An expert in fake Hitler memorabilia has criticised a Belfast Auction house for selling a silver-plated pencil allegedly owned by the Nazi dictator, claiming its inclusion in their sale is a "publicity stunt" to attract attention.
The lot is listed by Bloomfield Auctions, who claim the item was “owned and used by Adolf Hitler”, having been given to him as a gift by his long-time companion Eva Braun on his 52nd birthday.
The pencil is engraved with the initials “AH” and the phrase “Zum 20 April 1941 Her Zlichst Eva”. It is estimated that it will sell for thousands of pounds when it goes under the hammer next week.
The auction catalogue also lists a photograph that is claimed to have been signed by Hitler.
Bart Droog, a Dutch investigative journalist and expert on counterfeit Hitler items, questioned the provenance of the item, highlighting the apparent lack of real evidence in support of the claims about its authenticity.
“There’s no proof that it’s authentic,” Droog claimed, adding “It’s just a pencil, engraved by somebody, but we don’t know when.”
“In my opinion there must be rock solid evidence for the authenticity of any alleged Hitler object,” he said. Droog’s starting point is that if that evidence is absent, the item is fake.
“No photos of Hitler with this pencil exist, and it was also not in the possession of his housekeeper Anni Winter who was arrested in 1949 when she tried to sell Hitler objects which she stole from is Munich apartment in 1945 just a few hours before the Americans arrived in Munich,” he added.
According to Droog, Winter fled the building where she had lived since 1929 with a suitcase containing various items which had belonged to Hitler. The items were confiscated from her in 1950 when she attempted to sell them.
Photographs and a precise list of the objects were published, and after a long trial, some of the Hitler objects were returned to her, which she is then believed to have sold. These did not include the silver-plated pencil on auction in Belfast.
When asked by the JC to comment on the provenance of the items and the claims about their motivation for proceeding with the sale, Bloomfield Auctions said that the pencil "was originally purchased by a collector at an auction in 2002 and since then has remained in the collector’s family for the last 20 years. This individual, who is known to the auction house and is now deceased, was a very reputable collector of militaria whose items covered various campaigns." No specific information about the ownership of the pencil before 2002 was provided to the JC.
In 2019, the same auction house attempted to sell a Swastika-emblazoned tablecloth and napkins from Nazi Germany, reportedly produced for Hitler's 50th birthday, but was forced to withdraw the items after a public outcry. At the time, Bloomfield Auctions' managing director, Karl Bennett, said they would not sell similar items in the future.
But the auctioneer told the JC this week that, after assessing sales at other auction houses, “he has decided to reintroduce such items as Bloomfield Auctions is an auction house that sells militaria across not just WW2 but across all wars and campaigns”.
More generally, the phenomenon of auction houses listing items allegedly connected to Hitler is not new, but many are believed to be fakes with no provable connection to the Nazi leader. Droog says that some auction houses are knowingly engaging in this practice to increase their publicity and visibility in pursuit of profit.
“If you issue a press release claiming you have an authenticated Hitler object, press agencies will be interested and they provide you with free publicity for your auction, because it becomes world news. People who want to buy Hitler objects will be alerted to it this way. But also a lot of other clients are attracted to this auction because they look at the auction site and see other objects.”
The Chairman of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, has written to Bloomfield to request they removed the alleged Hitler items from their sale.
“We have to make sure that there will be no people in Europe that will have even the possibility to admire Hitler and his heritage,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference if it was indeed his or not, the fact that it is on the market is very worrying… We are not struggling to find out if it was really his or not," he wrote.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chair of the European Jewish Congress (Photo: Getty)
Rabbi Margolin believes it should be made illegal throughout Europe and elsewhere to sell Nazi memorabilia. “What we are working on is legislation that will simply ban any type of memorabilia unless if it is for respected, recognised institutions that deal with Holocaust remembrance.”
He says that this would also ensure the price fetched for such objects would be much lower: “It wouldn’t be that expensive if it was not open for the public. If should only be open to Holocaust institutions, then no one will pay crazy amounts for this kind of stuff.”
Droog and his colleague, Jaap van den Born, have conducted in-depth research into Hitler’s authentic watercolours and drawings, as well as the forgery industry that produces fake Hitler works. Since 2017 they have exposed hundreds of poems, paintings and drawings attributed to Hitler as forgeries. Based on their research, the German police seized more than 60 fake Hitler paintings at several auction houses in 2019.
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl described the sale of Nazi memorabilia as "distressing, disturbing and hugely disrespectful" adding that “these items have no place in our country other than inside the walls of a museum or other institution where they can be used to teach about the results of antisemitism".
Bloomfield Auctions said in a statement: "All items are a part of history, and we shouldn’t be writing history out of books or society. In my experience those who buy such items are legitimate collectors who have a passion for history. We do not seek to cause hurt or distress to any one or any part of society. All items have a story and tell of a particular time in history."