The trade in Nazi relics is booming in the United States, driven by private collectors who want to own a piece of world history's most notorious era. This week a US auction house at the helm of the trend will sell personal documents left behind by Joseph Goebbels, one of Hitler's closest cohorts.
It turns out National Socialism is still worth something in Stamford, Connecticut. A well-preserved two-page statement written and signed by Hitler's Armaments Minister Albert Speer at the start of the Nuremberg Trials in 1945, for example, is worth $10,000 (€7,500).
That price seems like a deal compared to the going price for journals kept by concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele during his exile in South America. A private collector recently purchased them at an auction for nearly $300,000 (€224,000).
Even larger bids are expected in Stamford this Thursday, when a portion of Joseph Goebbels' estate goes up for auction. Items include letters and postcards sent and received by the Nazi propaganda minister during his younger years, as well as school report cards and poems and plays he wrote. There's even a lock of hair from a former girlfriend, preserved inside an envelope through the decades.
These will add up to a spectacular sale in a business with a seemingly endless supply of curios: the trade in historical relics. At a time when many people are turning to material assets, this is a flourishing business, and the most sought-after objects for this sort of investment come from Germany. Nazi documents provide collectors a story unique in the course of world history, with the brand name selling power of world-famous mass murderers. A striking number of recent buyers have been wealthy Russians.
'Nazi, Nazi, Nazi'
Alexander Autographs, the auction house in Stamford, a suburb northeast of New York City, is one of the market leaders in this booming business. Nestled in among supermarkets and junk dealers in an office building behind a courtyard, it looks as if the Third Reich has risen again here, in the form of SS cups, decorative plates bearing Hitler's portrait and hundreds of yellowed documents.
"People want souvenirs," says Bill Panagopulos. The owner of the auction house is 53 and divorced, a former firefighter with a quick natural wit. In the business of military and other historical objects for a quarter of a century, he says he has sold a total of 40,000 items.
A few of his current offerings: a bronze desk set, complete with inkwells and blotter, which Adolf Hitler supposedly used to sign the Munich Agreement in 1938; and an old writing desk ostensibly taken from the Berghof, Hitler's mountain residence near Berchtesgaden, Germany. There is also a wooden plaque with an image of two ducks flying along a reedy lake shore, with an inscription identifying it as the first prize for a gentlemen's wild fowl hunt organized by the commander's office at the Dachau concentration camp.
Panagopulos jokes that he would "even sell Hitler's mustache." In reality, he specializes in documents, and is visibly proud of his first two acquisitions: the autographs of American Civil War Generals William Sherman and Joseph Johnston. The autographs hang in his office, next to some old slot machines and a bar stool patched with tape that was favored by singer Frank Sinatra for his performances.