Lawyers Argue Over Fines After Antique Tank Removed From Pensioner’s Basement

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While most pensioners spend their retirement vacationing, there are some who prefer to dedicate their time to collecting war memorabilia. While seemingly harmless, there are oftentimes laws governing such activity, especially when the items were used by the Nazis. As one German senior found out, such a collection can lead to legal troubles.

WWII memorabilia found in basement

The now-84-year-old pensioner, who lives in the wealthy suburb of Heikendorf in Kiel, was found to have in his possession a 1943 Panther tank, an 88mm flak cannon (antiaircraft gun), a torpedo, 70 assault rifles, an unspecified number of semi- and fully-automatic pistols, and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

1943 Panther tank on a loading truck
Panther tank during its removal in 2015. (Photo Credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

In 2005, local officials with the Public Order Office were conducting an inspection at the home when they came across the collection of World War II memorabilia in his basement. Discussions regarding the licenses and legalities of the items occurred, and no action was taken to remove them.

Ten years later, local authorities were again tipped off after officials in Berlin searched the home for stolen Nazi art. During their search, they also came upon busts of Hitler, an Arno Breker bronze statue of a nude man that was reportedly once outside Hitler’s Reich Chancellery, mannequins outfitted in Nazi uniforms, swastika pendants, a V-1 rocket replica, and SS rune-shaped lamps.

The antiaircraft gun on a dark street
Antiaircraft gun being removed in 2015. (Photo Credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

Many historians have argued the Panther tank was the most efficient vehicle deployed by the Germans during WWII. This particular one was found in a southern England junkyard and transported to Germany in 1966 via the Netherlands. After undergoing repairs at a workshop in Solingen, the man reportedly had it installed in his basement during the 1980s.

Difficult removal

Removal of the items occurred in July 2015, involving 20 soldiers with the German Army. Given the tank’s size, weight, and the fact it was without its tracks, the task took nearly nine hours to complete.

Crowd gathered to watch the 1943 Panther tank's removal
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To remove it from the residence, the soldiers used six Pionierpanzer Dachs AEVs (armored engineering vehicles). The tanks were positioned at varying angles in the home’s garden, and winches were used to lift the Panther onto a low-loader for transportation.

The matter is before the courts

Initially, law enforcement and other officials debated whether the senior had broken the law regarding the collection of Nazi memorabilia outside of museum and scholarly purposes. After much discussion, it was determined there was no evidence to show the law had been violated.

Five German soldiers preparing the 1943 Panther tank for loading
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What is currently before the courts is a decision on if he violated Germany’s War Weapons Control Act. The act, which has been on the books since 1961, was designed to regulate the “manufacture, sale and transport of weapons of war” and is “legally binding for all German citizens, companies, and organizations, as well as any other person, company or organization conducting business in or transporting weapons through Germany.”

The man’s lawyer argues the weapons are no longer functional, meaning his client is not in violation of the act. Prosecutors, on the other hand, have suggested that some of the weapons and ammunition seized could still be used.

At present, both sides are negotiating possible penalties, including a suspended sentence and a fine of up to €500,000. The defense is willing to accept a much lower fine of €50,000. A decision is expected to come in August 2021.

Female soldier loading the antiaircraft gun onto the truck
Photo Credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images

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As well, the pensioner must find new homes for the items. According to his lawyer, a museum in the United States is interested in purchasing the tank, while a number of German collectors have expressed interest in purchasing the other items.