A piece of bloodstained fabric recently sold for $16,000 at a US auction.
I know what you’re thinking. What could possibly compel someone to pay that amount of money for something that unpleasant?
Well what if I told you that that piece of fabric was torn from the very sofa that Adolf Hitler was sitting on when he shot himself.
Suddenly it becomes much more interesting, doesn’t it?
The grisly memento was taken by a US officer who was among the first to enter the bunker below the Reich Chancellery in Berlin before it was filled in by the Russians. Apparently, it is now the site of a Chinese restaurant.
Most of us are aware of how the dictator spent his final days below ground as the city’s children were conscripted to hold off the inevitable advance of the Red Army, of the frenzied attempts to delay the inevitable up until the final moment.
The events were memorably dramatised in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s extraordinary film Downfall, which was based on the memoirs of Traudl Junge – Hitler’s secretary in the closing months of the war.
It is items like this, despite their obvious unpalatability, that take the past out of the history books and place it squarely within your hands.
From the shirt Franz Ferdinand was wearing when he was assassinated in 1914, held in the collection of the Austrian Military Museum, to a cloth dipped in the blood of the executed Louis XVI, there is an immediacy and revulsion that ensures these relics retain their power long after the event.
That Hitler died in the bunker is beyond doubt. His dental remains were identified, but as the auction house put it: “no blood relics of Hitler’s have ever been offered publicly – a DNA test would conclusively put to rest rumors of body doubles, flight to Argentina, and other theories of an escape from Berlin”.
Inevitably, there is a deeper moral issue that comes into play with the sale of memorabilia pertaining to the Nazis and Hitler in particular.
It is, however, the case that the majority of buyers of Nazi memorabilia are the Jewish community. Memories are short, but items that bring to life the darkest moment of European history offer a warning to future generations as the spectre of the second world war diminishes.