Some Incredibly Historic WWII-era Items Are Going Up For Sale

Illustration for article titled Some Incredibly Historic WWII-era Items Are Going Up For Sale

Auction house Bonhams is selling off a remarkable assortment of WWII-era items, including the Nazi surrender order and the Enola Gay co-pilot’s flight logs. The sale is expected to fetch a considerable amount of money, but should such historically sensitive items be auctioned off at all?


Hiroshima after the bomb (AP Photo).

As part of its World War II 70th Anniversary sale, Bonhmans is auctioning off important artifacts, documents, and memorabilia from the Second World War. The sale is scheduled for this coming Wednesday, April 29.

Among the most prestigious items is the archive belonging to Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay — the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Lewis’s collection includes his personal manuscript flying logs, plans, and notes for the mission, photos, and two pilot log books. One of his hand-written entries reads, “No#1 Atomic bomb a huge success.” The pre-sale estimate for this collection is between $150,000 to $200,000.

The other major item going up for sale is the only surviving Nazi surrender order issued by Hitler’s successor, Admiral Karl Doenitz. The order was issued on May 8, 1945, at 10:40 pm, informing commanders that the war was over: “Effective immediately, no maritime vehicle or aeroplane shall be sunk or destroyed, no military equipment may be damaged in any way,” adding that failure to comply would bring punitive action from the Allies. Every copy of the order was destroyed in the final days of the Third Reich, save for one tucked away by Field Marshall Robert Ritter von Greim, head of the Luftwaffe. This item is expected to sell for $36,000.

Here are some other notable items going up for sale:

  • An important 48-star US flag flown from LCI 510, a landing craft, on Omaha Beach on the afternoon of June 6, 1944, and on other Normandy beaches till June 25, 1944 — estimated at $50,000 to 80,000
  • A copy of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, Tokyo Bay, Japan on September 2, 1945 — estimated at $20,000 to 30,000
  • An important 48-star American flag carried by Captain George B. Eldridge, 3rd battalion, at D-day — estimated at $20,000 to 30,000
  • A Japanese Type 94 Shin-Gunto Officer’s Sword recovered from Iwo Jima on March 26, 1945 — estimated at $15,000 to 20,000
  • A Japanese “general situation map” of Iwo Jima, captured in the caves at Cushman’s Pocket, February 11-15, 1945 — estimated at $15,000 to 20,000
  • United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s telex to the Combined Chiefs of Staff and British Chiefs of Staff marked “Top Secret” with the words, “the mission is completed at 0241 May 7th 1945,” — estimated at $5,000 to 8,000

I have to admit, this auction is making me a bit uneasy. It’s a bit disquieting to see such historically important and culturally sensitive documents sold off in this way. The dropping of the atomic bomb on civilians is a horrific chapter in human history, and first-hand documents pertaining to the event shouldn’t be casually sold off for profit. Most of these items belong in a museum rather than the auction block; let’s hope that’s where most of them end up.


David Gustafson

Problem is, if they go into a museum, chances are they’re going into that museum’s archives, where they may or may not be well-cared for, but where they will also be seen only rarely. Many of these might be seen by more people in a private collection than they would be in a public museum.