Bloody Initiation into Dueling Fraternity

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    My grandfather, bloodied, at his initiation into a German dueling fraternity. The scar on the cheek (called a "Schmiß") lasted his lifetime.

    When I mentioned to my father how striking I found this photo, he followed up with this email:

    "German dueling fraternities in the 1920s were renowned for
    being nationalistic and right-wing and, I assume, also
    anti-Semitic. I don't know whether my father was allowed
    to join one of those or whether he joined some alternative
    Jewish dueling fraternity at that time at Munich University.

    Anyway, in his younger days, my father was quite a German
    nationalist - participating on the German side when there
    were clashes with Polish partisans in his hometown just
    after World War I. It was this early activity which the
    Nazis were aware of, so that they left him alone longer
    than other Jews in Hannover at that time. By February of
    1940, just in the nick of time, he got out of Germany
    via Holland. By May of that year, Germany occupied Holland.

    Anyway, a dueling scar was always considered in Germany
    as the mark of the educated elite."

    tektsu, [kren], dumbokim, Osvaldo, and 27 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    1. heyotwell ages ago | reply

      These still exist. Certainly these days anyone with this kind of scar is immediately identifiable as an upper-class, conservative, and probably fairly intolerant sort of guy. Educated, yes, and certainly far from a skinhead, but not someone you'd probably want to hang out with.

    2. Chrissie2003 ages ago | reply

      What a photo !

      Very interesting informative caption. I have never heard of this.

    3. scubadive67 ages ago | reply

      Very intense image!! That is great that he got out of Germany when he did.

    4. Osvaldo 110 months ago | reply

      This is striking. A very interesting piece of history and german culture.

    5. felix.h 102 months ago | reply

      Thanks for sharing this!

    6. yvern99 102 months ago | reply

      Holy Cow! Our educated, recent ancestors were into scarification! Don't let the goth crowd in on it. ; ) Unusual and VERY STRIKING photo, a real treasure.

    7. dascorps 102 months ago | reply

      Based on your grandfathers picture it looks like he has one on his forehead and one on his chin. The forehead would be from the first or second duel, and the chin would be from the third, most likely.In the past German fraternities drew their members from those of "good breeding" and still holds true today, though less so. They are nationalistic and very conservative. Although this in no way reflects Nazism, but rather a harkening back to the old German traditions and ideals. In fact they are very anti-nazi, though as a result of this stigma many today are suffering membership problems. One is active for 3 semesters and each semester you must fight a "Mensur" or a duel, each one getting more dangerous, and a scar, or two is not uncommon on the face. They practice for an hour every single day. Like mentioned before it is a sign of good breeding, a good education and often very strong connections. Anyways, they are for the most part very good people. At any if he was indeed in Hannover he would be either Burschenschaft, Corps or Landsmannschaft, the three sects of fraternity. Burschenschaften are more political and right, Corps are big into fencing (and drinking, like the American ones) and Landsmannschaft are Catholic. There are 3 Burschenschaft in Hannover und 5 Corps. Here are the website, they have old pictures of every member in their houses, perhaps you should email them and they might be able to send you more pictures. I was a member of a Corps in Freiburg.

      R! xx

    8. splorff 100 months ago | reply

      I would enjoy learning how to fight a mensur, surely there is a group of men doing this somewhere other than young students. I live in England, but would be interested in visiting Deutschland for this purpose.


    9. lutzbrux 93 months ago | reply

      DasCorps, good article, allow me some corrections: none of the fighting fraternities are catholic, as fencing still is under penalty of excommunion (i.e. kicked out of catholic church, spelling?). These days anybody has access to fighting (and non-fighting) fraternities, provided he commits to our rules and wants to be a friend among friends. For the drinking, all the fraternities say they don't and rival to better each other nevertheless.
      As for the Schmiss, it used to be the proof that you are an academic, therefore very important. These days, you have to prove your valour in other ways, but some people are still proud of the Schmiss.
      If you want to learn to fight, join a Studentenverbindung. It takes 2 to 3 years to get to a decent level. Enjoy, it can be great fun.

    10. mamamusings 93 months ago | reply

      Thank you lutzbrux (and, belatedly, DasCorps) for the additional information! I love the way Flickr allows me to get this kind of additional annotation. :)

    11. vahur [deleted] 89 months ago | reply

      i wonder if you have any more photos from that period or about that topic?!

    12. lazzarello 87 months ago | reply

      I'm confused of the logistics of these duels. Obviously the goal is not to kill the opponent, but I would imagine there are a number of accidental deaths when an activity involves swinging blades at the face of another?

      BTW, I was led to this photo whilst searching for scarification information via google

    13. chrisnegado 78 months ago | reply

      Awesome picture! The blood, confused and conflicting emotions all come right through. A glorious pic -- any grandpa would be proud to give to his grandson.

      According to "By the Sword: A History ..." (by Richard Cohen) dueling fraternities were initially opponents of the Nazi party. Yes these duelists were elites, wealthy, conservative and very nationalistic but they viewed the up and coming Nazi's as jumped up low class interlopers.

      As for being Jewish and a duelist -- if you were rich you were in. German Jews before Hitler were GERMAN as well as Jewish - one of the worst aspects of Germany's crime was that many of their victims were there own people. Heroes, workers, scientists, laborers, rich and poor whose only crime was their Jewish faith.

    14. hsa333 75 months ago | reply

      That's an absolutely fascinating story. I would have thought that the dueling societies would have been closed to us Jews, but this photo has certainly brought out people who know better.

      If you'd like to see a German duel as portrayed in a movie, there are scenes in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and "Royal Flash" (the description in the book is better).

    15. vahur [deleted] 75 months ago | reply

      As a remark - the scenes from "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" are not in German fraternity duel style, but rather some form of sword duel. Student societies use the rapier.

    16. ihynz7 70 months ago | reply

      fascinating - the real "Fight Club"

    17. destarke 49 months ago | reply

      Stunning image and a terrific artifact and piece of family history! Your photo and the information found here is also very valuable in filling in the blanks about my grandfather, whom my mother does not talk about much. Thank goodness your grandfather got out of Germany!

      I do know some things. My mother, born (in 1939) and raised in Germany, just told me about the "Schmiß" that my grandfather had; he was a member of a dueling fraternity and I'm guessing it was in the early 1930s when he was in his 20s. He joined the German army as an officer during WWII, so I can only assume he was right wing and nationalistic by that fact, and the fact that he stopped talking to my mother completely when she married my black American father (in 1961) and moved to the United States (to remain happily married until my father's death in 2002). You get the picture. Not a good man.

      Of course when I heard about the "Schmiß", which my mom said made her father look ugly (I have no photos of him when he was young and allegedly handsome) I had to look it up online and your photo popped up. Thank you!

    18. joerookery 48 months ago | reply

      There are an entire series of pictures about this subject starting with PS 1140.

      There is also this article
      which explains how the duels work and a whole lot more. There is even more in the book

    19. 27 months ago | reply

      I found this picture and article using keywords "Germany and Fraternity". I have a friend that is studying aviation here in Florida and I was telling him stories about my college fraternity day with Beta Theta Pi,..and he mentioned the German fraternities with their duels. Very cool stuff. Yours in __kai__, Dean Eiden

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