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The illustrations of Milch and Jodl are by Walter Frentz

American troops looted Nicolaus von Below's negative album of personal photos. In 1985 an American entrepreneur showed them to David Irving:


December 3rd, 1985

DUE to meet Stanley Hubbard this evening. Worked at PRO all day reading Henderson, Halifax and FO371 series for Göring. Returned to flat at 5:10 p.m [… ]. He had half a dozen of the photos with him, says he has 2,200 of [Nicolaus] von Below's originals, including shots of Maria von B. suckling her infant with Hitler at her side, etc.

His pal Michael (?) went into Berghof as soon as it was captured and looted the Agfa negative album containing the shots. Michael apparently wants cash: he wants £250,000 for the album, etc etc. I tried to disabuse Hubbard of the value. (a) the copyright problem. (b) the ownership is still von Below's not his. I will phone Maria von B. Their value is good however, including shots of the famous Berghof conference of 22 August 1939 ("Now I have Poland where I want her") with generals Bock, Manstein, Keitel, Brauchitsch, Milch, Göring etc in plain clothes.


December 4th, 1985

[… ] Wrote this letter to Stanley Hubbard:

"Thank you for showing me those photographs from the Nicolaus von Below album yesterday. I think there are four points that I can usefully make at this stage.

1. For the purposes of my Göring biography I would offer £50 as what I would call a "procurement fee" for each photograph published in any or all editions of this book; that fee would also cover uses in connection with the book (e.g. if a newspaper reviewed the book and asked to use that picture in its review.) I would anticipate using a minimum of ten, going by the very good quality of those that you have shown to me. Payment would be made in advance by me or by William Morrow Inc, on my behalf. The author is traditionally liable for such payments, but I might be able to persuade the publisher to assist if your friend feels the fee should be marginally higher. Much more than 50 per use would price him out of the market, however.

2. As you state that the 2,200 negatives clearly document life at Hitler's side, including some most unusual pictures, there may well be scope for a television exploitation of the pictures. I have a few contacts (two or three) to whom I can put the idea over here, or do you want to retain control of this part of the project? As author of Hitler's War and The War Path I would be willing to compose and speak the narrative.

3. I do not myself think there is a picture book in this. There have been several in the past, most recently Jochen von Lang's exploitation of the Heinrich Hoffmann negative collection, but I do not think they made anybody rich.

4. Final resting place of the negatives: I can envisage them ending up in the hands of a German-based institute or archives able to make proper commercial exploitation; almost certainly the heirs would have to be given some benefit. The institute could perhaps keep them in conjunction with other similar historical collections like the Hoffmann negatives in the hands of Gerd Heidemann, the colour pictures in the hands of Walter Frentz etc.

It is not as simple as your friend thinks to raise money on this cache of photographs. The legal position is unfavourable. Contrary, alas, to popular belief, the looting of personal property is illegal under the Hague Rules of Land Warfare. There have been several test cases since the war in which American, French and British officers tried to auction property they had "liberated" in the conquest of Germany, where the owner was readily identifiable. Though they themselves were not prosecuted, in every case the property ended up being returned to its legal owner.

To name but a few cases: the French officer who tried to auction the Göring diaries at Sotheby's saw them frozen by injunction of the Göring heirs, then seized by the Bavarian government (pursuant to their confiscation edict of 1947); they now repose in a Munich institute of history [the Institut für Zeitgeschichte]. MilchI do not know what the Frenchman got for his pains.

The Scots sergeant who obtained Erhard Milch's (right) field marshal's baton had the same experience in about 1967 when he tried to sell it; the Milch family intervened through the German embassy and regained possession. Again, I do not know under what terms.

Finally, the Churchill family by injunction stopped the sale at Sotheby's of Winston's appointment cards which had somehow been obtained by his private detective Commander ["Tommy"] Thompson.

JodlThe only exemption to this general rule of which I am aware is the case of the Alfred Jodl (left) diaries, now in the U.S. National Archives. President Harry S. Truman himself signed a decree [Executive Order] overriding the Hague Rules, to permit those diaries to be declared seized alien property and remain in U.S. custody (I have seen the document.)

Therefore although I do not believe the Below family now has any copyright claim on the photographs (25 years having elapsed under German law) they would certainly be able to prevent the sale of the negatives by your friend to any third party; they might incidentally under German law be able to proceed under their laws of privacy against me for reproducing any family-type photographs, but through my personal friendship with the Belows I am sure I can obtain agreement as far as those I envisage for my book is concerned. Since von Below was never accused of any war crimes, his heirs might also find a sympathetic ear in American courts.

As far as my own offer for those photographs goes, may I also underline the fact that the manuscript is now approaching completion, will go to the publishers at the end of December, and that they will be making photographic selections in the following weeks (say January or February 1986) In addition to what we will call a "procurement fee" (which I suggest at £50) I will pay reasonable print fees for three sets of 10"x8" glossy prints of any Below negatives showing Göring, to enable my publishers to make the selection. To protect your friend's interests I would also undertake to do all in my power to prevent those prints being used for anything purposes outside this agreement.

[David Irving]

June 2002 postscript: At my suggestion, Mr Hubbard eventually donated the entire collection of Von Below negatives to the Imperial War Museum photographic archives in London, when he heard that I had donated microfilm of my entire "Adolf Hitler Document Book" collected for Hitler's War to the museum's archives.


Peter Wibber inquires (April 2002) about Mr Irving's contacts with Hitler's adjutants | Von Below interview
Half a century later, the paintings of Adolf Hitler are still a federal case | US Supreme Court allows US Army to retain looted Hitler watercolours stolen from Heinrich Hoffmann | Billy Price fights for Justice: Court Considers Ownership of Seized 'Hitler' Paintings | Four Hitler paintings found, offered for sale
© Focal Point 2002 [F] e-mail: Irving write to David Irving