The Englishman who owns the $200,000,000
collection of Nazi Artifacts .
to gain some understanding of the complexities of this most contentious area I recommend the following article.
As the crimes of the Nazi regime retreat
further into the past, there seems to be
an increasing desperation in the race to get
hold of mementos of the darkest chapter
of the 20th century.
In the market for Nazi
memorabilia, two out of the three principal
ideologies of the era
— fascism and capitalism —
collide, with the mere financial
value of these objects used to
justify their acquisition, the spiralling
prices trapping collectors in
a frantic race for the rare and the coveted
Currently owns the largest
collection of Third Reich Militaria
When he was young boy, He received an
unusual birthday present from his parents:
a bullet-Damaged Waffen SS helmet,
A lightning bolt badge on It’s side.
The next year, at a car auction in Monte Carlo,
he asked his multimillionaire father for
a Mercedes: the G4 that Hitler rode into
the Sudetenland in 1938.
Father refused to buy it and his son
cried all the way home.
At 15, he spent birthday money from
his grandmother on three WWII Jeeps
recovered from the Shetlands,
which he restored himself and sold
for a tidy profit.
He invested the
proceeds in four more vehicles,
together with his very first tank.
The Englishman begged his father
to buy him Hitler’s Mercedies when
he was just six-years-old, and cried
when his father refused. He now owns it.
After leaving school at 16, he went
to work for an engineering firm, and
then for his father’s construction company.
He spent his spare time touring
wind-blasted battle sites in Europe
and North Africa, searching for tank parts
and recovering military vehicles that
he would ship home to restore.
The ruling passion of his life,
though, is what he calls the
— widely regarded as the world’s
largest accumulation of German military
vehicles and Nazi memorabilia.
The collection has largely been
kept in private,
under heavy guard, in a warren of
There is no
official record of the value of His
collection, but some estimates place
it at over $160 million.
Since that initial SS helmet,
His life has been shaped by his
obsession for German military memorabilia.
He has travelled the world tracking down
items to add to his collection,
flying into remote airfields, following
up unlikely leads, throwing himself into
hair-raising adventures in the pursuit
of historic objects.
He readily admits that his urge to accumulate
has been monomaniacal,
Often elbowing out a regular social and family life.
The French theorist Jean Baudrillard once
noted that collecting mania is found
most often in “pre-pubescent boys and
males over the age of 40”; the things we hoard,
he wrote, tend to reveal deeper truths.
Despite the trade of Nazi antiquities being
banned or strictly regulated in many countries,
the market’s annual global turnover is
expected to be in excess of $47 million.
A signed copy of Mein Kampf goes for around
His Father came back with a wife, who he had
first seen from the turret of a tank as he pulled
into her village in Germany.
Father made hundreds of millions in the post-war
building boom, then spent the rest of his
life indulging his zeal for motor cars.
Our Englishman speaks of his late father as
“not just my dad, but also my best friend Despite
being one of seven children,he was the sole
beneficiary of his father’s will. He no longer
speaks to his siblings.
It is hard to say how much the echoes of
atrocity that resonate from Nazi Artifacts
compel the enthusiasts who haggle for and
The trade in Third Reich antiquities
is either banned or strictly regulated in Germany,
France, Austria, Israel and Hungary.
Still, the business flourishes, with burgeoning
online sales and increasing interest from
buyers in Russia, America and the Middle East;
The Englishmans biggest rival is a mysterious,
unnamed Russian buyer.
A Holocaust denier runs one of the
most-visited Nazi antiquities websites,
and is currently verifying charred bones
said to be those of Hitler and Eva Braun
Naturally, exact figures are hard to come by,
but the market’s annual global turnover is
estimated to be in excess of $47 million.
One of the most-visited websites is run
by Holocaust denier David Irving,
who in 2009 sold Hitler’s walking stick
(which had previously belonged to Friedrich
Nietzsche) for $5,750. Irving has offered strands
of Hitler’s hair for $200,000, and says he is
currently verifying the authenticity
of charred bones said to be those of
Hitler and Eva Braun.
There is also a roaring trade in the
automobiles of the Third Reich — in 2009,
one of Hitler’s Mercedes sold for almost
$7.8 million. A signed copy of Mein Kampf
will set you back $31,000, while in 2011 an
unnamed investor purchased Joseph Mengele’s
South American journals for $473,000.
As the crimes of the Nazi regime
retreat further into the past, there
seems to be an increasing desperation
in the race to get hold of mementos of the
darkest chapter of the 20th century.
In the market for Nazi memorabilia, two out
of the three principal ideologies of the era
— fascism and capitalism — collide,
with the mere financial value of these
objects used to justify their acquisition,
the spiralling prices trapping collectors
in a frantic race for the rare and the covetable.
In Walden, Henry David Thoreau observed
that “the things we own can own us too”;
this is the sense I — that he started off
building a collection, but that very quickly
the collection began building him.
‘I was in the area’
Inside one of the countless rooms where
Our gentleman keeps his artifacts.
He speaks of wanting people to see
his collection, “I’m only one man and
there’s just so much of it.
When I went to Leicestershire near the
end of last year to see the collection,
a visibly tired our man met me off the train.
“I want people to see this stuff,” he told me.
“There’s no better way to understand history.
But I’m only one man and there’s just so much of it.”
He had been trying to set his collection in order,
cataloging late into the night, and making
frequent trips to Cornwall, where, at
huge expense, he was restoring the only
remaining Kriegsmarine S-Boat in existence.
Wheatcroft had recently purchased two
more barns and a dozen shipping
containers to house his collection.
The complex of industrial buildings,
stretching across several flat Leicestershire acres,
seemed like a manifestation of his obsession — just as haphazard, as cluttered and as dark.
As we made our way into the first of his warehouses,
He stood back for a moment, as if shocked by
the scale of what he had accumulated.
Many of the tanks before us were little more
than rusting husks, ravaged by the years
they had spent abandoned in the deserts
of North Africa or on the Russian steppes.
They jostled each other in the warehouses,
spewing out to sit in glum convoys around
the complex’s courtyard.
“I want people to see this stuff.
There’s no better way to understand history.”
“Every object in the collection has a story,”
He told me as we made our way under
the turrets of tanks, stepping over
V2 rockets and U-boat torpedoes.
“The story of the war, then subsequent wars,
and finally the story of the recovery and
restoration. All that history is there in
the machine today.”
We stood beside the muscular bulk of a
Panzer IV tank, patched with rust and
freckled with bullet holes, its tracks
trailing barbed wire.
Wheatcroft scratched at the palimpsest
of paintwork to reveal layers of color
beneath: its current livery, the duck-egg
blue of the Christian Phalangists from
the Lebanese civil war, flaking away to the
green of the Czech army who used the
vehicles in the 1960s and 70s, and
finally the original German taupe.
The tank was abandoned in the
Sinai desert until The Enthusiast arrived
on one of his regular shopping trips
to the region and shipped it
home to Leicestershire.
This Englishman owns
a fleet of 88 tanks
— more than the Danish and Belgian
armies combined. The majority of
the tanks are German, and Wheatcroft
recently acted as an adviser to David Ayer,
the director of “Fury” (in which Brad Pitt
played the commander of a German-based
US Sherman tank in the final days of the war)
. “They still got a lot of things wrong,”
he told me. “I was sitting in the cinema
with my daughter saying, ‘That wouldn’t
have happened’ and ‘That isn’t right.’
Good film, though.”
A Panzer (or Panzerkampfwagen) III,
used by the German forces during World War II.
Our Collector owns a Panzer IV tank,
as well as a fleet of 88 other tanks.
Around the tanks sat a number of
strange hybrid vehicles with caterpillar
tracks at the back, truck wheels
at the front.The enthusiast explained
to me that these were half-tracks,
deliberately designed by the Nazis
so as not to flout the terms of the
Treaty of Versailles, which stipulated
that the Germans could not build tanks.
He owns more of these than anyone
else in the world, as well as having
the largest collection of Kettenkrads,
which are half-motorbike, half-tank,
and were built to be dropped out of gliders.
A Kettenkrad, an army motorcycle that
the Germans built during World War II
after the terms in the Treaty of Versailles
stipulated the Germans could not build tanks.
He owns more of these half-motorbike,
half-tank vehicles, than anyone in the world.Photo: AP
“They just look very cool,”
he said with a grin.
Alongside the machines’ stories of
wartime escapades and the sometimes
dangerous lengths that He had gone
to in order to secure them were the
dazzling facts of their value. “The Panzer
IV cost me $25,000. I’ve been offered two
and a half million for it now. It’s the
same with the half-tracks.
They regularly go for over a million each.
Even the Kettenkrads, which I’ve picked
up for as little as $1,500, go for $235,000.”
I tried to work out the total value of the
machines around me, and gave up
somewhere north of $78 million.
He had made himself a fortune,
almost without realizing it.
“Everyone just assumes that I’ve inherited
a race track and I’m a spoilt rich kid who
wants to indulge in these toys,” he told me,
a defensive edge to his voice.
“It’s not like that at all. My dad supported me,
but only when I could prove that
the collection would work financially.
And as a collector, you never have
any spare money lying around.
Everything is tied up in the collection.”
Leaning against the wall of one of
the warehouses, I spotted a dark wooden door,
heavy iron bolts on one side and a
Judas window in the centre.
The collector saw me looking at it.
“That’s the door to Hitler’s cell in Landsberg.
Where he wrote ‘Mein Kampf.’ I was in the area.”
A lot of Wheatcroft’s stories start like
this — he seems to have a genius
for proximity. “I found out that the
prison was being pulled down.
I drove there, parked up and watched
the demolition. At lunch I followed
the builders to the pub and bought
them a round. I did it three days in a
row and by the end of it, I drove off
with the door, some bricks and
the iron bars from his cell.”
It was the first time he had mentioned
Hitler by name. We paused for a moment
by the dark door with its black bars,
then moved on.
Hermann Göring and Hitler in 1944.
Our Man owns a signed photograph
of the Nazi duo and says,
“I think I could give up everything else,
the cars, the tanks, the guns,
as long as I could still have Adolf
Sometimes the stories of search and
recovery were far more interesting
than the objects themselves.
Near the door sat a trio of rusty wine racks.
“They were Hitler’s,” he said,
laying a proprietary hand upon
the nearest one.
“We pulled them out of the ruins
of the Berghof [Hitler’s home in
Berchtesgaden] in May 1989.
The whole place was dynamited in ’52,
but my friend Adrian and I climbed
through the ruins of the garage and
down through air vents to get in.
You can still walk through all
of the underground levels.
We made our way by torchlight
through laundry rooms,
central heating service areas.
Then a bowling alley with big
signs for Coke all over it.
Hitler loved to drink Coke.
We brought back these wine racks.”
The cell in Landsberg prison
where Hitler was incarcerated in 1923.
When Our Student Of engineering heard the prison was
being pulled down, he drove to watch
the demolition and collected the door,
bricks and the iron bars from Hitler’s cell
.Photo: Getty Images
Later, among engine parts and ironwork,
I came across a massive bust of Hitler,
sitting on the floor next to a condom
vending machine (“I collect pub memorabilia, too,”
He explained). “I have the largest
collection of Hitler heads in the world,”
he said, a refrain that returned again and again.
“This one came from a ruined castle in Austria.
I bought it from the town council.”
“Things have the longest memories of all,”
says the introduction to a recent essay
by Teju Cole, “beneath their stillness,
they are alive with the terrors they have
witnessed.” This is what you feel in
the presence of the Collection —
a sense of great proximity to history,
to horror, an uncanny feeling that
the objects know more than they are letting on.
Wheatcroft’s home sits behind high
walls and heavy gates. There is a pond,
its surface stirred by the fingers
of a willow tree. A spiky black mine bobs
along one edge. The house is huge
and modern and somehow without logic,
as if wings and extensions have been
appended to the main structure willy-nilly.
When I visited, it was late afternoon,
a winter moon climbing the sky.
Behind the house, apple trees hung
heavy with fruit. A Krupp submarine
cannon stood sentry outside
the back door.
One of the outer walls was set with
wide maroon half-moons of iron work,
inlaid with obscure runic symbols.
“They were from the top of the officers’
gates to Buchenwald, The Collector Continued told
in an offhand manner. “I’ve got replica
gates to Auschwitz — Arbeit Macht Frei
— over there.” He gestured into the gloaming.
I had first heard about Our Collector
from my aunt Gay, who, as a rather
half-hearted expat estate agent,
sold him a rambling chateau near Limoges.
They subsequently enjoyed (or endured)
a brief, doomed love affair.
Despite the inevitable break-up,
my father kept in touch and, several years ago
, was invited to his home. After a drink
in the pub-cum-officers’ mess that
Wheatcroft has built adjacent to his
dining room, my dad was shown
to the guest apartment.
“It was remarkable,” he said, mostly
for the furniture. “That night, my
dad slept in Hermann Göring’s
favorite bed, from Carinhall hunting
lodge, made of walnut wood and
carved with a constellation of
swastikas. There were glassy
eyed deer heads and tusky boars
on the walls, wolf-skin rugs on
the floor. My father was a little spooked,
but mostly intrigued. In an email
soon after, he described the collector
to me as “absurdly decent, almost
Darkness had fallen as we stepped
into the immense, two-story barn
conversion behind his home. It was
the largest of the network of buildings
surrounding the house, and wore a fresh
coat of paint and shiny new locks on the doors.
As we walked inside, The Englishman
turned to me with a thin smile,
and I could tell that he was excited.
“I have to have strict rules in my life,”
he said, “I don’t show many people the collection,
because not many people can understand the
motives behind it, people don’t
understand my values.”
The walls where our chap houses
his collection are covered with signs,
iron swastikas, Hitler’s sketches,
and posters that read
“Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer.”
He kept making these tentative
passes at the stigma attached to
his obsession, as if at once baffled by
those who might find his collection
distasteful, and desperately
keen to defend himself, and it.
The lower level of the building
contained a now-familiar range
of tanks and cars, including the
Mercedes G4 our collector saw as
a child in Monaco. “I cried and
cried because my dad wouldn’t buy
me this car. Now, almost 50 years later,
I’ve finally got it.”
On the walls huge iron swastikas hung,
street-signs for Adolf Hitler Strasse
and Adolf Hitler Platz, posters of Hitler
with “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer”
“That’s from Wagner’s family home,”
he told me, pointing to a massive
iron eagle spreading its wings
over a swastika. It was studded
with bullet holes. “I was in a scrap yard
in Germany when a feller came
in who’d been clearing out the
Wagner estate and had come upon
this. Bought it straight from him.”
We climbed a narrow flight of stairs
to an airy upper level, and I felt that
I had moved deeper into the labyrinth
of Wheatcroft’s obsession.
In the long, gabled hall were dozens
of mannequins, all in Nazi uniform.
Some were dressed as Hitler Youth,
some as SS officers, others as
It was bubble still, the mannequins
perched as if frozen in flight, a sleeping
Nazi Caerleon. One wall was taken up
with machine guns, rifles and rocket
launchers in serried rows.
The walls were plastered with
sketches by Hitler, Albert Speer
and some rather good nudes
by Göring’s chauffeur.
On cluttered display tables sat a
scale model of Hitler’s mountain
eyrie the Kehlsteinhaus, a twisted
machine gun from Hess’s crashed plane,
the commandant’s phone from
Buchenwald, hundreds of helmets,
mortars and shells, wirelesses,
Enigma machines, and searchlights,
all jostling for attention. Rail after
rail of uniforms marched into the distance.
“I brought David Ayer in here when
he was researching Fury,” He told me.
“He offered to buy the whole lot there and then.
When I said no he offered me
30 grand for this.” He showed me
a fairly ordinary-looking camouflage tunic.
“He knows his stuff.”
“I try not to answer when
people accuse me of being a Nazi,
I tend to turn my back and leave
them looking silly. I think Hitler and
Göring were such fascinating
characters in so many ways.
Hitler’s eye for quality was just extraordinary.”
We were standing in front of
signed photographs of Hitler and Göring.
“I think I could give up everything else,
” he said, “the cars, the tanks, the guns,
as long as I could still have Adolf
and Hermann. They’re my real love.”
I asked Our Engineer whether he was
worried about what people might read
into his fascination with Nazism.
Other notable collectors, I pointed out,
were the bankrupt and discredited
David Irving and Lemmy from Motörhead.
“I try not to answer when people
accuse me of being a Nazi,”
he said. “I tend to turn my back
and leave them looking silly.
I think Hitler and Göring were such
fascinating characters in so many ways.
Hitler’s eye for quality was just extraordinary.”
He swept his arm across the army
of motionless Nazis surrounding us,
taking in the uniforms and the bayonets,
the dimly glimmering guns and medals.
“More than that, though,” he continued,
“I want to preserve things. I want to
show the next generation how it actually was.
And this collection is a memento for those
who didn’t come back. It’s the sense
of history you get from these objects,
the conversations that went on around them,
the way they give you a link to the past.
It’s a very special feeling.”
The greatest find
A billboard posted at the entrance
of the Belsen concentration camp
after its liberation in April, 1945.
Our collector once purchased a
backpack and discovered an undeveloped
roll of film in it, which had five
unpublished photos of Bergen-Belsen on it.
We walked around the rest of the exhibition,
stopping for a moment by a
nondescript green backpack.
“There’s a story behind this,”
he said. “I found a roll of undeveloped film in it.
I’d only bought the backpack to
hang on a mannequin, but inside was
this film. I had it developed and
there were five unpublished
pictures of Bergen-Belsen on it.
It must have been very soon
after the liberation, because there
were bulldozers moving piles of bodies.”
The most treasured pieces of
Our Mans collection are kept in his
house, a maze-like place,
low-ceilinged and full of staircases,
corridors that turn back on themselves,
hidden doorways and secret rooms.
As soon as we entered through the back door,
he began to apologize for the state of the place.
“I’ve been trying to get it all in order,
but there just aren’t the hours in the day.”
In the drawing room there was a handsome
walnut case in which sat Eva Braun’s
gramophone and record collection.
We walked through to the snooker room,
which housed a selection of Hitler’s furniture,
as well as two motorbikes.
The room was so cluttered
that we could not move further than the doorway.
Eva Braun and Hitler.
This Gentleman owns Braun’s
gramophone and record collection.
“I picked up all of Hitler’s furniture
at a guesthouse in Linz,”
The Englishman told me. “The owner’s father’s
dying wish had been that a certain
room should be kept locked.
I knew Hitler had lived there and so
finally persuaded him to open it
and it was exactly as it had been when Hitler
slept in the room. On the desk there
was a blotter covered in Hitler’s
signatures in reverse, the drawers
were full of signed copies of Mein Kampf.
I bought it all. I sleep in the bed,
although I’ve changed the mattress.”
A shy, conspiratorial smile.
We made our way through to the
galleried dining room, where
a wax figure of Hitler stood on the balcony,
surveying us coldly. There was a
rustic, beer-hall feel to the place.
On the table sat flugelhorns and euphoniums,
trumpets and drums.
“I’ve got the largest collection
of Third Reich military instruments
in the world,” The collector told me.
Of course he did. There was
Mengele’s grandfather clock,
topped with a depressed-looking bear.
“I had trouble getting that out of
Argentina. I finally had it smuggled
out as tractor parts to the
Massey-Ferguson factory in Coventry.”
The Englishman briefly opened
a door to show the pub he had
built for himself. Even here
there was a Third Reich theme
— the cellar door was originally from the Berghof.
Wheatcroft also owns the largest
collection of Hitler heads in
The electricity was off in one wing
of the house, and we made
our way in dim light through a
conservatory where rows of Hitler
heads stared blindly across at
each other. Every wall bore a
portrait of the Führer, or of
Göring, until the two men felt
so present and ubiquitous
that they were almost alive.
In a well at the bottom of a
spiral staircase, The Collector paused
beneath a full-length portrait of Hitler.
“This was his favorite painting of himself,
the one used for stamps and official
reproductions.” The Führer looked
peacockish and preening,
a snooty tilt to his head.
We climbed the stairs to find more
pictures of Hitler on the walls,
swastikas and iron crosses,
a faintly Egyptian statuette given
by Hitler to Peron, an oil portrait
of Eva Braun signed by Hitler.
Paintings were stacked against walls,
bubble wrap was everywhere.
We picked our way between the
artefacts, stepping over statuary
and half-unpacked boxes.
I found myself imagining the
house in a decade’s time, when
no doors would open, no light
come in through the windows,
when the collection would have
swallowed every last corner,
and I could picture Wheatcroft, quite
happy, living in a caravan in the garden.
We passed along more shadowy
corridors, through a door hidden
in a bookshelf and up another
winding staircase, until we found
ourselves in an unexceptional bedroom,
a single unshaded light in the
ceiling illuminating piles of uniforms.
The collector reached into a closet
and pulled out Hitler’s white dress
suit with careful, supplicatory hands.
Hitler (center) in 1939. The Colletor says
his greatest find was a locked
suitcase that held Hitler’s white dress suit.
“I was in Munich with a dealer,”
he said, showing me the tailor’s label,
which read Reichsführer Adolf Hitler
in looping cursive. “We had a call
to go and visit a lawyer, who had some connection to Eva Braun. In 1944, Eva Braun had deposited
a suitcase in a fireproof safe.
He quoted me a price, contents unseen.
The case was locked with no key.
We drove to Hamburg and had a
locksmith open it. Inside were
two full sets of Hitler’s suits, including
this one, two Sam Browne belts,
two pairs of his shoes,
two bundles of love letters written
by Hitler to Eva, two sketches of Eva naked,
sunbathing, two self-propelling pencils.
A pair of AH-monogrammed eyeglasses.
A pair of monogrammed champagne flutes.
A painting of a Vienna cityscape
by Hitler that he must have given to Eva.
I was in a dream world.
The greatest find of my collecting career.”
The collector drove me to the station
under a wide, star-filled night.
“When David Ayer offered to buy the collection,
I almost said yes,” he told me,
his eyes on the road. “Just so it wouldn’t
be my problem any more.
I tried to buy the house in which
Hitler was born in Braunau,
I thought I could move the collection there,
turn it into a museum of the Third Reich.
The Austrian government must have Googled my name.
They said no immediately.
They didn’t want it to become a shrine.
It’s so hard to know what to do with all the stuff.
I really do feel like I’m just a caretaker
until the next person comes along,
but I must display it, I must get it out into the public
— I understand that.”
We pulled into the station car park and,
with a wave, he drove off into the night.
On the way home I stared out of the train window, feeling the events of the day working themselves upon me. The strange thing was not the weirdness of it all, but the normality. I really don’t believe that Wheatcroft is anything other than what he seems — a fanatical collector. I had expected a closet Nazi, a wild-eyed goosestepper, and instead I had met a man wrestling with a hobby that had become an obsession and was now a millstone.
Collecting was like a disease for him, the prospect of completion tantalizingly near but always just out of reach. If he was mad, it wasn’t the madness of the fulminating antisemite, rather the mania of the collector.
Many would question whether artifacts such as those in this gentleman’s Collection ought to be preserved at all, let alone exhibited in public. Should we really be queueing up to marvel at these emblems of what Primo Levi called the Nazis’ “histrionic arts”? It is, perhaps, the very darkness of these objects, their proximity to real evil, that attracts collectors (and that keeps novelists and filmmakers returning to the years 1939-45 for material).
In the conflicting narratives and counter-narratives of history, there is something satisfyingly simple about the evil of the Nazis, the schoolboy Manichaeism of the second world war. Later, This enthusiast would tell me that his earliest memory was of lining up Dinky toy tanks on his bedroom floor, watching the ranks of Shermans and Panzers and Crusaders facing off against each other, a childish battle of good and evil.
After I sent him a copy of Laurent Binet’s 2010 novel “HHhH,” a brilliant retelling of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the principal architects of the Holocaust, The Collector emailed me with news of an astonishing new find in the house of a retired diplomat. “I’d fully intended to ease up on the collecting,” he told me, “to concentrate on cataloguing, on getting the collection out there, but actually some of the things I’ve discovered since I saw you last, I’ve just had to buy. Big-value items, but you just have to forget about that because of the sheer rarity value. It’s compounded the problem really, because they were all massive things.”
His latest find, he said, was a collection of Nazi artefacts brought to his attention by someone he had met at an auction a few years back. The story is classic — a mixture of luck and happenstance and chutzpah that appears to have turned up objects of genuine historical interest. “This chap told me that his best friend was a plumber and was working on a big house in Cornwall. The widow was trying to sort things out. The plumber had seen that in the garden there were all sorts of Nazi statues. He sent me a picture of one of the statues, which was a massive 5 ½ foot stone eagle that came from Berchtesgaden. I did a deal and bought it, and after that sale my contact was shown a whole range of other objects by the widow. It turned out that this house was a treasure trove. There’s an enormous amount I’m trying to get hold of now. I can’t say an awful lot, but it’s one of the most important finds of recent times.”
The owner of the house had just passed away; he was apparently a senior British diplomat who, in his regular trips to Germany in the lead-up to the war, amassed a sizable collection of Nazi memorabilia. He continued to collect after the war had finished, the most interesting items hidden in a safe room behind a secret panel.
“It’s stunning,” the Englishman told me, by telephone, his voice fizzing with excitement. “There’s a series of handwritten letters between Hitler and Churchill. They were writing to each other about the route the war was taking. Discussions of a non-aggression pact. This man had copied things and removed them on a day-to-day basis over the course of the war. A complete breach of the Official Secrets Act, but mindblowing.” The authenticity of the papers, of course, has not yet been confirmed — but if they are real, they could secure our man a place in the history books. “Although it’s never been about me,” he insisted.
It seems our meeting in the winter stirred something in this fellow , a realization that there were duties that came with owning the objects in his collection, obligations to the past and present that had become burdensome to him.
“It’s the objects,” he told me repeatedly, “the history.” It also seemed as if Wheatcroft’s halfhearted attempts to bring his collection to a wider public had been given a much-needed fillip.
“An awful lot has changed since I saw you,” he told me when we spoke in late spring. “It refocused me, talking to you about it. It made me think about how much time has gone by. I’ve spent, I suppose, 50 years as a collector just plodding along, and I’ve suddenly realized that there’s more time behind than ahead, and I need to do something about it. I’ve pressed several expensive buttons in order to get some of my more valuable pieces restored. Because you did just make me think what’s the point of owning these things if no one’s ever going to see them
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