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Ranks and insignia of the Nazi Party

cal leadership, often wore no uniforms at all except for


a standard Nazi Party Badge issued to all members (a
golden version of this badge also existed for early Nazi
Party members).
The history of Nazi Party ranks and insignia can be divided into the ranks used during several dierent time
periods as well as the positions held by senior Nazis who
were, by default, the supreme leaders of the Party regardless of what title they choose to call themselves by.

1 Early Nazi Party titles


The early titles used by the Nazi Party were far removed
from their late 1930s and World War II counterparts. Between 1921 and 1923, considered the earliest time period
that the Nazi Party existed, there were no titles or ranks
used by the regular Nazi Party members although several
members choose to wear World War I uniforms at party
meetings. When Adolf Hitler replaced Anton Drexler as
the leader of the Nazi Party, Hitler began calling himself
by the title of Fhrer (Leader), thus establishing the rst
formal Nazi Party titles. A position of Deputy Fhrer
(Stellvertreter des Fhrers), held by Rudolf Hess was created shortly thereafter, as well as a few administrative titles such as Party Secretary and Party Treasurer which
had become formal titles by the time of the abortive Beer
Hall Putsch in November 1923.

Gauleiter Bernhard Rust wearing a mid-1930s Nazi Party jacket


with shoulder boards and collar patches

Ranks and insignia of the Nazi Party were


paramilitary titles used by the National Socialist
German Workers Party (NSDAP) between approximately 1928 and the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945. Such
ranks were held within the political leadership corps of
the Nazi Party, charged with the overseeing the regular
Nazi Party members.

The Nazi Party was disbanded between 1923 and 1925,


but upon returning the very rst uniform and insignia
regulations were published, albeit for the Nazi Partys
paramilitary group the Sturmabteilung (SA). These early
regulations created some of the earliest paramilitary titles used by the Nazis, among them Gruppenfhrer and
Oberfhrer, with the regular rank and le of the SA
known by the title of Mann. These titles were conned
to the SA while the rest of the Nazi Party still had no former ranks and insignia except for the titles used by senior
Nazi leaders such as Hitler.

The rst purpose of the Nazi Party political ranks was to


provide election district leadership positions during the
years where the Nazis were attempting to come to power
in Germany. After 1933, when the Third Reich had been
established, Nazi Party ranks played a much more impor- Between 1925 and 1929, it became common for Nazis
tant role existing as a political chain of command operat- to wear makeshift paramilitary uniforms at Party raling side by side with the German government.
lies and during this time the SA expanded its own sysContrary to modern day cinema and layman perceptions tem of insignia as did the edgling SS (Schutzstael)
regarding the Nazi Party, which often portrays all Nazis which had begun to appear as a force within the Party.
as wearing brown shirts with swastika armbands, Nazi As the Nazis gained more support throughout Germany,
ranks and titles were only used by a small minority within and moved outward for their power base in Munich, rethe Party, this being the political leadership corps. Reg- gional Nazi cells began to appear in such major cities as
ular Nazi Party members, unconnected with the politi- Stuttgart, Berlin, and Heidelberg. These local Nazis of1

NAZI GERMANY POLITICAL POSITIONS

ten adopted their own uniforms and titles with little stan- A higher rank, that of Reichsorganisationsleiter (National
dardization from the main Nazis operated out of Munich. Organizational Leader) was created for the senior most
Reich Inspector of the Nazi Party. The special rank did
not entail any additional insignia other than that worn by
the regular Reichsinspekteur rank.
By 1932, Nazi Partys uniform regulations had included a
series of braided shoulder boards to be worn in conjunction with Nazi collar insignia. The next major change to
Nazi uniforms would occur in 1934, a year after the Nazis
had come to power in Germany.

2 Nazi Germany political positions

Early Nazi Party ranks, including the shoulder board insignia


introduced in 1932

In 1933, the Nazi Party took national power in Germany


and began a process known as Gleichschaltung to completely merge the civilian government of Germany with
the political leadership of Nazi Germany. After the Night
of the Long Knives in 1934, the Nazi Party underwent
a major reorganization as a prelude to Nazi leadership
members merging their own positions with local, state,
and federal government establishments.

The rst step in this process was to divide the Nazi Party
into several levels which were designed to act indepenThe rst formal Nazi Party rank and insignia regulations dently from each other. These levels in turn were:
were published in 1930 although standardization across
the Nazi Party did not occur until 1932. Even then it
Ortsgruppen (Local level - German towns and cities)
met with limited success since regional Nazi leaders, far
removed from Hitler in Munich, frequently spent little
Kreisleitung (District level - German counties)
eort enforcing uniform guidelines and, in some cases,
outright ignored them. The early regulations called for
Gauleitung (Regional level - German states and their
the Nazi Party to be divided into two levels - the Poliprovinces)
tische Leitung (political leadership) and the Partei Mit Reichsleitung (National level - German nation)
glieder (Party Membership) with political leaders adopting standard uniforms and insignia. Hitler and his senior
entourage were actually not included in the uniform reg- Nazi Party political leaders were to choose a level in
ulations, and continued to wear paramilitary uniforms of which they would make a career. Each level of the Nazi
their own choosing without special insignia. The Nazi Party was self-contained and separate from other levels.
Party paramilitary groups, such as the SA and SS, also by While, in theory, this was intended to avoid jurisdictional
this time had their own uniform and insignia regulations conict, the result was that the level leaderships ignored
separate from the main Nazi Party.
the wishes of the others and, in some cases, came into
The rst formal Nazi Party ranks were therefore as fol- direct conict. Hitler and the senior Nazi leaders were
also outside the chain, giving orders to all levels simullows:
taneously and sometimes dierent party levels were given
orders to carry out the same task. This caused high lev Blockleiter (Block Leader)
els of in-ghting and backstabbing in Nazi leadership circles, to such a degree that regulations had to be introduced
Zellenleiter (Cell Leader)
preventing deputies from succeeding their own superiors
therefore to discourage subordinates from intentionally
Ortsgruppenleiter (Local Group Leader)
sabotaging their leaders.
Kreisleiter (County Leader)
Gauleiter (Regional Leader)
Landesinspekteur (State Inspector)
Reichsinspekteur (National Inspector)

The new Nazi Party levels called for several new ranks
and the Nazi Party titles were overhauled with several new
positions. Some positions were duplicated on each level
of the Party while others were unique to the local, county,
state, or national level. The Nazis also created a supreme
political rank, known as Reichsleiter, considered the top
rank of both the Reichsleitung (national) level as well as

3
the senior most political rank in the party next to Hitler
himself.
In all, the following were the primary Nazi political sta
ranks used between 1933 and 1939:

Blockleiter (Block Leader)


Unterabteilungsleiter (Junior Section Leader)
Abteilungsleiter (Section Leader)
Zellenleiter (Cell Leader)
The system of Nazi Party ranks adopted in 1934 would
remain unchanged throughout the remainder of the
1930s. It was not until 1939, at the start of World War II,
that Nazi Party ranks would change again for a nal time.

3 Nazi ranks during World War II

Nazi Party political ranks (1934 - 1938)

Mitarbeiter
Hilfs-Stellenleiter
Stellenleiter

The nal pattern of Nazi Party ranks was designed in


1938 by Robert Ley, who personally oversaw the development of Nazi Party insignia through his position as
head of the German Labour Front, and put into eect in
mid-1939. The new insignia pattern was a vast overhaul
of previous designs beginning with a standardized set of
twenty eight Nazi Party ranks that were to be uniform
across all levels of the Party. To denote membership in
a particular level of the Nazi Party (local, county, regional, or national) collar tabs would display a particular
color on which the actual rank insignia would then be displayed.

Hauptstellenleiter
Amtsleiter
Hauptamtsleiter
Dienstleiter
Hauptdienstleiter
The political leadership ranks were as follows:
Sttzpunktleiter
Ortsgruppenleiter
Kreisleiter
Stellvertreter Gauleiter
Gauleiter
Reichsleiter
Further additions included the creation of several positional titles which were not actual ranks but merely titles
that a Nazi Party political leader could hold in addition to
their own formal rank. There was at this time no outward
system to denote these special titles, other than verbal and
written correspondence. This would change in 1939 with
the creation of the Nazi Partys armband system.
The pre-war positional titles included:

The rank insignia for Gauleiter and Reichsleiter, before and after the 1939 insignia change

This new design was intended to eliminate the manner


in which dierent levels of the Nazi Party separated
themselves and allow for command across all Party lines.
For instance, an Abschnittsleiter (Section Leader) in the
Ortsgruppen (local) level would now be seen as outranking and could issue directives to a junior rank, such as

3 NAZI RANKS DURING WORLD WAR II

Arbeitsleiter (Work Leader) even if the junior rank served


in a higher echelon of the Nazi Party, such as on the Gau
(Regional) or Reich (National) level. The vast array of
new ranks also allowed for a military appearance to the
Nazi Party, in particular during World War II when political leaders were exempt for the conscription. More
ranks also involved more opportunity for promotion and
served as a means to distinguish highly successful political leaders from others who might hold the same position
in the Nazi Party.
Within each level of the Party, there was a cap on the
highest possible rank one could achieve. The heads of the
lower levels, the Ortsgruppenleiter and the Kreisleiter, now
held standard Nazi Party ranks in addition to their leadership titles. The positions of Gauleiter and Reichsleiter
held their own special insignia and these two positions
were considered outside the promotion tier and were
available only by direct appointment from Hitler. Gauleiters and Reichsleiters also outranked all other Party members, regardless of standard Nazi Party ranks. Thus, the
highest possible rank in each level of the Party was as
follows:

The nal pattern of Nazi Party rank insignia, used from 1939
through 1945

cials existed side by side with local government authorities with the local government existing as a rubber stamp
to Nazi designs.

(*) The rank of Gauleiter was the senior most rank of the
Gau level but outside the regular promotion tier
(**) The rank of Reichsleiter was the senior most rank of 3.1 Armband system
the Reich level but outside the regular promotion tier
Between 1939 and 1942, these new uniform regulations The armband system was instituted by the Nazi Party in
were slow to be implemented and Nazi Party leaders can 1939 at the same time that the political leadership ranks
frequently be seen in photographic evidence wearing pre- were expanded into their nal form. The purpose of the
1939 insignia well after Ley had introduced the nal in- armband system was to denote positional titles within
Party in contrast to a party members political
signia pattern. It was not until 1943 that most Nazi Party the Nazi
[1]
rank.
members had completely converted to the new insignia
patterns.
By the start of World War II, Nazi Party paramilitary
groups had also been expanding and developing their
own uniform designs, such as SS uniforms and insignia
as well as uniforms used by such other Nazi groups
such as the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK), the
Organization Todt, and many others. In addition, as the
Nazi Party and the German government became one and
the same, each German ministry had the option to develop a standardized uniform and dress code with a state
employee also having the choice to wear a Nazi party uniform, a uniform of a Nazi paramilitary group (such as the
SS or SA), or (if the person was a reservist in the military)
a uniform of the Wehrmacht. This created an extremely
confusing array of titles, ranks, and uniforms which has
also caused historical diculty in determining the various
positions and titles which senior members of the German
government held.

There were three groupings of armbands, classied as


operational, administrative, and command. The
operational armbands were used by Nazi Party political leaders on the local and county levels and were worn
by those Party leaders directly engaged in implementing
Party policies to the public. During World War II, this
was most often associated with food rationing, war relief
eorts, and civil defense.
The administrative armbands were worn by oce stas
across all levels of the party, although mostly were used
by the regional stas of the Gauleiters. The third, and
least common of the armbands, were the command armbands worn by the Deputy Gauleiters, Gauleiters, and Reichsleiters.
The Nazi Party armbands were intended for immediate
implementation upon the outbreak of World War II in
1939, although it was not until 1943 that the system was
in total eect. Even then, photographic evidence reveals
it was not uncommon for some political leaders to simply wear the pre-1939 bare swastika armband, with some
photographs as late as 1945 revealing political leaders
failing to wear the appropriate Nazi positional armband.

In addition to the array of Nazi titles and ranks there also


existed the original government of Germany to include
such historic positions as Burgermeister (town mayor).
Such individuals could also hold the approximate equivalent of a Nazi Party position or be unconnected to the
By pairing up a wearers political collar tabs and armband,
Party. Through the process of Gleichschaltung, Nazi ofit was possible to determine exactly what their position

5
A leader of a political oce was known as a Leiter followed by the oce name. For instance, Leiter eines
Sachgebietes would indicate the leader of an administrative area oce.
Command armbands matched up directly with the positions of Gauleiter and Reichsleiter, each of which was denoted by its own unique armband. The political position
of Deputy Gauleiter (Stellvertreter Gauleiter) was phased
out as a political rank in 1939 (explaining why there was
no one leaf Gauleiter insignia during World War II),
bur survived as a political armband denoting status as a
Deputy Regional Leader.
Nazi Party Political Armbands (1943)

and responsibilities were within the Nazi Party political


leadership corps; the armband system was also used to
dierentiate between Party leaders who may have held
the same political ranks, but were entrusted with vastly
dierent responsibilities. For instance, a Hauptbereichsleiter who was serving as the Kreisleiter of a German
county, would wear a more elaborate armband than a
Nazi Party member of the same rank who was on the administrative sta of a Gauleitung.

4 Senior Nazi Party titles

On the local level of the Nazi Party, political armbands


were often used to denote those Nazis holding the positions of Blockleiter and Zellenleiter. A further political position, unique only to the local level of the Nazi
Party, was that of Betriebsobmann which was a type of
Shop Steward position. At the top tier of the operational armbands was a unique armband worn by both the Albert Speer (far left) wearing the uniform of the Organisation
Todt. Speer, who was a Hauptdienstleiter in the NSDAP, choose
Ortsgruppenleiter and the Kreisleiter
Administrative armbands were used across all levels of
the Nazi Party, beginning with the position of Mitarbeiter
which was a catch all sta position encompassing a wide
variety of duties. Mitarbeiter had itself been a political
rank prior to 1939, after which time the rank was phased
out of the Nazi Party but survived as a political position.
Leadership administrative armbands were worn by Ofce Leaders (Amtsleiters and Stellenleiters), of which there
were eight levels of hierarchy. In all, the Nazi political
oces, denoted by special armbands, were as follows:
Hilfssachgebiet - Auxiliary Administrative Area
Sachgebiet - Administrative Area
Hilfsstelle - Auxiliary Area
Stelle - Area
Hauptstelle - Head Area
Amtes - Oce
Hauptamtes- Head Oce
Oberst Amtes - Supreme Oce

to wear a uniform with little insignia rather than a full uniform


of the Nazi Party.

The senior leadership of the Nazi Party were intentionally


removed from Nazi Party political ranks, with such senior
leaders unquestionably above and outranking all other
members of the Party. This concept has been equated by
historians that the leadership was the spring from which
Nazi promotions, ranks, and awards were granted, to be
bestowed upon the lesser members of the Party. Under
this concept, Adolf Hitler and his inner circle needed no
grand titles, heaps of awards, or elaborate uniforms since
they were already known as the most senior members of
the state and party. It is for this reason that Hitler and
his senior Nazis are frequently seen in photographic and
lm evidence as wearing uniforms with little insignia or
uniforms without excessive decorations. This sets Hitler
apart from other dictators of the time, such as Benito
Mussolini who appointed himself First Marshal of the
Empire and wore a full Italian military uniform with every possible state and military decoration displayed.
Adolf Hitler, who served as Fhrer of the Nazi Party, held
the absolute highest possible Nazi Party position. Albert
Speer (in his book Inside the Third Reich) remarked that
Hitler was the only party member to wear an embroidered
"Eagle of Sovereignty Pin" on his civilian jackets (every

COMPARISON TABLES

lar insignia, included the oce of Deputy Fhrer held by


Rudolf Hess until he personally ew his Messerschmitt
Bf110 ghter plane to Scotland and crash landed at Eaglesham in 1941. He was captured, imprisoned and then
sent to England. The oce of Deputy Fhrer was thereafter abolished.
Martin Bormann held the title of Party Secretary, during which time he wore the uniform of a Nazi Reichsleiter. Bormann would later take up cabinet-level positions in the German government, and after receiving
his (honorary) SS membership he wore the insignia of
an SS-Obergruppenfhrer. Albert Speer, in his early days
as the Party Architect, wore a brown Nazi party jacket
similar to the insignia-less uniform that Joseph Goebbels
wore throughout his career as Nazi Propaganda Minister. As for Speer, he would later adopt the uniform of the
Organisation Todt, and towards the end of World War
II wore a senior Nazi Party political uniform through his
position as Minister of Armaments.
Some of the senior Nazis did incorporate themselves into
the standard Nazi Party rank system, but only at the highest levels. Robert Ley held the position of Reichsleiter and
Julius Streicher was a Gauleiter. Hermann Gring is most
associated with his rank of Reichsmarshal, but was also
a Gruppenfhrer in the SA as well as the equivalent of a
Reichsleiter through his position as Director of the Four
The standard uniform of Joseph Goebbels, consisting of a brown
Year Plan.
Nazi Party jacket, with no insignia, and a bare swastika armband. This generic catch-all style uniform was worn by many
top Nazis who held cabinet and ministry level positions in the
German government.

5 Comparison tables

In its simplest form, the Nazi Party command structure


was divided into four basic levels: the general membership known as the Parteimitglieder, the political leadership corps known as the Politische Leiters, the upper command levels of the Party encompassed by the Gauleiters
and
Reichsleiters, and nally the position of Fhrer held
Prior to 1939, Hitler wore a brown paramilitary unisolely
by Adolf Hitler as supreme leader of the Party (a
form, considered the uniform of the Oberste SA-Fhrer
position
of Deputy Fhrer also existed until 1941).
(Supreme Storm Trooper Commander). Upon the outbreak of World War II, Hitler adopted a grey army
style uniform, without any particular insignia, with Hitler
pledging that he was the rst soldier of the German Re- 5.1 Political ranks
ich and would wear his army style uniform until victory
Apart from this basic organization, the Nazi Party pohas been achieved or I will not survive the outcome.
litical ranks expanded over a period of twenty ve years
Heinrich Himmler was a senior member of the Nazi Party
into a vast array of nomenclature denoted by a plethora of
and is most well known as the Reichsfuhrer-SS; as a result,
insignia and positions. From 1930 onward, this encommost of Himmlers attire is connected to his SS uniform.
passed the political ranks, divided into the following time
In addition to being Reichsfhrer-SS and a Reichsleiter,
periods
towards the end of World War II he held numerous high
level positions including Commander of the Replacement
Home Army and General Plenipotentiary for the entire 5.2 Political armbands
Reichs administration (Generalbevollmchtigter fr die
Verwaltung). Himmler however, never chose to wear a The operational, administrative, and command armbands
Nazi Party uniform and all photographs of him are in ei- were utilized across all levels of the Nazi Party (Local,
ther civilian clothes or in his SS uniform.
County, Regional, and National) with some armbands apother member wearing the round party badge), though the
jacket design itself did not dier from other civilian jackets of the time. This Fhrer Badge was the only unique
insignia ever created to denote Hitlers rank as Fhrer.[2]

Other high Nazi positions, that did not entail any particu- plying to multiple levels simultaneously and others spe-

7
cic to a particular Party level. In addition, depending on
the specic duties of the political leader in question, an
alternate positional title could be implied by a particular
armband. When paired up with party members political
rank, this mixture of political titles and alternate positions
resulted in a confusing array of titles and nomenclature.
The various political armband distribution, with primary
designation listed rst, was as follows

See also
Encyclopedia of the Third Reich
Deutsche Uniformen

References

[1] Clark, J. (2007). Uniforms of the NSDAP. Atglen, PA:


Schier Publishing
[2] Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, Macmillan (New
York and Toronto), 1970, ISBN 0-297-00015-2

8 TEXT AND IMAGE SOURCES, CONTRIBUTORS, AND LICENSES

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