Despite fierce objections from Jewish leaders, a Maryland auction house has sold a wristwatch believed to have belonged to Adolf Hitler for $1.1 million.
Alexander Historical Auctions, based in Chesapeake City, Maryland, sold the controversial artifact to an anonymous buyer on July 28, per the company’s website. The auction house also sold other Nazi-related items, including a golden eagle from Hitler’s bedroom, several of the genocidal dictator’s sketches and paintings and a dress that belonged to Eva Braun, Hitler’s wife.
Auction house officials believe Hitler received the reversible gold watch, made by Andreas Huber, on April 20, 1933, his 44th birthday. It bears the letters “AH,” a swastika and a Nazi eagle emblem, as well as two dates: April 20, 1889, Hitler’s birthday, and January 30, 1933, the day he became chancellor of Germany.
A French soldier nabbed the watch on May 4, 1945, when his Allied unit reached Hitler’s summer house in Bavaria, according to Alexander Historical Auctions.
“The watch and its history have been researched by some of the world’s most experienced and respected watchmakers and military historians, all of whom have concluded that it is authentic and indeed belonged to Adolf Hitler,” per the auction house.
Before the sale, 34 Jewish leaders co-signed an open letter urging Alexander Historical Auctions to cancel the auction, which they described as “an abhorrence.”
“Whilst it is obvious that the lessons of history need to be learned—and legitimate Nazi artifacts do belong in museums or places of higher learning—the items that you are selling clearly do not,” wrote Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, in the letter. “That they are sold to the highest bidder, on the open market, is an indictment to our society, one in which the memory, suffering and pain of others is overridden for financial gain.’”
Bill Panagopulos, the president of the auction house, defended the sale, telling the Washington Post’s Andrew Jeong that he found the Jewish leaders’ views frustrating. He declined to identify the person who purchased the watch, but he did say the person was a European Jew.
He added that he and his family have received death threats because of the auction, and that most of the auction house’s sales have nothing to do with the Nazis.
“Many people donate [Nazi artifacts] to museums and institutions, as we have done,” Panagopulos tells the Washington Post. “Others need the money, or simply choose to sell. That is not our decision.”
This isn’t the first time the auction house has come under fire for controversial sales. In 2011, the company sold the diaries of Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who tortured Auschwitz prisoners by subjecting them to inhumane medical experiments.
As for who buys these types of artifacts, Panagopulos told the Daily Beast’s Dan Ephron in 2011 that the buyers are “often Jews representing Jewish organizations or Jewish collectors who intend to open their own museums.”
Contrary to popular belief, buyers are not neo-Nazis, who are “too poor and too stupid to appreciate any kind of historic material,” Panagopulos tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s (JTA) Cnaan Liphshiz.
“What we sell is criminal evidence, no matter how insignificant,” he tells JTA. “It is tangible, real in-your-face proof that Hitler and Nazis lived, and also persecuted and killed tens of millions of people.”
The auction house ultimately moved forward with the sale, although the watch’s $1.1 million purchase price fell short of the pre-auction estimate of $2 to $4 million.
“This auction, whether unwittingly or not, is doing two things: one, giving succour to those who idealise what the Nazi party stood for. Two: Offering buyers the chance to titillate a guest or loved one with an item belonging to a genocidal murderer and his supporters,” wrote Margolin in the open letter. “Either way, this cannot stand.”