Search This Blog

Friday, April 3, 2015

Gifts of the Third Reich

When you auction as many firearms as we do, and with Germany being a primary participant in one of last century's largest military conflicts, items with a Nazi history are unavoidably going to come through your doors.  To say they made a lot of firearms is an understatement and we see them all.  Sub-machine guns, sidearms, bolt action rifles, semi-auto rifles, pistols made for people of political importance, large machine guns, recoilless rifles, anti-tank rifles, and more.  Not to mention the military artifacts like uniforms, medals, ribbons, swords, daggers, helmets, letters, photos, plaques, and other tidbits of history.

Many of those items are jaw-dropping thanks to their condition or rarity and some are dripping with history that you have to pull yourself away from to get any work done.  However, sometimes what really stands out to me are... Nazi gifts.  I don't know what else to call them.  They're gifts that Nazis have given to other Nazis or that other people have given to "higher-ups" in positions of power.  Whatever the reason, these gifts are almost always incredibly elaborate, masterfully crafted, and would have been given at great expense.  In previous auctions we have sold gold and marble candlesticks monogrammed with "AH," napkin rings emblazoned with the SS runes, massive ornamental tapestries, sterling silver bunch bowls with numerous sculpted animals, rings and medals studded with precious gems, a rune-laden chair for Heinrich Himmler, and of course any number of presentation pistols embellished in every way conceivable.  One can't help but think if Germany had spent as much time manufacturing necessary war time materiel as they did haute gifts for one another, they might have stood a better chance in the war.

When searching through the items in our April Premiere Firearms Auction looking for our next blog topic, I was struck by how many of these gifts will be crossing the auction block during the sale. Considering the number of surviving articles, one can only assume that the original number of these extravagant gifts must have been astronomical!  While Germans were busy gifting themselves with posh items, millions of Americans were planting Victory Gardens, using rations, buying war bonds, and holding "drives" for every kind of war time supply you can imagine: rubber, nylon, bones, fats, and metals, to name a few.  Given the contrast between the two nations, many interesting questions arise.  Were the Germans that confident in their victory?  If so, was that confidence due in part to a belief in a true "1,000 year Reich" or was it something simpler?  Were German supplies in abundance thanks to newly captured and annexed territories?  We know that luxury goods were looted from other countries, but were they being re-purposed (melted down or stripped of their stones) as opulent Nazi gifts?  Besides the material value of these items, what about the time commitment?  Don't these items represent thousands of wasted man hours that could have been spent on the war effort?  Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class was already approaching 40 years in print at that point so the notions of "conspicuous leisure" and "conspicuous consumption," would not have been...  Sorry, sometimes I get carried away.  Here are some of those extravagant gifts.

Lot 3321: Historic, Documented, Factory Engraved WWII Nazi SS Presentation Double Barrel Shotgun with Heinrich Himmler Inscription

"Dem Scharfschützen" translates as "The Sharpshooter"

We don't know who would have given this to Hitler's Chief of the Gestapo, but we do know its provenance back to its capture.  American serviceman Alfred A. Pedroni was a member of the 501 101st Airborne Division, which occupied Hitler's mountain home Berchtesgaden for a short period.  During that time Pedroni noticed an unusually fresh patch of plaster on a wall and in curiosity cut into it with his knife.  In the wall, behind the newly applied plaster, stood this shotgun that bears the "H. Himmler" inscription.  From there the Jacquemart double barrel shotgun passed to Pedroni's daughter, who would eventually sell it to a collector.  Pedroni's bring back was documented in a newspaper at the time.

Historic Silver Nazi Trophy, Inscribed to Nazi War Production Chief and Personal Architect to Adolf Hitler Albert Speer for His Work on the 1933 Nuremberg Rally

We've all seen the photos of the Nuremberg Rallies (a "Reichsparteitag") even if we prefer the Nuremberg Trials.  Those seas of Nazi soldiers, the presentation, and the spectacle of it all was a powerful piece of propaganda to disseminate to the German people.  The first of these officially under the "Reichsparteitag" title was held in 1933 and afterwards Hitler decreed that all Rallies would be located in Nuremberg, even though they had taken place there since 1927.  The man who designed this tremendous event was Albert Speer, an architect who began his ascent to power by helping renovate the Nazi Party's Berlin headquarters in 1932.  Having proved himself with this small task, the organizers of the Nuremberg rally asked him to submit his designs for such the momentous event.  His work was very well received by Hitler who afterwards gave Speer the title of "Commissioner for the Artistic and Technical Presentation of Party Rallies and Demonstrations."  When later helping renovate the Chancellery, for then Chancellor Hitler, the two became very close, which guaranteed the young architect's success.  He would be personally commissioned by Hitler for many other projects on grand scales and each one brought him new power and accolades.  With a mind seemingly made for organization, many even thought he would succeed the führer when the time came.

This 17 1/2" tall silver trophy was given to Speer from the "Imperial Guild of German Handworks" for his work toward the 1933 Nuremberg Rally (known as the "Reichsparteitag des Sieges" or "Rally of Victory").  Located on the center pillar, is a "plaque" that bears his name, the reverse of which has the translated inscription, "In remembrance of collaborating on the Great Eagle for the Reichs Party Days of 1933, from the Imperial Guild of German Handworks"  Please read our official description for more on how this extravagant piece was created using wood and individual sheets of 83.5% silver.

Extraordinary, Historic Pre-World War II Walther Factory Engraved Gold Plated Model PP Presentation Pistol For King Carol II of Romania

I won't rehash this marvelous pistol since it was already discussed in a previous blog, but it simply had to be included in this article about spectacular Nazi gifts and presentations.

Historic Chest Decorated with Finely Inlaid Scenes from Richard Wagner's Opera Siegfried with a Presentation Plaque Marking It as a Gift from Wagner's Family to Adolf Hitler in 1939

Turns out no one was above trying to earn the favor of the führer. This brass case was presented as a gift to Adolph Hitler by the family of famed opera composer Richard Wagner.  When one learns that Wagner had died in 1883, this meticulously crafted gift may seem like the desperate attempt of his progeny to stay in the limelight or to eek out the last of their family's fame to earn a precious few final favors from a government known for playing politics. However, this gift is not such a shot in the dark.  Wagner was known for expressing strong German nationalism and support of the German Empire.  Such themes were easily appreciated by Hitler who is documented as publicly praising Wagner's work as early as 1922 and who later appropriated Wagner's music for numerous Nazi events.

The inscription above translates, "For our Leader and Reichs Chancellor Adolf Hitler, in grateful memory of his visit in 1939 to Haus Wahnfried, a small gift, from the Wagner Family."  
This brass chest with its wooden inlays is exhaustive in its ornamentation, including the seven lavender gems on the top, four tiger's eye gemstones bordering them, and scenes from Wagner's opera "Siegfried," the third in his legendary four part Ring Cycle.  Our describers have again done a fantastic job detailing these scenes in this item's official description.  Also interesting to note is that the images, which resemble medieval paintings, are contrasted heavily by the sturdy-looking, riveted legs. 

Historic Massive Trophy Horn, Inscribed to Luftwaffe Chief and Nazi Huntsmaster Hermann Goering as a Birthday Present from His Hunting Comrades and Outfitted with a Figural Brass Stand

Usually, if your hunting buddies give you a gift, it's a beer or, if you're lucky, an extra box of shells when you come up short.  I guess when you're the Chief of the Luftwaffe things change a bit.  Hermann Goering's hunting friends gave him this token of their esteem as a birthday gift in 1936.  This wasn't even a milestone birthday; the Nazi higher-up was only turning 43.  The 15 1/2" tall base with boar's head legs holds a seated gryphon.  The ring that holds the horn is two inches in diameter and has the Goering family crest upon it.  Truly an extravagant gift and worthy of a place in Goering's luxurious Carinhall hunting lodge.  The inscription on the ring at the end of the horn reads, "For our Reichs Hunting Master's birthday, huntsman's greetings from his loyal hunting friends from the Schorfheide Forest."

Historic, Rare Nazi Amber Covered and Silver Furnished Presentation Copy of Mein Kampf, Calligraphy Inscribed as an Honor Prize for an Officer's Steeplechase in Rostock, 1938, with Matching Case

You're likely already familiar with amber, the gemstone created from fossilized tree resin.  It is a semi-precious stone most notably used to create The Amber Room, a 1716 gift to Peter the Great from the King of Prussia, paneled entirely in amber.  The Nazis looted the Russian palace that contained the Amber Room, and displayed the amber panels in Konigsberg for a time.  As the Red Army advanced on Konigsberg in 1945, Germans abandoned the town taking what looted treasures they could with them.  The panels have been lost ever since (though as recently as last month, claims to its whereabouts have sprung up).  It is not known if the Germans took the panels or if they would have been destroyed in subsequent bombings and artillery barrages.

This copy of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler's autobiography and rantings, is covered with nearly quarter inch thick Baltic Amber set into a silver frame.  On top of the amber is silver lettering and a raised silver Nazi eagle.  Even on the book's latch is a tiny (7/8") swastika also crafted from the amber.

Was this treasure given to some hero of the state?  Surely, such an ornate version of this then-honored book must have gone to someone of great importance.  However, proving once again the Nazis' fondness for grandiose gifts, this book was instead the honor prize for a foot race; specifically, a steeplechase run by military officers given out by the Oberburgermeisters of the coastal city of Rostock.  While the winner is not specified, the race was held on September 25, 1938.  It even came with its own case, which has protected the book well through the decades.

Historic 1943 Dated Bronze Eagle Trophy, Inscribed to SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny by the National Socialist Alumni Association for the Liberation of Benito Mussolini, with Documentation

This 8 /12" tall bronze eagle trophy was given to SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny by a Nazi fraternal organization.  Skozeny has a vivid and interesting past.  A student of fencing in his collegiate years, he was deemed too old and tall to join the Luftwaffe.  Instead, he worked hard and fearlessly as a soldier to eventually become an expert on unconventional warfare.  He would take part in a number of commando-style raids, sabotages, kidnappings, and rescues, earning him the allied nickname, "The Most Dangerous Man in Europe."  The above trophy was obtained for "liberating" Mussolini after he was given a vote of no confidence by his government and thrown in prison.  Skorzeny's team took Mussolini away from a guard of over 200 with no casualties.  This trophy comes with an October 2, 1943 dated letter informing Skorzeny of the award and inviting him to a small ceremony to accept it.

These aren't all of the exorbitant gifts we have in this auction!  There are several more chests and, of course, plenty of firearms and militaria.  They are a fascinating complement to the three world class, German arms collections present in this auction: the final installment of the Gene Smith Collection, the Dr. Joel Glovsky Collection, and the lifelong collection of icon Ralph Shattuck.  Each has their own individual focus and while each would certainly earn attention on its own, together they make an event that German arms collectors cannot ignore.

No comments:

Post a Comment