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Friday, April 8, 2016

The Golden Luger: A Gift Between Two Nazis Who Changed History

Lot 1489: Exceptional and Historic Nazi 1939 Mauser Factory Engraved and Gold Plated Presentation Luger Semi-Automatic Pistol Given to the Nazi Ambassador Franz von Papen by Foreign Minister of the Reich Joachim von Ribbentrop with Authentication from a Mauser Factory Consultant

History is a funny thing. As hard as we humans try to document it, the facts of the matter only occasionally prevail, rarely survive, and are often up to interpretation. Much like human memory itself, we often serve as storytellers, making our own omissions and exaggerations instead of acting as stern and fact-obsessed archivists. Each camp has its own validity. The "archivists" often state that the history speaks for itself and needs no embellishment, while the "storytellers" often excuse their inaccuracies by saying it makes the history approachable, relatable, and easier to imagine those fantastic moments that stitch together the tapestry of our past.

Knowing what we do about the human memory, and our suspect ability to accurately document history, it should come as no surprise that history is often told selectively. Things are attributed to more famous names in history, while lesser known names lie in their wake, largely forgotten. This is an article about two of those lesser known names and a brilliant Luger pistol that passed between them.

The Luger itself is a Mauser manufacture pistol that began its life rather uneventfully. According to accompanying documents written by Dr. Rolf Gminder, a consultant to the Mauser-Werkes factory who had personally viewed the pistol, it was originally one of any number of Lugers in the existing stock of police guns. However, this gun was selected for something more. It began with the highest quality engraving Germany had to offer. The typical "oak leaf and acorn" pattern takes on a distinct variation with more flowing vinous scroll work and geometric shapes than typically seen on the more deep relief engraved Walther PP and PPK pistols that often served as Nazi presentation pistols.

The dark walnut grips have also been carved with the oak and acorn pattern, but while the right grip shows fine checkering in its center, the left grip bears a presentation plaque that reads,

Seiner Exzellenz
Herrn Botshafter Franz von Papen
in tiefster Verehrung
am 11ten November 1940
überreicht von Joachim von Ribbentrop
des Deutchen Reiches

That translates to:

His Excellency
the Honorable Ambassador Franz von Papen
in deepest dedication
on 11th November 1940
given by Joachim von Ribbentrop
Foreign Minister of the German Reich

Many presentation arms leave a mystery about who presented the gun and who received it. Sometimes they are decorated with no inscription at all, while others only bear the cryptic monogram of their recipient. This pistol leaves no such riddles and instead offers us an excellent starting point to explore who these men were, what they did, and the background of this extravagant Luger.

Franz von Papen

1936 portrait of Papen
Thankfully, Franz von Papen is not one of those names lost to time or a German military man of whom little information remains. That said, his deeds place him far from a spot of honor in history. In the simplest terms, Papen was a politician. Born in 1879  to a wealthy family, he entered the military early on, and by the Great War was already a military attaché in Washington. However, at the behest of the U.S. Government he was recalled in 1915 after being implicated as a spy and saboteur. After serving the rest of the war for Germany, he entered politics and found his true calling. He served in the Prussian Parliament for 11 years, before being surprisingly appointed Chancellor in 1932 by President Paul von Hindenburg, who had been undeniably influenced by General Kurt von Schleicher, an old friend of Papen's who had great influence with the German president.

Once in a position of power, Papen achieved some impressive feats considering the near-complete lack of support he had within the Reichstag. Instead he achieved his changes through authoritarian rule. In an effort to gain the support of the Nazi party, he repealed the ban on their paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA). He also had Germany's debt under the Treaty of Versailles essentially erased. In this trend of removing previous laws, Papen also staged a coup and deposed the Social Democratic government of Prussia using police, and declared himself its leader. These authoritarian measures are marked by many as setting the stage for the rise of the Third Reich, a charge echoed in his Nuremberg trial.

Taken from a larger photo, Papen can be seen
sitting in the back seat of Hitler's vehicle.
After the coup, he called for a national election and was surprised when he still had no support from the Reichstag. Instead, the Nazis seized the moment and gained 123 seats, giving them a majority in the governing body. Papen planned to dissolve the democracy, and even had advance permission from Hindenburg. However, the Nazis had other ideas. Rolling with the tide, Papen then tried to work with the Nazis, but found them unbending and so resigned as chancellor after the November 1932 elections. After some major politicking and maneuvering between President Hindenburg, Gen. Schleicher, and Papen, with no one able to firm up support from the Nazis and the Social Democrats, Papen worked relentlessly to undermine his former friend Schleicher to give Adolf Hitler the chancellorship while he served as vice chancellor. It would not take long for Hitler and new Reichstag President Herman Göring to marginalize Papen and his office, eventually executing "The Night of Long Knives," a purging of opposing political and military ideologies that threatened Hitler's new found power. Papen would survive the event, later serving as an ambassador to Austria and Turkey before being captured by the Allies in April of 1945. He was prosecuted at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, found not guilty of the charges of "conspiracy to prepare aggressive war" and "conspiracy to commit crimes against peace," served eight years hard labor by a West German court, and was finally released & fined in 1949 on appeal. His memoirs were published in 1952 and he died in 1969.

Largely due to his Nuremberg Trial, Papen is often remembered as paving the way for Nazi power, facilitating the annexation of Austria, and being well aware of Nazi ideology as he did so.

Joachim von Ribbentrop

If Papen paved the way for the Nazi party to take power in Germany, then Joachim von Ribbentrop turned that paved highway into the Autobahn. He too served in the Great War, as a hussar on the Eastern front, but afterward he resumed the relatively normal life of a sparkling wine (Sekt) salesman until he became independently wealthy by marriage. He met Hitler in 1932 as a businessman thanks to an introduction from a fellow former hussar, and shortly thereafter he and his wife joined the NSDAP (Nazi Party). He entered the political arena by offering to serve as a representative between Hitler and his old battle buddy, Papen. Ribbentrop was not liked by many Nazis: he was a flatterer, a yes man, had no political experience, married into his fortune, and even the nobility of his name (the "von") had come from an aunt that Ribbentrop had convinced to formally adopt him for that purpose alone. Despite his lack of the "proper" credentials in the eyes of many Nazis, Ribbentrop would serve as Hitler's chief adviser on foreign affairs, and would soon prove his worth.

In short, Ribbentrop would put into play numerous policies that placated the world and gave Nazi Germany numerous advantages in the years leading up to World War II. Here is a brief list of his diplomatic agreements and similar achievements.
  • 1934 - Helped quell France's protests against Germany's request to re-arm itself after the Great War. He also visited England and Rome to hasten any sanctions from those countries. In turn, Hitler promotes him to "Reich Minister Ambassador-Plenipotentiary at Large."
  • 1935 - Negotiates the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA), which permanently limited the Kriegsmarine to 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy, far beyond the limits set in the Versailles Treaty. The British expectation was that this would limit German military capacity, while the Germans expected it to strengthen a desired alliance between the two countries and against France and the Soviet Union. Britain did not consult with France or Italy prior ratifying the AGNA.
  • 1935 - Arranges for good will visits between groups of World War I veterans. By sending German veterans abroad and accepting foreign veterans on German soil, a "never again" spirit was portrayed and did much to alleviate suspicions against Germany and its wish to re-arm itself.
  • 1936 - The Anti-Comintern Pact is signed with Japan, essentially forming an alliance between the two countries should one of them be attacked by the Soviet Union. Italy would join the pact in 1937, while Poland declined. This alliance was especially unusual given Germany's previous policies of allying itself with China and its general distrust of Japan.
  • 1936-1938 - Spent time unintentionally and permanently fouling German relations with England. He was called by various Britains: pompous, conceited, stupid, impossible, not too intelligent, insufferable, absent (which also earned him the nickname "The Wandering Aryan"), a stupid ass, and also managed to personally insult King George VI.
  • 1938 - Ribbentrop promoted to Foreign Minister, symbolizing a German shift from cautious diplomacy seeker toward an aggressive war-time nation.
  • 1939 - Pact of Steel is made with Italy. The two will come to one another's aid in case of war.
  • 1939 - The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Also known as the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact, it assured non-aggression between the USSR and Germany. but broke the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936 by signing a deal with the communists. In no uncertain terms, this was Ribbentrop's crowning achievement and left little standing in the way for Hitler to attack Poland. This was handy since Ribbentrop's extreme bullying of Polish foreign diplomats all but ensured that Poland would have to be conquered to relinquish the territories that Germany desired.
  • 1940 - German-Japanese Pact is signed to replace the Anti-Comintern Pact. Ribbentrop sends a telegram to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, stating that the alliance was for protection against the United States and from not the Soviet Union.

Despite being hated by his fellow Nazis and nearly every foreign diplomat he ever met, Ribbentrop
almost single-handedly managed to stall the entire world from acting against Germany as they prepared to conquer Europe. This is quite an accomplishment considering that the ink on the Versailles Treaty had only dried 20 years prior and the memory of the Great War still hung fresh in the mind of every nation it touched. After the war, Ribbertrop also was a defendant at the Nuremberg Trials, but unlike Papen, he was convicted on four counts and sentenced to death. He had been charged with crimes against peace, deliberately planning a war of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Because Göring had committed suicide before he could be hung, Ribbentrop was the first of the defendants to have his death sentence carried out.

One aspect of the relationship between these two comrades in arms remains for a dedicated collector or historian to investigate. This pistol is dated on the grip as presented on the November 11, 1940. However, there is a documented squabble between the two men that took place sometime in, or just after, April 1939, when Papen was the newly appointed Ambassador to Turkey. It turns out that Papen, the former Chancellor, felt he should be able to take his communications directly to Hitler instead of through Ribbentrop, something he was accustomed to when he served as Ambassador to Austria. It has been written that this spat ended the friendship that extended back nearly two decades.

Had the two men reconciled by 1940, even if only out of political necessity? Was their falling out misrepresented as more serious than it was? It is possible, though not entirely plausible, that the pistol was already in the works when Papen was Ambassador to Austria. After all, even though he was dismissed as the Austrian Ambassador on February 4, 1938, he had arranged the February 12 meeting at Berchtesgaden between Hitler and Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg that eventually led to the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany, which was signed into law on March 13. This event pleased Hitler greatly.

However, from just prior to the 1938 Anschluss until the 1940 presentation seems like an exceptionally long turnaround time for a standard police pistol that had only to be embellished. It is perhaps more likely that the pistol was ordered to commemorate Papen's new position as the Ambassador to Turkey which he assumed on April 29, 1939. This makes much more sense since it is also known that Ribbentrop had been lobbying for Papen to receive that position since losing the Austrian ambassadorship. Given the dates between Papen's new position and timeframe of the fight, he could not have held the position long prior to their rift.  Six months is a much more plausible timeframe for a finely embellished, presentation Luger.

Despite being two men rarely heard of outside of German history or World War II educational settings, they had quite a profound impact on their country and the world. One paved the way for the Nazis to come to power, while the other pacified country after country in the name of peace, all the while preparing for war. The fact that these two men were brothers in arms who went on to be high ranking Nazis is fascinating enough. When you consider that these same individuals played huge roles in amplifying the power of Nazi Germany, and are both listed on the same classic German pistol, a true treasure of history exists. Their names may not be as infamous, but their significance cannot be discounted.

This historic well-preserved German artifact is just one of the dozens of incredible German military pieces in our April Premiere Firearms Auction. From the incredible rarities, prototypes, and high condition arms from The Robert "The Bear" Bretherton Collection (please see below video), to the incredibly well preserved uniforms and helmets in the Putnam Green/Sycamore Collection, this auction will have it all.  Other highlights include a Krieghoff Second model FG42 machine gun, an extremely rare M.Kb.42(H) assault rifle - a predecessor to the StG44, a cased presentation copy of Mein Kampf covered completely in Amber tile and silver furniture, an authentic, original uniform from the Fallschirm-Panzer "Herman Göring" Division, a Nazi Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (with oak leaves) war medal, the entire evolution of the Walther P38, and a presentation Walther PP given to SS Untersturmfuhrer Maximilian Grabner. It's a fantastic time to be a collector!

-Written by Joel R. Kolander


Bloch, Michael. Ribbentrop. New York: Crown, 1992. Print.


  1. I am a Marine with 24 years of service. I retired 2 years Ago as a Master Gunnery Sergeant after breaking my neck iat C-2 thru C5 and two vertebrae in my back. I am a recipient of the Navy Cross and Purple Heart. I mention this only so you will know what kind of person wrote this post. In my humble opinion anything that is connected to the NAZI party that killed 4 million Jews should be destroyed. Not celebrated and certainly no one should profit from the sell of anything connected to a horrible time against humanity.
    This is my opinion I will respect anyone's opinion that is what being an American is all about.

    1. maybe its a good thing to be reminded of what man has done to one another,we seem to forget what we done to the American indian

    2. I am sorry but to go along with that thinking then ALL Mauser rifles made during that time frame as well as all handguns should be destroyed?? As others have said, what happened should never be forgot! Destroying history is a very good way to repeat it and that MUST NEVER happen again!

    3. I am an American of German, Austrian descent. My great grandfather came here and served in the Civil War (Northern Army), my uncle fought in the 2nd world war and received the bronze star with oak leaf. My religion is Jewish. I own Luger's and I own them along with many other weapons from many other countries from the first and second World War. They are inanimate objects that were used for good causes and horrible unmentionable causes. This is history and history is beautiful and ugly, but it is still history.
      I salute Msgt 0317 and I completely understand though disagree with his reason to destroy this item.
      I served in the US Air Force during the Vietnam era. I am a proud American and I salute your service and respect your opinion this is just mine.

    4. MsrtSgtg=== God Bless and keep you, sir.... Thank You for your service and insight

    5. By that logic you would destroy pretty much *any* historical artefact, because killing, oppression and war has been the lot of our species for millenias.

      The pyramids in Egypt were built by slaves, so should we destroy them too?

  2. MgySgt0317 - thank YOU for your service, sir! And thank you for helping protect our freedom to openly enjoy this discussion!

    The crimes against humanity that the Germans committed were HORRIBLE. The world should NEVER FORGET the atrocities that were committed. If the world destroys the remnants/proof of their actions, future generations may EASILY FORGET. There already are segments of the world population that deny the Holocaust ever ocurred...imagine if we destroy all the evidence. NAZI Glorification should NEVER be the purpose of owning these weapons, PRESERVATION of HISTORY, for the sake of future generations, is the proper perspective possessed by all the collectors that I personally know.

  3. The Allies also did a LOT of crime during World War II. Bombed and killed millions, torpedoed, killing countless civilians on civilian ships, among other things, one with thousands of Russian POWs.
    But as always, only the loser who gets punished. Even today we have a unique position regarding war crimes, the United States is eager to pursue war criminals and terrorists. USA however don't acknowledge the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, for they will not approve that US soldiers who commit war crimes are sentenced there on an equal footing with other countries' war criminals.
    And let's be honest, it has been committed many such episodes.
    In addition, all attacks on the civilian population after the war, and here is Russia's conduct extreme (even against their own homecoming prisoners of war, who were seen as traitors).

    1. Today it is exactly 76 years since Germany invaded Norway.

    2. I am a USMC veteran who spent a tour and a half (19 months) in Vietnam, 1967 -1969. Ths gold luger in question is an inanimate object; those who call for its' destruction are using the same (lack of) logic as those who clamor for the destruction of all firearms because some choose to use them to commit crimes. It is true that we should not forget history and should make every effort not to repeat those mistakes. I believe that we ere in allowing our attention to focus on events long gone at the expense of what is happening now. The current slide of these United States into third world status is of much greater concern to me than the events that occurred before most of us were born. I enlisted in the Marine Corps back in the day and risked my life in combat in the belief that the traditional values as defined by our Constitution were worth fighting for; it is nigh on intolerable for this former jarhead to observe the nations' decline.

    3. Probably true re killing of innocent or collateral damage deaths. You are forgetting only one thing my friend. Only the Germans did it for reasons other than winning a war. I and my family have fought in wars and to win bad things happen and the majority of them unintended. Only the Nazi Master Race killed people just because of their religion, or ethnicity and did it in an industrialized way.

    4. There is no credible evidence that US forces gathered civilians - those obviously non-combatants - and murdered them. The Nazis (and Japanese) did this on so large a scale, that such events can only be seen as deliberate. That is what makes such events MURDERS.

      Nazis were not prosecuted on account of British civilians killed in bombing raids on London. In that era, bombs were simple devices and could not be aimed precisely. Even when plainly civilian areas were targeted (e.g., Coventy), I do not believe any German aviators were prosecuted.

      By sharp contrast, Germans who served as guards at Nazi murder facilities (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Chelmno, etc.) have been prosecuted. Those places had no military purpose and those sent there were sent there to be murdered, usually on arrival or within a day or so. The only exceptions were forced laborers, who usually were murdered at intervals and replaced.

      In short, do not equate those whose purpose is to further a genocide, and those whose purpose is to end the genocide. That difference is fundamental: in our era, the Islamic State seizes territory so it can murder residents, with whose beliefs it disagrees, even if those residents have not lifted a finger against the Islamic State.

      By contrast, US, Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian fighters - who want to destroy the Islamic State - want to end the Islamic State's genocide and may inadvertently kill civilians, or may deliberately kill civilians in order to destroy Islamic State armor, trucks, ammo dumps, or buildings. It is plainly wrong to compare Islamic State murders to allied forces' killings. The comparison bespeaks moral blindness, that is frightening.

  4. The victims of genocidal regimes are MURDERED: theirs' are innocent lives, taken with malice aforethought. A "killing" can be accidental or completely lawful, if it is in self-defense against a lethal threat. There is nothing accidental about what is done to victims of genocidal regimes.

    Thus, no Jews "died" at Auschwitz, but about 1.5 million were murdered there. The murder method matters not at all.

    The Nazi genocide - and several other major genocides (e.g., that in Stalin's Russia) - was preceded by enactment of "gun control" laws. The Nazis inherited a "gun control" law enacted on 13 April 1928, by a center-right coalition, which hopes the measure would curb street fights between Nazi party and Socialist party thugs.

    On taking power lawfully, the Nazis were quick to seize weapons from those, whom they hated or distrusted. At the outset, the Nazis were not wildly popular. Disarming actual or potential foes gave the Nazis time to get an iron grip on Germany. Only on 18 March 1938 did not Nazis re-write the 1928 "gun control" law. By then, the Nazis were genuinely popular.