February 2, 2017

The very fine line between 'collecting' & 'obsession' - Alexander Historical Auctions auctions a looted Adolf Hitler's telephone


“I picked up all of Hitler’s furniture at a guesthouse in Linz,”.....“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.”

--British Millionaire, Kevin Wheatcroft, owner of the Wheatcroft Collection, widely regarded as the world's largest private accumulation of German military vehicles and Nazi memorabilia. 

The French sociologist and theorist of postmodernism Jean Baudrillard once noted that collecting mania is found most often in “pre-pubescent boys and males over the age of 40” reminding us in Le Système Des Objets  that “what you really collect is always yourself.”

With that in mind, it is interesting that at a time when most of the major auction houses, and even eBay have some semblance of restrictions on the ghoulish and macabre trade of Nazi memorabilia, Alexander Historical Auctions, in Chesapeake City, Maryland, and their online partner Invaluable have chosen to auction Hitler's telephone.

Looted from the subterranean Führerbunker near the Reich Chancellery in Berlin in the days following Germany's surrender, the fürer's phone was smuggled into England by British officer Brigadier Sir Ralph Herbert Rayner MBE who kept the Nazi relic in his English country manor, Ashcombe Tower from 1945 onward.

Part-home, part-personal museum, Ashcombe Tower is filled with the Brigadier's collection,  of which the blood-red phone was just one of the trinkets collected by the conservative MP before his death. In an article written by the UK’s Western Morning News in May 2011, Major Ranulf Rayner, the Brigadier's son, said the gruesome family heirloom was “not for sale at any price” but I guess the family has had a change of heart or perhaps financial circumstance.

Sale 66, Lot 1040 of their February 19th sale reads:

“ADOLF HITLER'S PERSONAL PRESENTATION TELEPHONE, RECOVERED FROM THE FUHRERBUNKER”

“ADOLF HITLER'S PERSONAL TELEPHONE, presented to him by the Wehrmacht and engraved with his name, gifted by Russian officers to Montgomery's Deputy Chief Signals Offcer [sic] who had arrived at the Fuhrerbunker only days after the fall of Berlin.”

“ARGUABLY THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE "WEAPON" OF ALL TIME, WHICH SENT MILLIONS TO THEIR DEATHS AROUND THE WORLD”

Collecting the relics of death is big business.

Despite what is morally acceptable or what is blatantly offensive, the law remains on the side of the dealers who willingly profit from the sale of this disturbing and ghastly material.  America, Russia, and China and to a lesser extent England remain burgeoning markets in Third Reich-era memorabilia, where original Nazi uniforms and concentration camp clothing can sell for tens of thousands of dollars to private collectors.

In 2015 three copies of Hitler's racist autobiographical manifesto sold through Los Angeles auction house Nate D Sanders in just a month.  Two sold for $64,850 and the third sold for just over $43,000.

Dealers justify their commerce saying collectors who buy this material are fundamentally people who are interested in preserving military history.  In defense of the trade they are often quoted as saying that the majority of their clients are not Fascists or skinhead extremists but regular Joe's like the people scene in this video, who choose to collect this type of divisive heritage as a means of remembrance.


I once knew a boutique freight forwarder who used to have a client who collected instruments of torture, shipping them from all around the world. They finally decided to sever their relationship when the collector asked for a quote to import a gas chamber. (I can't even imagine the customs paperwork on that).

For me the line between remembrance and obsession stops short of sleeping in Hitler's bed, showing your friends and hunting party guests your Hitler telephone or making room in your house for your very own private gas chamber.

Macabre objects of this type belong in museums, where they can be displayed in the proper context as reminders of mankind's tragic past, not in settings where there is a risk of being used to sensationalize, glorify or aggrandize the horrors of the Nazi movement.

Op Ed: Lynda Albertson

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