Hitler artifact sparks debate

May 22, 2008 7:35:07 AM PDT
It's a valuable artifact, which represents one of the worst, most brutal eras ever. Something that belonged to Adolf Hitler, and it's now in the hands of a Houston World War II veteran. Eyewitness News takes a closer look at the debate over what should be done with this painful piece of history.

it was the summer of 1945 and U.S. troops had just taken over Munich, Germany.

"I was 20 years old and we had just been through a heck of a war," said Jack McConn, brother of former Houston mayor Jim McConn, who was one of the first U.S. soldiers to step foot into the war-torn country.

"My C.O. said, 'I want you to take your platoon and guard the feuerbau, Hitler's headquarters'," McConn recalled.

McConn remembers bunking 2 doors down from Hitler's second-floor office. But it was the basement that held the treasures.

"When I found the desk set with the AH on it, I figured it was Hitler's," McConn said.

A solid bronze desk set, with Hitler's initials, and an eagle perched on a swastika.

"I took the desk set and built a wooden box and mailed it to my dad in Houston," McConn said. "I wasn't really thinking about the historical significance as much as I was thinking it was a good souvenir of the war."

After years of showing off the set to friends and family, McConn says he finally learned its true historical significance.

"I was watching a news reel that I saw the four of them signing that pact, and they were using that desk set," he said.

McConn believes the desk set was used in the 1938 signing of the Munich pact. Hitler and three other European world leaders agreed to let Germany take over parts of Czechoslovakia.

"It's priceless, I think," McConn said.

But how much money is it worth, really? For the first time, McConn wants to put it on the world market to find out.

"Why sell it now, I mean, you've had it all these years?" we asked.

"Well, I figure I'll leave an estate to my sons and daughters," he said.

Representatives of the Houston Jewish community are not in favor of the desk set ending up in the hands of a private collector. They would rather it be donated to a museum.

"We hope that kind of item won't be used to glorify hate but will be used to help remind people of the hate and anti-Semitism of that period," said Martin Cominsky, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Tom Czekanski with the national World War II Museum in New Orleans agrees. His museum would like to have the piece.

These are items that represent America's experience in the second world war and help us interpret that experience for the public," Czekanski said.

But he's waiting to see what McConn wants for it. Even on the world market, Czekanski says, McConn may have a tough time getting the money he wants.

"It's impossible to tell with a private collector what it may bring." said Czekanski.

McConn hasn't had any big offers yet, and he won't tell us what he's hoping to sell it for. In the end, though, he hopes for a big pay day and that the desk set is sold to someone who'll keep its history alive.


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