A hidden piece of World War II history hits the auction block tomorrow at Alexander Historical Auctions in Stamford, Connecticut: a huge lot of early papers by Joseph Goebbels. All the documents are from the period before he became active in the Nazi party, and they provide a glimpse into the early development of a man who would become one of the most powerful forces in the Third Reich.
The massive lot, estimated at $200,000-300,000, contains thousands of documents, including report cards, love letters, plays, poems, a novel, and essays, which create a picture of a sentimental young man writing Marxist-influenced fiction about characters suffering in an unjust capitalist society. A novella from 1920, when Goebbels was about 23 years old, is titled “Zigeunerblut” or “Gypsy Blood” (an interesting title given the genocidal tendencies of the Third Reich toward this group not very many years later). In it, the future minister of propaganda writes, “My roof is the sky. My home is the world… The forest is my tent.” A diary that dates from Goebbels’ mid-twenties recounts the tumult of German politics and mentions Hitler’s early attempts at political action. There are also several drafts of Goebbels’ semi-autobiographical novel “Michael Voorman.”
This trove of documents was unknown to the general public until now. Alexander Auctions president Bill Panagopulos told ARTINFO France that after the war a German nurse produced the papers and tried to sell them to the Bundesarchiv (the German national archives). Then Goebbels’ sister, with the help of an unidentified representative, sued for ownership and ultimately prevailed (the case was not resolved until 1955). Later, the sister’s representative left the documents to a Swiss individual who subsequently sold them to a Swiss corporation. The unidentified Swiss corporation has now consigned them to auction, choosing to sell them in the U.S. because the market for World War II memorabilia is much stronger here, according to Panagopulos.
These early papers could be very valuable to historians, but it’s impossible to know whether they will end up available to the public or not, though Panagopulos says that it’s quite likely that someone may buy the lot with the intention of later donating it to a museum or archive. When Alexander Auctions sold the papers of the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele last year, Menachem Z. Rosensaft of the America Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants objected, accusing the auction house of immorally profiting from a historical tragedy. Naturally, Panagopulos disagrees. “I’m bringing these things to the market with the hope that somebody’s going to buy them and donate them,” he says. “If I don’t they’re going to be sold under the table at the flea market or maybe some backwoods gun show somewhere,” where they would be divided into bits and pieces and lost to researchers. Panagopulos, who says his father’s hometown in Greece was wiped out by the Germans, maintains that it’s important not to forget the past: “You preserve the good, you also need to preserve the bad.”
— Kate Deimling, ARTINFO France