The $100,000 Mechanical Pencil Engraved From Eva Braun To ‘AH’ At Auction: If Authentic,Who Snagged It After The War?

Several of the 657 of lots in the Bloomfield auction house’s June 6 militaria sale in Belfast are impressive Nazi artifacts, but the lot that has captivated the attentions of the 20th- century militaria-personal effects and ephemera markets — the object that both the (unidentified) seller and the auctioneer represent as having been “owned and used by Adolf Hitler” — is Lot 148, a period mid-20th-century mechanical pencil, of “white metal,” possibly nickel and according to one account silver-plated, engraved along one louvered side facet with the following inscription in German:


This is a traditional, if abbreviated, form of memorable-occasion inscription in German, beginning the sentence fragment with the preposition “to” and a contracted, inflected article of speech, in English ‘the,’ expressed in the dative case. Zum translates as: “To the…” In this usage it means that the signatory, in this case ‘Eva,’ is marking the occasion of the date that follows, April 20th, 1941, with this inscribed gift. Its formality lies in the full expression of the date rather than directly acknowledging the occasion of the birthday, which is often done. Note: In the translations below, those English words implied by but not actually present in the German are in parentheses. Thus, an English approximation of the first part of this clipped expression in German would be:

On (the occasion of) the 20th April, 1941,…

Cutting against that is the inscription’s valedictory finish, the most important, narratively telling word in the composition, herzlichst. The root noun is Herz, German for heart, and the use as an adjective or adverb, herzlich, can be loosely translated as heartful, or heartfelt. But the two suffix consonants in this word —the st — make the expression a superlative, which comes across as quite awkward in English, as in most heartful, or most heartfelt. In German it’s an intimate valediction bearing undertones of long and strong affection. Of course it can be used facetiously or cynically, but it most cases it is not. On the pencil it seems straightforward.

The full translation of the inscription reads:

On (the occasion of) the 20th April, 1941, most heartfully, Eva

As students of Hitler’s life and times will know, he was born on April 20th, 1889. On April 20th, 1941, then, Hitler would have celebrated his 52nd birthday, an optimistic time for the Führer and his war effort — Poland and France had been taken, the British had been routed from Dunkirk, life looked bright for the Nazis, sort of. In thinking about this pencil as a gift at that moment to the leader of the Third Reich, it’s important to remember that Hitler was a fair draftsman and was obsessed with architecture. He met often and long with his court architect Albert Speer during a time in which leaded pencils were the tools of the trade for renderings of everything from the latest rocket designs to the new Messerschmidt fighter-bombers. Mechanical pencils would have come in handy.


Notably, Bloomfield’s seems to miscalculate Hitler’s age on April 20, 1941, in its catalogue, stating that Eva Braun gave Hitler the pencil on his 53rd birthday. It seems unlikely that Ms. Braun would have had it wrongly engraved and then kept it for a year before giving it to Hitler. The likelier pathways for the mistake to have arisen are that the pencil’s current owner made that miscalculation from his birth date in 1889 and the auction house didn’t check it, or that Bloomfield’s itself suffered the arithmetic and/or typographical failure. In any case, at some point in the provenance chain there has been a seemingly minor but, given the stakes in play and the house’s high-end six-figure estimate, significant custodial error in the surface of the presentation of Lot 148.

Unfortunately for all interested parties, including the house, any questions about the provenance of the pencil are only amplified by the anonymity of the seller and the marked absence of any provenance presented to the public. It seems that the anonymity of the seller is entwined with that lack of provenance data, which has several implications.

For the moment it can be stated clearly that, at least once, Bloomfield’s management has publicly declared itself “satisfied” of the veracity of the pencil’s backstory as provided by the seller. The house has had the opportunity to state, or at least publish, provenance-related back-up, and that can yet happend alongside the sale, but at this writing it hasn’t yet occurred.

Presuming the pencil is authentic, meaning, actually given by Eva Braun to Adolf Hitler in April 1941 as the inscription implies, then the many dozens, if not hundreds, of likely and unlikely paths the pencil could have taken on its bumptious journey from Hitler’s possession to the auction block in Belfast next week increase in importance. Bluntly put, the pencil had to survive the war in the care of one or more members of a very disparate cast of characters.

Because there are only three ways the pencil could have survived the war: 1) It was given by the Führer to one of his inner circle, or 2) taken by one of them from his widely strewn effects in Berchtesgaden, Berlin, East Prussia, or Munich, or 3) looted-with-permission by any one of a number of Allied soldiers after the cessation of hostilities whose descendants have come forth since the war to auction off all sorts of Nazi curiosities.

To give the reader the flavor of the immediate postwar chaos, this last motley haul includes: a pair of Hermann Göring’s husky-man boxer shorts, taken from his effects in Nuremberg by one of his U.S. Army jailers just after Göring’s suicide via cyanide during his trial. The boxers were auctioned in Hamburg in 2016. In 2021, a toilet seat taken from the Berghof, Hitler’s bombed country retreat at which he and Ms. Braun often entertained, was auctioned for some $18,000 and change in Baltimore by the descendants of the the American soldier Ragvald Borsch, who, weirdly, took it upon himself to unscrew the thing from its bowl in looting the bombed out hulk of the estate.

It is a fact in the odd world of auction houses that militaria, memorabilia and ephemera from the ascetic, rigorously bizarre private life of Adolf Hitler and/or the lives of his murderous top henchmen wander under the hammer in Europe and in the States from time to time. Each time that happens, the brisk interest generated by the sales understandably ignites a spirited debate over the ethics of fostering the sizeable financial market around the baubles of some of the 20th century’s most despicable actors. The counterarguments made by collectors and auctioneers alike can be generally grouped under the banner of ‘deepening historical understanding’ of Nazism and the Nazi era in mid-20th-century Germany, and so is the case with Bloomfield’s June 6 sale.

Although Adolf Hitler (nee Schicklgruber) does have extant family left in Austria and his Irish-American nephew, William Patrick Hitler, left a slew of American descendants on Long Island, the Nazi strongman’s longstanding relationship with Eva Braun was childless, which is to say, as he and and Ms. Braun married a few days before their deaths by their own hand in the Führerbunker on May 1, 1945, there were no immediate heirs to receive their personal effects. There were people with them, who escaped the bunker and who would have had a shot at taking the pencil, should the object have made it to the bunker with its nominal owner in the first place.

Hitler’s and Eva Braun’s residences in the immediate aftermath of the war formed a complex narrative of their own, as did Hitler’s expansive, and then rather reclusive, bureaucratic life, and again, if authentic, it’s from these sources that the pencil likely came.

By mid-January 1945 the Führerbunker was certainly forced upon Hitler as his main residence, chiefly because of the bone-rattling British and American carpet-bombing of Berlin long before the Red Army push into the city. Abandoned by this point were: The Wolfschanze, the Wolf’s Lair, an expansive East Prussian bunkered HQ in today’s Mazurian Lakes region of northern Poland; the Bavarian Alpine manor called the Berghof, the Mountain Court near Berchtesgaden, where Eva Braun spent most of her time; his Munich apartment at Prinzregentenstraße 18; and his Chancellor’s residence in Berlin. This means that majority of the couple’s possessions were not with them as Marshal Zhukov’s shock troops and rifle units pushed through from the eastern suburbs to Prenzlauer Berg, poised on the little hill of the neighborhood to push on down into the heart of town.

With Hitler and Eva Braun in the bunker were two of his secretaries Traudl Jung and Gerda Christian, who both escaped the bunker and who both managed to escape much imprisonment by the Allies. They were close to Hitler, especially in the latter part of the war, and had the pencil actually made it to the bunker, they would have been likely ‘inheritors’ of the object. Alongside them was Corporal Fritz Tornow, Hitler’s personal dog handler (of his German Shepherd ‘Blondi’), who was tasked by his boss in the very last days of the bunker to test the cyanide capsule on Blondi before Hitler would use his. Corporal Tornow remains another intimate channel for the pencil to have survived the bunker.

Then, there were the Russian and American soldiers, curiosity-seekers to a man, such as the U.S. Army Sergeant Ernest Pappas, pictured above, holding a collection of coat hangers and a ring of keys in October 1945. Another way to put this is to say that by the time the Americans got to Berlin, the Führerbunker would have held pretty thin pickings. Whatever else might have happened to the reportedly gifted pencil from Eva Braun to her beloved under the hammer next week, it wouldn’t have been left in the bunker by then.