Holy Relics

Alan Milward

  • Selling Hitler: The story of the Hitler Diaries by Robert Harris
    Faber, 402 pp, £10.95, February 1986, ISBN 0 571 13557 9

Whose is the second most valuable signature on the American autograph market after that of Abraham Lincoln? Which is the better investment, the penis of Napoleon or the handwriting of Hitler? The answer in both cases is Adolf Hitler. If you can buy them, Nazi memorabilia are your best hedge against inflation. Their value increases by about 20 per cent a year. But they are probably too expensive for you. A standard-issue SS dress dagger is worth at least $1500. A lock of Eva Braun’s hair will cost you $3500. A small watercolour possibly by Hitler will cost you roughly $4500. The 1938 Mercedes which he gave to Eva Braun may cost you $350,000. You can find the trade prices in Der Gauleiter, a magazine published in Arkansas. The annual turnover is estimated at $50 million.

As the economic function of the villages of Western Europe and the United States gradually becomes that of retail outlets for urban raiders in search of ‘antiques’, it is understandable that Nazi ‘antiques’ should become up-market commodities. Few other objects make so wide a variety of emotional appeals. They are associated with strange, dramatic events, with great personal power, with military pomp, with racial supremacy, with male supremacy, with magic, and with torture and massacre. There should not be many of them, for the Third Reich lasted only 12 years and the Nazi Party before that was very small. Add to this the fact that their trade is illegal in two Western countries, and has to be carried out with a certain discretion in others, and the mixture becomes unbeatable. To the greed and vanity of the collectors are joined one or some of the emotions to be derived from the contemplation of this vanquished world.

The Nazis are big money. The publications and media multinational, Bertelsmann AG, paid about nine million marks, roughly two and a half million pounds, over four years, to accumulate in strictest secrecy the diaries of Adolf Hitler for eventual publication in its magazine Stern. It took so long because they had to wait for each volume to be written by Konrad Kujau, who was not always doing a full-time job. He was busy at the same time painting Hitler paintings and drawing Hitler drawings. You will find some of his best work in Billy F. Price’s Adolf Hitler, the Unknown Artist (Houston, 1984). He was also writing Hitler mottoes, postcards and poems. Many of these you may find in the immense compilation, E. Jäckel and A. Kuhn (eds), HitlerSämtliche Aufzeichnungen 1905-1924 (Stuttgart, 1980). ‘He who believes in his heart has the greatest strength in the world. Signed: Adolf Hitler,’ item 667, page 1248.

The diaries were written in modern ink on only slightly old-fashioned paper over which Kujau poured modern tea. The headings were in Lettraset. On the cover of each diary were the plastic initials AH, except where he ran out of A’s and had to put F’s instead. He did this on the volume illustrated on its front cover by Stern on the day when the magazine finally launched on the world the greatest scoop of all time, Fred Hitler’s diary. The diaries were mostly copied, not always accurately, from dry official proclamations and from the postwar chronicle of Hitler’s official activities compiled by Max Domarus, to which, occasionally, Kujau added a personal touch (‘Eva Braun had to endure much suffering’). It was inconceivable that a man as busy as Hitler would have wasted his time writing such piffle. There were only about a thousand words in each diary, at fifty pounds a word.

Kujau, though, was getting only about thirty pounds a word from the Stern reporter, Gerd Heidemann, discoverer of the Hitler diary. Stern’s money was also going on other purposes. Heidemann bought a luxury cruise for his wife and himself in a Hamburg travel agency for £7400 in cash. The travel salesman had no difficulty in recalling this incident for the police two years later: he had struggled unavailingly for a long time to stuff the notes into the till. On other occasions the reporter flew first-class with his wife to New York for a New Year party and spent £10,000 in one day on furnishings. He spent £140,000 on restoring a yacht. He rented a gallery in central Hamburg as his personal museum. At one time or another he had been trusted with most of the £2,500,000 in bank notes which Bertelsmann paid.

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[1] Hitler’s Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy by Robert Wistrich. Weidenfeld, 320 pp., £18.95, October 1985, 0 297 78719 5.

[2] Das Ende des Hitler-Mythos by J. Greiner. Zürich, 1947.

[3] The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany 1890-1935 by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Aquarian Press, 294 pp., £12.95, 24 October 1985, 0 85030 402 4.