HITLER’s first medal? A “misstep” by KARL GOETZ

The first medal depicting Adolf Hitler was a “satirical” one that entailed many risks for one of the most skilled engravers of the twentieth century

by Antonio Castellani | The satire and propaganda medals represent a typical cultural expression of the early years of the last century and permeated with nineteenth-century, romantic and even chivalrous traits.

Even though, in some cases, they are the result of the creativity, personal ideas and equally individual world view of the artists, many propaganda coinages are planned and financed, behind the scenes, by government offices that acquire entire batches and pilot them distribution to generate consensus and guide public opinion.

The propaganda medal, due to its representations, lends itself both to diffusion among the bourgeois class and theintelligentsia and among the popular masses to whom it is conveyed, often by specially hired agents, as a tribute during political events and patriotic demonstrations.

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Year 1923: a meeting of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in the Munich beer hall site of the failed coup attempted by Hitler

With the changing times, the medal becomes from time to time a “metallic memory” of a victorious war or a burning memory of a defeat, until it turns into a misstep and a dangerous trap for the person who conceived it.

The Munich putsch, Karl Goetz and a satirical medal

It is the case of Karl Xaver Goetz (1875-1950) who exactly one hundred years ago, at the end of 1923, casts in bronze one of his rarest creations, the one that targets the Munich putsch of November 8, an improvised coup attempt which resulted in the expulsion law of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party by the government of the Weimar Republic.

On the obverse Hitler medal is shown, pistol in hand, taking the stage where right-conservative Gustav Ritter von Kahr is giving a speech and pushing aside the Bavarian state commissioner. A citizen of Munich sits in the foreground, drinking beer. The inscriptions read HITTLER PUTSCH [sic] and NATIONAL GEN NATIONAL (“Nationalist versus nationalist”).

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A ‘misstep’ that could have cost Karl Goetz dearly, this medal which makes fun of Hitler, German National Socialism and the Munich putsch of 1923 (bronze, mm 59)

On the reverse are three small-scale uniformed Nazi figures on a stage: one brandishing a gallows, another the swastika flag while the third, centre, raising his right hand in a parody of Nazi salute wears a boot with similar spur to an aircraft bomb.

Behind the curtain, on the right, is von Kahr with a cannon, and between him and Hitler’s three followers a social democrat dances on stage indicating the two opposing sides, the Nazis and that of von Kahr; a poster at the bottom shows the writings [L]ETZTE VORSTELLUNG – AUF NACH BERLIN (“Last show – Let’s go to Berlin”) with the date 9 November 1923.

A clumsy attempt by Hitler to take power

Hitler, supported by General Erich Ludendorff and other Bavarian leaders, in fact already at that moment would like to march on the capital, declare the president and the chancellor fallen and conquer Germany.

It is history what happens that evening at the Bürgerbräukeller, where the National Socialists take control of the meeting by force and Hitler fires a pistol into the ceiling to attract attention, before proclaiming himself new president and chancellor and handing control to Ludendorff of the armed forces. On the same day, the government recognized high treason in Hitler’s actions. The coup attempt returns and its author is captured and tried.

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Photo depicting the main conspirators of the attempted coup staged at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich: Hitler, Ludendorff and Röhm are recognized

The image of the future Führer on Goetz’s amusing creation is the first ever to appear on a numismatic production; the effigy of the vehement Austrian ex-corporal is certainly not flattering and the caricature of the Nazis as young thugs, with the swastikas upside down and the intentionally wrong spelling of Hitler’s name make this medal, in the following years, a potential danger both for those who wear it owns both, mainly, for its author.

Goetz, once Hitler starts to conquer power in 1933, realizes that the artistic fantasy realized a decade earlier could even be fatal for him: so, he travels to Germany and, at the end of months of research from collectors and merchants he bought back all the specimens, destroying them and transforming the surviving medals into authentic rarities.

A great medalist aligned with the Nazi regime

Luckily for him, thanks to a real self-censorship he manages to make people forget the embarrassing episode and to create, until the years of the Second World War, works much more appreciated by the new regime, such as the medal that praises Hitler’s election as chancellor in 1933 or the one celebrating the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

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Even great artists such as Goetz become organic to power, especially when it is absolute: here the sculptor exalts Adolf Hitler at the time of his seizure of power, in 1933 (silver, mm 36)

Goetz becomes an organic artist to the totalitarian system to the point that in 1942, when Nazism seems close to its final victory – dominating or controlling the North African chessboard, the eastern regions up to the Don, central Europe and a large part of western Europe – the sculptor dedicates to a work intended, at least in intentions, to mark history.

The 5 Reichsmark project with Hitler’s portrait

This is the project for a 5 Reichsmark coin, which reaches the state of proof minting, presented to Hitler in person by the head of monetary circulation of the Reich during a meeting at the Wolfsschanze (the “Wolf’s Lair”) in East Prussia, from where all war actions are coordinated.

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Project for a 5 mark coin with Hitler’s profile and the date 1942: modeled by Goetz, it would have been the first ever, in case of victory, to depict the Führer (silver-plated copper, mm 36)

The coin proof, on which Goetz abandons all personal stylistic features to model a solemn and realist profile, with bare neck and almost “statuary” of the Führer, will have to be the first ever, with the effigy of the dictator, to circulate among the Germans and the subdued peoples, but only after the “inevitable final victory”.

This is the condition, or rather the order that Hitler, who never wanted to be portrayed on German coins, places on the senior officials of the Berlin monetary workshop. The defeat of 1945 will make this recommendation useless and the latest creation by Karl Goetz for the Third Reich useless.

HITLER’s first medal? A “misstep” by KARL GOETZ