How the ‘Indiana Jones of the art world’ ARTHUR BRAND was plunged into a terrifying neo-Nazi subculture and a confrontation with Himmler’s daughter
At the office they call me Don Quixote — because I spend too much of my time as an art detective on wild goose chases. And my latest project, I have to admit, had all the hallmarks. I really had no idea what I was getting into. Certainly no inkling that it would involve not only Adolf Hitler but the Russian army, the East German secret police, present-day neo-Nazis and a sinister Far-Right organisation. It all started with a phone call in 2014 from Michel van Rijn, once a major player in the criminal art world and now supposedly straight — though one could never be 100 per cent sure.
‘I’m on to something amazing. Really mind-blowing. Take it from me — it’ll never get any bigger than this,’ he said, insisting we meet in person. Was he trying to get me to do the dirty work in some dodgy deal? Billions change hands every year in the art world, so it attracts its fair share of villains. Indeed, the criminal art circuit has a turnover of around £6.2 billion a year. According to the CIA, it is the world’s fourth biggest source of illegal income, after drugs, money-laundering and arms. Finally, I agreed to meet Michel at his flat.
Spoils of war: A Russian soldier poses beside one of two bronze horses made by one of the Hitler’s favourite Nazi sculptors, Josef Thorak
After all, I’d known him for ten years and he’d helped me get started as a consultant specialising in detecting fake and stolen art. When I arrived, he plucked at his beard and stared at me. ‘Suppose some sensational artwork turned up,’ he said. ‘Something no one was looking for because everybody thought it had been destroyed in the war. ‘A find that even I can scarcely believe is real. Something so dear to Adolf Hitler that he wanted to keep it as close by as possible.’ He switched on a projector. What followed was a slideshow of the gigantic sculptures that had once stood outside Hitler’s Nazi HQ, the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. Some were of muscular naked men — but one slide showed two colossal bronze horses by one of the Fuhrer’s favourite Nazi sculptors, Josef Thorak. Seemingly stepping proudly into battle, they had been given a place of honour below Hitler’s office window. When the Fuhrer took a final look around before descending to the bunker where he would commit suicide, those horses would have been almost the last thing he saw. Unfortunately, as I knew, all the Reich Chancellery sculptures had been blasted to pieces by Russian artillery in April 1945.
The building itself was razed and the place where it stood is now a car park. There was one last slide, this time in colour, showing the two colossal bronze horses. I jumped up from the sofa. In colour! It had to be a recent photo. ‘Are you telling me these horses still exist?’ I asked. Michel thought they could be forgeries. All he could tell me was that he’d been contacted by an art dealer called Steven, known to do business only with billionaires. And Steven wanted his help in finding a buyer. It would all have to be totally secret because the horses belonged to the German state, the legal successor to the Third Reich. The horses’ current owner, said Steven, was from a family that had been notorious for its Nazi sympathies and was now keen to cash in on the black market. I knew what Michel wanted. He was hoping I would take on the case, luring Steven and the horses’ owner into a trap. But why should I investigate what had to be forgeries? I mean, what were the odds that these world-famous horses had survived the Battle of Berlin and then remained hidden for 70 years? Nil.
When the Fuhrer took a final look around before descending to the bunker where he would commit suicide, those horses (pictured) would have been almost the last thing he saw
‘You’re right,’ said Michel. ‘But they’re worth looking into. Can you picture the headlines? “Ex-Nazis try to scoop millions in sale of fake Hitler horses”.’ ‘OK, I’ll give it a shot,’ I said. Michel gave me a hug. ‘Be careful,’ he warned. ‘Those ex-Nazis and their sympathisers are extremely dangerous.’ Back at my office in Amsterdam, I got my two colleagues to examine the colour photo of the horses alongside a black-and-white one from the Nazi era. We agreed they were the same in every detail. Now, making a perfect copy of a sculpture or painting is almost impossible. And this forger didn’t even have access to the originals because they had been destroyed. So how was it done? Looking up Thorak on my laptop, I found a photo of the sculptor making a 40cm version of one of the horses. Turned out he’d been so proud of Hitler’s giant steeds that he’d made some miniature versions for high-ranking Nazis.
So one of those little bronze horses must have been the model for the two full-size forgeries — and I was determined to find it. Sadly, however, they are not the kind of thing you find on eBay. First, I needed access to the still-thriving Nazi underworld. Luckily, a friend agreed to introduce me to a prominent neo-Nazi who collected Third Reich memorabilia. His name was Horst and he lived in Munich. He received me in his studio, where a first edition of Mein Kampf lay on the coffee table, next to the 1935 Nuremberg Rally Guest Book — signed by Hitler, Göring, Himmler and Goebbels. I told Horst I was looking for one of the miniature bronze horses. ‘You do realise that you’re entering a potentially dangerous world?’ he said. He sounded serious. After the war, he said, there had been a thriving trade in Nazi artworks by the Stasi — East Germany’s secret police.
That was how he had bought his Nuremberg guestbook. These top-secret sales to rich collectors in the West had been approved by Russia to bring in hard currency. But had anyone exposed this illicit trade, it would have caused a huge scandal. ‘Who sells the big items these days?’ I asked. Could it be Silent Assistance, an organisation set up to help Nazis and neo-Nazis, whose members included Gudrun Burwitz, the daughter of SS chief Heinrich Himmler? A gleam came into Horst’s eyes. ‘Never speak her name again. For your own safety. In our circles, Frau Gudrun Burwitz is a saint.’ I felt uneasy. Was this a veiled threat? Clearly I was dealing with rich and powerful people who had been operating this secret network for decades. People who wouldn’t shrink from violence. Horst wrote something down.
The organisation Silent Assistance was set up to help Nazis and neo-Nazis and the members included Gudrun Burwitz, the daughter of SS chief Heinrich Himmler (pictured with Adolf Hitler)
‘Go to this café in Munich, ask for Dr Ahnenerbe and leave your contact details. If you’re lucky, someone will get in touch.’ So I did — but for three days I waited in vain at my hotel. Not a whisper from Dr Ahnenerbe, whose name in any case was a pseudonym.
Ahnenerbe had been the name of a Nazi project set up by Himmler to prove Hitler’s theory that Germans were descended from a superior Aryan race. Before giving up, I went for a final evening stroll around Munich. Suddenly a black Mercedes stopped next to me.
‘Get in quickly,’ said a deep male voice. As I climbed into the passenger seat, I heard a click and realised I had been locked in. The driver, who had a boxer’s nose and thick neck, refused to answer any questions.
I forced myself to remain calm as we crossed a bridge and drove through a wooded area. Halfway down a narrow street, the car turned into a deserted underground car park.
In the silence that followed, I could feel my heart beating wildly. For the first time, I noticed a faint smell of perfume in the car. A tinted window behind me started to slide down.
‘Keep looking straight ahead,’ said a female voice. ‘Who are you and what do you want of me?’ Her voice was husky. Recovering my composure, I told her I represented a rich art collector interested in pieces by Hitler’s favourite sculptors.
I heard the click of a lighter and smelt the aroma of a menthol cigarette. ‘Herr Brand,’ she said. ‘Why should I help you find Josef Thorak’s horses?’ I was dumbstruck. How could she know what I was looking for?
‘The Thorak horses have just been offered for sale on the illegal circuit and suddenly Herr Brand turns up. That can’t be a coincidence,’ she said, almost mocking. ‘You could have saved yourself this trip. These are forgeries.’ My head thudded. Why was she telling me this?
‘The trade in top Third Reich items takes place in a small, closed world,’ Dr Ahnenerbe said. ‘Since the early 1970s I’ve been doing business with families of certain prominent Nazis. If those horses had been real, I would have been the one selling them.’
She sounded convincing. Turning my head slightly, I saw the outline of a thin face. Dr Ahnenerbe wore a hat and big glasses and looked to be in her 80s. I would find out at a second meeting, that she had once been a Stasi agent, selling Nazi art to the West.
When I found out that the daughter of SS boss Heinrich Himmler lived in a Munich suburb, I decided to visit her. Pictured: Heinrich Himmler presenting Adolf Hitler with a painting as a gift for his 50th birthday in 1939
For whatever reason, she decided to help me find one of the miniature bronze horses on which the forgeries were based. She’d seen one a while ago, she said, when it was put up for sale by the granddaughter of a Nazi condemned to death at the Nuremberg trials.
The horse had been sold to a Belgian collector – and she promised to email his address. Somehow, I doubted he would welcome me with open arms. The address was in Brussels.
The first time I rang the bell, the man who came to the door said the previous occupant had moved on, address unknown. I tried again a week later. He tried to slam the door in my face but I barred it with my foot.
‘I could, of course, ask all your neighbours whether they know where the previous occupant went. You know, the man who collected Nazi memorabilia.’ I said the word ‘Nazi’ loudly. The door opened slowly. ‘Don’t you have any decency?’ the man said reproachfully.
He took a step backwards to allow me in. The man was about my age — 43 — and said his name was Maes. After a little conversation, he took me to an upstairs room full of sculptures and paintings.
It was a veritable museum of Nazi art. Then he led me into his bedroom — and there on his bedside table was one of the bronze miniature horses! It was heavier than I’d expected.
A beautiful little thing. Maes, however, insisted he had never lent his bronze to anyone, which meant it couldn’t have been used as a model by the forgers. I was back to square one.
‘Speaking of forgeries . . .’ Maes said. He showed me a photo on his computer of a crumpled, half-burnt greatcoat, allegedly worn by Hitler when he committed suicide. It was being offered for sale by a Russian, but Maes was sure it was a fake.
Then he downloaded a famous clip of Hitler, recorded on March 20, 1945, in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. ‘Look, you can see his coat clearly here.’ ‘Wait a sec,’ I said. ‘Wind back.’ Maes restarted the film.
I bent over, almost touching the screen. Oh my God, I thought. This couldn’t possibly be true! The place where one of the horses had been, behind Hitler, was empty. Yet the images had been recorded nearly a month before the Battle of Berlin, when the Reich Chancellery was intact.
So the horses must have been moved to safety before the Russians could destroy them. That changed everything. Hitler’s horses still existed! Given their height and weight, they couldn’t have travelled far.
So when the Russians closed in on April 25, five days before Hitler’s suicide, they must have found the horses wherever the Nazis had hidden them away. And if it turned out the Russians were now trying to sell them on the black market, the scandal would be unprecedented.
Although Gudrun Himmler was only 17 when the war ended, she had soon become active in the organisation — and still was. Pictured: Gudrun’s father Heinrich Himmler (left) with Hitler (centre)
Which made this case even more perilous. As my colleague Daan said: ‘Great. We’ll soon have the KGB (now FSB) breathing down our necks.’ Either that, or the Stasi — the East German secret service — had sold the horses on to some Nazis. Or maybe all of them were involved: Nazis, the Stasi and the KGB.
As soon as we’d concluded that the Red Army must have taken the horses, my other colleague Alex flew to Moscow, where he had excellent contacts. When he returned, he refused to tell me anything; he simply told me to get into his car because we had an appointment to keep.
After driving for an hour, we pulled up outside a big building on the edge of a small town north of Berlin. An elderly man was standing there, apparently waiting for us. Herr Mayer had been the mayor here after the fall of the Wall in 1989.
As he asked us to follow him, I noticed that the concrete buildings were ugly communist-era architecture. This had once been the barracks for around 1,000 Russian soldiers stationed in East Germany, he told us. Alex fished some photos from his pocket. ‘As I said on the phone, we’re researching communist art.’
I glanced at Alex in amazement. I knew more about synchronised swimming than Communist art. ‘It’s not something I know a lot about, Herr Mayer admitted. ‘But here at the sports ground, I did see some Communist statues.’ There had been two big horses, painted gold. ‘Typical Communist art, big and powerful,’ he said.
I couldn’t believe my ears. So Hitler’s horses had been hidden away for nearly half a century at a Communist barracks. And people had just assumed the statues were commissioned by Stalin. Alex showed the mayor some photos of missing statues by Hitler’s other two favourite sculptors, Arno Breker and Fritz Klimsch.
Yes, he said, they had been here, along with the horses. But when the Wall fell, the sculptures were broken up for scrap metal. Or so the mayor thought. I simply didn’t believe it. They were too valuable and the Russians would undoubtedly have sold them.
So at this point in the investigation it was a toss-up whether the owner of the horses was an ex-Nazi, a neo-Nazi or a former Stasi or KGB agent. And whoever they were, he or she clearly had no intention of handing them over to the German state, to which they really belonged.
It was time for me to call Steven, the dealer apparently selling the horses. Tricky, because if he smelt a rat and realised I wasn’t an equally bent dealer, the horses would probably disappear for ever . . . face to face with a monster. When I found out that the daughter of SS boss Heinrich Himmler lived in a Munich suburb, I decided to visit her.
Gudrun Burwitz, formerly Himmler, died on May 24, 2018 and Silent Assistance is still doggedly working to bring about the Fourth Reich. Pictured: Gudrun’s father Heinrich Himmler
I knew Gudrun Burwitz never gave interviews and would never admit to knowing anything about where Hitler’s horse sculptures were hidden. But Gudrun fascinated me. That she had loved her father, who swallowed a cyanide pill on the day he was captured by the British, was perhaps understandable.
But she had never distanced herself from his monstrous deeds. She had once said she saw it as her life’s mission to restore his honour, even though he was the architect of the Holocaust. Her home, I discovered that day in 2015, was an ordinary white semi-detached, surrounded by a fence.
The shutters were closed, suggesting she was out. It seemed an unlikely setting for the Nazi princess, as she was known to her followers in the Nazi support group Silent Assistance. Yet here was its nerve centre. Although Gudrun Himmler was only 17 when the war ended, she had soon become active in the organisation — and still was.
It had been set up in deepest secrecy by former Nazis, and is thought to have helped Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele and others to flee to Argentina. In the decades since, it has supported defendants on trial for Holocaust denial. And now?
I strongly suspected Hitler’s horses were being sold because Silent Assistance needed money to support a new generation of fanatical Neo-Nazis. Standing across the street from their icon’s house, I kept watch from a wooded area. Suddenly a heavy hand fell on my shoulder, giving me the shock of my life.
An old man was glaring at me. This was his garden, he said, and he wanted money to compensate for my trespass. I fished in my trouser pocket. ‘Is ten euros enough?’ The man nodded. ‘Frau Burwitz has gone shopping. She’ll be back soon. She doesn’t talk to anyone.’ ‘So she never gets visitors?’
‘Oh, you’re wrong there. In neo-Nazi circles she’s seen as a high priestess. You see boys and girls going in there, and sometimes very old gentlemen.’ ‘Frau Burwitz might seem like a sweet old lady,’ the neighbour continued, ‘but that’s just a front. She’s the spider at the centre of the web.’
Now Himmler’s daughter was approaching with a bulging shopping bag. She was looking for her keys but turned around when I said her name. At first sight, she seemed like anybody’s grandmother, with straight grey hair and old-fashioned spectacles. But she had the same ice-blue eyes as her father.
‘What do you want of me?’ asked Gudrun. ‘Are you a journalist?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘but I’ve read a lot about Silent Assistance.’ ‘A lot of lies are spread about Silent Assistance,’ she said. ‘Since when is it forbidden to help people who, decades on, are being prosecuted for something they once allegedly did? Just let those people enjoy their old age in peace.’
‘What about the younger generation?’ I asked. ‘I’ve heard that Silent Assistance is also very active in neo-Nazi circles.’ Gudrun was categorical: ‘The boys and girls who keep up the fight for a new Germany are the future of our people.’ I asked where Silent Assistance got its money from and suddenly, she smiled.
‘There are still good people in this world who haven’t forgotten us.’ With that, Himmler’s daughter walked inside and shut the door. Gudrun Burwitz died on May 24, 2018. Silent Assistance is still doggedly working to bring about the Fourth Reich.
The raid that unearthed the Fuhrer’s steeds: ARTHUR BRAND concludes his thrilling drama of how the ‘art world’s Indiana Jones’ tracked down the vast sculptures that once stood outside Adolf Hitler’s office
Published: 18:22 EST, 24 January 2021 | Updated: 18:29 EST, 24 January 2021
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In Saturday’s Mail, we told how in 2014 Arthur Brand — the Indiana Jones of the art world — was drawn into a shadowy world of neo-Nazis, ex-Stasi agents and crooked art dealers, after a friend with criminal contacts showed him a photo of the huge bronze horses that stood outside Hitler’s office window. They were being secretly offered for sale by a dealer called Steven. At first, Arthur was convinced they were fakes, as the Red Army had blasted to pieces all the statues outside the Reich Chancellery in 1945. Then he took a closer look at the last known film footage of Hitler. To Arthur’s astonishment, a plinth behind Hitler, which should have contained one of the horses, was empty — which meant they had been moved to safety. He discovered that the Red Army had moved them to an army barracks in East Germany. But where were they now?
The time was right to speak to Steven, the crooked dealer offering Hitler’s massive bronze horses for sale on the black market. But one misplaced word from me and they would vanish for ever.
Obviously, I needed to pretend I was representing someone willing to buy valuable Nazi art. Someone extremely rich and unscrupulous.
I called him Moss, and ended up modelling him — rather lamely — on J.R., the ruthless oil baron from the TV series Dallas.
‘Lives in Dallas. And he’s as crooked as a two-dollar bill,’ I told Steven on the phone.
As dealers, I continued, Steven and I would both get a cut if he could find suitable pieces worth at least £1 million. At this stage, I didn’t dare mention the horses.
Steven said he’d get back to me. For weeks, however, my phone was silent and I was convinced I had been rumbled.
I was mistaken. When he contacted me again, it was to say he had something amazing, but it would have to be kept out of the public gaze. He followed up with an email and a colour photo of the horses. They were ‘two of the most important Nazi-era sculptures,’ he wrote, ‘ones that everybody assumes were destroyed.
German police have retrieved two long-lost bronze horses sculptures commissioned by the Nazi regime to adorn Adolf Hitler’s chancellery after conducting raids on eight suspected members of an illegal ring of art dealers
‘They’re been owned by a family called Flick, who actively supported the Nazis during the war. They want to offload them as soon as possible for political reasons. The price is 8 million euros [£7 million].’
I was ecstatic. Steven had swallowed the bait.
One evening, I got a call from a journalist working for Der Spiegel, German’s leading news magazine. Konstantin von Hammerstein wanted to interview me about the illegal trade in cultural artefacts.
‘Rumour has it that some well-known works by celebrated Nazi sculptors, long thought destroyed, still exist,’ he said. ‘It’s something I’m already looking into.’
That sounded worrying — a newspaper report would ruin everything. But, providing Konstantin kept a lid on my investigation for now, he might prove to be an asset.
After all, if anything went wrong in my scheme, I could be charged with trying to sell stolen sculptures on the black market.
If a member of the Press was involved, however, we could file the whole operation under ‘investigative journalism’.
I sent him the colour photo of Hitler’s horses and waited for his reaction. Konstantin rang back almost immediately. ‘Herr Brand, if this is genuine, we’re talking about the find of the century.’
He urged me to get in touch with his friend René Allonge, the German police’s chief commissioner responsible for art crimes.
‘I’m telling you this because the people mixed up in this aren’t exactly choirboys,’ Konstantin added. ‘The neo-Nazi movement is on the rise these days and its supporters don’t shrink from violence.’
The Watchman, a famous Nazi sculpture by Arno Breker — one of Hitler’s three favourite sculptors, along with Fritz Klimsch and Josef Thorak, who had created the horses
In Berlin, I reported to a police station for my meeting with Chief Commissioner René Allonge. He was waiting for me, a big smile on his face.
We walked down a long, bare corridor and entered his office, a gleaming white space with a few paintings and posters of stolen art on the walls.
‘See those boxes over there?’ Allonge pointed to about 30 boxes in the corner of his office. ‘That’s the archive [of the art section] of the Stasi. They didn’t just confiscate art collections; they also produced forgeries that were then sold as genuine items in the West.’
Allonge already knew the horses were being offered for sale on the black market. An ex-Stasi informant had told him the horses were owned by a grand master of the Knights Templar. The name Adler had also been mentioned. ‘The horses are almost certainly fakes, but offering forgeries for sale is still a serious crime,’ Allonge told me.
‘Fakes?’ I got out my laptop and showed him the YouTube footage of Hitler before the bombing of the Reich Chancellery.
Nine seconds into the film, I hit the pause button and showed him the empty place where one of the horses had stood. Then I told him about their long sojourn at a Russian barracks.
Allonge was gazing at the screen wide-eyed. ‘You have a lead, I take it?’ I explained how I was trying to arrange a viewing and promised to keep him posted.
A few days later, I rang Steven to tell him that my ‘client’, Moss, was extremely interested in the horse bronzes. We agreed to meet up at Café Gruter in Amsterdam so I could supply proof that my buyer had the necessary funds. The café, when I arrived early with my colleague, Alex, was deserted. Alex installed himself at a separate table by a window.
I was feeling very jumpy — chiefly because I had a miniature camera in my jacket pocket, with the lens hidden in my lapel. What if it went wrong?
‘Relax. They’re not going to bump you off,’ Alex said. ‘Not this minute, anyway.’
Steven arrived. He looked exactly as you’d expect an art broker to look, right down to a chic little scarf and expensive watch.
‘If we mess this up, we’ll either end up in jail or at the bottom of a lake,’ he said with a laugh.
I showed him my imaginary client’s passport and an auditor’s report — all fake.
Steven said he’d never seen Hitler’s horses himself. ‘I don’t even know where they are. When I asked, I was warned not to ask unnecessary questions.
‘Look, these are the kind of types who were mixed up in one of the most murderous regimes in history. Do you really think they’d hesitate to bump someone off?’
We left it that Steven would try to get me a viewing, so I could assure my client the horses were genuine. Later, Alex and I looked at the footage from my secret camera. All there. Better still, Alex had recorded Steven making a phone call while I was in the loo.
‘Adler, I’ve arrived. See you later,’ he’d said. The same name that had been recalled by Allonge’s ex-Stasi informant.
Who had the horses? Was it the Flick family Steven had mentioned in his email? Or Adler, whom he had called while I was out of the room?
It was time to put pressure on Steven. When we met again, in a restaurant, he told me the owners were getting cold feet about shipping the horses to the U.S.
‘There only needs to be one person in the chain who recognises those statues and we’re done for.’
I took a break and pretended to call my client.
On my return, I told Steven: ‘Well, as luck would have it, last year Moss happened to buy a chateau somewhere in Provence. He’d already concluded that it would be safer to take the statues there. They wouldn’t have to go past Customs, so no one will be any the wiser.’ Steven beamed and loosened his scarf. ‘Perfect!’ He fumbled around in his briefcase and got out a file.
‘I’ve asked the owners for something extra to sweeten the deal. They offered me this.’
On the table, he placed a photo that showed a gigantic statue of a muscular, naked man holding a sword.
It was The Watchman, a famous Nazi sculpture by Arno Breker — one of Hitler’s three favourite sculptors, along with Fritz Klimsch and Josef Thorak, who had created the horses.
I scrutinised the photo. How on earth could this statue have remained hidden all these years? Ten metres tall — that was as high as a three-storey building.
‘Please tell me this sculpture’s for sale, too,’ I said excitedly.
‘It is indeed. Before long, Moss will own both the Thorak horses and The Watchman. Eight million euros [£7 million] each.’
The mythical Moss was, of course, thrilled to hear about The Watchman and immediately agreed to the asking price.
But I was all too aware that time was pressing. If anyone were to look seriously into Moss, my whole plan would fall apart.
Meanwhile, the journalist Konstantin had been doing some digging and discovered there was a collector of Nazi memorabilia called Mathias Flick.
This had to be the Flick that Steven had referred to in his email as the current owner of the horses. Konstantin gave me an address for Flick in northern Germany. ‘But be careful. This guy is said to have a huge stash of arms.’
Arriving in a nearby town with my colleague, Alex, I asked a man for directions. ‘Oh, so you’re going to see Herr Flick. A very nice man,’ he said.
It turned out that during a year of heavy snow, Flick had cleared it from the village with his World War II Wehrmacht tank, complete with gun barrel.
If René Allonge ever got permission to raid the place, he’d need to take an army with him.
Flick’s large garden was surrounded by a very high wall — high enough to conceal the three-metre-high horses. So I climbed a tree next to it, but there was a cracking sound and I tumbled to the ground. On the other side of the wall, a dog started barking.
Then we heard a man — Flick? — calling it. Alex hissed: ‘Bet you he’ll call the police and we’ll be arrested for trespassing.’
In the end, Alex saved the day. He managed to get access to satellite photos on his smartphone — so we zoomed into Flick’s garden.
No sign of the horses. But we could see caterpillar tracks on the lawn from the tank — had it been used to move the giant steeds?+4
New Year’s Reception of the Wehrmacht in the new Reich Chancellery, 1939. In the background is The Army sculpture
And, oh my God, half hidden under the foliage, a few metres from where I was crouching, was a giant bronze statue. I quickly shimmied up the tree again.
When I saw it, I thought I must be dreaming. It was perhaps the most famous statue of the Third Reich: The Army [Die Wehrmacht] by Arno Breker. Missing for 70 years, it had stood at the entrance to Hitler’s Reich Chancellery.
René Allonge was keen to launch a raid on Flick’s property, and was busy wading through all the red tape that involved. He would also have to warn Germany’s political leaders in advance — but was wary of doing so until the last minute.
He was fully aware, I suspected, that former Nazis had for decades enjoyed protection from the highest political echelons. He wouldn’t want to risk anyone being tipped off.
At the same time, Allonge had news: he had discovered that a man called Detlef Adler had been involved in a court case concerning some unnamed statues.
Could this be the mysterious Adler whom Steven had called from the restaurant?
Adolf Hitler with Albert Speer (on left) and Arno Breker (on right) posing front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (France) in June 1940
Not long afterwards, Allonge rang again. ‘Arthur, the raids are on for the day after tomorrow! He’d be targeting Flick, Adler and another man he suspected. ‘The Ministers of Justice and Culture have been informed. Everyone’s blown away by the news that the Reich Chancellery statues still exist,’ said Allonge. ‘At 7am on Wednesday, around 200 police officers will assemble in three locations. Then we’ll set off. The army has lent us some explosives experts, as well as emergency service vehicles and equipment. As yet, the officers just think it’s a big drugs bust.’ Two hundred police officers and the army? I broke out in a sweat. If this went wrong, I would have to move to a desert island. Allonge forbade me from attending any of the raids because I was considered a star witness. However, Konstantin would be going on the Adler raid, while my colleague Alex went on the Flick raid — and I could keep in touch with them by phone. On Wednesday, May 20, 2015, three raids were launched simultaneously. The endgame had begun.
Konstantin soon emailed me a video clip of Adler’s house in Bad Dürkheim. ‘Someone’s opening the door,’ he said on the phone. ‘It’s Adler! They’re reading something aloud to him, probably the search warrant. More and more cars are pulling up. Adler’s just stepping aside and officers are going into his house. He looks as white as a sheet.’ Next it was Alex, perched in a tree overlooking Flick’s garden, calling to say police were on the lawn, gaping at the huge Nazi sculpture The Army. By the time Alex rang me again, police had combed through Flick’s underground garage. They had found a V-1— a deadly flying bomb of the type Germany had rained on Britain.
As for The Army, Flick was claiming he had bought it from a scrap metal dealer in East Germany. But still no horses. As the minutes ticked by, I started feeling despondent. Had the owner rumbled us and moved the statues to a secret location? ‘Arthur, most of the police are leaving Adler’s villa,’ Konstantin reported. ‘They’re coming out, getting into their cars and driving away.’ Just then, my other line rang. Steven! I took a deep breath. ‘I’m just ringing to check how things are,’ he said. He clearly knew nothing about the raids! I assured him that I was still on for the viewing of the horses next week.
By 10.25, it was clear the raids had been a fiasco. Nothing had been found apart from The Army statue in Flick’s grounds and a gigantic arms cache. Konstantin called again. ‘Everyone’s gone, except Adler, a lawyer and a detective,’ he said. There was a long pause. ‘Wait,’ he whispered. ‘A lawyer is coming out with a detective. They’re getting into the lawyer’s car together. Something’s going on. I’ll follow them in my car. Call you in a sec.’ A few minutes later, Konstantin checked in again. ‘We’re in some kind of business park in Bad Dürkheim. They’re parking in front of a huge warehouse . . . They’re opening the gate. I’m going to try to get nearer.’
‘Konstantin?’ I yelled. ‘Take a look inside. Now!’ I could hear his footsteps. ‘Are you still there?’ I asked. ‘Hello?’ ‘Yes, I’m still here. My God. I can see them! I can see Hitler’s horses. Oh my God!’
For a second, I nearly blacked out.
‘They’re standing side by side at the back of the warehouse. It’s them. No doubt about it!’ My phone instantly rang again. It was Steven, and he was swearing. ‘They’ve carried out raids right across Germany,’ he told me. ‘I just got a call. It seems they’ve found the horses, too.’ I wanted to whoop — but was just able to stop myself.
Steven continued to swear, livid with rage. ‘Your client Moss won’t be able to buy the horses now,’ he said. ‘This is a total disaster. Twenty million down the drain!’ I couldn’t believe Steven still thought my client existed. Meanwhile, I had received a video clip from Konstantin. There they stood, as if looming up out of the mist: Hitler’s horses!
Steven was still talking. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘perhaps something can still be salvaged.
‘We can forget about the horses and The Watchman. But I’ve got access to a unique carpet, ten by five metres. Made for the last Shah of Iran. It’s Iranian state property, so the deal would be hush-hush . . .’
The 2015 discovery of Hitler’s horses made headlines around the world. In addition, police had found two statues by Breker and two by Fritz Klimsch — plus, of course, The Army. They also tracked down The Watchman, which weighed 40 tons.
Almost immediately, a debate raged on what to do with the sculptures: whether to exhibit them, tuck them away or even destroy them.
In the end, the German government decided that they should be put on show. Before the sculptures can be exhibited, however, a court will have to decide on the rightful owner. As for Adler, Flick and Steven, they got off with nothing more than a nasty shock.
It has been established by the German prosecutor that the charges fall outside the statute of limitations.
As for me, I feared this affair might rebound on me and affect my business.
But Jewish families who come to me for help in tracing possessions stolen during World War II were delighted that I had cheated some Nazis out of millions of euros.
And neo-Nazis were so thrilled at the sudden reappearance of the Führer’s favourite sculptures that they completely forgot to threaten me.
Adapted by Corinna Honan from Hitler’s Horses, by Arthur Brand, translated by Jane Hedley-Prôle and published by Ebury on February 4 at £14.99. © Arthur Brand 2021. To order a copy for £13.19 (offer valid to 5/2/21; UK P&P free on orders over £15), visit http://www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193