The love letters and school essays of the Nazi Minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels have failed to sell at auction, putting the future of the documents back into question.
An anonymous consigner had put the items up for auction with Alexander Historical Auctions where they failed to meet the forecast price of $200,000 to $300,000. The consigner must now decide whether to return them to their previous home in Switzerland or leave them on sale in the East Coast auction house.
“Right after the auction you sometimes get calls from those who missed it or perhaps heard about it through the press” a representative from the Auction house said. When asked whether the documents might be sold individually, the spokesperson explained, “it is important for documents of this level of historical importance to be kept together and not broken up. If a university or museum was interested in the papers it would be great, but unfortunately few institutions have the funding for a purchase of this expense.”
The collection of prewar archives reveal a romantic young leftist — a far cry from the Hitler confidant and vicious anti-Semite who later poisoned his wife and children with cyanide as Allied troops moved in on Berlin. “It’s striking how liberal minded Goebbels was at this period in his life,” Bill Panagopulos, the president of the auction house, said. “Those who study World War II history would be amazed at the way this man thought at this time; he was shy, love-struck and as close to a Marxist as you can get.” The documents include love letters from a number of young women from the early 1920s, including correspondence from two sisters who wrote to the young German student together. The most notable of these letters came from a woman named Anka Stalherm, with whom Goebbels became quite obsessed. “The relationship was a tumultuous one. She looked at him more as a son while he was madly in love with her” Panagopulos said. “When she left him he became angry, hired an attorney and demanded their love letters back.” Unfortunately only about 10% of the documents, which include report cards, essays and a semi-biographical novel written in 1923, have been translated into English due to Goebbels’ bad handwriting.
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Like any Nazi memorabilia, Goebbels’ letters need to be treated with great sensitivity, particularly with regards to those who still remember the horrors of the Holocaust. “Survivors of the war feel very strongly about the educational value of these documents,” says Michael Newman of the Association of Jewish Refugees in London. “ But they would also feel strongly against items such as these being sold for profit.” Even though the Goebbels of these love letters may seem innocent and naïve, Newman pointed out, he is still the same man that went on to become one of the primary architects of the Holocaust. “I don’t think that this was a light switch that just went on. You can’t completely separate the man in these letters from the person who effectively became Hitler’s number two”.
Michael Grunberger from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. also believes that documents such as these should be kept in a research facility open to the public – a place “where they can be made accessible and available to researchers and historians; and where they can be preserved for posterity.” However, for the time being the Goebbels’ youthful correspondence will remain in the hands of the Connecticut auction house. “Of course we work on commission so it is in our interest to sell” explained the spokesperson “but ultimately we’re just an agent, it’s not up to us what happens”.