BLOOMINGTON - A rare German gun that may have belonged to Adolf Hitler and ended up in Central Illinois will be sold next month during an auction by a local pawnshop.
Engraved with the initials A.H., the Krieghoff Drilling shotgun/rifle likely was given to Hitler as a gift by the Krieghoff company in the years leading up to World War II, said Wes Lane, owner of Midwest Exchange, the pawn shop hosting the auction at www.gunbroker.
"The gun is in a condition that we'd classify as very good," Lane said while holding the gun Wednesday at his pawnshop. "If the right people see this, there's probably someone in Europe or South America who'd be willing to pay a lot of money to own this gun."
Acknowledging some people may be offended that anything associated with the Nazi dictator would be sold, Lane pointed out the sellers intend to donate the net proceeds to the Anti-Defamation League, a leading group fighting anti-Semitism.
The story behind this particular weapon supposedly starts in May 1945 when the U.S. Army's 506th parachute regiment seized control of Hitler's secret hideaway known as the Berchestgaden.
According to the family that currently owns the Drilling, a man from the 506th, which included the men profiled in the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," took the gun as a souvenir during the raid on Hitler's palace in the Bavarian mountains.
The parachutist later sold the Drilling to an Army lieutenant who had no idea it belonged to Hitler. That lieutenant, who later settled in Central Illinois, kept the Drilling under his bed for decades, taking it out only occasionally to hunt, according to his family.
Although the World War II veteran died more than a decade ago, his family does not want the gun anymore and has chosen to auction it anonymously, Lane said, adding the proceeds will be donated to the Anti-Defamation League, a leading group opposing anti-Semitism.
The Drilling, known for its hand-engraved designs and dual use ability as a shotgun and rifle, could fetch at least $7,000 without the infamous connection. There's no telling how much someone would pay for a Drilling that belonged to a person like Hitler, Lane said.
Bidding for the gun will open at $10,000.
While some may question the gun's authenticity, at least one expert on Krieghoff guns believes Hitler probably owned the Drilling. Randall Gibson, who wrote a reference book, "The Krieghoff Parabellum," said the company's owner likely gave the gun to Hitler in 1934 while trying to get military contracts before the war.
Hitler did not like guns and did not hunt because he was a vegetarian, Gibson said. That means there were only a handful of guns connected to Hitler, said Gibson, a retired banker from Midland, Texas.
Gibson said Heinz Krieghoff, whose father ran the Krieghoff company before World War II, told him in the 1970s the company gave Drillings engraved with initials to Hitler, Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler and former German President Paul von Hindenberg.
"Krieghoff was the No. 1 manufacturer of big-game rifles. He was known for presenting his pieces to various dignitaries and high-ranking officials," Gibson said. "I have no documentation that he presented this weapon to Hitler, but I find it very likely did happen."
Gibson said he's seen photographs of the Drilling that Krieghoff presented to Goering. Except for the initials, the gun looks exactly like the Drilling at Midwest Exchange. Like Lane, he couldn't begin to guess how much someone would pay for Hitler's gun.
"Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty thousand | I don't know," Gibson said. "That's why a weapon like that turns up at an auction. Nobody knows what its going to go for.
Timeline for the Krieghoff Drilling that may have belonged to Adolf Hitler.
1934 Heinrich Krieghoff reportedly gives Hitler a Krieghoff Drilling as a gift with the hope of getting military contracts. The German government later asks Krieghoff to manufacture 10,000 Luger pistols.
1945: In May, the U.S. Army's 506th parachute regiment raids Hitler's retreat in the Bavarian mountains and a soldier reportedly takes the Drilling as a souvenir. Later in the year, the parachutist sells the weapon to an Army lieutenant who settled in Central Illinois sometime after the war, according to the lieutenant's family.
1990s At some point during the 1990s, the World War II veteran dies. His family begins researching the gun's history, finding out the weapon may have belonged to Hitler.
1994: Randall Gibson, a gun enthusiast who has studied the Krieghoff company, tells the family he believes the gun "very likely" was given to Hitler as a gift in 1934.
2005 The family decides to put the gun up for auction, offering the proceeds to the Anti-Defamation League.
SOURCES: Randall Gibson; Wes Lane of Midwest Exchange; Encyclopaedia Britannica