Who would want to buy Hitler's watch?
(That's if it really was his...)
SEVERAL years ago, when I was on one of my many trips to Colditz, I fell into conversation after
a few several beers with a British auctioneer, whose name I forget. It emerged that he specialised in buying and selling wartime memorabilia, but his real focus was on Nazi memorabilia, which unsettled me. I held my tongue (uncharacteristically) for a while, but I snapped when he informed me that he was selling a whip that had supposedly been used in Auschwitz.
Leaving aside the question of the object’s doubtless iffy provenance, I told him that profiting from hawking objects that had been used in genocide was grotesque, and that he should really donate the whip to a museum. Things got heated, and the conversation ended when he asked me if I was Jewish, and when I said I wasn’t – and besides, it was irrelevant – he said that I seemed to ‘have some problem with Jews’. It was at that point that I went to bed.
The whole question of collecting Nazi memorabilia has risen again with the forthcoming sale of a watch that apparently belonged to Adolf Hitler. According to some reports, the auctioneers are anticipating that the watch will make some $2–4 million, which I don’t think is particularly unlikely, considering that a cap supposedly owned by Hitler sold for £360,000 back in 2019.
Such a price is typical for ‘Führer stuff’. A top hat once went for £43,000, while one of his brown shirts, complete with his Wound Badge medal, an Iron Cross and a gold Nazi party tie pin, went for a staggering £540,000. If you had £215,000 a while back, that would have secured you Hitler’s Blood Order medal. When you compare these prices to some of the more recent Victoria Cross sales of £30,000, £180,000 and £160,000, it’s obvious that Third Reich clobber can be big business indeed.
This isn’t the place to explore the provenance of the watch, but if you are interested then you can find a history of it here. I’m in no position to judge whether it did belong to Hitler, but let’s just assume that it was indeed his.
If that is the case, why would anyone want to buy it?
People who collect this stuff usually claim that they are doing so in order to preserve it for historical purposes, so that other generations can ‘understand’ what happened during the Third Reich. Although this sounds worthy, it’s hard to see what can really be gleaned from items such as caps and medals, or even from Eva Braun’s knickers – £3,700 since you asked.
In addition, as the vast majority of Third Reich memorabilia ends up in private collections, I’m not entirely clear how future generations will be able to see this stuff if it remains hidden away.
I suspect that the ‘historical purposes’ reason is just a smokescreen to obscure the real reason for collecting Nazi memorabilia – an unhealthy fascination with the Third Reich.
It’s at this point that you might reasonably argue that there is no such thing as a ‘healthy’ fascination with Nazism, and indeed I’ve written about this type of obsession before, when I was commissioned by the editor of The Spectator (at the time, one B. Johnson) to address the whole issue of Nazi fetishism. But, I would argue, and as the careers of far, far more august historians than myself – such as Michael Burleigh and Ian Kershaw – prove, you can have an interest and even a fascination with the Third Reich and yet still not be a weirdo. There is clearly a difference between writing and reading books like Burleigh’s, and buying Eva Braun’s underpants.
In a way, items of Third Reich memorabilia, and especially those that are associated with Hitler or any other senior Nazi, have become like medieval relics such as the bones of Christ and the saints. Own a lock of Christ’s hair, and you feel closer to him, and feel his power. Wear Hitler’s wristwatch (or Eva Braun’s pants) and doubtless for those who venerate the Führer, the thrill is much the same.
Ultimately, I think there’s a balance between Nazi memorabilia that is creepy, and items that are acceptable in polite society. My own example of the latter is the original railway sign from Colditz station, which I do not think is a particularly ‘Nazi’ item.
Some might argue otherwise, but I’ve yet to meet someone who finds it weird. Colditz was, after all, not Auschwitz, and a railway sign is not a whip.
Incidentally, I see a whip supposedly from a concentration camp is for sale at the same auction that lists Hitler’s watch. It is estimated to sell for $200 – $300. Perhaps it is being sold by my friend from all those years ago. If so, it was a bad buy.
Walt's World is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.