From Hitler’s top hat, shirt and telephone to his mistress Eva Braun’s knickers… GUY WALTERS on the shameful and dangerous booming trade in Third Reich trophies
Hitler’s top hat was sold just a few weeks ago at a Munich-based online auction for £43,000
There can’t be too many old caps worth £360,000, or battered telephones going for £187,000. What about a top hat priced at £43,000?
How often, for that matter, do you find a decades-old pair of pink silk knickers on sale for £4,000 or three pieces of shabby cutlery for £2,000?
At least these various items had only one careful owner.
What makes them special, of course, is that they belonged to Adolf Hitler – apart from the underwear, the property of his wife Eva Braun.
Yes, it would be easy to dismiss this sort of memorabilia and the ludicrous prices they attract with jocularity. But, as a historian who specialises in writing and broadcasting about the Third Reich, I find the growing market for these items distasteful and dangerous.
Not only is there something lurid and darkly fetishistic about collecting material associated with a genocidal regime, but with far-Right extremism on the rise around the world, it’s clear to me that the glamorisation of such material fuels the flames of hatred.
It is a market that is not merely expanding but is truly global. Nazi items appear everywhere from Argentina to Australia, and especially in the US and in Britain.
As we reveal today, a bronze Nazi eagle from the prow of the Graf Spee ‘pocket battleship’ will soon be sold at auction, sparking fears of a bidding war among far-Right enthusiasts from around the world.
The Graf Spee, notoriously scuttled near Montevideo at the outbreak of the Second World War, gained particular notoriety as it later became the subject of the classic 1950s movie The Battle Of The River Plate.
Hitler’s cap is worth £360,000. Some collectors are adamant that their hoards are not statements of veneration, but are instead simply of historical value
In countries such as Germany and Austria, there are bans on selling items that display swastikas, but even in Germany, Nazi memorabilia can still be put on sale so long as it is deemed to be of historical value.
Hitler’s top hat was sold just a few weeks ago at a Munich-based online auction for £43,000. The Fuhrer’s military cloth cap was sold at the end of September for £360,000 by an auction house called Andreas Thies, which is based near Stuttgart.
One of Hitler’s brown shirts, complete with his Wound Badge medal, an Iron Cross and a gold Nazi party tie pin, went for a staggering £540,000, while £215,000 secured Hitler’s Blood Order medal.
Compare these prices to those of the last three Victoria Crosses sold – £30,000, £180,000, £160,000 – and you get an idea not merely of the shameful contrast, but of just how valuable the top end of the Nazi memorabilia market can be.
Stratospheric prices such as these mean the auction house has every incentive to state that it is handling ‘museum-quality items’.
Such language gives the sale a patina of institutional respectability, whereas in truth, the vast amount of Nazi gewgaws ends up in private hands – hands that are largely unknown.
There is something to suit every size of wallet. You can find Nazi memorabilia ranging from a few pounds to several thousands.
Take the sale held last month at Bosleys Military Auctioneers in the genteel surroundings of Marlow in Buckinghamshire.
Hitler’s Blood Order medal, above, went for £215,000. It is a market that is not merely expanding but is truly global. Nazi items appear everywhere from Argentina to Australia, and especially in the US and in Britain
The catalogue was glossy, but its pages contained some very dark lots indeed – nearly 40 objects associated with the Third Reich and listed innocuously as ‘German items’.
Among them was a Third Reich government official’s dagger, with an estimate of £1,800 to £2,200.
A little more affordable, with an estimate of around £1,600, was an SS chained dagger, complete with death’s head links.
For around £150 you could have purchased a swastika flag measuring 170 cm long and for £800 or so you might have secured a swastika-emblazoned War Order of the German Cross, instituted by Hitler in 1941 for German armed forces. Bosleys is just one of many British auction houses peddling this distasteful material.
One of the most long-standing purveyors of Third Reich memorabilia is Mullock’s Auctioneers in Shropshire. A browse through their most recent sales of ‘Toys, Collectables, Historical Documents & Indian Ephemera’ shows a swastika flag selling for £220, a brass bust of Hitler going for £1,000, and a first edition of Mein Kampf signed by its author – one Adolf Hitler – fetching a hammer price of £29,000.
Then there is an even greater number of online dealers in militaria with Third Reich items for sale, including the most mundane examples. So huge and obsessional is the interest, there is even a guide book titled Collectible Spoons Of The Third Reich.
It is not just recherché websites that sell such items, but mainstream auction sites such as eBay, which claims to have an extremely limited tolerance of Third Reich memorabilia, and does not permit the sale of uniforms, items owned by senior Nazis, or material associated with the Holocaust.
What it does allow, however, are stamps and coins. And, naturally enough, these glorify the Third Reich.
For £9.99, you can buy a swastika-festooned coin that celebrates the 1937 Nazi Party Congress, or for a pound more, a coin that commemorates the formation of the 29th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS in Italy in September 1943.
Perhaps more problematic still, and seemingly in contravention of its own policy regarding Holocaust-related items, a seller on eBay is currently offering – for £7.99 – a piece of currency from the Litzmannstadt Ghetto in occupied Poland through which more than 200,000 Jews passed, and most of whom were killed.
The ten-pfennig coin, minted specially for use in the ghetto, bears a Star of David in which is engraved the year 1942, during which some 55,000 were deported to the camps. If you buy four or more coins, you can get them for a reduced price of £6.79 each.
The personal telephone used by Adolf Hitler is worth £187,000. In countries such as Germany and Austria, there are bans on selling items that display swastikas, but even in Germany, Nazi memorabilia can still be put on sale so long as it is deemed to be of historical value
One big question that arises is the identity of those who buy Nazi memorabilia. Many choose to remain anonymous, recognising the public shame of exposing themselves as Third Reich obsessives.
What we do know is that they live all over the world, as the recent discovery of a vast hoard of Nazi material in Buenos Aires testifies.
Initially thought to be worth as much as £20million, an expert has recently declared that many of the items are fakes.
There is a likelihood that some of the items that emerged in an auction in June in Western Australia were also fakes, not least an Adolf Hitler figurine with a moving arm that performed the Nazi salute.
What we can be sure of is that many collectors embrace the loathsome politics of the far Right.
Among them was Thomas Mair, the murderer of MP Jo Cox. Mair had a bookcase topped by a statue of an eagle clutching a swastika in its talons.
On the shelves were books only sought by hardcore Nazi fetishists, including all four volumes of Headgear Of Hitler’s Germany, and an obscure book on Nazi uniform embellishments, Aiguillettes Of The Third Reich.
Another fanatical collector was the late rock singer Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, whose study was a shrine to Nazi memorabilia, and who had the views to match.
‘If you were 20 in 1933 you would go for it like a knife!’ Lemmy once said. ‘Because he [Hitler] kept all his promises. He said he’d kill the Jews. He killed the Jews.’
At least these various items had only one careful owner. What makes them special, of course, is that they belonged to Adolf Hitler – apart from the underwear, above, the property of his wife Eva Braun
Some collectors are adamant that their hoards are not statements of veneration, but are instead simply of historical value.
Perhaps the most compulsive collector in Britain, if not the world, is the multimillionaire Kevin Wheatcroft, who owns what is thought to be the largest collection of Nazi memorabilia in the world, which even includes Hitler’s bed.
‘I try not to answer when people accuse me of being a Nazi,’ Wheatcroft said in an interview.
‘I tend to turn my back and leave them looking silly.
‘I think Hitler and Goering were such fascinating characters in so many ways. Hitler’s eye for quality was just extraordinary.
‘More than that, though, I want to preserve things. I want to show the next generation how it actually was.’
One of Hitler’s brown shirts, complete with his Wound Badge medal, an Iron Cross and a gold Nazi party tie pin, went for a staggering £540,000
As the collection is not yet open to the public, it is hard to see how the next generation will learn from it.
And besides, even if the items are on public display, what can possibly be learned about Hitler from mundane objects such as his bed?
The feelings of the Third Reich’s victims seem to be of no account. The largest single group is the Holocaust victims, of course, and it comes as no surprise that those who work on their behalf find the taste for Nazi memorabilia disturbing.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust believes that the Government should consider regulating auction houses, or ‘they should show the moral leadership to regulate themselves’.
An outright ban would doubtless drive the market underground as the collectors really are insatiable.
But auction houses and other vendors should refuse to handle such items. We should tell buyers and sellers that making money from Nazism is not just distasteful, but politically dangerous.
Hitler and Nazism need to be studied – not bought and sold.
£20m Nazi eagle recovered from the wreck of Hitler’s Graf Spee ‘pocket battleship’ will be sold at auction – amid fears it may end up in the hands of white supremacists
By Caroline Graham In Los Angeles and Heather Briley In Buenos Aires For The Mail On Sunday
It was once the pride of Hitler’s navy but now an 800lb bronze Nazi eagle from the German ‘pocket battleship’ Graf Spee is set to be auctioned off to the highest bidder – amid fears it may end up in the hands of white supremacists.
The giant eagle atop a swastika was originally salvaged from the Graf Spee in 2006 but has been tied up in a bitter court fight ever since. It could fetch £20 million.
Last week, a judge in Uruguay ruled the controversial Nazi symbol must be auctioned off – a sale that could take place as early as next month – with the proceeds split between a team of international businessmen who funded the salvage operation and the Uruguayan government.
Many fear the eagle, which was briefly displayed in a hotel in Montevideo before protests forced it to be taken down, may fall in to the wrong hands when it is put up for sale alongside a cannon and a rangefinder from the ship. The eagle is pictured being salvaged
Alfredo Etchegaray, 63, who led the 2006 expedition to recover the eagle from shallow waters off the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo where the Graf Spee was scuttled in December 1939, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The fight has been going on in court for years.
‘Finally, we have a decision that the sale can go ahead.
‘We’ve had interest from buyers around the world including museums, the German government, wealthy private individuals and even someone who wants to put it on display during the World Cup in Doha.’
Experts say the eagle is worth at least £20 million, a figure that Mr Etchegaray says is ‘on the low side’, adding: ‘There is nothing else out there like this. I’ve been told it could be worth £50 million or more to the right buyer. This is a unique piece of history.’
The giant eagle atop a swastika was originally salvaged from the Graf Spee in 2006 but has been tied up in a bitter court fight ever since. It could fetch £20 million
However, many fear the eagle, which was briefly displayed in a hotel in Montevideo before protests forced it to be taken down, may fall in to the wrong hands when it is put up for sale alongside a cannon and a rangefinder from the ship.
Miguel Esmoris, director of Uruguay’s National Heritage Commission, said: ‘Who are the potential buyers of these icons if not neo-Nazis? We’re not against salvagers making a profit but we cannot allow illicit trafficking in cultural and historical items.’
Ernesto Kreimerman, of the Uruguayan Jewish Committee, said: ‘It must go to a museum, not into private hands.’
Mr Etchegaray says any buyer will be screened: ‘The eagle must be displayed so the world can learn lessons from the past.
‘It must be done respectfully. We are open to all offers.’
The eagle – which had pride of place on the Graf Spee which was defeated by the British in one of the first naval battles of the Second World War – has languished in a crate inside a warehouse since it was removed from public view.
Famous battle ended in captain’s suicide
The Admiral Graf Spee sunk nine Allied merchant vessels in the South Atlantic before a British-led battle group tracked it to the mouth of the River Plate on December 13, 1939.
Royal Navy cruisers HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax – together with New Zealand’s HMS Achilles – engaged it in the Battle of the River Plate which resulted in the loss of 72 British sailors and 36 Germans.
The Graf Spee’s fuel system was damaged in the fight, forcing her captain Hans Langsdorff to head to the neutral port of Montevideo for repairs.
Under the Geneva Convention, the Graf Spee was given 72 hours to make repairs.
On December 17, the ship set sail but, believing there to be a superior British fleet waiting for him and not wanting the Allies to gain access to its more advanced technology, Langsdorff chose to offload more than 1,000 German sailors and scuttle the ship.
Two days later, wrapped in the flag of Imperial Germany, he committed suicide in a Buenos Aires hotel room.
The 1956 movie The Battle Of The River Plate chronicled the saga, with Peter Finch playing Langsdorff and Anthony Quayle in the role of British Commander Henry Harwood.
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