World War II is a fascinating subject to study. It’s one of the few periods in history that most people can agree has a clear good guy, and a clear bad guy. In the time since the end of the war, Germany has even instituted laws that make clear their formal stance on the Holocaust and Nazi occupation. These laws make stories like the one uncovered in a wealthy suburb of Northern Germany that much more fascinating.
A Hidden Secret From the Past
In a wealthy suburb of Kiel, the capital of a northern German state, a secret was hiding in the basement of an elderly man. The gentleman was rumored to be in possession of illegal Nazi memorabilia, an act that was heavily criminalized after the end of World War II.
Many of us learned about the basics of World War II as children. It’s a horrifying story, one that resulted in the deaths of millions of people across all spectrums of religion and political affiliation. It’s also a period that has fascinating causes, and many stories beyond the deaths that occurred in the process.
A War That Set the Stage For Another
After the end of WWI, Germany was found to be, essentially, the sole loser of the war. The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to pay massive reparations to the allies for their losses in the war, as well as imposed the disarmament of Germany and the demilitarization of the Rhineland.
These heavy sanctions crippled the German economy, and caused a great deal of disrest among the German people, who felt they were being unfairly penalized for the result of WWI. The discontent among the people is one of the many factors that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler a political figure and German figurehead.
The Nazis Were Murderers, Yes, But Also Thiefs
The formation of the Nazi party and the deaths of millions of people is often, and rightfully so, the focus of many conversations about WWII and the Holocaust. The Nazis wreaked havoc beyond the deaths that they caused, though, the results of which are still being discovered and understood to this day.
One of the many devastating acts that the Nazis committed beyond the deaths and destruction is, in fact, something that may see small potatoes in comparison. The Nazi party was notorious for theft and the destruction of personal property, and there are still investigations ongoing into art and artifacts that the Nazis stole.
Occultism in the Nazi Party
The Nazis were such a widespread party and consisted of so many people by the end of the war that there were even factions of the party that were fascinated by the occult. A book released in 1985 even went so far to theorize that the Nazi party was birthed from a belief in occultism, but there’s no evidence behind that.
Still, the niche beliefs of some factions of the Nazi party cannot be ignored, nor their interest and desire in historically and religiously significant items. Heinrich Himmler even went so far as to authorize a small group of Nazis to search for the Holy Grail, though the search was cut short and was ultimately fruitless.
Anti-Nazi Laws Implemented During the Cold War
With the understanding that the Nazis in a lot of thievery and many of the artifacts that they stole are still being sought out, it should be no surprise that there are ongoing investigations into missing artifacts in Germany. These investigations hold even more importance in Germany, due to laws that were implemented after the end of WWII.
After the Nuremberg trials and the formal end of WWII, Germany instituted laws that banned the use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations. The law is deliberately vague, and has been used to ban, among other things, Nazi symbols and memorabilia, except in the context of education, science or art.
Other Laws Restricting Naziism
Other laws that were implemented banned the possession of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s manifesto, as well as the ownership of any Nazi memorabilia. The only context in which the possession of openly Nazi memorabilia is allowed is for historical education, meaning that many artifacts are relegated to museums.
These laws against hate speech and sympathizing with Nazi ideology mean that some have fallen under state scrutiny for owning artworks that ended up being stolen Nazi pieces. While it isn’t a crime to unknowingly possess a stolen piece of artwork, the burden of proof demanding ignorance can be quite high.
A Surprising Discovery in a Suburb
The law against owning Nazi memorabilia and stolen artwork is what leads to the beginning of this story that takes place in a wealthy German suburb, but it is not the crux of the story. A man was being investigated for potential possession of stolen Nazi artwork, and his home was investigated by Berlin police in pursuit of information.
When the police received their warrant and were able to make their way into the home in question, they were stunned by what they found. They had come in search of stolen art, but instead, they found themselves among dozens of hidden artifacts that had been kept quiet for decades.
A Second Raid, For Different Reasons
Because the Berlin police didn’t find the artwork that they had been seeking, they left the house empty handed. None of them could forget what they had seen in the home, though, and in pursuit of justice, the Berlin police informed the Kiel prosecutor’s department about what they had seen.
It took a few weeks to organize, but eventually authorities from Kiel came together with another warrant to search the elderly man’s home yet again. They were searching for the artifacts that Berlin investigators had seen, yes, but there was a specific artifact that they were seeking that made the raid that much more fraught and interesting.
A Raid Well Performed
When the police made their way into the home, they saw the historical artifacts that the Berlin police had reported. What the report had failed to state was that the artifacts in question were, in fact, all weapons of war from the era of WWII, including a full-sized tank.
The tank in question was clearly the centerpiece of the collection, in near-pristine condition. It even had a torpedo still attached to it, a blatant statement of the machine’s original intended purpose. The police were stunned: how was it possible that such a massive collection had been hiding under their noses all this time?
Controversial, Not Just Because They Were Hidden
Germany has some of the strictest gun laws on record. Some of these laws go back to the Treaty of Versailles, the agreement of which required reduction of civilian firearms. Others are more recent, in response to events such as school shootings.
The laws on gun ownership extend to so-called “weapons of war” like those found in the elderly man’s possession. Tanks and heavy machine guns fall under the weapons of war category of machine, and are banned from being possessed outside of official state or military business.
The Military Called In
The discovery of the tank in this suburb was the highlight of the raid, and one that left police and reporters baffled. Members of the local military were immediately called to the property to evaluate the situation, and to determine how best to proceed.
To many, it appeared clear that the old gentleman had blatantly broken the law by harboring many of these weapons. The German penal code and gun control laws are clear in what guns are and are not allowed. The man’s lawyer argued, though, that the weapons had all been demilitarized and were therefore perfectly legal.
The Question Was…How To Take The Tank?
Whether the man was going to be found guilty of possessing the weapons in the first place was a question for after the collection was removed from the property. The tank itself stymied the police and military who had been called.
The tank was 22 feet long and weighed 45 tonnes, making it a challenging puzzle to determine how it would be removed. An active military tank was eventually called to the property, inciting some concern from onlooking citizens who wondered if there was an impending military movement to be worried about.
A Solution to the Tank Problem
The citizens were worried for nothing, though. The current military tank was merely there as leverage to move the WWII era tank. The tank was designed to haul disabled military tanks off the battlefield, making it well-suited for the purpose of removing the WWII relic.
It took the police and military officers who had been called to the scene nine hours in total to remove all of the relics. The removal took so long that they actually had to call it a night on Wednesday and come back on Thursday to finish the job, but ultimately everything was removed.
Nazi Items Found, On Top of Everything Else
In addition to all of the military weapons and the tank, the man was also in possession of a good amount of Nazi memorabilia. A bust of Hitler was found, SS rune-shaped lamps, mannequins in Nazi uniforms, and more. They even found a statue of a naked warrior holding a sword that once stood outside of Hitler’s Chancellery in Berlin.
All of the material that was recovered was incredibly damning for the elderly man who lived in the home. It is well known in Germany that the possession of Nazi memorabilia and weapons of war are illegal, and the fact that the man was sitting on a verifiable hoard of items did not look good for his innocence.
The Lawyer Maintained His Client’s Innocence
Throughout the entire raid, though, the man’s lawyer was vehement in his statements that the homeowner had done nothing wrong. None of the weapons could be used as weapons anymore, making them perfectly legal to own, according to him. He had no excuse for the Nazi materials, though.
Investigators weren’t as convinced. Regardless of whether the weapons had been formally “demilitarized,” German law still states that permits must be carried for weapons of a certain caliber at all times, and inspections submitted to in order to determine the safety of the weapons and the home. None of these laws had been adhered to, according to records.
Ultimately, a Criminal Conviction
Prosecutors pushed through a case stating that the homeowner had illegally been possessing the weapons of war. It took several years from the time of the initial discovery, which happened in 2015, but eventually the courts heard the case and made a decision.
In 2021, the German gentleman, now 84, was found guilty of illegal weapons possession by a German court and fined nearly $300,000. He was also sentenced to a suspended prison sentence of 14 months, which got the elderly man off light in face of the crimes that he was convicted of.
A Harsh, and Maybe Needed Lesson For Anyone Watching
What may be the funniest part of this story is what was said when the Mayor of the small suburb was spoken to about the discovery. He confessed that he knew about the old man’s weapon stash, and that he hadn’t thought anything of it. He even mentioned that the tank had been used as a snowmobile in the 70’s, during a winter storm!
While the entire situation gave many police and military officers a story to tell over the dinner table, it’s also a stark reminder how seriously Germany takes its past crimes. Many might think that the possession of these WWII-era weapons or Nazi items were harmless, a mere interest in history, but Germany clearly believes that nothing is more important than learning from the past, and preventing it from happening in the future.