Buyers around globe collecting works purported to be from Nazi leader, although experts say they are mostly fakes
German authorities have seized 63 paintings alleged to be the work of Adolf Hitler from an auction house in Nuremberg ahead of a planned sale this weekend.
According to local media, police raided Auktionshaus Weidler on suspicion that the authentication documents for 26 items slated to go under the hammer on Saturday were falsified and that the pieces are forgeries. During the operation, police searched the premises and further uncovered an additional 37 artworks signed “A.H.” or “A. Hitler.”
Among the pictures are watercolor landscapes and sketches of female nudes which had, according to the official catalog, “come from Austrian or rather European private ownership, originally from famous artists of the Third Reich, from heirs or from the estates of collectors.” The items that were intended to be auctioned ranged widely in price, from $150 for a charcoal sketch to $50,000 for a larger painting depicting a pastoral scene near a mountain lake.
As long as no Nazi symbols are visible, it is legal to sell Hitler’s art in Germany.
Though the original sale was slated to include over 30 alleged paintings of the former Fuehrer, the auction house backtracked and said it would only be auctioning five watercolors “signed A. Hitler as well as antiques from the former possession of A. Hitler.”
Before embarking on his murderous rampage across Europe and implementing the Holocaust, Hitler was an aspiring artist who applied to an academy in Vienna but was turned down.
Purported artworks by the notorious 20th century tyrant regularly come up for auction and often fetch high prices, with one having sold for $161,000 in 2014. But according to investigators, despite the ongoing fascination with Hitler the vast majority of his alleged art on the market today is fake.
“Almost all of Hitler’s watercolors originate from 1910-1914—except one from 1907 and another from 1915,” Bart Droog, a Dutch investigative journalist specializing in researching Hitler forgeries, told The Media Line. “The works [at Auktionshaus Weidler] are indeed signed ‘A.H.’ or ‘A. Hitler’, but the probability that these signatures were painted/drawn by Adolf Hitler is as good as nil.”
According to Droog, some of the items on offer at Weidler were in fact produced by German illustrator Konrad Kujau, a forger who achieved notoriety in the 1980s when he created a 60-volume set of diaries presumed to be those of the past Nazi leader.
“We did extensive research in the federal archives in Berlin where they keep the archives of the Nazi Party,” he elaborated. “The Nazis tried to trace and register all of Hitler’s artwork in the 1930s to make a biography of him but they could only find about 50 of them and of these only 33 survived the war. This means that all of the hundreds of other works must be fakes and most surfaced only after the 1960s.”
The number of paintings attributed to the mass murderer has increased in parallel to growing interest in his art. Droog notes that auction houses, forgers, traders as well as other middlemen profit from the sale of fakes.
“I assume that 95 percent of what is being offered are fakes, as Hitler himself already stated in the late 1930s,” Stefan Koldehoff, Cultural Editor for the German public broadcasting radio station Deutschlandfunk, related to The Media Line. “Most of the certificates of authenticity…are not reliable. I think this is why Weidler withdrew 26 of the 31 works in their catalogue: There is no proof of their authenticity.”
Koldehoff underlines that sellers typically claim they inherited the works or received them as presents. Some are relatives of former United States soldiers that maintain the art was confiscated from Germany during the war, although none of these cases can be corroborated.
As for the buyers, they come from all over the world including Arab countries and Iran.
“Old and young Nazis, people from China and the Middle East” collect these works, Koldehoff said.
“Might a kind of traditional anti-Semitism be the reason?”
In 2014, an unnamed buyer from the United Arab Emirates purchased a 1914 watercolor by Hitler from the Weidler auction house. In 2015, an exhibition in Iran showcased two paintings by the Nazi dictator, and in 1999 it was discovered that two paintings held by a state-run museum in Tehran were the works of the Fuehrer. During the Second World War, Iran’s shah was sympathetic to Hitler’s rule and strengthened economic ties with his regime.
This week’s raid in Nuremberg is part of growing crackdown on the illicit sales of art attributed to Hitler. Last month, German police seized three watercolors which were scheduled to be auctioned in Berlin by the Kloss auction house.
“[Hitler art] is a kind of religion, I guess,” Droog conveyed. “People want to believe that it’s real so they are blind to any arguments that these works are fake.
“[In the Middle Ages], there were so many pieces of wood you could buy from traders that said ‘this is a piece from the cross of Jesus Christ’ that if you put all those pieces together you could have made a forest. It’s the same now with those Hitler paintings. There’s no logic to it.”