Souvenirs of the
M.S. Wilhelm Gustloff
Like any other ship sailing the seas, the Wilhelm Gustloff had an on board gift shop near her dining room where passengers could purchase items to remember the voyage. The photo at right is of her gift shop with a passenger purchasing a camera. No doubt, the souvenirs of the Gustloff are the most interesting pieces due to the wide variations of items that were available.
Many other items featuring the Wilhelm Gustloff were made for the German market and not sold aboard the liner. In more recent times, reproduction and fake items from the Gustloff have surfaced and made their way into auctions.
Wilhelm Gustloff Mützenbands - a.k.a. Hatbands, Cap Tallies
Displayed here are mützenbands, or sailor's cap bands, which would have been wrapped around the bottom portion of a hat and tied off in the back. These are the most notable items sold on board the Wilhelm Gustloff due to their size and beauty. There are six versions in existence, versions 2-5 were originally sold on board the liner as souvenirs. They are as follows:
1: Wilhelm Gustloff in gold with solid black background; specifically for the hats of crew members. (As shown in photos such as the LIFE magazine article and in many photos of her crew on deck.) This is the only crew tally I have ever seen - it belonged to Otto Ullrich who was a sailor on the Gustloff for almost her entire career. Additional information under the Building and Launch page.
2: Wilhelm Gustloff in gold with the Nazi Germany flag & DAF flag against a black background. From our 'Red Album'.
3: Wilhelm Gustloff in gold with the Nazi Germany flag & DAF flag against a black background. Has an outer red line and inner white line. The example shown above is in mint condition. We also have another of the same style. Measures 90cm long.
4: Wilhelm Gustloff in blue with the Nazi Germany flag and DAF flag against a white background. Has a red stripe on the outer sides and a black stripe on the inner sides. Ours is in near-mint condition and measures 88cm. We also have another of this style in the same condition. These are from her maiden voyage as two are known to have been purchased on said trip. This would explain the few sightings of them.
5: Wilhelm Gustloff in blue with the Nazi Germany flag and DAF flag against a white background. No red or black stripes at the top and bottom.
Wilhelm Gustloff Souvenir China
I was reading an article at TimesOnline titled: 'Pirate divers face jail for looting Nazi ghost liner', By: Roger Boyes, December 9, 2004. I found the following two lines interesting because these ashtrays are the only type known manufactured with the ship's picture and name. The quote, which talks about the recent problems looters have caused, is this (pertaining to one removed from the wreck):
"Enforcing the clampdown may prove difficult, given the significant financial rewards for divers. German collectors will offer 10,000 Euros ($13,500) or more for an ashtray marked with the name of the ship."
Glass ashtrays were used on the ship, but never marked with the Gustloff name or identifying markings. Many of the souvenir china pieces would've been removed from her gift shop during the war and even if there were any on the wreck, they wouldn't bring anything near that amount. Shown on the right is our current collection of Wilhelm Gustloff souvenir china which totals 19 pieces. This also includes 4 pieces from the Robert Ley.
The first photo shows the largest piece of souvenir porcelain - a teapot from the Wilhelm Gustloff. 7" long by 4" wide and 4" high. Marked "Bauscher Weiden". This mark was used from c.1920 to c.1939. The large saucer is 6.5" in diameter. What is interesting about this piece is that it was made by KPM and dated 1/1940.
The perfume bottles are another souvenir piece from the Gustloff. In mint condition, they sport two different images of the Gustloff and have the 4-digit code '6055' on the bottom. On the backside, there is a worn gold shield with the letter 'G' for the one at left. The bottles are light pink in color, though it is hard to tell in the photo. The crown on the top twists open to allow the perfume to come through the 4 small holes on the top. The one of the Robert Ley in our collection came with the original box and price tag from the ship's gift ship.
Next are several variations of ash trays. Measuring approximately 11 x 8 cm, these ashtrays (like many of the other pieces) were created as part of a "special edition of souvenir articles" by world-renowned porcelain manufacturer Fürstenberg during 1937/39. Although it does not display the distinctive blue 'F' maker mark on the bottom, it is clearly part of a series based on a 1920's company design called "Germania". This is noted by a 'G' sticker that still remains on some of the pieces. Some pieces simply contain a four-digit number.
After years of collecting, I've learned that there are several companies that have produced souvenir items for the Wilhelm Gustloff including Bauscher Weiden, Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur, and Gerold Porzellan of Bavaria. However, some of these transfer decal pieces were not sold on board, rather to the general public separate from the liner itself.
Wilhelm Gustloff Pins / Nadel / Anstecknadel
Pins were the smallest items sold on board the liner as souvenirs. The pin at left is a beautiful version with white enamel and the name 'M.S. Wilhelm Gustloff' in gold lettering. There are variations of this pin to have the Nazi flag or DAF flag. We also have the KdF version in the collection.
A different variation completely is a beautiful bow pin of the Gustloff. White liner with gold surrounding. We also have the same one for the Robert Ley. Far right is a Wilhelm Gustloff stick pin with the DAF flag. The Hamburg / HAPAG flag is a non-Gustloff pin that probably would have also been sold on board or in Hamburg at the piers.
Two reproduction / fake containers of the Wilhelm Gustloff.
These are two unusual heavy paper containers from the Wilhelm Gustloff of which I have never seen before until now. However, these are cheap reproductions that made a sudden appearance on the market. Indications they are fake are the poorly cut circles which are on the top (I would expect a higher standard for KdF cruises.) Neither container has the image of the Gustloff on the front and each was made on a bad printer. The left container reads "See-Urlaubsreise. 21.Reise. Wilhelm Gustloff, Kraft Durch Freude" and it is in very aged condition with separation issues. The right container is in much better condition and reads "Wilhelm Gustloff", 24. Reise, 1938/39, Kraft Durch Freude. Each opens for storage of some sort. Each is 6cm in diameter and 2.5cm in height. I've seen people asking €499 online for these - but their actual value is around €2.00.
Souvenir Photo Album & Photo Packs
This is one example of a souvenir album sold aboard. There were 3 sizes for these albums - 12cm x 10cm, 25cm x 18cm, and 28.5cm x 22cm.
Souvenir photos of the Gustloff were sold in packs of 12 along with 12 packs of the various destinations. Right top clockwise: Naples, Genoa, Tripoli, and Madeira without the protective sleeve, and the Wilhelm Gustloff.
Below:An earlier version of a souvenir photo album.
Norwegian Fjords Cruise with the Kraft Durch Freude Pin
I have seen many pins from various KdF cruises, but this is the first one I have seen that has the Wilhelm Gustloff directly on the pin itself. Single clip pin in the back with the makers markings. This is the stock photo from before I purchased it (hence the covered swastika.) No matter how many times I tried to rephotograph it, I could not get a clear image.
K.D.F. Schiff Wilhelm Gustloff Pin
This badge was issued in 1939 to commemorate the ship taking part in returning the men of the Condor Legion from Spain to Germany during May of that year. 1.75" x 1.2" high, appears to be made of tin. Originally made as a pin, you can see the pin on the back was removed and someone poked two holes on both sides to nail on something as a plaque.
Wilhelm Gustloff Souvenir Bracelet - Nautical Flags & Nazi Flag
One of the more beautiful souvenir pieces made for the KdF fleet were bracelets in nautical flags spelling out the name of the ship it was from. Presented here is the Wilhelm Gustloff's souvenir bracelet made up of 13 flags and it measures just under 7.5 inches long.
W - I - L - H - G - U - S - T - L - O - F - F
One of these Wilhelm Gustloff bracelets in another collection was obtained by a British citizen who stayed aboard the ship during a athletic youth rally prior to the outbreak of war. This was voyage #39 from June 10th to 16th, 1939.
Our collection also has the same bracelet from the Robert Ley, which is presented on the ES Robert Ley page. The Gustloff bracelet comes with the Nazi flag on the end, and the Robert Ley has the Nazi flag at the beginning and the Kraft Durch Freude or HAPAG flag at the end. Our Robert Ley bracelet was purchased by passenger Erika Kepler on her 3rd trip - the "Anniversary Voyage for the People of the Eickhoff Firm, Mechanical Engineering and Iron Foundry, Bochum" - June 7th to the 11th, 1939. It came with a large lot from the trip.
Souvenir Pocket Knife from the Gustloff.
Amber color with Gustloff ship inlay. Comes with the original leather case. 8.5cm long. Marked "Rostfrei, E.Bruckmann. Ohligs Solingen.
Souvenir Pencil from the Wilhelm Gustloff.
4" long - still maintains a small piece of lead attached to the pen unlike the Robert Ley's twin souvenir pen. Still has original braided string at the end as well.
1-2. Souvenir Donald Duck sailor's cap with Wilhelm Gustloff cap tally.
3. A crew member's professional photo wearing his Gustloff uniform. I had ordered this photo, but it got lost / stolen in the mail from Germany to the US.
4 -6. Examples of Wilhelm Gustloff crew / passengers wearing mützenbands.
Freytag: Die Brüder vom Deutschen Hause / The Brothers of the German
Eigentum der KdF Bordbücherei
Wilhelm Gustloff REPRODUCTION / FAKE
Inventory Number 311772 Reproduktion / Gefälschte
Unfortunately, all of these books with the label and stamp for the ship are fakes / reproductions made to look like they came from on board the Wilhelm Gustloff's library. There are other fake labels in the above thumbnails.
It was first discovered with several cameras that were marked from the Robert Ley with similar stamps. These cameras were dated to the 1920s, and I wondered why 20 year old cameras would be used on board the new flagship of the KdF fleet? Finally, a camera appeared that was confirmed to have been made in the late 1940s with the three stamps shown:
This camera was obviously a fake since it was made at least 5 years after the Ley was bombed and sank! I had already purchased one of these cameras and some of these books by this point, so I did some comparisons.
So it was now confirmed that the three stamps above were fakes. One of these stamps appears on all of the books that have been recently appearing online. This can only mean it is a fake along with the paper label on these books. After looking at a builders photo (below left) of the Gustloff's libary, it is set up in the same manner as the Robert Ley. All of the books on board were new and had the same bindings for uniformity on the new ship. These reproduction books are random books taken from the 1920s and 30s and labeled / stamped with what you see above. The book shown above with the large Wilhelm Gustloff stamp is from 1883! This would be considered sub-par for the items that would be used on a brand new passenger liner. They are aged, so these were made quite some time ago.
The only authentic books from the libraries of these two ships will be like the one shown at right. Each new book for the Wilhelm Gustloff and Robert Ley were bound in a KdF format with the number ranging from 1 to around 300 and title on each of the bindings. The museum owns one original and there is another known to be in existence yet. That is compared to the near 50 I have seen in the past 2 years appear from the Gustloff claiming to be authentic.
Anything with these labels are fake items. I have seen them placed on spoons (above thumbnails), gas masks, boxes, cameras, books, picture frames, and just about any other common household item you could think of. Some people have gone as far as using a Kriegsmarine stamp or Lazarettschiff stamp to make the seal on them look original as well.
Souvenir Wallet from the Wilhelm Gustloff
With a Christmas gift tag from 1941.
Wilhelm Gustloff Souvenir Pillow Case
Measuring 21.5" x 14.5", this piece is stunningly embroidered with a full image of the ship with K.d.F Schiff Wilhelm Gustloff at the bottom.
Attached to the case is a 'Wissenswertes über Wilhelm Gustloff' or 'Find out more about the Wilhelm Gustloff' with statistics on the ship including the basics and headlines for Antriebsmaschinen, Besatzung, Proviant, Der Frischwasserverbrauch - or Engines, crew, food, Fresh water consumption.
There is a small opening in the bottom to stuff the case and I also listed a photo of the interior at right.
I have also seen these for the Robert Ley and the Cruiser Lützow.
Left: Souvenir Photo Album from the Gustloff's 2nd voyage.
It was her first Norwegian cruise.
Above: These are the 8 photos from the album:
(The backs are yet to be translated - but from what I can read:)
1 - May 11th, 1938
2 - Gustloff in Hamburg harbor - May 5th, 1938
3 - ----ship in the Hardangerfjord. May 10th, 1938
4 - Kriegschiff in Nordangerfjord. May 10th, 1938
5 - ----ship (Probably one of the school ships) in Nordangerfjord. May 10, 1938
6 - Passing the KdF ship St. Louis in Norway.
7 - Shuffle board with Reuben, Gretchen, and Bart. May 12th, 1938
8 - Disembarking in Hamburg - May 14th, 1938.
Gustloff Cuff Title
a SS commerative cuff title, similar to commerative CTs for Horst Wessel.
Sounds plausable given Gustloff's relatively early (Swiss) NSDAP membership
and subsequent murder. Possibly just a fantasy piece as well.
have been seen for Adolf Hitler, Horst Wessel, Prinz Eugen,
20" in length - reproduction piece.
Left: Souvenir lighter purchased onboard during her 4th voyage to Norway.
Right: Two HAPAG epaulets that were found in a box in Germany with several pieces of
memorabilia from the Wilhelm Gustloff. Quoted as being worn by one of the officers on board, whether they actually were worn by someone
on board the ship is unknown.
I had originally thought these were post war reproduction pieces (right)because they were transfer decals, but recent correspondence with KPM Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin revealed that transfer decal pieces were mass produced in Germany for the general population. So the piece is original to WWII Germany, it is just not something that was sold on board the ship itself.
KPM produced several types of china with the KPM scepter makers mark. The hand painted pieces were sold aboard in her gift shop, but other pieces were produced white and sent off elsewhere. The transfer decals were then applied by someone else and sold as general souvenirs to the public.
Other companies also did similar pieces during this time. This ashtray was made by the Krister Porcelain Factory, which was founded 1831 in Waldenburg (today Poland). Krister produced cheap porcelain for daily use with print decoration. The trademark (green crown with the letters KPM) had been used between 1925 and 1945.
Wilhelm Gustloff Souvenir Sailor Doll
Sailor dolls were created by Norah Wellings, England.
Norah, the chief designer for Chad Valley, opened her own doll company Victory
Toys with her brother Leo in 1926. Travel by ship was a very popular means of
transport during this period and almost all the shipping companies sold the
souvenir sailor dolls on board their ocean liners. They were produced right up
until 1960, the year of Leo's passing, when the company closed. (Excerpt - A Treasured Past Blogspot.) So far I have only seen three Wellings dolls created for German ships.
This Wilhelm Gustloff sailor doll stands at 11". The mützenband reads "M.S. Wilhelm Gustloff" but is unfortunately fading away. The top layer of gold writing is peeling away. Overall he's in very sturdy condition. If he could talk, the stories he could tell!
Vintage Wilhelm Gustloff wooden toy boat, c1938.
6: Wilhelm Gustloff Gau Düsseldorf Special Variation:
A friend of mine has collected 550 tallies over the past 17 years including the Gau tallies from the Oceana, Der Deutsche, Sierra Cordoba, Monte Olivia, Monte Sarmiento. When asked about this particular tally, he replied, "Why the Gau Düsseldorf had 'special' tallies is pure suspicion, but I strongly tend to say that this was just another way how to raise money from the DAF members of the districts Düsseldorf and Essen. If the Deutsche Arbeitsfront got them made for 1 Reichsmark and they sold the tallies in their shops for 1.50 Reichsmark to anyone who booked a voyage on the individual ship - well this is good business I would say. And for the travelers it was just another souvenir, directly to attribute to the voyage they booked." What makes this tally more special is that I also have a photograph of the Gau mützenband being worn on board the liner at the time. This postcard image is of several passengers onboard the Wilhelm Gustloff in the Norwegian Fjords in 1939. I zoomed in to show the passenger wearing this tally on the Sun Deck. There is another passenger in the image wearing the standard Wilhelm Gustloff tally. I also have a second Gau Düsseldorf mützenband that came from the collection Wilhelm Zahn as noted below.
Wilhelm Gustloff Cap & Tally with Anchor Pin
There is nothing like purchasing a piece with a great back story to it! I came across a larger collection of Gustloff souvenirs including souvenir cap tallies, a leather wallet, on board dining tickets, and food vouchers. When I was in the process of purchasing this piece from that collection, I was told that they all came from the estate of Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Zahn. He was one of the commanding officers during the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff and after the war, the previous owner purchased a large amount of his military decorations and Gustloff items from his estate.
The tally is attached to the cap, which is made of a denim material and a 1" white leather lining inside the cap at the base. There is also a small anchor / flag pin in the hat. Measures 27cm long, 10cm high, 16cm wide when opened. I believe this was one of those Gustloff pieces produced for the German market that was never onboard the ship itself since it does not match the official souvenir mützenbands sold on board the liner. There is another piece of information that I have heard where it could possibly be a children's souvenir hat that was sold aboard. Until more information becomes available, I cannot say which is true.
Small Wilhelm Gustloff plaque, metal rimmed and painted under celluloid. Two small holes on either side for mounting. Backmarked D.R.G.M. on wood.
Right: A Christmas card sent to the workers at Blohm & Voss in December of 1940 featuring the Wilhelm Gustloff on the front.
Left: Interesting little post-war bell. Gold-painted.
Inscription: Wilhelm Gustloff - The victims - DDK e.V.
6cm x 8cm.
I am not sure what to categorize this piece as, so I placed it here.
"Pure Curd Soap made for the KdF Ships Robert Ley, Wilhelm Gustloff. For on board personal." I bought this purely as a curiosity piece, but it is not real. I suspect it is period soap with a post-war label attached as another "knock-off" period item. Soap manufactured by the Flammer Heilbronn Soap Factory, Germany. Over the years I have learned that mostly anything with a paper label or engraving is a post-war reproduction.
Other items shown below include small souvenir vases from the liner with a miniature teacup & saucer. Two soap dishs measuring 13,5 cm x 9,2cm x 1,8 cm. Most of the gold trim has rubbed off one of them over the years. The second is slightly smaller with the gold rim intact. The last piece is an unusual souvenir piece with 3 separate containers & handle. The image on the front is a first in this style and it looks more like the Robert Ley than the Wilhelm Gustloff. Numbered 3602.
Fake and Reproduction Wilhelm Gustloff Souvenirs
As with any disaster, once the notoriety of it reaches a point where there is a demand for artifacts pertaining to the event, fake items will eventually find their way into the market. When I first began collecting Wilhelm Gustloff items back in 2007, I assumed everything with the Wilhelm Gustloff name was a legitimate piece of history. As I began to become more familiar with the ship and her artifacts, I soon realized that some of the items that I had purchased were fake fantasy pieces made in Europe within the last 10 or 20 years. At that point, I began to archive photographs of all Gustloff pieces I came across and gathered what information I could. It is believed that many of these pieces are being made by the same person and trying to pass them off as real. Below is just a sampling of fake items from the Wilhelm Gustloff:
Standard German Market Wilhelm Gustloff China
As noted above, I had originally thought these were post war reproduction pieces because they were transfer decals, but recent correspondence with KPM Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin revealed that transfer decal pieces were mass produced in Germany for the general population. Other companies such as Krister Porcelain Factory also did similar pieces during this time. Shown below are additional photos from our archives that showcase some of the additional Wilhelm Gustloff pieces that were sold in Germany during 1938 and 1939, but these were never on the liner itself.
So how have I come to the decision that these artifacts are fakes you may ask? I have had several conversations with other Gustloff collectors and discussed these items at length. I also had conversations with the owners of some of these items insisting they are real and they firmly stood by their decision when I declined to make an offer to purchase. The overall findings are as follows:
#1 - Every one of the items above have one commonality - they are all non-souvenir items with the name of the Wilhelm Gustloff placed upon them. Aside from the life ring, which I will get to next, the most common argument I have heard is that the KdF marked their items with the name of the ship so no one would steal them. This cannot be further from the truth. From the dawn of steamships up to the current cruise liners being built, there has never been a ship where this was a common practice. Most of the time, items like china, silverware, glass, etc., was made to be interchangeable among liners. This was true with both the Wilhelm Gustloff and Robert Ley. These items would never have her name engraved on them. Furthermore, their patterns do not match the patterns that were known to have been used on board.
#2 - Many of the pieces are random items that are not even of the same time frame or type used on the ship. There is no rhyme or reason to have such a random item like a metal pick with her name engraved on it. The metal postal stamp is not correct for the postal stamps used aboard the Gustloff - the year would have never been produced into the stamper. The ship plaque in images 19 and 20 isn't even an image of the Gustloff. You can see it was later engraved to give it the Gustloff name. The life ring is the wrong color and the real ones on the Gustloff never had lights among several things wrong with the piece. The port hole was also engraved as being part of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Seeing as it is the wrong size, type, and in perfect condition - it is an obvious fake. You can again see where it was engraved after the fact. Many of these are also poorly made items. The KdF clock has the Wilhelm Gustloff name sloppily painted onto the back with a stencil.
#3 - Souvenirs on board the KdF fleet weren't engraved anyway. There is no known legitimate engraved souvenir or artifact known to have come from any of the KdF's 15 passenger liners.
#4 - Have you ever seen these items for other KdF ships? No. Cap tallies, souvenir china pieces, pins, and photo albums are all known to be authentic souvenirs in part because they were available on all other ships of the KdF fleet - Berlin, Dresden, Oceana, St. Louis, Stuttgart, Der Deutsche, Milwaukee, Sierra Cordoba, Monte Sarmiento, Monte Olivia, Monte Cervantes, Monte Pascoal, Monte Rosa, and the Robert Ley. TheWilhelm Gustloff is the only one where items like these have surfaced. I have even seen gas masks labeled from the Gustloff! If they were true pieces, there would be more of the same items around from ships like the Monte Rosa which survived the war.
Some items I chose to break down individually:
Photo #2 and #3:Light fixture engraved with Property of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The owner of this piece contacted me and stated that it came from the
dining room of the Wilhelm Gustloff. He said there was a room for spare parts and that is why it survived. (After reviewing the deck plans,
there is no such room on the ship). He attached a photo of the same light fixture in an image he found on this site. While the owner is a friend of mine
and we made several successful transactions of authentic artifacts in the past, I informed him that it was a fake and unfortunately not interested. He
believed it was a genuine piece and the photo proved it, but I have builders photos of the room and the lights are clearly shown as clear, frosted glass
with vertical cut glossy embellishments meeting in the center bottom of each light. They are not the solid green as shown. Regardless, items as common
as light fixtures would never have the name of a ship engraved onto it.
Photos #4 and #5: See below regarding books and paper labels.
Photos #6, #7, and #8: KdF whistle. This whistle came with a note that stated "Rettungsboot Göttingen", or Lifeboat Göttingen. This was one of the rescue vessels that picked up Gustloff survivors the night of the sinking. After discussing this item with another colleague of mine, we both found they were fake labels placed over a standard whistle and they were clearly distressed to look old. Another whistle of the same type has a label for Volkswagen that wasn't even placed on center. It was clear these were stickers. The KdF logo and S.O.S. labels are poor engravings.
Photos #21, #22, and #23: Engraved goblets. The same gentleman who created these fake goblets has been known to produce others with a variety of engravings, but always using the same cups.
Photo #29: Legion Condor silver tray. This is one item I am still on the fence about its authenticity. I have always leaned towards fake for two reasons. The first is that I have seen other trays with engravings of the Wilhelm Gustloff herself that are known to be fake. Secondly, one tray was tarnished all around except where it was cleaned to be engraved. This was a red flag for me.
Photo #37: This Kriegsmarine towel is an obvious fake due to the fact that the Wilhelm Gustloff's name isn't even spelled correctly.
The final part of this section address fake labels for the Wilhelm Gustloff, and in some cases, the Robert Ley. The same people who are creating these fake labels have added her sister ship to the mix. Unfortunately, they did not do a very good job of it.
Until evidence surfaces to contradict any of these items as fakes, I will continue to label them as such. As part of the new update, I wanted to add this section to the museum site to guide others upon making informed decisions when they come across items such as these. There are some fake items that I have purchased purely out of curiosity or because they were only one or two dollars: