Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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1499 words
SHJ Issue 2
Fall 2010


Mathias B. Freese

The things we make, the things we devise are soon gone. Mengele’s white gloves, his dress pair, in which he decided that you lived, or died, are gone. No collector has them among his Nazi memorabilia. No museum has them on display. They are disposed of, where or when, we do not know.
—Max Weber, Editor, The Journal of Historical Review, IX, p. 9

I cite my own essay above. Curiosa, sometimes erotica, are essentially the artifacts of a historical period and in this instance the relics of the Nazi era. We have German helmets, uniforms, insignia, bayonets, patches and medals, Adlerblick binoculars, the accoutrements saved and preserved. As in every collection there is a holy grail and I’ll discuss that momentarily. The collector’s wish list is extensive. Historians and collectors would like to acquire and study the following:

—Himmler’s steel-rimmed glasses. His optician’s prescription would be priceless as we cannot determine if he was near- or far-sighted. The case itself has been said to be made of ostrich and has his initials printed in gold lettering.

—Mengele’s lancet set. We believe he was gifted with these two-edged surgical knives, perhaps five, of sterling silver in a plush-lined leather case by his medical staff on occasion of his birthday. Reputedly, he used them only once, on a German woman guard to perform an appendectomy. He prized them too much to operate on inmates.

—Any rifle or specialized shooting gun owned by Goering is highly sought after as he was an avid hunter and ordered exquisitely designed and engraved guns for his collection. A recent collector’s sale put up an Italian gun that Goering used and sold it for $35,000. The gun’s provenance is guaranteed in that it is in a photograph of Goering carrying a brace of quail, his gun by his side.

—Any brushes, mirrors, compacts or toiletries used by Eva Braun are exceedingly valued, especially an acclaimed dresser set that has EB engraved on the back of a hand mirror. One silver lady’s comb was given as a gift to a woman orderly before the end and passed on to her daughter who had it auctioned off with a few strands of Eva’s hair in the late 70s.

The list of desired items from the regime is extensive: intimate items are particularly valued such as razors, combs, cigarette cases and lighters (preferably monogrammed), gloves, field binoculars, jodhpurs, riding boots, fountain pens, lingerie, cuticle scissors, penknives, wrist watches, liquor flasks (again initialed), bedside books, ash trays, pipes made of meerschaum, eyeglasses, silk scarves, female paraphernalia—dresser sets, evening purses, hand mirrors, pocket mirrors, lipsticks, muffs, brassieres, and peignoirs as well as silk pajamas and panties. Silk hose is especially sought after. And anything and everything dealing with perfume flasks of the period.

I can personally attest to the magnetic appeal of these items, for I spent some time living in Germany in the 80s. I visited with collectors who often, when they came to trust me, showed me their oddities as well as most valued Nazi treasures, a Breitling watch once owned by Goebbels, for instance.

After examining Goering’s billfold—he admired leather goods—one collector, let me call him Peter, opened a drawer to reveal a copy of Mein Kampf. It was in pristine condition, the dust jacket long since gone, but the cover was mint. I was shown the front pages in which Adolf Hitler had signed his name. No inscription for Goering who Hitler disparagingly viewed as an epicene.

Naturally the signature grabbed me at once. I sat down and stared at it; the collector so proud of his find sat down next to me with much pride, taking much pleasure in my elation. I cannot accurately describe to you what I felt except to say my imagination took flight with the vision of Hitler using a pen, a pen that flowed black ink and his inscribing his name. I could smell the event, so incised was it in mind. After all, historians are also archaeologists. We like to hold bones as well.

“I tell you, Max, I cannot give you my holy grail, as it were, but given your background as a scholar and your own record, I’d like to give you something to encourage your future studies.”

I couldn’t imagine what that would be. In my hand was Mein Kampf with Hitler’s signature. Its value beyond anything else, but I could not have this nor would I ever ask for such a treasure. I did revel in it, so close to my self. What could equal this?

“Peter, what is it you can give me?”

“What I have is choice, like a rare stamp; however, I have a pair, both in excellent condition, good Egyptian cotton, no moth holes. I came upon them in a collector’s secret showing and I want you to have one.”

With that Peter left the room and returned shortly with a black zippered soft plush pouch. He removed an item wrapped in a soft cloth. Peter cleared the table before us, the ash tray, his pipe stand and especially the schnapps and whiskey glasses.

Preparing the table as if setting out priestly paraphernalia for mass, he slowly unrolled the cloth, revealing a large pair of man’s boxer shorts, although Germans must have another name for them. Peter became very still. Awe was not his expression but an abiding and residual smile broke out on his face of continuing amazement and admiration.

“Well, Peter, the shorts are a little stained and there are aging signs.” I was about to pick them up and examine the waistband as well as the brand name when Peter quickly stayed my hand. He was wearing rubber gloves.

“For the moment, leave touch out of this. Admire with your eyes for before you are the shorts of Adolph Hitler—one of only two pair extant.”

I was stunned. I was stunned all over again. All kind of images flooded me—and questions above all, historian that I am. Were these the shorts he was wearing when he committed suicide? And if so, who had the audacity—the thoughtfulness—the wisdom, to remove them? And who was this person, the first to have set his eyes upon the Führer’s genitalia? And did that person have help? Were these the shorts he was wearing before he made love to Eva? And, of course, I had to consider that these shorts simply were rarely worn, drawer shorts among others. How often did he frequent them? That did matter, as long as I thought he may have held them in his hands. All this went through my mind, electrifying to think so.

Both Peter and I just looked at the shorts, probably American XL (40-42). We were contemplative, reflective. We mused. We thought and considered. Assuredly, each one of us was having associations, making mnemonic connections to prior personal experiences, events in our lives. As a historian I was immensely overwhelmed by the historicity of Hitler’s shorts.

I associated to the possibility that the shorts had semen stains upon them at one time but repeated washing had done away with them. And if one sperm had succeeded? Much too much to grasp, a historical bewilderment for all time. I associated to Hitler’s holding his penis to urinate. I could not, dare not, tell Peter what I was feeling not only the obvious compulsion to handle Hitler’s drawers, to place my hand into them and move about the crotch as well, but also to bring them furtively to my nose, to inhale whatever cottony smell they gave off. Perversely, I thought again of men who required a woman’s panties or slip in order to get off. All this was jarringly interrupted by Peter re-rolling the precious shorts into the cloth and inserting them carefully into the plush satchel.

“I don’t like them to be exposed for too long, as you can well understand, to the smoke-filled air, the light, for this is not good for them. However, I give this to you as a present, hoping that you will use Hitler’s shorts as an incentive for future historical efforts.”

Recently, I composed an essay which established irrefutably that the contention since the end of World War II that some Jews were turned into soap at one or two camps is a myth. I spent months on that essay and had at least 40 to 50 footnotes at the end. While I wrote, Hitler’s shorts were near me on a bookshelf. Whenever I lost my way, when I felt blocked or the writing was not going well, I took them down into my lap and stroked the plush bag as if it were a cat. Reinvigorated, I returned to writing the truth not as I see it but as it is, trying to deny allegations and accusations much too grandiose or delusional for the common man to accept. Hitler’s shorts are fact, Jews as bars of soap are not.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury