The Fuhrer with the golden gun
By MAURICE POSSLEY
New York Post Updated: Sun., Jun. 5, 2011, 3:25 AM
On April 20, 1939, Germany’s Nazi Party celebrated Adolf Hitler’s 50th birthday with an orgy of gift-giving and a display of military firepower unparalleled in the history of the world.
For four hours, the dictator stood before a gilded chair upholstered in red reviewing thousands of men and weapons parading down the Avenue of Splendor amidst the cheers of tens of thousands of enthralled onlookers. Fighter planes thundered overhead. Tanks rumbled past.
Nearby, in the German Chancellery, tables groaned under the weight of scores of gifts. There were marble statues, a collection of letters of Frederick the Great, tapestries, antiques, paintings and original scores of Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner.
Among these many treasures was a case containing a gold-plated semiautomatic pistol. Hitler’s initials were inlaid with gold on the ivory grips. This was the gift of Carl Walther, whose family made hundreds of thousands of weapons sold worldwide. Of all his gifts, Hitler, who had a fondness for firearms, particularly prized the pistol and, after the day’s festivities, had the pistol shipped to Munich, where he kept it in a desk drawer in his apartment.
Six years later, in the waning days of World War II, the pistol would begin a journey of mystery that now spans more than 65 years.
The story begins in the pre-dawn hours of April 29, 1945, when US Army soldier Ira “Teen” Palm led a small group of men undercover into Munich in an attempt to capture or kill Hitler.
For many long and difficult weeks, Palm, a member of Company B of the 179th Infantry Regiment in the 45th Division, had slogged and fought his way across France and into the heart of Germany. Palm and his men were assisted by German soldiers who were revolting against the Nazis in Munich in a desperate attempt to prevent the total annihilation of the city — either by the rapidly approaching Allied forces or the by the demolitions planned by retreating German soldiers.
When Palm and his men burst into Hitler’s apartment, it was vacant. As they would later learn, the German despot was in his bunker in Berlin, many miles to the north, just hours away from suicide.
Palm was the first into Hitler’s office where he opened the desk and found the gold-plated pistol. He stuck it into his tunic and departed with his men. Palm was wounded in a firefight a few hours later on his way out of Munich and by September 1945 was on his way to his wife, Helen, in Salisbury, NC.
The second stop for the gun was the home of Charles Woodbridge, pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Ga. Woodbridge was a dear friend of Palm. There is no record of why Palm gave the gun to Woodbridge; perhaps he was simply motivated by love and respect for the man he considered a brother.
Woodbridge delighted in showing the weapon to friends and members of his church. But he was only to have it a short while — the gun was stolen in a burglary of the Woodbridge family home in 1947.
The gun finally resurfaced in the 1950s, when a Wichita, Kan., police detective saw it at a gun show and was allowed to take it to the department’s crime lab, where it was photographed. The detective did not have the money to buy it, so photographs were the next best thing.
The gun would fall off the radar until 1966, when the March issue of the men’s magazine, Argosy, displayed a color picture of the pistol on its cover. An accompanying article said the weapon was being offered for sale by a gun dealer in Cleveland.
And, indeed, the gun was sold — to Andrew Wright, a Canadian gun and Nazi memorabilia collector from Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Wright had the idea that people would swarm to his farm, where he had built a museum to house his vast collection of Nazi artifacts.
But the crowds failed to materialize, and in 1987, the gun was sold at auction for $114,000, then the highest price ever paid for an item of military memorabilia. The owner, perhaps understandably, preferred to remain anonymous.
After that, the gun changed hands more than once. For a time, it rested with Warren Anderson, a construction magnate in Australia. Anderson later sold it to a gun dealer in Georgia. The Georgia dealer sold the gun to someone living on the West Coast who asked to remain nameless. And that’s where the gun is presumed to be today.
When the pistol was sold in Cleveland in 1966, the gun dealers reported that they had found blood under the grips of the pistol.
Whose blood was under those grips? Could it be that of Ira Palm — the man who dared to burst through a door to possibly come face to face with Adolf Hitler? Because of the secrecy surrounding this artifact from the ultimate villain, we may never know.
Maurice Possley is the author, with John Woodbridge, of “Hitler in the Crosshairs: A GI’s Story of Courage and Faith” (Zondervan), out now.