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I was going through my late Uncles WWII photo album from his time in the US Army. To my surprise I came across one page dedicated to the Nazi army. No idea how he came about these pictures. It looks like it was taken from his camera but do not see how that was possible. I am thinking it was maybe taken from a fallen Nazi soldier.
Who are the Nazi soldiers pictured with Hitler?
Regarding place and date: The picture was taken in Blaubeuren, Germany. In the background, a part of the Blaubeuren Abbey is visible (its western portal):
Source: Wikipedia Commons, Schilling Thomas (Own Work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
The place is about 100 meters south of the „Blautopf“, a famous little pond in Blaubeuren; today, the street is named „Blautopfstraße“. Guessing by the shadows cast, the photo was taken around noon.
Maybe, the photo depicts Hitler's visit in Blaubeuren where he had lunch on September 5th 1933 (according to Sandner's „Itinerar“), on occasion of his stay in Ulm where he attended a maneuver of the 5. Reichswehrregiment on September 5th and 6th, 1933 (this may explain the presence of high-ranking military people at that place and time). There are archival sources about a meeting between Hitler and some high-ranking Reichswehr officers at Ulm: Werner von Blomberg, General Kurt von Hammerstein, Generalleutnant Curt Liebmann and General Hans Freiherr Seutter von Lötzen. Guessing by a slightly better (but cropped) version of that photo (that was also available as picture postcard: see here and here), the person at Hitler's left may be Werner von Blomberg (wearing his "Pour le Mérite"?), at that time Minister of Defense. The person at the very right of the photo may be Heinrich Himmler (???). Regarding Goebbels: It seems that he didn't accompany Hitler to Ulm but returned to Berlin after attending the Nuremberg Rally from August 30 to September 3, 1933.
Hitler and 'his Volkswagen': Tracing the 80-year history of the Beetle
The VW Beetle has the Nazis to thank for its existence. Adolf Hitler laid the cornerstone of the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg 80 years ago. Here, a critical retrospective of a German success story.
Adolf Hitler inspecting the very first VW Beetle in Stuttgart, 1936
Two men, one huge project: Adolf Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche are the people behind the Volkswagen Beetle. Porsche was the genius engineer, Hitler the sly politician. "These two were made for each other," said Wolfram Pyta, a history professor at the University of Stuttgart.
He, along with historians Nils Havemann and Jutta Braun, have written Porsche: From design office to global brand. The book traces the company from its founding in Stuttgart on April 25, 1931.
Porsche's Volkswagen project could never have been realized without Hitler's support. "Hitler needed a creative mind to produce his compact car suitable for mass production," Pyta said. "And Porsche needed political backing to enable him to build it without financial pressure."
A work of art titled "Der Adolf war's" ("It was all Adolf") by Austrian artist Wolfgang Flatz features the hood of a VW Beetle painted with a swastika
Motorization and mobilization
Hitler announced a "people's motorization" at the auto show in February 1933, just weeks after he was named Reich Chancellor. In summer 1934, the Reich Association of the German Automobile Industry gave Porsche the task of coming up with a car under the motto "strength through pleasure," after the same name as the Nazi's Organization for Leisure Activities.
Hitler, who did not have a drivers license, personally approved the prototype of "his Volkswagen" on December 29, 1935. Not much more than two years later, on May 26, 1938, the cornerstone was laid for the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, with the Führer in attendance.
However, the car built for "strength through pleasure" was foremost intended for the German army, not the "people's motorization." It was put to military and all-terrain use on the front. This surprised few. A Porsche brochure in 1934 said a "car must be suitable not only for personal use, but also for transport and particular military purposes."
A celebration was held in the VW factory when the one millionth Beetle rolled off the assembly line in 1955
A French Volkswagen?
The success of a small car for the people began only after the war. It was rebranded as the "Beetle" to distance it from the Nazi period. The first one rolled off the assembly line in December 1945. The one-millionth Beetle came to be 10 years later. The hunchbacked car with a boxer engine became a symbol of the German economic miracle, and a global success. In all, nearly 22 million Beetles were produced and sold.
The Beetle was able to shake off its Nazi past immediately following the war. Notably, France's socialist-led ministry for industrial production contacted Porsche in October 1945.
"Nowhere is the successful distancing from national socialism clearer than in the French government's effort to win the Volkswagen designing for itself," said Pyta.
End of an era: On 30 July, 2003, the last Beetle was produced in Mexico
'Deal with the devil'
The French competition knew how to stop a German "voiture populaire." "Renault and Peugeot conspired" against it, Pyta told DW. "Porsche and his son-in-law Anton Piëch were accused of participating in war crimes."
Despite the Beetle's global success, Porsche was taken into surprise custody by French military authorities in December 1945, remaining in jail until August 1947. Hitler and Porsche's cooperation, however, was not all that unusual, Pyta said. Authoritarian rulers can lure apolitical actors with the prospect of major projects: "Porsche was not the only one to push aside moral considerations when presented with unlimited opportunism," he said. "Business leaders interested solely in their company's success or in implementing ambitious technical projects often have no qualms in doing deals with the devil."
Was Hitler the most evil person in history?
By moral evil are understood the deviation of human volition from the prescriptions of the moral ord e r and the action which results from that deviation. Such action, when it proceeds solely fromignorance, is not to be classed as moral evil, which is properly restricted to the motions of will towards ends of which theconscience disapproves. The extent of moral evil is not limited to the circumstances of life in the natural order, but includes also the sphere of religion, by which man’s welfare is affected in the supernatural order, and the precepts of which, as depending ultimately upon the will of God, are of the strictest possible obligation (see SIN). The obligation to moral action in the natural order is, moreover, generally believed to depend on the motives supplied by religion and it is at least doubtful whether it is possible for moral obligation to exist at all apart from a supernatural sanction.
If you look at the volume of harm caused, Hitler is unchallenged. If you factor in the total dead from the Holocaust and WWII, you are looking at 80+ million dead. The amount of suffering he caused on a per capita basis is mind boggling.
To be the most evil person, you have to:
- Know that you are causing suffering and death and with malice aforethought, engage in an evil act (your conscience telling you it is evil), with the intent of causing suffering and death.
- Planning ahead and laying in wait adds to the severity, because you have time to consider what you are doing.
- The more people you plan to harm and kill, the more severe the level of evil.
Hitler hated not just Jews, but communists, disabled people, Romanis, the mentally retarded, Slavs, blacks, and others. Essentially he believed that some should be outright exterminated, like Jews, whereas blacks could be permitted to live as slaves. He believed the Aryans were genetically superior to others. In order to agree to his Final Solution, he dehumanized people simply for being inferior in his mind. These were innocent human beings, including children. To have that level of cold, unfeeling regard for other human beings is as evil, and he was comfortable with exterminating millions.
Mitigating factors: He forbid human zoos, he didn’t like animals being hurt and was a vegetarian, and he was nice to Aryan children.
- He was a doctor. His profession was dedicated to healing people. And he betrayed this calling by doing human experimentation, unspeakable acts of seeing how human beings would respond to freezing temperatures, vivisection alive, etc. He did horrific experiments on twins, even children. He regarded people as less than things.
- When there were outbreaks of disease he would send an entire bunker of people to be gassed.
- Because he was the one doing the harm to people directly, his conscience should have been well notified of the depravity of his behavior,so this adds an extra level of culpability.
Fish was a child rapist, serial killer, and a cannibal. He boasted of his horrors, claiming he “had one in every state.” He was known to have killed at least 5 people, but most likely far, far more. He also stabbed several people.
The challenge is how you define “evil.” Psychopaths have no empathy. They are cold blooded predators. When they kill it doesn’t even feel evil to them. They consider other people weak for having empathy. They don’t have a conscience to violate.
Hitler was not considered a psychopath. He did not torture animals as a child. Instead he was motivated by extreme hate, because he believed Jews and communists were responsible for the fall of Germany and the moral degradation of the world. In this sense he had a sense of justice, but that sense of justice was completely warped. So does this make him less “evil?” Or does it make him more evil because he knew the difference between right and wrong and chose to do the wrong? Of course one might argue that in his mind he was actually making the world a better place, as twisted and wrong as that is.
A psychoanalyst reviewed Hitler’s medical and psychological data.
Dr. Redlich believes one cannot adequately assess Hitler’s actions without taking into account not only the historical facts, but the Nazi leader’s ‘’psychological reality.’’ For example, Hitler believed that his father was half-Jewish and had died of syphilis. These beliefs, the author argues, may have affected the Nazi leader’s behavior, whether or not they were true. (There is no clear evidence, Dr. Redlich writes, to support either claim.)
Dr. Redlich theorizes that Hitler may have thought his physical abnormalities — his hypospadia and spina bifida occulta — were signs that he had inherited syphilis from his father. And his rage at this may have fueled his anti-Semitism, and his obsession with syphilis as a ‘’Jewish disease,’’ a theme he dwelled upon for 10 pages in ‘’Mein Kampf.’’
One of the most puzzling aspects of Hitler’s childhood is that investigators have been able to find little there to foreshadow the adult he would become. He did not torture animals (though there is a single, often repeated, story about a billy goat), and from the little that is known, he seemed a fairly normal child, though sexually shy in adolescence. ‘’Psychohistorians assume that the child had troublesome, deep conflicts (including ambivalent feelings about his mother and father),’’ Dr. Redlich writes. ‘’I am more impressed with the fact that useful data about eating habits, sleep disorders and toilet training are lacking.’’
Indicators of Hitler’s peculiarities in later adulthood, of course, are abundant, from his sexual inhibition (he may never have had sexual intercourse with Eva Braun, Dr. Redlich writes) to his phobias of disease, his explosive rages, his delusions and his conviction that he would die at an early age (he died at 56). In his book, Dr. Redlich runs through a list of psychiatric symptoms — paranoia, narcissism, anxiety, depression, hypochondria, to name a few — and finds some evidence for every one.Proof that Hitler was overtly self-destructive or sexually perverse is sparser and less compelling, the author says.
Yet Dr. Redlich concludes that attaching a formal psychiatric diagnosis to the Nazi leader is not very useful. When applying such diagnoses, he writes, he often feels ‘’as if I were in a cheap clothing store: Nothing fits, and everything fits.’’ Ultimately, the psychiatrist portrays Hitler as a man who was more than the sum of his pathology, entirely responsible for his actions.
Some have argued that any attempt to explain Hitler is wrong, because understanding inevitably breeds excuse. Dr. Redlich disagrees: ‘’I tried to put myself as far as I could into Hitler’s shoes, to study him as a psychiatrist would study a forensic patient, to understand what makes him tick,’’ he said. ‘’Empathy is not the same as sympathy.’’ In fact, there is little possibility that in trying to fathom Hitler’s actions this particular author could also forgive him. Dr. Redlich, 88, is himself an Austrian of Jewish descent, who trained in Vienna before the war and fled the Nazis for the United States in 1938. ‘’This book,’’ he said, ‘’is in a way my answer to Hitler.’’
The most evil person would be someone who knew the difference between right and wrong, chose to do wrong intending to do great harm, on a mass scale, and with plenty of time to consider it and for no meaningful reason. The person would be physically healthy, and had no mitigating childhood or adult circumstances.
Consider the diary entries of Dr. Mengele:
The diary begins in June 1960, in Argentina, 19 years before the world’s most hunted Nazi war criminal drowned — or possibly suffered a stroke — while swimming off the shore of Bertioga, Brazil.
“I see how right my plans have been all along and I understand now that following people’s advice mostly results in irreparable nonsense. But I refuse to pass guilt onto others: I was solely responsible for my decisions,” writes Mengele, who was 49 when he started the journal.
Unless the world adopted breeding programs like those he pursued in Auschwitz, “mankind is doomed, even without war,” he writes.
Referring to morality, aesthetics and genetics, Mengele writes: “The real problem is to define when human life is worth living and when it has to be eradicated.”
“There’s only one truth and one true beauty … There’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in nature. There’s only ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ … Both sides receive equal chances. Nevertheless, nature provides a strainer. Things that are ‘inappropriate’ fall through since they lose in the struggle for survival.”
Discussing the Indian caste system, Mengele notes, “Brahmans are built nicely some of them even have blue eyes. They have small, straight noses and they’re in general high quality human beings. And this is because the Brahmans used the highest caste to preserve their noble blood. They are the descendants of Nordic peoples who once conquered and ruled India.”
Mengele discusses how to create an upper class: “It can only be done by selecting the best.”
“Everything will end in catastrophe if natural selection is altered to the point that gifted people are overwhelmed by billions of morons,” he warns, predicting that 90 percent of humans will starve due to stupidity and the remaining 10 percent will survive “like reptiles survived. The rest will die, just like the dinosaurs did … we have to prevent the rise of the idiot masses,” he writes.
“The feeble-minded person (‘village idiot’) was separated from farmers because of his social status and low income,” he writes.
“This separation is no longer the case in the age of technology. He is now on the same level with the farmer’s son who went to the city.
“We know that selection rules all nature by choosing and exterminating … Those who were unfit had to accept the rule of more accomplished human beings, or they were pushed out or exterminated. Weaker humans were excluded from reproducing. This is the only way for human beings to exist and to maintain themselves.”
He says “inferior morons” should be exterminated, adding, “We have to make sure that nature’s suspended eradication will continue through human arrangements … birth control can be done by sterilizing those with deficient genes.”
Mengele goes on to advise Germany to abandon feminist ideology and control childbirth. “Biology doesn’t support equal rights. Women shouldn’t be working in higher positions. Women’s work must depend on filling a biological quota. Birth control can be done by sterilizing those with deficient genes. Those with good genes will be sterilized after the fifth child.”
It is hard to read these words without tearing up. The reduction of human beings to less than insects is hard to fathom. Mengele doesn’t for a moment consider that human beings have emotions, love, joy, happiness, laughs, and tears. That one’s ability to enjoy the gift of life is not contingent upon the straightness and size of one’s nose, one’s physical build, or one’s intelligence. To reduce human beings to such things is a step beyond evil. And he admits he knew he was doing wrong. He personally did these things directly, sadistically, and appeared to enjoy human experimentation, regardless of the pain and misery it caused his victims, because they weren’t even human in his eyes.
In a Scary Uniform, Subverting a March to Death
“Walking With the Enemy” is based on the real-life deeds of Pinchas Rosenbaum, a Hungarian rabbi’s son who was able to save Jews from the Nazis and their collaborators by disguising himself in enemy garb.
In the movie’s fictionalized retelling, the hero, Elek (Jonas Armstrong), bolts from a bombed labor camp. His family deported, he finds refuge in Budapest, falling in with a resistance based around the city’s Glass House, which prints Swiss papers to aid escape.
“Walking With the Enemy” conveys a palpable sense of how the Nazis were able to rule by fear. Simply dressing up as a German officer and shouting orders, Elek is able to free an imprisoned comrade and redirect death-camp-bound Jews. Via a love interest (Hannah Tointon), the movie shows once again that the imperatives of melodrama — which dictate that preferred characters survive — and the indifferent slaughter of the Holocaust make for an uneasy mix.
Visually, “Walking With the Enemy” resembles a TV mini-series, a sense enhanced by the director Mark Schmidt’s habit of cutting away from bloodshed. Constant title cards introducing historical figures suggest the work of a completist rather than a filmmaker who has focused the material. (The opening credits twice note that the movie was inspired by a true story.)
Indeed, a parallel plotline featuring Ben Kingsley as Miklos Horthy — who led Hungary as regent and attempted to broker a late surrender to the Soviet Union in defiance of an official alliance with the Nazis — would have made a compelling procedural in its own right.
“Walking With the Enemy” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Holocaust- and war-related violence.
The real reason a Palestinian mufti allied with Hitler? It’s not so shocking.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address to the World Zionist Congress in which he made the very controversial claim that the Holocaust was instigated by a leading Palestinian cleric.
Netanyahu cited a well-known 1941 meeting between Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who had fled to Germany and was colluding with the Nazis. My colleague William Booth reported on Netanyahu's speech, which hinged on this key statement:
The point of this history lesson was simple: Netanyahu has frequently sought to characterize Palestinian hostility and violence toward Israel not as a product of current political conditions — which he would then have to reckon with — but of a somehow innate, ancient Arab hatred of Jews.
The backlash to the speech has been both swift and prolonged. The Israeli opposition panned Netanyahu's contention as "dangerous historical distortion." Others have likened it to a form of Holocaust denial, which is technically a crime in Israel. A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel was compelled to remind the world that, indeed, the Holocaust was Germany's fault: "All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust," said Steffen Seibert.
And the chief historian of Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, deemed the Israeli leader's revisionism as "completely erroneous, on all counts."
"Hitler did not need anyone to encourage the Final Solution," Dina Porat, who is also a senior historian at Tel Aviv University, told the Israeli daily Haaretz. "In terms of the facts, there’s no debate . all these actions, Hitler’s obsessions, have no link to the mufti." Porat told the Israeli newspaper that the mufti's alleged remarks are not in the recorded minutes.
There is, to be sure, a fair amount of historical research into the mufti's ideological proclivities and his abhorrent views toward Europe's Jews. He helped the Nazis with wartime propaganda directed toward Muslims and called for the destruction of Jewish settlements in Palestine in radio broadcasts. But there is scant evidence that he encouraged the Final Solution or that Hitler even asked the mufti for his advice.
Nevertheless, the meeting has accrued a special political valence now: It's the seminal moment for the advent of "Islamofascism," a concept sometimes invoked by Netanyahu, his supporters and American neoconservatives when speaking of the evils of Islamist extremism.
While a convenient ideological scarecrow, it totally obscures the real forces that drew someone like Husseini into the Nazi orbit around World War II.
At the time, Palestine was under British mandate, a colonial context that Palestinians feared would lead to their dispossession. The British were themselves well aware of Arab grievances in the face of Jewish migration.
"An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country," reported the 1937 Peel Commission, which proposed a partition of the territory that would give the new Jewish state most of the coastline and the country's most fertile agricultural lands. "About 1,000,000 Arabs are in strife, open or latent, with some 400,000 Jews. There is no common ground in between them."
A historical fake: The photo of Hitler walking out of prison
Documents from Hitlers time in Landsberg are to be auctioned on July 2 by the owner of a taxi company, who says his father discovered them in a flea market. Image Courtesy of Spiegel
A 90-year-old photo, in which the future Nazi dictator appears shortly after leaving prison, still misleads us after all this time. The photo – one of the most famous images in which Hitler appears – was not taken outside of Landsberg Prison as it was previously thought. The future German dictator poses quite rigid next to a Mercedes, dressed in a black waterproof jacket. His hair is carefully arranged and the mustache that made him famous, while posing in front of a medieval gates.
The picture dates from December 20, 1924 and was made to mark Hitler’s release from Landsberg in Bavaria, where he spent nine months for treason, of a five years sentence. Landsberg Prison was where Hitler wrote his autobiography-manifesto, Mein Kempf. The picture was taken by Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, and the image was supposed to announce his release to of all Germany, proclaiming his glorious “return”.
The photo has been used by the press in the past decades, with the explanation “Hitler leaving the Landsberg prison” as Hoffmann had written himself. It quickly became a very known image, especially after Hitler reconstructed this scene for Hoffmann, after his appointment as Chancellor.
But the image is not what it seems to be. It is actually a fake of the Führer.
Hitler used the time in Landsberg to dictate his anti-Semitic screed “Mein Kampf.” Image Courtesy of Spiegel
The Landsberg Fortress still exists today and is still a prison, but it never had a massive medieval gate like the one in the picture. Moreover, the building dates from, not from the Middle Ages. The gate in the photo is actually Bayertor – the so-called Bavarian Gate, the southern entrance in the old town of Landsberg. So where does the false explanation come from?
Hitler receives visitors in Landsberg Prison, including Rudolf Hess (second from right.) Image Courtesy of Spiegel
It is said that Hoffmann, who came from Munich to greet Hitler out of prison, wanted to capture this historical moment for posterity, but a prison guard had forbidden him to take pictures and threatened to confiscate his device. Frustrated, Hoffmann drove to Bayertor and asked Hitler to pose there. Confessing it in his memoirs, he said he made the decision because that location had more of a fortress atmosphere.
The press, from then and now, took Hoffmann’s explanation, some even adding false details of the story by writing titles such as “The Fortress Gates have opened”. Since then, everyone thinks that the Landsberg prison has such an imposing gate at its entrance.
The time in prison was far from harsh. His wing on the second floor was named “the general’s hill” and visitors remarked that he was surrounded by fruit, wine, flowers and much more. Image Courtesy of Spiegel
In the big story of the Nazism, this is seen ,of course, as a minor detail, a seemingly insignificant correction in a much bigger picture. However, it illustrates a key aspect of the whole story. It shows that Hitler and Hoffmann were not only well aware of the political importance of the image, but were also willing to manipulate the truth in the process. In an era in which most politicians were not concerned with such seemingly ephemeral matters, the photo Hoffmann took marks the beginning of a new age. It was the first step towards what we would call today image management, through which Hitler and Hoffmann built carefully and thoroughly, the Führer’s public image, a campaign started in the 20s and ended only with his death.
Hitler’s American Friends: Henry Ford and Nazism
Over the past century, Ford has become one of the most iconic American brands, from its line of pickup trucks to the Mustang. The company’s first car, the Model T, broke ground and helped create the modern automotive industry. Yet what few people know today is that the company’s founder, Henry Ford, not only held deeply prejudiced personal views but also became one of Hitler’s key American friends in the years before the war. To its credit, the Ford Motor Company has made some efforts to come to terms with this troubling history, but there is still more work to be done. As we’ll see, Ford’s views were more than just a private matter—they translated into real-world action that had a major effect on Germany’s military preparedness before World War II. Certainly, Ford was far from the only American businessman who was enticed by Nazi Germany. His rival—General Motors—had a German division of its own and manufactured aircraft parts for the Luftwaffe.
As I discuss in my book Hitler’s American Friends, some of its executives held views that went beyond pure business interests and bordered on Nazi sympathies. Yet Ford’s story is unique not just because he did extensive business in the Third Reich, but because of the influence he held over Hitler’s other American friends in the United States. This industrial leader was far more than just a mere businessman—he was also an American icon who, like his friend Charles Lindbergh who we’ll discuss in the final part of this miniseries, would become practically obsessed with Hitler and Nazism.
Ford was born on a farm in 1863. After pursuing a career in engineering, he founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and introduced the revolutionary Model T five years later. Ford’s manufacturing genius was beyond question — by introducing innovations such as the assembly line and standardized parts, he was able to vastly speed up production of his vehicles and drive down prices. Ford scandalized business opinion by voluntarily paying his workers a whopping $5 per day in 1914, which was more than double their previous wages. At the same time, Ford used his own workers as a market for his vehicles and encouraged them to buy Model Ts for themselves. It worked, and just 10 years after the Model T was released, it accounted for half the cars in the United States. It goes without saying that Ford became a very, very wealthy man, arguably the most famous industrialist in the country.
The Führer once indicated his desire to help ‘Heinrich Ford’ become ‘the leader of the growing Fascist movement in America.’
Despite his industrial genius, though, Ford had a less attractive streak as well. He opposed U.S. entry in World War I, and later adopted the view that the war had been caused by an international plot by Jewish bankers. Conspiracy theories have always been a key component of anti-Semitism, and once one begins to believe one theory, they tend to believe more and more. Anti-Semitic slurs became common in Ford’s conversations, and in the early 1920s he owned a newspaper called the Dearborn Independent that he changed into a viciously anti-Semitic mouthpiece. He began personally distributing huge numbers of the infamous anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. A few years later he was eventually forced to apologize to the country’s Jewish community after losing a libel suit, but it seems that his own views were unchanged. By the mid 1930s Ford was blaming “financiers and money lenders” for both the New Deal and the prospect of another world war. One of his many admirers was Hitler himself, and according to one account the Führer once indicated his desire to help “Heinrich Ford” become “the leader of the growing Fascist movement in America.”
As I mentioned, Ford’s views were not just a private matter—they influenced company policy too. Back in the 1920s, Ford and GE had been competing to buy the German carmaker Opel, which both saw as a great way to enter the German market. GE won the bid and bought Opel, and in return Ford opened an auto plant in the German city of Cologne. This proved to be a lucrative move, and by the start of the war Ford’s interests in Germany were estimated to be worth around $8.5 million.
Continue reading Hitler’s American Friends: Henry Ford and Nazism on the Unknown History channel at Quick and Dirty Tips. Or listen to the full episode below.
Steven r offenback - 6/23/2008
Rick Shenkman needs to be sure he does proper fact checking before making such statements as -
"It is forgotten that Germany managed to pick up more medals than all the other countries combined. Hitler was pleased with the outcome."
Germany did certainly have a successful olympics but they didn't come close to picking up more medals than all the other countries combined. The fact is Germany picked up a total of 89 out of a possible 388. (U.S. got 56)
When all facts are not checked then how are we to believe the rest.
JB Campbell - 11/20/2007
Owens was asked if he met any nasty Nazis in Germany? He said, no, only nice Germans. And they didn't make me ride in the back of the bus, either.
I met him when I was a kid. He was a disk jockey on a radio station in Chicago. He shook hands and offered me a bunch of 45 records. I took them home and discovered Eddie Cochran and Summertime Blues, thanks to Jesse Owens.
Rex RexCurry.net Curry - 8/25/2004
I enjoyed your article and it reminded me of another piece of little-known history: While the National Socialist German Workers' Party presided over the 1936 Olympics in which Jesse Owens set multiple records, Owens’ family and friends faced government schools in the U.S. that mandated racism and segregation by law, and that required a daily straight-arm salute to the U.S. flag with a pledge written by a self-proclaimed National Socialist in the U.S. (Francis Bellamy) to glorify government. http://members.ij.net/rex/pledge1.html
An eye-popping photo of a segregated class robotically chanting the Pledge is at
A jaw-dropping graphic comparing the U.S. Pledge to the salute of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party is at http://members.ij.net/rex/pledgewonschik.html
with information about a new U.S. Supreme Court case that exposes the Pledge’s terrifying history.
The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was the origin of the salute of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. http://members.ij.net/rex/pledgesalute.html
It is a myth that it was an old Roman salute.
One of the big myths about government schools is that children gain good "socialization." The socialist pledge of allegiance is more proof that the socialization of government schools is so bad that government schools should end. This webpage helps students in government schools to stop repeating the pledge of allegiance to the flag, and to end all government school policy for it. http://members.ij.net/rex/stopthepledge.html
The children in the pictures on the webpages above saluted the U.S. flag with the original socialist salute and pledge that was written by the socialist Francis Bellamy to promote socialism through the most socialistic institution: government schools (socialized schools). The National Socialist German Workers’ Party was aware of the U.S.’s salute when it adopted its salute.
When the U.S. Constitution was written, people in the U.S. received private educations. Bellamy lived during the time when schools were becoming socialized heavily by government in the U.S. It was a view later shared by the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
The government schools were racist and they mandated segregation by law. Every day, the segregated children were forced to attend racist government schools where they were forced to collectively perform a degrading salute and a pledge to a flag written by a socialist to glorify government. Any child who did not perform the socialist pledge was expelled. If parents rejected government schools in favor of the many better alternatives, some government school administrators would still harass the families. It was behavior that was later shared by the National Socialist German Workers' Party
Bellamy, belonged to a group known for "Nationalism," whose members wanted the federal government to nationalize most of the domestic economy. He saw government schools as a means to that end. It was a view later shared by the National Socialist German Workers' Party. The current hand-over-the heart pledge was adopted after the National Socialist German Workers' Party tried to impose socialism upon the world.
The United States of America is one of the only nations since Germany (under the National Socialist German Workers' Party) that has designated an official pledge to its flag.
To this day, children are still ostracized and persecuted in government schools that still hold a daily ritual where children stand for a robotic recitation of a pledge and salute written by a socialist to glorify government.
And no one disputes the invidious influence of a century of socialism's racism and segregation mandated by law in government schools, where it was taught as an official policy. Even after the socialist segregation ended the socialist schools continued racist and vicious behavior with forced busing, removing children from their neighborhoods and families, forcing them to government facilities across town, and destroying their local neighborhoods and the support that was provided.
Today, the government owns and operates most schools and there is constant political debate about how the government should handle myriad non-educational issues within the schools. Imagine if the government owned and operated most churches and there was constant political debate about how the government should handle myriad non-religious issues within government churches (dress codes, cell phones, drug testing, sex ed, discrimination, forced busing to integrate churches, etc). Would the media and the citizenry advocate that the issues be solved by privatizing the churches, removing government from the churches, and championing the separation of church and state? Apparently not. If the popular reasoning regarding schools is followed, the media and citizenry would merely advocate that socialized churches adopt various policies that are the most "popular" or considered to be the most "reasonable." Other people, instead of creating the First Amendment, would instead advocate a voucher program where every child would receive government funding for his church. The same disaster would result.
Many people have been mistreated and segregated by government schools. They have constantly struggled to correct government schools. Imagine if everyone who had been mistreated or segregated by government schools had instead advocated the separation of school and state, and had withdrawn from government schools, and had switched to private schools or had formed their own private schools and used the many better alternatives. They would have done better than they have done by staying in government schools. They would have academically surpassed the people they left behind in government schools. They would have enjoyed true freedom, including true religious freedom, even in their schools. Their actions would have been much more historical, revolutionary and inspiring than the constant struggle to correct government schools. It would have been a story as historical, revolutionary and inspiring as was the separation of church and state, and the end of government churches.
It's not too late for the separation of school and state. The separation of school and state is as important as the separation of church and state.
Wright, conversant with Nazi ideology, was scared and thought that would have been his end. But their interrogation turned into a 3-4 hour dinner for the two, where they discussed several topics. The conservation unsurprisingly became one-way. Hitler, who was calm throughout, would ask and then answer his own questions but with a loud voice.
Wright, fluent in German, would later give an account of his encounter with Hitler. “The time with Hitler was spent almost entirely by his asking me questions about the Negroes in the United States. Of course I had little opportunity to answer any of his questions because he would no sooner ask a question than he would immediately proceed to give his own answer,” Wright wrote in the Pittsburgh Courier, a Black weekly newspaper.
“When I would attempt to correct some of his versions of life in America, he would almost invariably break in with another question or comment. With that exception he was most courteous to me. He spoke loudly, long, and with an air or authority.”
Hitler’s views on race during the conversation were what one would probably expect from him. Wright wrote: “He [Hitler] expressed the opinion that Negroes could not have much backbone, because of the fact that they consistently allowed the whites to lynch them, beat them, segregate them, without rising up against their oppressors. ‘They must be definitely third-class people,’ he said. ‘Minority groups always get the worst of it in conflicts like race-riots.’ ‘Don’t you think your people are destined perpetually to be slaves of one kind or another?’ he asked. Hitler’s answer was an enthusiastic ‘yes’! Your people are a hopeless lot. I don’t hate them. I pity the poor devils.”
The future German dictator however paid Wright a compliment at the end of their four-hour conversation, saying he loved the fact that the first Black person he had ever met in person could speak better German than any White American or Englishman he had ever heard.
In six months after their meeting, Hitler would rise to power as the Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and then as Führer in 1934. During the Nazi party leader’s dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, Jews and Blacks and a few other European nationalities were all victims of the Nazi’s racial cleansing, though anytime Nazi Germany is mentioned, the Jewish Holocaust is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
In the Nazi era, from 1933 to 1945, African Germans were in their thousands. Servants, students, sailors and entertainers from present-day Rwanda, Burundi, Namibia, Cameroon, Togo, and Tanzania came to Germany, said a BBC report. In time, many African Germans were excluded from education and employment and were not allowed to have relationships with White people. Some were also sterilized while others were sent to concentration camps.
In effect, while Black Germans were not subject to mass extermination as in the cases of Jews, Romani and Slavs, they were targeted too, though not in the “same systematic way”, researchers say.
Wright had, before the start of the Nazi era, returned to the U.S. after having completed his dissertation, titled “The Economic Development and the Natives Policy in the Former African Protected Areas of Germany from 1884 to 1918.”
The academic, born in Savannah, Georgia, on June 28, 1903, had before pursuing his doctorate in economics at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, received his B.A. from Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1926 and his M.A. from Columbia University in 1928. While at Heidelberg in Germany, he was a student leader who received a lot of invitations to international student conferences at the University of Cologne in Germany and Oxford University in England, a report said.
The year before he met Hitler, he had wanted to launch student exchange programs between historically Black institutions in the U.S. and German universities. The African-American intellectual would later write a seven-page first-hand account of his meeting with Hitler in an article on Ebony magazine over 20 years after the reported encounter.
While back in the U.S., Wright became a professor and head of the Department of Economics and Political Science at his alma mater Wilberforce in 1933. In 1959, he was dean of the College.
Before his death on March 11, 1972, in Ohio, survived by his daughter, the conversation he had with Hitler was dramatically reenacted on the anti-racist radio show New World A-Coming in 1944.
This man owns the largest collection of Nazi artifacts
When he was 5 years old, Kevin Wheatcroft received an unusual birthday present from his parents: a bullet-pocked SS stormtrooper’s helmet, lightning bolts on the ear-flaps. He had requested it especially.
The next year, at a car auction in Monte Carlo, he asked his multimillionaire father for a Mercedes: the G4 that Hitler rode into the Sudetenland in 1938.
Tom Wheatcroft refused to buy it and his son cried all the way home.
When Wheatcroft was 15, he spent birthday money from his grandmother on three WWII Jeeps recovered from the Shetlands, which he restored himself and sold for a tidy profit. He invested the proceeds in four more vehicles, then a tank.
Hitler rides in a Mercedes convertible in 1935. Wheatcroft asked his father to buy him Hitler’s G4 when he was just six-years-old, and cried when his father said no. He now owns it. Getty Images
After Wheatcroft left school at 16, he went to work for an engineering firm, and then for his father’s construction company. He spent his spare time touring wind-blasted battle sites in Europe and North Africa, searching for tank parts and recovering military vehicles that he would ship home to restore.
Wheatcroft is now 55, and worth $190 million. He lives in Leicestershire, England, where he looks after the property portfolio of his late father and oversees the management of a racetrack and motor museum.
The ruling passion of his life, though, is what he calls the Wheatcroft Collection — widely regarded as the world’s largest accumulation of German military vehicles and Nazi memorabilia. The collection has largely been kept in private, under heavy guard, in a warren of industrial buildings. There is no official record of the value of Wheatcroft’s collection, but some estimates place it at over $160 million.
Since that initial stormtrooper’s helmet, Wheatcroft’s life has been shaped by his obsession for German military memorabilia. He has travelled the world tracking down items to add to his collection, flying into remote airfields, following up unlikely leads, throwing himself into hair-raising adventures in the pursuit of historic objects.
He readily admits that his urge to accumulate has been monomaniacal, elbowing out the demands of friends and family. The French theorist Jean Baudrillard once noted that collecting mania is found most often in “pre-pubescent boys and males over the age of 40” the things we hoard, he wrote, tend to reveal deeper truths.
Despite the trade of Nazi antiquities being banned or strictly regulated in many countries, the market’s annual global turnover is expected to be in excess of $47 million. A signed copy of Mein Kampf goes for around $31,000. Getty Images
Wheatcroft’s father, Tom, a building site worker, came back from WWII a hero. He also came back with a wife, Wheatcroft’s mother, Lenchen, whom he had first seen from the turret of a tank as he pulled into her village in the Harz mountains of Germany.
He made hundreds of millions in the post-war building boom, then spent the rest of his life indulging his zeal for motor cars.
Tom supported his son in his early years of collecting Wheatcroft speaks of his late father as “not just my dad, but also my best friend.” Tom died in 2009. Despite being one of seven children, Wheatcroft was the sole beneficiary of his father’s will. He no longer speaks to his siblings.
It is hard to say how much the echoes of atrocity that resonate from Nazi artifacts compel the enthusiasts who haggle for and hawk them. The trade in Third Reich antiquities is either banned or strictly regulated in Germany, France, Austria, Israel and Hungary.
None of the major auction houses will handle Nazi memorabilia and eBay recently prohibited sales on its site.
Still, the business flourishes, with burgeoning online sales and increasing interest from buyers in Russia, America and the Middle East Wheatcroft’s biggest rival is a mysterious, unnamed Russian buyer.
A Holocaust denier runs one of the most-visited Nazi antiquities websites, and is currently verifying charred bones said to be those of Hitler and Eva Braun. AP
Naturally, exact figures are hard to come by, but the market’s annual global turnover is estimated to be in excess of $47 million. One of the most-visited websites is run by Holocaust denier David Irving, who in 2009 sold Hitler’s walking stick (which had previously belonged to Friedrich Nietzsche) for $5,750. Irving has offered strands of Hitler’s hair for $200,000, and says he is currently verifying the authenticity of charred bones said to be those of Hitler and Eva Braun.
There is also a roaring trade in the automobiles of the Third Reich — in 2009, one of Hitler’s Mercedes sold for almost $7.8 million. A signed copy of Mein Kampf will set you back $31,000, while in 2011 an unnamed investor purchased Joseph Mengele’s South American journals for $473,000.
As the crimes of the Nazi regime retreat further into the past, there seems to be an increasing desperation in the race to get hold of mementos of the darkest chapter of the 20th century. In the market for Nazi memorabilia, two out of the three principal ideologies of the era — fascism and capitalism — collide, with the mere financial value of these objects used to justify their acquisition, the spiralling prices trapping collectors in a frantic race for the rare and the covetable.
In Walden, Henry David Thoreau observed that “the things we own can own us too” this is the sense I get with Wheatcroft — that he started off building a collection, but that very quickly the collection began building him.
‘I was in the area’
When I went to Leicestershire near the end of last year to see the collection, a visibly tired Wheatcroft met me off the train. “I want people to see this stuff,” he told me. “There’s no better way to understand history. But I’m only one man and there’s just so much of it.”
He had been trying to set his collection in order, cataloguing late into the night, and making frequent trips to Cornwall, where, at huge expense, he was restoring the only remaining Kriegsmarine S-Boat in existence.
Wheatcroft had recently purchased two more barns and a dozen shipping containers to house his collection. The complex of industrial buildings, stretching across several flat Leicestershire acres, seemed like a manifestation of his obsession — just as haphazard, as cluttered and as dark.
As we made our way into the first of his warehouses, Wheatcroft stood back for a moment, as if shocked by the scale of what he had accumulated. Many of the tanks before us were little more than rusting husks, ravaged by the years they had spent abandoned in the deserts of North Africa or on the Russian steppes.
They jostled each other in the warehouses, spewing out to sit in glum convoys around the complex’s courtyard.
“I want people to see this stuff. There’s no better way to understand history.”
“Every object in the collection has a story,” Wheatcroft told me as we made our way under the turrets of tanks, stepping over V2 rockets and U-boat torpedoes. “The story of the war, then subsequent wars, and finally the story of the recovery and restoration. All that history is there in the machine today.”
We stood beside the muscular bulk of a Panzer IV tank, patched with rust and freckled with bullet holes, its tracks trailing barbed wire.
Wheatcroft scratched at the palimpsest of paintwork to reveal layers of color beneath: its current livery, the duck-egg blue of the Christian Phalangists from the Lebanese civil war, flaking away to the green of the Czech army who used the vehicles in the 1960s and 70s, and finally the original German taupe.
The tank was abandoned in the Sinai desert until Wheatcroft arrived on one of his regular shopping trips to the region and shipped it home to Leicestershire.
Wheatcroft owns a fleet of 88 tanks — more than the Danish and Belgian armies combined. The majority of the tanks are German, and Wheatcroft recently acted as an adviser to David Ayer, the director of “Fury” (in which Brad Pitt played the commander of a German-based US Sherman tank in the final days of the war). “They still got a lot of things wrong,” he told me. “I was sitting in the cinema with my daughter saying, ‘That wouldn’t have happened’ and ‘That isn’t right.’ Good film, though.”
A Panzer (or Panzerkampfwagen) III, used by the German forces during World War II. Wheatcroft owns a Panzer IV tank, as well as a fleet of 88 other tanks. Getty Images
Around the tanks sat a number of strange hybrid vehicles with caterpillar tracks at the back, truck wheels at the front. Wheatcroft explained to me that these were half-tracks, deliberately designed by the Nazis so as not to flout the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which stipulated that the Germans could not build tanks.
Wheatcroft owns more of these than anyone else in the world, as well as having the largest collection of Kettenkrads, which are half-motorbike, half-tank, and were built to be dropped out of gliders.
A Kettenkrad, an army motorcycle that the Germans built during World War II after the terms in the Treaty of Versailles stipulated the Germans could not build tanks. Wheatcroft owns more of these half-motorbike, half-tank vehicles, than anyone in the world. AP
“They just look very cool,” he said with a grin.
Alongside the machines’ stories of wartime escapades and the sometimes dangerous lengths that Wheatcroft had gone to in order to secure them were the dazzling facts of their value. “The Panzer IV cost me $25,000. I’ve been offered two and a half million for it now. It’s the same with the half-tracks. They regularly go for over a million each. Even the Kettenkrads, which I’ve picked up for as little as $1,500, go for $235,000.”
I tried to work out the total value of the machines around me, and gave up somewhere north of $78 million. Wheatcroft had made himself a fortune, almost without realizing it.
“Everyone just assumes that I’ve inherited a race track and I’m a spoilt rich kid who wants to indulge in these toys,” he told me, a defensive edge to his voice. “It’s not like that at all. My dad supported me, but only when I could prove that the collection would work financially. And as a collector, you never have any spare money lying around. Everything is tied up in the collection.”
Leaning against the wall of one of the warehouses, I spotted a dark wooden door, heavy iron bolts on one side and a Judas window in the centre. Wheatcroft saw me looking at it. “That’s the door to Hitler’s cell in Landsberg. Where he wrote ‘Mein Kampf.’ I was in the area.”
A lot of Wheatcroft’s stories start like this — he seems to have a genius for proximity. “I found out that the prison was being pulled down. I drove there, parked up and watched the demolition. At lunch I followed the builders to the pub and bought them a round. I did it three days in a row and by the end of it, I drove off with the door, some bricks and the iron bars from his cell.”
It was the first time he had mentioned Hitler by name. We paused for a moment by the dark door with its black bars, then moved on.
‘My real love’
Sometimes the stories of search and recovery were far more interesting than the objects themselves. Near the door sat a trio of rusty wine racks.
“They were Hitler’s,” he said, laying a proprietary hand upon the nearest one. “We pulled them out of the ruins of the Berghof [Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden] in May 1989. The whole place was dynamited in ’52, but my friend Adrian and I climbed through the ruins of the garage and down through air vents to get in. You can still walk through all of the underground levels. We made our way by torchlight through laundry rooms, central heating service areas. Then a bowling alley with big signs for Coke all over it. Hitler loved to drink Coke. We brought back these wine racks.”
The cell in Landsberg prison where Hitler was incarcerated in 1923. When Wheatcroft heard the prison was being pulled down, he drove to watch the demolition and collected the door, bricks and the iron bars from Hitler’s cell. Getty Images
Later, among engine parts and ironwork, I came across a massive bust of Hitler, sitting on the floor next to a condom vending machine (“I collect pub memorabilia, too,” Wheatcroft explained). “I have the largest collection of Hitler heads in the world,” he said, a refrain that returned again and again. “This one came from a ruined castle in Austria. I bought it from the town council.”
“Things have the longest memories of all,” says the introduction to a recent essay by Teju Cole, “beneath their stillness, they are alive with the terrors they have witnessed.” This is what you feel in the presence of the Wheatcroft Collection — a sense of great proximity to history, to horror, an uncanny feeling that the objects know more than they are letting on.
Wheatcroft’s home sits behind high walls and heavy gates. There is a pond, its surface stirred by the fingers of a willow tree. A spiky black mine bobs along one edge. The house is huge and modern and somehow without logic, as if wings and extensions have been appended to the main structure willy-nilly.
When I visited, it was late afternoon, a winter moon climbing the sky. Behind the house, apple trees hung heavy with fruit. A Krupp submarine cannon stood sentry outside the back door.
One of the outer walls was set with wide maroon half-moons of iron work, inlaid with obscure runic symbols.
“They were from the top of the officers’ gates to Buchenwald,” Wheatcroft told me in an offhand manner. “I’ve got replica gates to Auschwitz — Arbeit Macht Frei — over there.” He gestured into the gloaming.
I had first heard about Wheatcroft from my aunt Gay, who, as a rather half-hearted expat estate agent, sold him a rambling chateau near Limoges. They subsequently enjoyed (or endured) a brief, doomed love affair.
Despite the inevitable break-up, my father kept in touch with Wheatcroft and, several years ago, was invited to his home. After a drink in the pub-cum-officers’ mess that Wheatcroft has built adjacent to his dining room, my dad was shown to the guest apartment.
“It was remarkable,” he said, mostly for the furniture. “That night, my dad slept in Hermann Göring’s favorite bed, from Carinhall hunting lodge, made of walnut wood and carved with a constellation of swastikas. There were glassy eyed deer heads and tusky boars on the walls, wolf-skin rugs on the floor. My father was a little spooked, but mostly intrigued. In an email soon after, he described Wheatcroft to me as “absurdly decent, almost unnaturally friendly.”
Darkness had fallen as we stepped into the immense, two-story barn conversion behind his home. It was the largest of the network of buildings surrounding the house, and wore a fresh coat of paint and shiny new locks on the doors. As we walked inside, Wheatcroft turned to me with a thin smile, and I could tell that he was excited.
“I have to have strict rules in my life,” he said, “I don’t show many people the collection, because not many people can understand the motives behind it, people don’t understand my values.”
The walls where Wheatcroft houses his collection are covered with signs, iron swastikas, Hitler’s sketches, and posters that read “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer.” Getty Images
He kept making these tentative passes at the stigma attached to his obsession, as if at once baffled by those who might find his collection distasteful, and desperately keen to defend himself, and it.
The lower level of the building contained a now-familiar range of tanks and cars, including the Mercedes G4 Wheatcroft saw as a child in Monaco. “I cried and cried because my dad wouldn’t buy me this car. Now, almost 50 years later, I’ve finally got it.”
On the walls huge iron swastikas hung, street-signs for Adolf Hitler Strasse and Adolf Hitler Platz, posters of Hitler with “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer” written beneath.
“That’s from Wagner’s family home,” he told me, pointing to a massive iron eagle spreading its wings over a swastika. It was studded with bullet holes. “I was in a scrap yard in Germany when a feller came in who’d been clearing out the Wagner estate and had come upon this. Bought it straight from him.”
We climbed a narrow flight of stairs to an airy upper level, and I felt that I had moved deeper into the labyrinth of Wheatcroft’s obsession. In the long, gabled hall were dozens of mannequins, all in Nazi uniform. Some were dressed as Hitler Youth, some as SS officers, others as Wehrmacht soldiers.
It was bubble still, the mannequins perched as if frozen in flight, a sleeping Nazi Caerleon. One wall was taken up with machine guns, rifles and rocket launchers in serried rows. The walls were plastered with sketches by Hitler, Albert Speer and some rather good nudes by Göring’s chauffeur.
On cluttered display tables sat a scale model of Hitler’s mountain eyrie the Kehlsteinhaus, a twisted machine gun from Hess’s crashed plane, the commandant’s phone from Buchenwald, hundreds of helmets, mortars and shells, wirelesses, Enigma machines, and searchlights, all jostling for attention. Rail after rail of uniforms marched into the distance.
“I brought David Ayer in here when he was researching Fury,” Wheatcroft told me. “He offered to buy the whole lot there and then. When I said no he offered me 30 grand for this.” He showed me a fairly ordinary-looking camouflage tunic. “He knows his stuff.”
“I try not to answer when people accuse me of being a Nazi, I tend to turn my back and leave them looking silly. I think Hitler and Göring were such fascinating characters in so many ways. Hitler’s eye for quality was just extraordinary.”
We were standing in front of signed photographs of Hitler and Göring. “I think I could give up everything else,” he said, “the cars, the tanks, the guns, as long as I could still have Adolf and Hermann. They’re my real love.”
I asked Wheatcroft whether he was worried about what people might read into his fascination with Nazism. Other notable collectors, I pointed out, were the bankrupt and discredited David Irving and Lemmy from Motörhead.
“I try not to answer when people accuse me of being a Nazi,” he said. “I tend to turn my back and leave them looking silly. I think Hitler and Göring were such fascinating characters in so many ways. Hitler’s eye for quality was just extraordinary.”
He swept his arm across the army of motionless Nazis surrounding us, taking in the uniforms and the bayonets, the dimly glimmering guns and medals. “More than that, though,” he continued, “I want to preserve things. I want to show the next generation how it actually was. And this collection is a memento for those who didn’t come back. It’s the sense of history you get from these objects, the conversations that went on around them, the way they give you a link to the past. It’s a very special feeling.”
The greatest find
We walked around the rest of the exhibition, stopping for a moment by a nondescript green backpack. “There’s a story behind this,” he said. “I found a roll of undeveloped film in it. I’d only bought the backpack to hang on a mannequin, but inside was this film. I had it developed and there were five unpublished pictures of Bergen-Belsen on it. It must have been very soon after the liberation, because there were bulldozers moving piles of bodies.”
The most treasured pieces of Wheatcroft’s collection are kept in his house, a maze-like place, low-ceilinged and full of staircases, corridors that turn back on themselves, hidden doorways and secret rooms. As soon as we entered through the back door, he began to apologize for the state of the place. “I’ve been trying to get it all in order, but there just aren’t the hours in the day.” In the drawing room there was a handsome walnut case in which sat Eva Braun’s gramophone and record collection. We walked through to the snooker room, which housed a selection of Hitler’s furniture, as well as two motorbikes. The room was so cluttered that we could not move further than the doorway.
Eva Braun and Hitler. Wheatcroft owns Braun’s gramophone and record collection. AP
“I picked up all of Hitler’s furniture at a guesthouse in Linz,” Wheatcroft told me. “The owner’s father’s dying wish had been that a certain room should be kept locked. I knew Hitler had lived there and so finally persuaded him to open it and it was exactly as it had been when Hitler slept in the room. On the desk there was a blotter covered in Hitler’s signatures in reverse, the drawers were full of signed copies of Mein Kampf. I bought it all. I sleep in the bed, although I’ve changed the mattress.”
A shy, conspiratorial smile.
We made our way through to the galleried dining room, where a wax figure of Hitler stood on the balcony, surveying us coldly. There was a rustic, beer-hall feel to the place. On the table sat flugelhorns and euphoniums, trumpets and drums. “I’ve got the largest collection of Third Reich military instruments in the world,” Wheatcroft told me. Of course he did. There was Mengele’s grandfather clock, topped with a depressed-looking bear. “I had trouble getting that out of Argentina. I finally had it smuggled out as tractor parts to the Massey-Ferguson factory in Coventry.”
Wheatcroft briefly opened a door to show the pub he had built for himself. Even here there was a Third Reich theme — the cellar door was originally from the Berghof.
Wheatcroft also owns the largest collection of Hitler heads in the world. Getty Images
The electricity was off in one wing of the house, and we made our way in dim light through a conservatory where rows of Hitler heads stared blindly across at each other. Every wall bore a portrait of the Führer, or of Göring, until the two men felt so present and ubiquitous that they were almost alive. In a well at the bottom of a spiral staircase, Wheatcroft paused beneath a full-length portrait of Hitler. “This was his favorite painting of himself, the one used for stamps and official reproductions.” The Führer looked peacockish and preening, a snooty tilt to his head.
We climbed the stairs to find more pictures of Hitler on the walls, swastikas and iron crosses, a faintly Egyptian statuette given by Hitler to Peron, an oil portrait of Eva Braun signed by Hitler. Paintings were stacked against walls, bubble wrap was everywhere. We picked our way between the artefacts, stepping over statuary and half-unpacked boxes. I found myself imagining the house in a decade’s time, when no doors would open, no light come in through the windows, when the collection would have swallowed every last corner, and I could picture Wheatcroft, quite happy, living in a caravan in the garden.
We passed along more shadowy corridors, through a door hidden in a bookshelf and up another winding staircase, until we found ourselves in an unexceptional bedroom, a single unshaded light in the ceiling illuminating piles of uniforms.
Wheatcroft reached into a closet and pulled out Hitler’s white dress suit with careful, supplicatory hands.
Hitler (center) in 1939. Wheatcroft says his greatest find was a locked suitcase that held Hitler’s white dress suit. Getty Images
“I was in Munich with a dealer,” he said, showing me the tailor’s label, which read Reichsführer Adolf Hitler in looping cursive. “We had a call to go and visit a lawyer, who had some connection to Eva Braun. In 1944, Eva Braun had deposited a suitcase in a fireproof safe. He quoted me a price, contents unseen. The case was locked with no key. We drove to Hamburg and had a locksmith open it. Inside were two full sets of Hitler’s suits, including this one, two Sam Browne belts, two pairs of his shoes, two bundles of love letters written by Hitler to Eva, two sketches of Eva naked, sunbathing, two self-propelling pencils. A pair of AH-monogrammed eyeglasses. A pair of monogrammed champagne flutes. A painting of a Vienna cityscape by Hitler that he must have given to Eva. I was in a dream world. The greatest find of my collecting career.”
Wheatcroft drove me to the station under a wide, star-filled night. “When David Ayer offered to buy the collection, I almost said yes,” he told me, his eyes on the road. “Just so it wouldn’t be my problem any more. I tried to buy the house in which Hitler was born in Braunau, I thought I could move the collection there, turn it into a museum of the Third Reich. The Austrian government must have Googled my name. They said no immediately. They didn’t want it to become a shrine. It’s so hard to know what to do with all the stuff. I really do feel like I’m just a caretaker until the next person comes along, but I must display it, I must get it out into the public — I understand that.”
We pulled into the station car park and, with a wave, he drove off into the night.
On the way home I stared out of the train window, feeling the events of the day working themselves upon me. The strange thing was not the weirdness of it all, but the normality. I really don’t believe that Wheatcroft is anything other than what he seems — a fanatical collector. I had expected a closet Nazi, a wild-eyed goosestepper, and instead I had met a man wrestling with a hobby that had become an obsession and was now a millstone.
Collecting was like a disease for him, the prospect of completion tantalizingly near but always just out of reach. If he was mad, it wasn’t the madness of the fulminating antisemite, rather the mania of the collector.
Many would question whether artifacts such as those in the Wheatcroft Collection ought to be preserved at all, let alone exhibited in public. Should we really be queueing up to marvel at these emblems of what Primo Levi called the Nazis’ “histrionic arts”? It is, perhaps, the very darkness of these objects, their proximity to real evil, that attracts collectors (and that keeps novelists and filmmakers returning to the years 1939-45 for material).
In the conflicting narratives and counter-narratives of history, there is something satisfyingly simple about the evil of the Nazis, the schoolboy Manichaeism of the second world war. Later, Wheatcroft would tell me that his earliest memory was of lining up Tonka tanks on his bedroom floor, watching the ranks of Shermans and Panzers and Crusaders facing off against each other, a childish battle of good and evil.
After I sent him a copy of Laurent Binet’s 2010 novel “HHhH,” a brilliant retelling of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the principal architects of the Holocaust, Wheatcroft emailed me with news of an astonishing new find in the house of a retired diplomat. “I’d fully intended to ease up on the collecting,” he told me, “to concentrate on cataloguing, on getting the collection out there, but actually some of the things I’ve discovered since I saw you last, I’ve just had to buy. Big-value items, but you just have to forget about that because of the sheer rarity value. It’s compounded the problem really, because they were all massive things.”
His latest find, he said, was a collection of Nazi artefacts brought to his attention by someone he had met at an auction a few years back. The story is classic Wheatcroft — a mixture of luck and happenstance and chutzpah that appears to have turned up objects of genuine historical interest. “This chap told me that his best friend was a plumber and was working on a big house in Cornwall. The widow was trying to sort things out. The plumber had seen that in the garden there were all sorts of Nazi statues. He sent me a picture of one of the statues, which was a massive 5 ½ foot stone eagle that came from Berchtesgaden. I did a deal and bought it, and after that sale my contact was shown a whole range of other objects by the widow. It turned out that this house was a treasure trove. There’s an enormous amount I’m trying to get hold of now. I can’t say an awful lot, but it’s one of the most important finds of recent times.”
The owner of the house had just passed away he was apparently a senior British diplomat who, in his regular trips to Germany in the lead-up to the war, amassed a sizable collection of Nazi memorabilia. He continued to collect after the war had finished, the most interesting items hidden in a safe room behind a secret panel.
“It’s stunning,” Wheatcroft told me, by telephone, his voice fizzing with excitement. “There’s a series of handwritten letters between Hitler and Churchill. They were writing to each other about the route the war was taking. Discussions of a non-aggression pact. This man had copied things and removed them on a day-to-day basis over the course of the war. A complete breach of the Official Secrets Act, but mindblowing.” The authenticity of the papers, of course, has not yet been confirmed — but if they are real, they could secure Wheatcroft a place in the history books. “Although it’s never been about me,” he insisted.
It seems our meeting in the winter stirred something in Wheatcroft, a realization that there were duties that came with owning the objects in his collection, obligations to the past and present that had become burdensome to him.
“It’s the objects,” he told me repeatedly, “the history.” It also seemed as if Wheatcroft’s halfhearted attempts to bring his collection to a wider public had been given a much-needed fillip.
“An awful lot has changed since I saw you,” he told me when we spoke in late spring. “It refocused me, talking to you about it. It made me think about how much time has gone by. I’ve spent, I suppose, 50 years as a collector just plodding along, and I’ve suddenly realized that there’s more time behind than ahead, and I need to do something about it. I’ve pressed several expensive buttons in order to get some of my more valuable pieces restored. Because you did just make me think what’s the point of owning these things if no one’s ever going to see them?”
Adolf Hitler – Historical People
Famous for being fascist Dictator of Germany
Born – 20th April 1889, Braunau am Inn, Austria
Parents – Alois Hitler, Klara Hitler
Siblings – Edmund, Paula
Married – Eva Braun
Children – None
Died – 30th April 1945, Berlin, Germany committed suicide
Famous for being fascist Dictator of Germany Born – 20th April 1889, Braunau am Inn, Austria Parents – Alois Hitler, Klara Hitler Siblings – Edmund, Paula Married – Eva Braun Children – None Died – 30th April 1945, Berlin, Germany committed suicide
Famous for being fascist Dictator of Germany Born – 20th April 1889, Braunau am Inn, Austria Parents – Alois Hitler, Klara Hitler Siblings – Edmund, Paula Married – Eva Braun Children – None Died – 30th April 1945, Berlin, Germany committed suicide
Adolf Hitler was born in the Austrian town of Braunau-am-Inn on 20th April 1889. The town was close to the Austro-German border and his father, Alois, worked as a border control clerk. His mother, Klara, was a housekeeper.
As a child he got on very well with his mother but he didn’t get on well with his father, a strict authoritative disciplinarian. He attended school from the age of six years but did not do well in academic subjects. His school record showed reasonable grades for PE and some artistic talent.
Adolf Hitler left school at the age of sixteen and went to Vienna where he hoped to enter the Academy and become a painter. His application to enter the academy was rejected when he was 17 years old and a year later his mother died from cancer. His father had died four years earlier and with no relatives willing to support him Adolf Hitler found himself living rough on the streets of Vienna. He became interested in politics and was heavily influenced by the climate of anti-Semitism that existed in Austria at that time.
In 1914, Hitler crossed the border to Germany and joined the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. He fought on the Western Front and was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery in battle. In 1918 he was temporarily blinded from a gas attack and was invalided out of the war. Hitler was dismayed when Germany lost the war and hated the Versailles Treaty and the Weimar government for signing the treaty. He dreamed of a return to the days of the Kaiser.
After the war he stayed in the army, but in intelligence. His activities led him to the German Worker’s Party led by Anton Drexler. He liked the ideas of the party and joined in 1919. Drexler realised that Hitler was something special and put him in charge of the political ideas and propaganda of the party.
In 1920, the party announced its 25-point programme and was renamed the National Socialist German Worker’s Party – NAZIs.
In 1921, Hitler became leader of the party and soon began attracting attention, especially for his powerful speeches. Hitler stirred up Nationalist passion giving the people something to blame for Germany’s problems. Hitler’s opponents tried to disrupt the meetings so for protection Hitler set up the SA – Stormtroopers. Although the actual membership of the NAZI party remained quite low in this period, Hitler, through his meetings and speeches had given them a very high profile.
In March 1924 Hitler was imprisoned for his part in the Munich Putsch, which failed to overthrow the Bavarian government. While in prison he wrote his book Mein Kampf which set out his thoughts and philosophies. The book was published a year after Hitler’s release from prison.
The Great Depression, which saw a downturn in people’s lives, helped to gain support for the Nazi party and by 1932 the Nazi party was the largest party in the Reichstag but did not have a majority. On January 30th 1933 Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. A month later on February 27th, the Reichstag building was set alight. The fire was blamed on the Communists and the Communist party was banned in Germany. This gave the Nazis a clear majority in the government.
On 23rd March 1933 the Enabling Act gave Hitler power to make laws without consulting the Reichstag for a period of four years. Over the next four months Hitler took steps towards dictatorship – trade unions and all other political parties were banned, the Nazis took control of all local government and Germany withdrew from the League of Nations. When President Hindenburg died in August 1934 Hitler combined the position of Chancellor and President and made himself Fuhrer of Germany.
As Fuhrer, Hitler began building his Third Reich. Ignoring the terms of the Treaty of Versailles he began building up the army and weapons. The Nuremburg Laws passed in 1935 defined Hitler’s ideal pure Aryan German citizen and barred Jews from holding any form of Public office. In March 1936 Hitler began reclaiming land taken from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles by re-occupying the Rhineland. The move was unopposed by Britain and France. Anschluss with Austria in Spring 1938 was followed in the Autumn by the reclaiming of the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia.
Although he had agreed by the terms of the Munich Agreement not to make further territorial claims, in March 1939 Hitler invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. His subsequent invasion and occupation of Poland on 1st September 1939 led to the outbreak of World War Two. Despite the outbreak of war, Hitler continued his policy of aggression and by May 1940 Britain was the only western European country that had not been invaded and occupied by the Nazis. The loss of the Battle of Britain led Hitler to abandon plans to invade Britain in favour of an invasion of Russia.
Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, communists and other ‘undesirables’ from Germany and Nazi-controlled countries were forced to wear identification badges. Jews were sent to concentration camps where the fit and healthy were put to forced labour while the young, old and sick were exterminated in gas chambers. In January 1942 plans to exterminate the entire Jewish population known as ‘The Final Solution’ were approved.
Defeat at the second battle of El Alamein in November 1942 was followed by defeat at Stalingrad. Hitler’s refusal to allow soldiers to retreat and blind perusal of his goals led some Nazi members to question his leadership. In July 1944 an attempt was made to assassinate Hitler. The attempt failed and the perpetrators were executed.
Throughout late 1944 and early 1945 the Germans were pushed back towards Berlin by the Allies in the west and the Russians in the East. On April 29th 1945 Adolf Hitler married his long-term mistress Eva Braun and a day later the pair committed suicide.
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