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Collecting Hitler

Everyone - not just Americans - is getting into Nazi memorabilia - By JOHN DORNBERG - aus Off Duty / Europe / October 1974

Amerikaner sind die größten NAZI Sammler auf der Welt

AMERICANS are the world's biggest collectors of Nazi memorabilia. That's something the Germans found out in the 1950s and 1960s when GIs, tourists and Stateside dealers started scouring the countryside, on the lookout for SS daggers, Nazi flags or other souvenirs of the Führer and the Third Reich.

Some antique dealers reported, American customers paying as much for an old World War II Wehrmacht uniform as it cost when it was brand new.

One GI stationed in Germany in the early 1960s collected a total of 48 Wehrmacht uniforms. The rush to collect presented some problems.

The Germans' supply of real collector's items was soon exhausted, prompting dealers to go abroad to look for the stuff. In order to meet the demand, some started manufacturing Nazi items. This is perfectly legal as long as the item is represented as a copy. But there were other problems. Some workers flatly refused to do such things as embroider SS insignia.

Fast "jeder" sammelt, sogar einige Deutsche.

But now almost everyone's into collecting "Third Reich" memorabilia, even some Germans. It has become a business, with a steadily climbing price scale and a correspondingly heavy trade in fakes and copies.

In Germany, the fad has something of the thrill of drinking in America during Prohibition. No one is supposed to be allowed to sell you the stuff, but ...

A number of items are "Verboten under Paragraph 86" of the Federal Republic's criminal code (das deutsche Bundesgesetz). Strictly illegal, for example, is the trade in medals and badges bearing the swastika (Hakenkreuz) emblem.

All other objects with swastikas on them - caps, helmets, uniform jackets, armbands, flags, daggers, trophies, to name but a few in circulation - are considered contraband if they are used for propaganda purposes and public display other than in officially recognized "scientific and historical collections."

Fast keine Stadt ohne einen NAZI-Souvenier Shop

But there's hardly a city in Germany where you won't find at least one antique or junk shop with Nazi medals, awards and badges in an obscure corner of the window or under the dusty glass of at least one counter.

One shop in Munich, Ludwig Schisa's, at Westenrieder Str. 14, has found a fig-leaf solution to the problem. All the Nazi Medals on display have the price pasted discreetly over the swastika.

Only a few steps away, Gertude Müller's at Westenrieder Str. 4, which has one of the largest collections of "Third Reich" junk, insists staunchly that all items on display are for lending only, not for sale.

Große Nervosität wegen eines Gerichtsverfahren

There are reasons for the current nervousness among Bavarian dealers in Nazi junk. One Bayreuth junk shop owner, Gottfried Noworzyn, is currently battling in court for the right to display and sell a huge bronze eagle with a swastika on its breast. The big bird, with a wing-spread of three yards, is considered a rarity and has an estimated resale value of $650.

Noworzyn acquired it from another dealer after spotting an ad in the monthly "Sammler Journal", a magazine for all kinds of collectors. He put it on display in his shop where it caught the eye of a Bayreuth-born Israeli visiting the city. He filed charges, and Noworzyn is now under injunction not to sell the eagle. He still displays it in his shop, with a court seal on it and a dirndl apron covering the swastika.

Also - wenn Du soetwas kaufst .... no risc, no legal "fun".

In the hunt for Nazi junk and trinkets, the risks are strictly yours - unless you are an expert - for there are fakes and copies galore. And even the experts often can't tell the difference, for many of the forgers at work use original molds dating to the Third Reich.

A distinction has to be made between a copy and a fake. Several of the companies in Austria and Bavaria that manufactured medals, badges and uniform insignia during the Third Reich, such as A.&E. Adler or Deschler & Son of Munich, are still in the insignia- and medal-making business. They possess original molds and make copies which they sell as such, meticulously adding a current hallmark to identify them.

Copies are cheaper than originals, and many serious collectors prefer them. But when the copy is sold as an original it becomes a fake. If a medal, badge or insignia carries an original mint mark of the Reichszeugmeisterei (Reich Materiel Administration) and you don't know the dealer, ask an expert.

As with any antique object, the appearance of age or wear and tear is no guarantee for its genuineness (Originalität). (The Reichszeugmeisterei was once located in what is now Munich's McGraw Kaserne. GIs stumbled on a vast stock of unused Nazi insignia here only a few years ago.)

Mit dem Hammer die Beulen in den Helm geschlagen, alles fakes

It's about as easy to "fray" swastika flags or give military helmets that "found at Stalingrad" look by a few blows with a hammer as it is to "instant antique" furniture by drilling worm holes into it.

Wo kauft ein GI das "Zeug" ?

The best advice: buy from a dealer you can trust. Two recommended by an experienced American collector living in Munich are Willy Fuchs at Westenrieder Str. 17 and Jan Kube, Herzog Str. 34.

The dealer with the best international reputation is Munich's Count Arnhard Klenau von Klenowa. Count Klenau is a specialist in "militaria", that is, old weapons and military antiques. His Graf Klenau Co. auction house, at Maximilian Str. 32 in Munich, is by far the largest and most respectable, with customers around the world.

Klenau's is to military and Third Reich objects what Sotheby's of London is to works of art and antiques.
Klenau stages auctions in his showrooms at least three times annually, selling everything from ancient weapons to autographed photos of Hitler.

You can subscribe to the slick-paper catalog for DM 7 (about $2.85) per year in Germany, DM 8 (about 83.20) elsewhere in Europe.

The objects being auctioned are always described in detail. Many of them are pictured in each catalog. They can be viewed and examined for about a week before each auction, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the Munich showrooms.

Prices listed in the catalog are the estimated first asking price. What you end up paying depends on the bidding, and the bidders usually include professional dealers from the U.S.

Ein unglaublicher Erfolg mit diesen Augtionen von NAZI Zeugs

More than 400 Third Reich objects went on sale at the auction last May. Some samples of the asking prices: 12 Luftwaffe rank insignia at about $6 for the lot; $1,960 for a pewter mug with Hitler's engraved signature; a pair of Wehrmacht officers' gloves, $10; Hermann Goring's air marshall's flag, $1,500; an engraved SS death's head ring, given to an SS sergeant by Heinrich Himmler, $285; and a "good copy" of a similar ring, $33.

The value of such items, like all collectors' items, depends on their rarity and what happens to be fashionable at any given time. Goring's flag, offered at $1,500, finally went for $2,156.

Der Welt größter "NAZI emblemes" Sammler (in 1971 !!)

One of the world's biggest collectors of Nazi memorabilia is Franz Kronberger, a retired street sweeper in Braunau-am-Inn, Hitler's birthplace. Not a Hitler fan or supporter, Kronberger insists that he's just a collector and has always collected something or other since he was a teenager.

He didn't start collecting Nazi memorabilia until 1960. Now he has an array of Third Reich flags, symbols, books, posters, uniforms, helmets, caps and Hitler Kitsch, such as coin purses embroidered with swastikas and beer mugs showing Munich's Braunes Haus (the Brown House, party headquarters), which are estimated to be worth about $30,000. That is a lot of Hitler to cram into a three-room apartment.

By JOHN DORNBERG - aus Off Duty / Europe / October 1974


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