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.