Wednesday, 9 November 2016


I originally intended to include the Blutfahne in this oil painting, but decided to only hint at its presence to underline the mystery of the German hakenkreuz flag which disappeared in the year of my birth. The Blutfahne is a flag that was used in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, Germany on 9 November 1923, during which it became soaked in the blood of one of the SA members who died. It subsequently became one of the most revered objects of the NSDAP. It was used in ceremonies in which new flags for party organisations were consecrated by the Blood Flag when touched by it. The flag was that of the 5th SA Sturm, which was carried in the march towards the Feldherrnhalle. When the Munich police fired on the National Socialists, the flagbearer Heinrich Trambauer was hit and dropped the flag. Andreas Bauriedl, an SA man marching alongside the flag, was killed and fell onto it, staining the flag with his blood. The wounded flagbearer Heinrich Trambauer took the flag to a friend where he removed it from its staff before leaving with it hidden inside his jacket and later giving it to a Karl Eggers for safekeeping. The other story was that the flag was confiscated by the Munich authorities and was later returned to the Nazis via Eggers. In the mid-1930s, after a myth emerged that Bauriedl himself had been carrying the flag, an investigation by Nazi archivists concluded that Trambauer was the standard-bearer and that the flag had been concealed by an SA man, not taken by the police, though they had confiscated other flags which they later returned.

When Adolf Hitler was released from Landsberg prison, Eggers gave the flag to him. After Hitler received the flag he had it fitted to a new staff and finial and just below the finial was a silver dedication sleeve which bore the names of the sixteen dead participants of the putsch. Bauriedl was one of the sixteen honorees. In addition, the flag was no longer attached to the staff by its original sewn-in sleeve, but by a red-white-black intertwined cord which ran through the sleeve instead.

In 1926, at the second National Socialist Party congress at Weimar, Hitler ceremonially bestowed the flag on Joseph Berchtold, the then head of the SS. The flag was thereafter treated as a sacred object by the Party and carried by SS-Sturmbannführer Jakob Grimminger at various National Socialist Party ceremonies. One of the most visible uses of the flag was when Hitler, at the Party's annual Nuremberg rallies, touched other Party banners with the Blutfahne, thereby sanctifying them. This was done in a special ceremony called the flag consecration (Fahnenweihe).

When not in use, the Blutfahne was kept at the headquarters of the National Socialist Party in Munich (the Brown House) with an SS guard of honour. The flag had a small tear in it, believed to have been caused during the Putsch, that went unrepaired for a number of years. The Blutfahne was last seen in public at the Volkssturm induction ceremony on 18 October 1944 (not, as frequently reported, at Gauleiter Adolf Wagner's funeral six months previously). This ceremony was conducted by Heinrich Himmler and attended by Keitel, Guderian, Lammers, Bormann, Fiehler, Schepmann and Kraus.

After this last public display, the Blutfahne vanished. Its current whereabouts are unknown and it is not even certain whether the flag still exists. However, during the early 1960s when as a fledgling photographer I was meeting all sorts of remarkable people, it was suggested by a fellow who had been a Blackshirt before the war that I accompany him to a house in Islington to see some Third Reich relics that had survived. The rambling Victorian house was full of what seemed like old, broken furniture and junk. It was barely suitable for habitation. Nevertheless, I was taken to a room on the ground floor at the back of the house where three or four others had also assembled, one of them purportedly an ex-SS officer. Old gramophone records of Nuremberg rallies and marching songs were eerily echoing throughout this entire episode where I was shown an array of memorabilia.

Then my host (I shall refrain from identifying him; he died in the early 1980s) took me to a darkened room and started to indicate toward a wooden chest beneath a heavily dust-laden table. He raised the lid and pointed to a folded flag that was dark red, old and crumpled. "It's the Blood Flag - the same one used at the rallies by Hitler," he told me. I touched and felt it in the wooden box from which it was not removed. The material was heavier than I expected. I had already been told that no photography would be allowed while I was in the house. This I believed was due to the presence of the ex-SS man, but I was also later told never to mention the Blutfahne, if that is what it truly was. I have not publicly mentioned the flag hitherto, and am now the last surviving member of that group.