Friday, December 5, 2014

Badges of Honor?

     Dueling societies, and dueling scars, were popular among upper-class German and Austrian university students in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The duel was a way to show courage. Who hasn’t seen war movies featuring scarred Germans? Or how about General Burkhalter of TV’s Hogan’s Heroes?

Actor Leon Askin acquired his scar from a beating by the SS because he was Jewish.

     Opponents stood at arm’s length and aimed for each other’s unprotected face, normally on the left side. Protective gear could be worn, usually an eye guard and padding on the arm. Avoiding injury was not the point; rather, the goal was to gain scars. Duelists were expected to stand stoically during the bout. Flinching or ducking was not permitted.

SS Lt. Col. Otto “Scarface” Skorzeny won his dueling scars as a student in Vienna’s dueling societies, where the object was not necessarily victory with the saber, but remaining stalwart when receiving Schmissen, marks of honor.
     Fencing duels ended when one opponent suffered a wound at least one inch long and shed at least one drop of blood. Physicians attended the duels. Razor-sharp swords left easily-closed wounds that could heal with little disfigurement. To achieve an extreme bragging scar, the wounds would be left open, even packed with horsehair to be an irritant, to leave a more pronounced scar.

     The scars proclaimed the man’s courage, and the more, the better. Fighting one or two dozen duels was not uncommon. Otto von Bismarck believed a number of scars on one’s cheeks displayed bravery. Not only did they signify courage, they also marked a man as good husband material.
     My great-great-grandfather didn’t agree. He suffered a saber wound in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Rather than flaunt his scarred cheek, he wore a full beard for the rest of his life.

     Such dueling still takes place today. Would you admire a man who deliberately acquired as many facial scars as possible?


  1. I never knew this! But, boy does it put you into the mindset of a man who thought dueling and receiving scars indicated bravery. Good post, Terri.

    1. Thanks, Patricia. It's fascinating to me because I'm such a wimp with blood.

  2. Wow, a very interesting post, Terri. Somehow, I don't feel like intentional scars really count.

  3. Well, they were certainly brave to do that.. I don't think that is the way to show bravery, fighting the fight without a wound would be more admirable to me..
    Very interesting topic, I did not know this, I have seen men scarred this way but never would have thought it would be done on purpose...
    dkstevensne @outlook dotCom