Friday, October 31, 2014
Collecting Cars once owned by the Nazis
Showing off his stunning collection of classic automobiles, Dmitry Lomakov explains why Russians love Nazi cars. "They are symbols of Russia's victory,'' he says. "For Russians the second world war isn't a historical event. For us it happened yesterday.''
Lomakov is the director of Moscow's museum of retro-automobiles whose collection in a freezing cold hanger includes three rare Nazi-owned vehicles. "Buying a Nazi car is like sticking one finger up to Hitler,'' he explains.
On the left of the entrance is Joseph Goebbels' Mercedes Benz 540K, bought by Lomakov's father in 1972 after he spotted it rusting in a garden in communist Latvia. Then there is Hermann Goering's jaw-droppingly sleek Horch-853 limousine. Next to that is Martin Boorman's comparatively modest Mercedes-Benz 320, used by his cook to transport sacks of potatoes. Earlier this week an anonymous Russian collector snapped up the ultimate trophy: a midnight blue Mercedes Benz 770K belonging to Hitler.
The five-ton armour-plated vehicle – licence plate number 1A 148461 – was part of Hitler's official fleet, and used by the Führer to criss-cross Europe during the second world war. (Hitler was photographed standing in it surrounded by adoring Sieg Heiling crowds.)
Michael Fröhlich, a Düsseldorf car dealer, brokered the deal. The mystery Russian purchased five other similar class vehicles, four of which once belonged to third reich leaders including the Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.
Fröhlich, who refused to reveal the price tag, said he had had made sure to "double-check" with the courts before going ahead, realising how sensitive and often illegal the buying and selling of Nazi memorabilia is. "They assured me I could not be prosecuted as long as there are no Nazi symbols in the car – but the swastikas were removed long ago,'' he said.
Lomakov says: ''He said he knew the identity of the mystery Russian but wasn't telling: 'He may have bought Hitler's car out of patriotism. Or as an investment. "We don't have hang ups about swastikas. For us the war is close. We grew up with it. Everyone has relatives who fought the Germans."According to Lomakov, Germans are still squeamishly embarrassed by their country's dark past. But Russians ,happily mug up for photos next to Hitler-era relics, posing with them like Roman victors.
The red army returned home from the second world war with an extraordinary amount of booty — paintings, tapestries, furniture, dinner plates, and other looted souvenirs. In the summer and autumn of 1945 thousands of German cars and motorbikes were shipped back to a war-shattered Soviet Union.
Soldiers also brought back Hitler's jaw. Much of this third reich memorabilia is on display in Moscow's armed forces museum, where you can peek at Hitler's jacket and swastika armband. Russia's FSB spy agency recently exhibited Hitler's hat, dusted down from its secret archives.
Russian soldiers stumbled on Goebbels's motor at his estate near Berlin. It ended up in the Soviet Union in 1947. Lomakov's father, Sasha, bought it from the widow of the first secretary of Soviet Latvia's communist party. "The car was in a dreadful state," Lomakov recalls.
Foreign cars were a rarity in the Soviet Union. It was only after the collapse of communism that Boris Yeltsin allowed in foreign marques. In recent years the number of classic car collectors has grown in Russia — swelled by wealthy new Russians willing to splash out millions on classic German engineering.
The Lomakov family have been collecting classic cars for more than 40 years, and has amassed over 120 cars and motorcycles. Their vehicles have appeared in numerous films.
The museum also boasts classic Soviet Gaz limousines and US motorbikes. "Hitler had several 700 series Mercedes cars. It would be an honour to have one as a trophy. I might even put it in a separate garage,'' Lomakov mused.
Frohlich, who has sold cars belonging to other prominent figures such as Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo, traced the provenance of Hitler's car back to Austria where it was sold after the Second World War for 2000 Reichsmarks. Later it ended up in the cellar of the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas and then in the collection of a Munich brewery billionaire. His widow sold it with several other Nazi cars to a collector in Bielefeld, who kept them in his garage.
Frohlich said it should not be assumed that his buyer for Hitler's car was a Nazi. "Everyone knows that these cars are not going to get any cheaper. They are the best investment that you could make right now." But he warned of a possible curse. "Almost everyone who had bought the Mercedes has died not long afterwards, including Hitler."