, was introduced in 1925, and adopted by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1927.  The Type 14 utilized an 8x22mm cartridge.  The 102gr bullet left the muzzle at around 950 feet per second, making it a weaker round than the 9mm Parabellum and somewhat equal to the 7.65 Browning Short (.32 ACP) rounds.  Using a recoil spring action, the Nambu operated very differently than the P-08 Luger, to which it is often mistakenly linked.  While outwardly the Nambu and the Luger appear similar, they are quite different designs.  Over the course of its production, approximately 400,000 Type 14 pistols were manufactured between 1925 and 1945.

Beyond some of the historical background, one of the first things I learned is that the Nambu Type 14 is not the dangerous and awkward pistol many claim it to be.  The Type 94, produced later, featured an exposed sear on the port side that, if pressed with enough pressure, can cause the pistol to fire unexpectedly.  The Type 14, however, would need a little more intricate pressure on the rear of the trigger bar to cause an unexpected discharge.  I also learned that the “exploding Nambu” is largely a myth.  As with any firearm, there are almost sure to be some mishaps–especially in hurriedly-produced pieces such as those produced by Japan in the later stages of the war and especially when

The Nambu Type 14 with the magazine empty and bolt open.

individuals unfamiliar with the operation of the firearm find themselves using it.  The Nambu Type 14, however, does not have a track record of catastrophic failure, especially if handled appropriately and when using correct ammunition.  Ammunition, of course, is a common theme among those who have chosen to own a Nambu.  Finding ammunition, in itself, is a challenge.  Finding the right bullet weight and combining it with the right propellant seems to have been a challenge for modern commercial ammunition makers and for reloaders alike.  My understanding is that the Japanese military ammunition used a 102gr bullet–something that is not widely available to reloaders.  One company, however, offers 8x22mm Nambu with a 100gr bullet, and several individuals who have used that ammunition have reported success.  Not so with the small variety of 83gr bullets that are available.  I would note, however, that just last week, Steinel Ammunition Co. (@steinel_ammo on Instagram) introduced a new version of the 8x22mm Nambu with an 83gr bullet that reportedly performs as well as the 100gr bullet.

My research also left me with the understanding that original springs on most Nambus have weakened over time and use.  Replacing the recoil springs with some modern springs has proven to be helpful to many Nambu owners.  Another helpful hint was that a light coating of gun oil on the magazine feed lips helps alleviate some of the feeding issues that many have experienced.

Historically, I learned that–like many Japanese weapons–the pre-war and early-war Nambu pistols were generally of a higher quality than their mid-war and late-war brethren.  The war took a particularly heavy toll on Japanese industry, and both production materials and quality control suffered as a result of bombings and resource shortages.

So, armed with all of this information, I set out to find the perfect Nambu.  During my search for the Nambu, I focused on just a few key elements:  1) it had to be of pre-war manufacture to ensure quality materials were used and production standards were high, 2) it had to be all-matching to minimize the chance that parts would not work together, and 3) the appearance of the pistol had to be acceptable and not indicate overuse.  Price, while certainly a factor, was not a driving concern.

In February, I found this Nambu.  It was produced in 1930 at the Tokyo Arsenal.  It bears all matching serial numbers, and while there is some wear, it is in very good condition for an eighty-nine year old pistol.  With the pistol in hand, I ordered a set (two) of recoil

Nambu Type 14

springs and a replacement firing pin.  While there is nothing wrong with the original firing pin, I did not want to take a chance on breaking it, especially as I would be firing it for the first time and I have heard many complaints about broken firing pins.  Springs and the firing pin were readily available from the good folks at Numrich Gun Parts (@numrichgunparts). I did have to grind the firing pin guide a bit to allow it to slide freely in the bolt body, but once smoothed out with some 000 steel wool and lightly oiled, it operated fine.

With new springs and a substitute firing pin in place, it was time to look for ammunition.  Fortunately, I have been following @forestfirearms on Instagram for some time, and he has been on a quest to bring his old Nambu to life.  I watched each of his videos and noted the challenges he faced.  I also noted his successes–namely the better performance of the 100gr bullets versus the 83gr.  So, I ordered up a small supply of 100gr ammunition.  When it arrived, I disassembled the Nambu and slipped a few rounds into the chamber and drove them home with the bolt by hand to check the extractor and ejector. Both seemed to be working just fine. While it was disassembled, I also gave it a very good cleaning from end to end and from top to bottom.  While the pistol appeared to be in pretty good shape, this exercise revealed some debris that might have dated back to the Sino-Japanese War.  Reassembly was relatively easy (you might want to keep a pair of tweezers and a watchmaker’s screwdriver handy), despite many of the accounts I’ve read.

Disassembled and ready for cleaning.  The Type 14 is not as difficult to reassemble as many believe.

So, with a clean and shiny Nambu and a degree of hope, but still with expectations of disappointment, I headed off to the range with fifty rounds to see if there was life in this old pistol.

Across the internet, I’ve seen videos and read accounts of Nambu owners experiencing all kinds of feed, cycle, and ejection problems with their pistols.  When someone was able to fire four or five shots in a row without incident, they mostly claimed victory.  I was hoping to get that kind of performance, but expecting problems.  Applying a very small amount of gun oil to the feed lips, and loading five rounds in the magazine, I chambered the first round and held my breath.  Bang!  I glanced at the top of the pistol.  It had fully cycled and chambered another round.  I repeated this four more times.  On

The first twenty shots with the Nambu Type 14 and 100gr ammunition.

the ejection of the last shot, the bolt remained open, just as it was supposed to.  I loaded five more shots and ran through them without incident…then five more…and five more.  I checked the target, hoping that at seven yards, I at least managed to hit the paper.  Not only were all shots on the paper, they were in a reasonably tight group for a first outing.  After fifty shots without any malfunctions, I contacted @forestfirearms to report my success.  I also relayed some information to the good folks at Steinel Ammunition hoping that it would help in development of their new 83gr rounds.

I am hopeful that my experiences, coupled with the input that @forestfirearms and others are providing to the Steinel Ammunition folks will result in a high-quality and reliable cartridge.  Used in a Type 14 that has sufficiently-strong springs and is otherwise in good working order, it is my hope that these cartridges will give Nambu owners good reason to look forward to taking their old pistol to the range.  If you have been inspired to pull that old Nambu out and take it to the range, let us know how it goes.  There is a small, but growing group of us who are rethinking our opinions of the Nambu, and finding that our appreciation for their simplicity is growing.  So, what do you think?


Deleting History

Take a look at the picture below.  Take a nice long look.  Does it offend you?  Does it make you feel unsafe?  What offends you or makes you uncomfortable?  I ask, because what I see in this photograph are two classic pieces of military equipment from World War II.  Both of these rifles were produced in the critical year of 1942. The one on the left is a Mauser Karabiner Model 98 kurz (Kar98k).  The one on the right is a U.S. Rifle, Cal. 30 M1–also known as the M1 Garand.  One was likely carried by a German soldier serving an evil regime.  The other was likely carried by a United States soldier who helped free the world from that evil regime.  Both are collector’s items these days. Both were purchased legally and are stored safely.  Neither of them are used to commit crimes and neither of them are used in terrorist activities.  These rifles are a part of history.  Holding these old warhorses helps take you to a different time–a time when these battle implements were the standard-issue rifles for German and American troops.  The feel of the wood and steel, the smell of the leather and oil, and bearing the weight of these substantial pieces of equipment help those of us in later generations understand a little bit about the burdens our ancestors bore.

Photo removed by Instagram with no specific reason given

Recently, I posted this photograph on Instagram (check me out at @oldmauserman).  The caption read something like this:  “I’ll take ‘Things Built in 1942’ for $1,000, Alex.” The photo generated positive feedback for a few days. There were no negative comments, and no complaints. I did not receive any direct messages expressing concern or offense.  Yet, just after the photo received its 4,000th “Like,” I received a message from Instagram.

My post had been deleted.  No real explanation was given, despite me asking for one.  I posted a similar photo and asked that whoever had reported me let me know what I had done to frighten or offend them. It has now been over one month, and I’ve not received any messages from anyone about what is wrong with this photograph.  Two things bother me about this.

First, of all of the offensive and frightening things on Instagram, two historic rifles lying quietly on an old stump seem to be a little low on the scale.  On any given day, I can scroll through videos and photos on Instagram that are–to me–quite a lot more offensive, suggestive, or frightening than two old pieces of history.  These are not “assault rifles” and nobody is dancing around with them firing indiscriminately into the air or blindly into the woods.  They are simply lying there, having their picture taken.  They are not loaded, and they were not fired in the making of the pictures.  Yet, someone must have reported the photo.

Instagram Notice of October 7

Yet, more importantly than pointing out the hypocritical action of removing one photo while leaving millions of others that are more threatening, offensive, or suggestive is the fact that in removing photos like this, Instagram is removing an opportunity to discuss history. I won’t pretend that all of my posts are deep, scholarly discussions of historical importance. In fact, most of my posts are introduced by a sentence or two, sometimes a joke or a reference to a holiday, an upcoming weekend, or some significant historical date. Sometimes, I post photos of a firearm or other military equipment with a cup of coffee. Yet, regardless of the caption, many of the photos generate discussion about strategy, tactics, personalities, regimes, campaigns, equipment, or other aspects of the Second World War and the generation that fought it.

I do not have the largest Instagram following, but I have learned that there are a lot of people who want to learn about and discuss the world’s greatest conflict. In response to my posts, I have had people ask about veterans I have met, places I’ve been, and campaigns I’ve studied. This has given me an opportunity to do on Instagram what I once planned to do as a career–teach. Photos of M1 Rifles have generated conversations about General Patton (who deemed the rifle “…the greatest battlefield implement ever devised.” In response to posts of Mosin rifles, I have gotten into conversations about Operation Taifun (Typhoon), and Hitler’s interference in the battles before Moscow.  A photo of a vintage German rifle cleaning kit once started a conversation about how to care for the old pieces of history that some of us collect.  These are just three examples of the many conversations that started with a photo of a rifle or other piece of military equipment. I have been told that I’ve inspired some of the younger generation to learn more about history–especially World War II history, and at least three young gentlemen have started their own collections of artifacts.

Combining a couple of passions: Coffee and history

I suppose I am a bit hypocritical, too, in that I remove extremist comments. I am not averse to discussing the dictatorships of the first half of the twentieth century, but I do not feel a need to tolerate inflammatory or threatening statements. Questions such as, “How did a nation that produced Beethoven and Brahms also produce a Himmler and support a Hitler?” deserve to be discussed. In fact, I would urge that they MUST be discussed. Having read hundreds of books on World War II, I can often offer some insight on how things evolved the way they did, and what factors shaped the events of the interwar and war years. Indeed, I often find myself commenting on the similarities between certain leadership styles of that period and traits of certain world leaders today. Of course, with these kinds of observations, I inevitably warn that those who are ignorant of history are susceptible to making the same kinds of mistakes that enabled dictators in the not-too-distant past. These conversations do not have to be vicious political arguments (though they sometimes work in that direction).  They do offer many people a chance to stop and seriously think about the times we live in, the factors that shape our world, and the dangers that hate, intolerance, greed, political correctness, and ignorance pose to us all.

Reality dictates that I address the gun violence aspect of my post. It is true that this nation–and others around the world–continue to experience unacceptable levels of violence. I have a hard time, however, understanding the connection between photos of World War II rifles and deranged individuals who commit acts of violence. All of my firearms are similar to museum pieces (with one exception, which is a reproduction of a World War II rifle). Nowhere on any of my posts do I advocate violence, criminal activity, riots, overthrow of any government, or any other such acts. I have seen many posts on Instagram that are racist and insensitive. I have seen others that are hostile to religion. Of course, there are thousands that are sexually suggestive, and millions that include foul language. You’ll find none of that in my posts. You also won’t find me reporting every post that offends me or makes me angry.

Another Instagram photo – this one was not removed

I am hopeful that the deletion of my post of the M1 Rifle and the Mauser was based on a report made by someone who didn’t take time to look at what I post, or someone who just had a bad day and didn’t really care. I expect, though, that someone saw something in the photo that triggered them. I would like to know–truly. I have continued posting photos–photos of guns, military equipment, puppies, tanks, clouds, flowers, trees, airplanes, plates of barbecue, the United States Capitol, and all sorts of other things that catch my attention. I hope that anyone offended or threatened by my photos do one of two things:  Post a comment and let me know what you are thinking and how it is affecting you, or stop looking at the photos and don’t follow me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I would welcome any comments that treat this subject respectfully.