Kevin Wheatcroft is an obsessive collector of all things Nazi. Yesterday, The Guardian ran a longform profile, called “The man who sleeps in Hitler’s bed,” of an English multimillionaire who possesses the world’s largest collection of Hitler memorabilia. Tanks, military uniforms, torpedoes—you name it—Wheatcroft’s Leicestershire estate is cluttered with near-priceless artifacts from the time of the Third Reich. He has also accumulated a number of more personal, somewhat eerie, pieces of memorabilia, including love letters written by Hitler to Eva Braun, as well as the Führer’s personal bed.
[Wheatcroft] has travelled the world tracking down items to add to his collection, flying into remote airfields, following up unlikely leads, throwing himself into hair-raising adventures in the pursuit of historic objets. He readily admits that his urge to accumulate has been monomaniacal, elbowing out the demands of friends and family.
Wheatcroft, despite having six siblings, was the sole heir to his father’s multimillion Pound fortune and has spent 50 of his 55 years accumulating a hoard of Nazi stuff, which, in total, is estimated to be worth over 100 million pounds.
According to The Guardian, “trade in Third Reich antiquities is either banned or strictly regulated in Germany, France, Austria, Israel and Hungary.” However, the business thrives in some of the darker, lesser mainstream parts of the internet, attracting wealthy buyers from places like Russia, America and the Middle East.
One of the most-visited websites is run by Holocaust denier David Irving, who in 2009 sold Hitler’s walking stick (which had previously belonged to Friedrich Nietzsche) for $5,750. Irving has offered strands of Hitler’s hair for £130,000, and says he is currently verifying the authenticity of charred bones said to be those of Hitler and Eva Braun.
What is striking about the profile is that despite the nature of his obsession, Wheatcroft comes across as a likable, intelligent character: a history buff with an insatiable desire to complete his collection. One scene in the piece describes a visit Wheatcroft received from director David Ayer, who shot the recent World War II movie “Fury,”
Wheatcroft owns a fleet of 88 tanks – more than the Danish and Belgian armies combined. The majority of the tanks are German, and Wheatcroft recently acted as an adviser to David Ayer, the director of Fury (in which Brad Pitt played the commander of a German-based US Sherman tank in the final days of the war). “They still got a lot of things wrong,” he told me. “I was sitting in the cinema with my daughter saying, ‘That wouldn’t have happened’ and ‘That isn’t right.’ Good film, though.”
Ayer allegedly offered Wheatcroft 30,000 Pounds on the spot for “a fairly ordinary-looking camouflage tunic.” Wheatcroft declined the offer.
The piece points out that, on paper, it’s very easy to be suspicious of Wheatcroft being “a closet Nazi,” or “a wild-eyed goosestepper.” However, the profile reveals that Wheatcroft is not fanatical about Nazism but simply about having a Nazi collection. “If he was mad,” The Guardian comments, “it wasn’t the madness of the fulminating antisemite, rather the mania of the collector.”
From a historical point of view, one of the most interesting parts of the profile is Wheatcroft’s discovery of “a series of letters,” that, if authentic, reveal that Hitler and Churchill were in personal contact throughout World War II:
“It’s stunning,” Wheatcroft told me, by telephone, his voice fizzing with excitement. “There’s a series of handwritten letters between Hitler and Churchill. They were writing to each other about the route the war was taking. Discussions of a non-aggression pact. This man had copied things and removed them on a day-to-day basis over the course of the war. A complete breach of the Official Secrets Act, but mindblowing.” The authenticity of the papers, of course, has not yet been confirmed – but if they are real, they could secure Wheatcroft a place in the history books. “Although it’s never been about me,” he insisted.
You can read the full profile here.