Ko-Wakizashi Japanese Short Sword

Ko-Wakizashi Japanese Short Sword

David Rilley-Harris

Ditsong National Museum of Military History

May 2020

A wakizashi is a traditional Japanese short sword with a single edged slightly curved blade. It was designed to be used as a secondary weapon to the katana. Since the wakizashi was less likely to be used in combat it tended to be the more ornate of the two swords. While the wakizashi would usually be used to finish off the work of the katana, the two swords could also be used in combat simultaneously. Combined, the katana and wakizashi are called the daishō, literally meaning “large and small”. “Dai” means “big” and “sho” means “small”. Daishō tradition became popular in the Muromachi period (CE 1392-1477).  When used as a combination, the katana’s longer thicker blade was better suited to dealing with armour and controlling your opponent’s distance while the wakizashi’s thinner blade was designed to target the body’s softer weak points.

Both the katana and the wakizashi were expected to be kept with their owner at all times, but this was only absolutely true of the wakizashi as the katana would be handed to a servant when entering any building other than one’s own home. When used in its most formal manner, the wakizashi would be present at its owner’s birth and be carried constantly until death. The sword would be worn while eating meals and while sleeping. Less formal use of the wakizashi was widespread as more people were allowed to carry a wakizashi while katana use was strictly controlled.

Japanese Short Sword

Two basic types of wakizashi are made. The longer o-wakizashi is around 600mm long and the shorter ko-wakizashi could be as short as 300mm. The ko-wakizashi displayed at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History is 430mm long. It was donated to the museum in 1959 and is believed to have been used in the 1880s during Japan’s Meiji era. This was Japan’s first imperial era after coming out of feudal isolationism. The length of the sword suggests that the wakizashi is from the 19th Century when wakizashi lengths for commoners were legally restricted to a maximum of just under 450mm.  During much of this period, many of the samurai class were becoming impoverished by extended periods of peace, and merchants and artists who were prospering could be expected to afford the more ornate ko-wakizashi.

The most well-known use of the wakizashi is for the purpose of Seppuku, suicide by disembowelment. “Seppuku” or “harakiri” both literally mean “belly cutting”. The blade used for seppuku would usually be a tanto of ko-wakizashi. The ritual was carried out to avoid capture by an enemy force; to restore honour after a shameful act; to carry out a criminal sentence of death; to complete the ritual of killing one’s self after the death of their master (oibara); as a form of protest; or to remove one belligerent’s leader or reduce their forces so as to allow for the expedited ending of a war.

To commit seppuku, the subject would take part in a ceremony that involved them thrusting the weapon into and horizontally across their belly and then extending their neck for an assistant to behead them. If they are able to cut deep enough into their belly they will cut their descending aorta allowing for a quicker less painful death. Women would traditionally commit seppuku by cutting their throats. Seppuku was abolished as an obligatory legal act in 1873. Since then, all acts of seppuku have been voluntary. Many such acts of seppuku occurred around the end of the Second World War where soldiers and civilians died to avoid surrender.

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The Push Dagger

The Push Dagger

David Rilley-Harris

DNMMH Curator

April 2020

Push DaggerFirst World War Push Dagger which belonged to L Cpl Arnold

A push dagger is a small dagger designed for thrusting while held in a clenched fist. The handle is usually perpendicular to the blade and held inside a fist with the small blade protruding between the fingers. The push dagger is therefore easy to conceal and when witnessing a person attacking with a push dagger it can appear that they are merely attempting to punch somebody. Push daggers are therefore illegal in many parts of the world. The technicality often used in law codes involves banning any small blade with a perpendicular handle. The earliest push dagger of standardised design was an Indian weapon called a katar and dates back to the 16th Century.

Trench warfare in the First World War created a new need for push daggers. Soldiers were expected to manage hand to hand combat in confined and muddy spaces. The simple reliability of a push dagger was ideal and functional in the tightest of spaces.

Initially soldiers were creating makeshift weapons on the front lines, and military production would eventually start producing adequate numbers of service issue weapons. In the meantime, private companies took advantage of the demand and began producing wide varieties of personal weapons that could be useful in trench warfare. One such company was Robbins of Dudley, in Worcestershire. The company was originally a basic blacksmith ironworking business but became known for their production of a wide variety of First World War daggers. Regarding push daggers specifically, Robbins of Dudley is believed to be the first company to commercially produce push daggers or punch daggers.

The push dagger displayed in the Adler Hall of the Ditsong National Museum of Military History is a Robbins push dagger which once belonged to a survivor of the Battle of Delville Wood in July 1916, Lance Corporal Leslie Arnold.

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A clothes whip supposedly used at Buchenwald

Richard Henry

Ditsong National Museum of Military History

22 May 2020

On 10 February 1967, the then South African National Museum of Military History received a donation from a Mr/Mrs  Gundelfinger  of a seven tailed whip reportedly used at the Nazi  concentration camp at Buchenwald.  This article looks at the likelihood of it been at Buchenwald.

Historical use:
In France at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, a small whip of approximate size 20-30 cm was common for corporal chastisement of children and adolescents. The whip usually had a wooden handle of approximately 20 mm in diameter and of 300 mm length.  It had a slightly larger diameter on one side to which six to twelve leather straps (riempies) but sometimes as many as twenty leather strips were attached.  The leather ‘tails’ were attached by whipping cord, a thin leather strip wound around the leather straps or more crudely attached with upholstery tacks.  If attached with whipping cord, the cord was covered with a piece of leather to neaten up the fixture.  The lengths of the tails varied but were about the 350 mm long. These whips were also used to beat the dust out of blankets, rugs and clothing.  They were often hung in the kitchen in a visible position to show any visitors to that home, that the house was kept clean, the children were well disciplined and man of the household had full control.

German military use:
Germany also used similar whips for cleaning clothes and blankets. The Museum’s example has the letters R.A.D. stamped into the wood near the ‘tail’ fixture.  This stands for Reichsarbeitdienst

The male flag with RAD symbol of an pointed spade.

The female flag of the RAD in use 1935-1945:

The Reichsarbeitdienst or Reichs Labour Service was a large organisation formed in June 1935 by the injection of massive financial support from the Nazi Germany government to help mitigate the major unemployment in Germany.  Men often served for six months before starting their military service and it was considered an honorary service.

This official, state labour service, served to militarise and indoctrinate the often poorly educated men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 in the spirit of National Socialism. It was compulsory for men, and from 1939, for young women to serve.  On its formation it consisted of 200 000 members. By 1939 this number had risen to 350 000.  There were 33 districts and each district had eight battalion sized (1200-1800) men. Each battalion was divided into six RAD Abteiling (labour) units. They lived in labour barracks with military discipline.  A paramilitary uniform was supplied which had a swastika brassard and the RAD arm badge of an upward pointed shovel blade on the left shoulder of all uniform and great-coats.   The Museum’s klopfpeitsche (carpet beater/ clothes whip) was issued to one of these RAD members to keep their clothing clean. Men and women had to work up to 76 hours a week. During the Second World War, it became an official support arm for the Wehrmacht (German armed forces)

 RAD members working in a field in East Prussia, c 1938 RAD members working in a field in East Prussia, c 1938

RAD units supplied frontline troops with food, ammunition and repaired roads and airfields. They also constructed coastal fortifications such as the Atlantic Wall, laid minefields and guarded prisoners.  Closer to the front line they manned anti-aircraft guns and in emergencies they were used as infantry to supported depleted army units.

The Second World War 1939-1945 German Army Regulations on Cleaning and Maintenance of Uniform and Equipment dated c 1943 states:  “Enlisted men are to obtain by their own means the following commercially available goods and to constantly keep them in usable condition”

  • 1 large clothing brush (Kleiderbürste)
  • 1 stiff brush for removing dirt (Schmutzbürste)
  • 2 small brushes (Auftragsbürste)
  • 1 polishing brush (Blankbürste)
  • 1 clothes whip (Klopfpeitsche)
  • Shoe cream or shoe polish, leather fat, curd soap (Kernseife)
  • 1 pair scissors, sewing and darning needles, darning yarn, black and white and grey thread and various buttons

Each soldier was obliged to keep the uniform and equipment in his possession well and carefully maintained.  Cleaning materials were to be borne by the soldier himself, but could have been issued to RAD members.

Under the heading- Cleaning of uniform pieces the following is stated:

“Wool uniforms items:  Wool uniforms should whenever possible not be washed. They are cleaned by brushing and beating with a clothing whip.  The use of wire brushes is forbidden. Stains can be removed with gasoline or diluted Salmiak (ammonium chloride)”

In pre-war Germany, the Germany Army provided men with both a service and a field uniform. The field uniform was practical and a comfortable fit.  It was warm in cold weather and cool (ventilated) in hot weather.  Other aspects which were included were adequate pockets for individual equipment and ammunition and a colour which blended into the background terrain colour. The cloth consisted of about 30 percent rayon and 70 percent wool.  This composition resulted in little loss in thermal efficiency and wearing quality. By 1943-1944 the wool content of the field uniform had been reduced to about 50 percent and the quality of the wool used was low. These uniforms still had to be kept clean and made to last as long as possible.  Materials for new uniforms were becoming scarce so the correct cleaning by brush and whip still very much applied.

These whips both officially issued ones and privately purchased were plentiful.  There small size allowed them to be carried in the fur covered German Army Tornister (pack).  Combat troops however had to fit a lot of equipment in their Tornister and my research indicates that the klopfpeitsche was not often carried while in the front lines.  While resting in the rear or in reserve units may have, and probably used these whips to clean their uniforms as per regulations.   Second and third line German troops who may have been stationed in a more formal barrack setting most certainly used these whips regularly.  This would have applied to Prisoner of War camp guards as well as concentration camp guards.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp
This is translated as beech forest. Buchenwald was established by the Schutzstaffel (SS) close to the city of Weimar, Germany in 1937 and was one of the first and largest concentration camps.  The majority of the camp guards at Buchenwald main camp were SS men.  They were rotated from front line fighting due to injury, illness or some other administrative requirement.  All prisoners were used as forced labour in the local armaments factories.  Most inmates at Buchenwald camp were males; females were mostly at the sub camps.  There were an estimated 56 545 deaths at Buchenwald of the 280 000 prisoners who passed through the camp and its 139 sub camps. The sub camps were set up close to the factories and by the end of the war there were 2 700 Luftwaffe (air force) personnel working as camp guards at Buchenwald and the sub camps.  The SS received close to 100 million Reichmarks in revenue between June 1943 and February 1945 for the inmates forced labour .

The concentration camp guards were expected to use physical force to show and strengthen the Nazi ideology and to create the illusion that they were a superior Aryan race who was masters in control of all situations.  Men of the SS were known for their brutality as many had serves on the Eastern Front and had witnessed much death, and brutality of war. Some were sadistic and evil but even decent men who served in the Luftwaffe and were sent to the camp as guards – over time became more brutal themselves.  Both the SS men and the Luftwaffe guards had access to klopfpeitsche whips.

An inmate at Buchenwald points out one of the SS personnel to the American forces who liberated the camp in April 1945An inmate at Buchenwald points out one of the SS personnel to the American forces who liberated the camp in April 1945

Did one of these men previously serve in the Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD) and use the Museum’s klopfpeitsche issued to him, at Buchenwald as a whip on the inmates?   This is possible but impossible to prove.  These whips were readily available for the instantaneous lash out at a concentration camp inmate for the slightest perceived or imagined wrongdoing.  They were not really suited for sustained or heavy beatings.  Other whips such as bull whips as well as wooden clubs, batons and rifle butts were used for more vicious beatings, mostly by SS guards.

Quite a few of these whips have been sold by militaria dealers around the world and many were reputedly used by concentration camp guards from the most notorious camps.

These whips were standard issue and equipment for the German Army.  The Museum’s example stamped with the Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD) mark may have been used at Buchenwald as claimed but this cannot be proved.

Source documents:
South African National Museum of Military History Acquisition Register Vol 1 – acq number 14816
South African National Museum of military History Donors Files- Donors letter 1673a

Angolia, JR & Schilicht,A Uniforms and Traditions of the Germany Army 1933-1945 Vol3 R James Bender, San Jose, 1987

Rgt.bogspot.com  (Sicherungs-regiment 195)  accessed on 02/05/2020

www.google.com klopfeitcsche meaning  from educalingo
www.scrapbookpages.com  Lt Jack Taylor testimony
www.warrelics.eu/forum/konzentralunslager/ss-concentration -camp-whip-13584-2
Wikipedia          RAD
Wikipedia          Buchenwald Concentration Camp
Wikipedia          Concentration Camp Guards
You Tube         www.derestezug.com packing a Tornister
You Tube          Panzersoldat1

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Allan Sinclair

Ditsong National Museum of Military History

The Nazi yellow cloth star is possibly one of the most notorious symbols ever introduced. Images of it invoke scenes of Jewish oppression, deportations and mass killings. The Ditsong National Museum of Military History is indebted to Mr Munroe Swirsky of Johannesburg for granting the author access to an authentic yellow star. This particular emblem was worn by Edith Abramsohn, a German Jew who survived the war and later immigrated to South Africa.

The Yellow Jewish Star worn by Edith Abramsohn (M Swirsky)

Symbols of Discrimination prior to the 20th Century
The system of forcing Jews to wear emblems such as the yellow star has its roots in the Middle Ages.  Similar practices were introduced to identify and discriminate against Jews due to their perceived inferior status.

The Islamic Umayyad Caliphate of the Middle East and North Africa first introduced specific clothing and distinguishing symbols for both Jews and Christians in the 8th Century. Christians were required to attach honey coloured patches to their clothing while Jews had to wear yellow belts and specifically designed hats. In later years it became obligatory for Jews to hang a piece of lead around their necks with the word Dhimmi (non-Muslim) inscribed on it. Jewish women were further forced to dress in one red and one black shoe and to tie a bell around their necks or on their shoes.[1]

In 13th Century Europe, Pope Innocent III issued a decree at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 declaring that all Jews must be marked with specific emblems and items of clothing to distinguish them from Christians.  Most of Europe’s monarchies endorsed the ruling and issued their own proclamations on the subject.

The most widely used emblem was the Rouel or Rota (wheel in French and Latin respectively) badge sown onto the wearer’s clothing.  Similarly, the “Two Tablets of the Laws” symbol was instituted in England, a yellow badge in Spain and a red star in Portugal. The wearing of the Judenhut (Jewish hat) was enforced in the Holy Roman Empire. This was a tall cone-shaped hat which possibly became the inspiration for the traditional witch’s hat and the infamous dunce cap. The Church also attempted to enforce the wearing of full length robes by Jews in the 14th Century.

Such practises continued in Europe until the early 19th Century.  The French Revolution and the subsequent emancipation of the Jews brought an end to the wearing of the Jewish badge and other discriminatory clothing.[2]

Jewish Oppression by Nazi Germany: The Re-introduction of Emblems
Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 was to have a considerable impact on the Jews in Europe. Hitler had continually expressed his loathing of the Jews since his early days as a political agitator and placed the bulk of the responsibility for Germany’s defeat in the First World War (1914 – 1918) at their feet. He also believed that the Jews posed an ominous threat to, what he termed, the pure blood of the Aryan race. Anti-Semitism became a defining aspect of Nazi Germany and Jews found themselves victims of ever-increasing discrimination and persecution, culminating in the Holocaust which took place during the Second World War (1939 – 1945).[3]

As part of this process, the Nazis resurrected the practice of forcing Jews to wear symbols to distinguish them from everyone else. The first suggestion in this regard was provided in a memorandum submitted in May 1938 by the Reich’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels. The suggestion was echoed by Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, in November of the same year following the Kristallnacht attacks on Jews, their properties and businesses.[4]

It was only after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 that the German Governor-General of the newly occupied territory, Hans Frank, directed that all Jews over the age of twelve were to wear a white armband with the blue Star of David inscribed on it. From there the practice spread throughout German occupied Europe, in particular after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in July 1941. Initially there was no restriction on the distinguishing symbol, its colour or shape. Eventually, the yellow Star of David worn on the left breast became the standard symbol, not only to stigmatize and humiliate the Jews, but to facilitate isolating them into ghettos prior to their ultimate deportation and annihilation in terms of the Nazi’s final solution.[5]

The initial design of the yellow star varied from area to area. In Germany, Alsace, Bohemia and Moravia the star was outlined in black with the German word for Jew, Jude, written in the centre in Hebraic style. The star worn by Edith Abramsohn is an example of this version.

The star worn in the Netherlands and France was exactly the same except that the word for Jew was replaced by either the Dutch word, Jood, or the French equivalent, Juif. The Belgian version only included the letter J while the letters HZ were similarly located on the Slovak emblem.   In Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania and Latvia the emblem was simply the yellow star with no black backing or lettering found on it.  A similar emblem outlined in blue was issued in Croatia.

A Yellow Star issued in Belgium (M Swirsky)

In many areas the Jews themselves were responsible for producing, purchasing and distributing their own badges. In most cases the punishment for being found without an emblem could range from a severe fine to imprisonment or, at worst, summary execution. In certain ghettos Jews with distinct skills such as doctors, skilled factory workers and members of the ghetto council were allowed to wear a different form of the emblem to identify their status.[6]

The Yellow Star in the Concentration/ Extermination Camps
A complex system of identifying badges to categorize the prisoner was established in the concentration and extermination camps set up throughout the Third Reich and its occupied territories. There the Nazis made no distinction between Jews, political prisoners and criminals and their emblems became the only mark of difference. The emblems were a series of inverted triangles in different colours for each category of inmate that were worn on the left breast and the right trouser leg.  The colours were green for convicted criminals, red for political prisoners, purple for pacifists, pink for homosexuals, black for anti-socials and brown for gypsies. Jews wore two yellow triangles with the second one inverted over the first to form the yellow star.  The categories would be combined if required. For example a Jew who was also believed to be a political prisoner would be forced to wear a red triangle superimposed on the yellow star.[7]

Opposition to the Emblem
In certain territories, in particular those of Western Europe, attempts to introduce the yellow star were met with various levels of opposition by officials, the local communities and even high ranking officers of the Wermacht (German Armed Forces). While all Jews over the age of six in German occupied France were forced to wear the badge, bureaucratic obstruction by French officials in the unoccupied southern sector resulted in such measures not being imposed even after the region was occupied by German forces in November 1942.

Denmark and Norway were the exceptions as the system was not introduced in these countries.  It is an unproven myth that the Danish King, Christian X, vowed that should such a measure have been forced upon Jews in Denmark, he would have insisted that everyone including himself wear the badge as well. In Norway, Jews were merely required to carry identification cards with the letter J stamped on it.[8]

The Emblem and other Effects of Edith Abramsohn
The yellow star of Edith Dorothea Abramsohn has fortunately been preserved along with her Kennkarte (identity document) and a baptism certificate issued by the German Catholic Church.

The Kennkarte of Edith Abramsohn (M Swirsky)

The Kennkarte of Edith Abramsohn (M Swirsky)

The kennkarte, issued on 17 March 1944, confirms that Abramsohn was born in Berlin on 12 December 1909.  Her full name was Edith Dorothea Abramsohn, but the name ‘Dorothea’ has been crossed out due to a law enforcing all Jewish women to take the middle name ‘Sara’.  Similarly, Jewish males were required to take the middle name ‘Isreal’.

Baptism Certificate, Edith Abramsohn (M Swirsky)

Baptism Certificate, Edith Abramsohn (M Swirsky)

Many Jews were given the opportunity by the German Catholic Church to obtain baptism certificates while some went as far as actually converting to Catholicism to avoid arrest, deportation or execution. Nazi policy did not exempt those Jews who had converted, however, as the anti-Semitic philosophy was based on race and not religion. In terms of this no Jew could ever be converted to a pure German. This certificate was issued to Abrahamsohn by the church on 20 March 1937.

It is unknown whether Abrahmsohn was sent to a camp during the war. German Jews were the last in occupied Europe to be deported. Thankfully she survived the Holocaust and immigrated to South Africa after the war. At this stage no evidence has been located to document her life in this country.[9]

The yellow star and other such emblems set Jews apart from everyone else and foretold their eventual removal from society and ultimate demise. Judy Lysy, who as a child survived the Holocaust, stated in an interview that her initial thought after being told to wear the emblem, was that it made her a bad person.[10]

The institution of such emblems and laws by the Nazis can be viewed in much the same manner as the pass laws and other Apartheid legislation introduced by the National Party after 1948 marginalised South African black people and signified their perceived inferiority.

1. Internet source: Jewish Badge during the Nazi Era (Holocaust Encyclopedia)
2. You tube video: The Jewish Badge (2013)
3. N. Ferguson, 2006; You tube video: The Development of the Final Solution (2015)
4. Internet source: Holocaust Badges (Holocaust Memorial Center)
5. Internet source: Jewish Badge during the Nazi Era
6. Internet source: Holocaust Badges; Internet source: Shoah Resource Centre (Badge Jewish)
7. R. Manvell & H. Fraenkel, 1966
8. Internet source: Jewish Badge during the Nazi Era; You tube video: Key Historical Concepts in Holocaust Education (2017)
9. M. Swirsky, interview 2020; Internet source: German Special Issued IDs for Jews
10. You tube video: Holocaust Survivor Judy Lysy (2017)

Sources Consulted:
Oral Interview
Mr Munroe Swirsky, Johannesburg, 20 May 2020.

Internet Sources
https://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%205953.pdf(Shoah Resource Centre: Badge Jewish)
The above sites were accessed in May 2020

You Tube videos
Holocaust Survivor, Judy Lysy, Wearing the Yellow Star (20 February 2017).
Yad Vashem, Key Historical Concepts in Holocaust Education: The Jewish Badge (20 April 2017).
Yad Vashem, The Development of the Final Solution – Dr David Silberklang (12 April 2015).
This Week in Jewish History, The Jewish Badge – Dr Henry Abramson (20 June 2013)

Published Sources
N Ferguson, The War Of The World: History’s Age Of Hatred  (London, Penguin, 2006)
R Manvell & H Fraenkel “Terror In Europe” In Purnell History Of The Second World War (Vol 3)

Article Verified by
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