A WWII Vet's Strange Souvenir

We can only hope that one day soon a brave U.S. soldier will storm Osama bin Laden's cave, grab his turban defiantly, and become the next Richard Marowitz.

Historians will note that on April 30, 1945, Marowitz and platoon members from the Army's 42nd Rainbow Division knocked on the door of Adolf Hitler's home in Munich, which was still in Nazi territory.

The master of the house wasn't home. It was the twilight of World War II. Hitler was committing suicide in a bunker in Berlin, as American, Russian and British troops closed in on the city.

What Hitler didn't know was that a 19-year-old would-be magician was scouring his bedroom, only to find one of the greatest souvenirs from the war.

Why Is Everyone So Mad at Hitler?

Marowitz came to Hitler's home a day after his company, the 42nd Rainbow Division had liberated the Dachau concentration camp. "You could smell it from very far away and then you saw all those walking skeletons," he said.

"We went through 40 cattle cars stuffed with corpses and found one man who was still alive. He was too weak to stand. I can't honestly tell you if he made it."

The next morning, Marowitz and other members of the division's intelligence and reconnaissance unit were dispatched to Munich. City leaders were close to surrender and informants led them to Hitler's home.

Munich was a ghost town — even the center of town was desolate. Still, someone was home at the Hitler residence. A tall, stately, gray-haired English housekeeper answered the door.

"I don't know why everyone is so mad at Hitler," said Frau Amy Winter. "He's such a fine man."

The soldiers found the well-furnished home completely empty. In a bedroom, on a top shelf, Marowitz made the discovery of a lifetime — a top hat with the initials "A. H." printed in gold on the inside.

The Chaplinesque Joy of Crushing Hitler’s Hat

With the images of Dachau still fresh in his head, Marowitz jumped on the hat, crushing it into a pancake. "To this very day, I can picture Hitler's ugly head still inside it," he said.

"It felt good to stomp on that thing."

While Hitler was partial to military gear, it made sense for him to invest in dress clothes. His Third Reich was intended to last 1,000 years.

Marowitz, always the company clown, rushed out of Hitler's bedroom with the cap on his head, imitating Charlie Chaplin in a scene from The Great Dictator. Then, the great hat was tossed from man to man like a Frisbee.

The irony didn't escape his buddies. "Hitler must have committed suicide after he found a skinny Jewish kid from Brooklyn stomped on his top hat," one said.

Piece of Hitler in the Basement

With the war over, Marowitz donned the cap one last time, in a photo for the Rainbow Division's yearbook, holding a black plastic comb under his nose to approximate Hitler's signature mustache.

Then, Marowitz stuffed the hat into a duffle bag, took it home, and stuck it a magician's trunk in his the basement, where it stayed for nearly 50 years.

Settling in Albany, N.Y., Marowitz and his wife Ruth raised three children. He went into his family's business, manufacturing women's coats and, in his spare time, performed magic at parties — but with another top hat.

Marowitz was vaguely aware that collecting Nazi memorabilia had become a significant hobby, and that his war souvenir could fetch big bucks. But after he retired, he began bringing the hat to Army reunions. "Everyone took a turn wearing the hat," he said. "It's like it took on a new significance."

Now, Marowitz devotes a lot of time to teaching youngsters about World War II, and the hat is the centerpiece of his talks. It's also the subject of a documentary by Jeff Krulik, the documentary filmmaker of the underground classic "Heavy Metal Parking Lot."

With Hitler's Hat now entering the film festival circuit, Marowitz keeps his famed souvenir in a safety deposit box, occasionally lending it out to museums. A World War II memorabilia expert believes Hitler's hat is worth at least $35,000, but Marowitz says it will be up to his children to decide what to do with it. He's going to hold on to it until he dies.

Perhaps another young Army scout will pick up bin Laden's turban and carry on the Marowitz tradition. Will it quickly be auctioned on eBay? Will it lay in obscurity for decades?

"I only hope the kid who finds it is from Brooklyn," Marowitz says.