Eagle Recovered From the Graf Spee is Going to Auction $26 Million

George Winston
The  bronze eagle, recovered from a German battleship Graf Spee.
The bronze eagle, recovered from a German battleship Graf Spee.

The latest item that may soon be up for auction is the large 360 kg bronze Nazi eagle that was recovered from the battleship Graf Spee in 2006. The eagle has been conservatively estimated at $26 million, but there are fears that it could be bought by white supremacists.

The sale of Third Reich memorabilia will always elicit strong reactions from those who are in favor of it and from those who vehemently oppose it.

This considerable bronze was recovered from the scuttled ship by a project team funded by a group of international businessmen in 2006.  It has been languishing in a crate in a storeroom since then, subject to a bitter court battle between the consortium of businessmen and the Government of Uruguay.

‘Admiral Graf Spee’ at the Spithead Naval Review representing Germany at the coronation of King George VI.
‘Admiral Graf Spee’ at the Spithead Naval Review representing Germany at the coronation of King George VI.

The leader of the project team that recovered the eagle, Alfredo Etchegaray, said that the fight over ownership of the bronze had been going on for many years. He and his team recovered the bronze from the Graf Spee, which was scuttled in the shallow waters off the coast near Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, in December 1939.

Etchegaray said that there has been considerable interest in the eagle, which will be auctioned alongside other artifacts from the Graf Spee. These include canon and a range finder. He added that they would screen the buyer to ensure that the statue was put on display to the public so that the history it represented would be taught to future generations.

Museums, the German government, as well as wealthy individuals, have all made inquiries about the statue. The most unusual inquiry came from a businessman that wants to use it as a centerpiece at the Soccer World Cup to be held in Doha.

The eagle was on display in a hotel  in Montevideo for a short time, until protest action forced the project team to remove it from view. Now fears are once again surfacing that with an open auction, the eagle could fall into the hands of white supremacists.

The warship cost 82 million Reichsmark and was unique in that it had eight diesel engines, allowing the vessel to travel distances of up to 8,900 nautical miles at a constant speed of 20 knots.
The warship cost 82 million Reichsmark and was unique in that it had eight diesel engines, allowing the vessel to travel distances of up to 8,900 nautical miles at a constant speed of 20 knots.

The director of the National Heritage Commission in Uruguay made his government’s view very plain when he said that while they had no problem with salvager’s making money from the artifacts they had found, but they were opposed to the traffic of cultural or historical items. In their view, this eagle fell squarely into the latter category. The Commission is concerned that individuals that bid on this item will be neo-Nazis.

This view is supported by the Uruguayan Jewish Committee. A spokesman for the Committee, Ernesto Kreimerman, said that they would prefer the eagle to be placed in a museum rather than in the hands of a private person.

In recent months there have been many auctions of Nazi memorabilia all over the world. These auctions have taken place mainly in the USA and Europe and have sold Hitler’s top hat for $50,000, Hitler’s telephone for $200,000, Hitler’s cap for $400,000 and a pair of silk knickers that belonged to Eva Braun sold for $6,000.

Admiral Graf Spee shortly after her scuttling
Admiral Graf Spee shortly after her scuttling

It is easy to disparage these sales and treat them as a joke. Still, historians that specialize in studying and writing about the Nazi era warn that this is a dangerous trend that should not merely be written off as the work of lunatics.

They warn that the collecting of such memorabilia, which causes the prices paid for such items to rise dramatically, contributes to glamorizing the distasteful regime from which these items originate. This, in turn, raises the tensions between those that were terrorized by the Nazis and those that are sympathetic to the Nazi cause.

An indication of just how valuable Nazi memorabilia has become is shown by the fact that one of the brown shirts worn by Hitler, which was auctioned with his Wound Medal, his Nazi gold tie pin, and his Iron Cross was sold for the incredible amount of $700,000. Contrast this with $230,000, being the highest price paid for a Victoria Cross.

The question that is on many historians’ minds is who the people that purchase such memorabilia are? Does it signify a considerable rise in the popularity of the neo-Nazi movement, or is it merely ghoulish interest? The identity of the private buyers is almost always kept confidential. Hence, it isn’t straightforward to know what these purchases signify.

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One thing is very certain, and that is there is a large and very lucrative market for Nazi memorabilia that does not seem to have run its course.