If you go to almost any gun show or other venue where militaria dealers go to sell their goods to collectors, you will find at least one or two dealers in German medals from World War II. You will find Iron Crosses, War Merit Medals, Wound Badges, and any other variety of Nazi military decorations and Nazi paraphernalia. Every once in a blue moon you will see Japanese items along the same lines. What you would be hard pressed to find is anything from the Soviet Union’s efforts against Adolf Hitler’s war machine. This is quite puzzling for a variety of reasons. Soviet medals are quite unique as collector’s items, they can be acquired at very reasonable prices, they are more likely to come with papers, and their sales benefit people in poor Eastern European countries.
You can talk to plenty of people who have a moderate collection of German medals, possibly even from World War I and World War II. They will show off the Black Wound Badge they found for $60 that is in pretty good shape, and will proudly display their Iron Cross Second Class medal. Yes, they are very cool, some German soldier wore them during the war. But everyone who collects medals collects them. They are high in price but the supply is very high because of all the US soldiers who brought them back as war trophies. Why not show off a Defense of Stalingrad or Order of the Patriotic War instead? Many collectors of American and German militaria have never even seen many of these medals, and you may even get a few “Where did you find that?!” responses. Not only are these awards unique in the American collecting community, but they are also incredibly beautiful awards. The Soviets absolutely loved making Communism look good, and many of these awards have wonderful color enamel finishes. Of course, there are medals and badges from across the entire history of the Soviet Union for people interested in the Cold War. The Chernobyl Liquidator Medal, given to anyone who helped with the cleanup of Chernobyl after it exploded, is a real head turner. (I have had lots of interesting reactions to mine.) For anyone who is interested in space travel, a Pilot Cosmonaut of the Soviet Union award would be one of the ultimate items for their collection, as it was actually owned by someone who flew in space. (Be prepared to pay for it though.)
Due to the creation of Ebay and the emergence of international auctions, there are plenty of places to buy these medals for very cheap prices compared to German ones. Some of the campaign medals can be found for under $50 if the auction receives little attention. These awards are very significant as they can actually be associated with a specific battle such as Stalingrad or Moscow, as opposed to Iron Crosses which can only be associated with “an act of bravery” (toward the end of the war, “bravery” became a term that was more freely used). For what you are getting, the price is just about right.
Along with the great prices that can be found for these medals, they often come with the original award paperwork. This is of course due to the fact that these awards are often shipped directly from countries like Ukraine and Belarus, so they may have been found from the original owners. Owning something with the papers it came with would make it much more valuable. Sure, you can find some German awards with paperwork, but it will be much harder to find. Most German awards that are floating around in the market were war trophies that American GIs stole off German uniforms after battles. It is very unlikely that a Private was looking for paperwork while he was looking for interesting things to bring back.
When you buy Soviet awards, you are helping a poor economy that has been trying to recover from communist theory for decades. Most auctions come from Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and other old Soviet republics. Buying from these auctions would not only support the person who won the auction, but also everyone that they bought things with from their winnings. The local postal service makes money when they ship your item, which keeps their workers employed. A dollar is much more valuable in those countries than it is here, so you fuel their economy a great deal and help many people. Not only can you be getting a great piece of history, but you can provide hope and opportunities to people who have struggled since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For these reasons, you should consider collecting Soviet awards as opposed to German ones. You obviously do not have to give up your quest for that mint condition Iron Cross First Class, but you may be pleasantly surprised how enjoyable collecting Soviet awards can be.