A red phone described as the one Adolf Hitler used in his bunker was recently sold for $243,000 by a Maryland auction house. But was it actually the Fuhrer’s phone?
The item comes with an incredible story: Made by Siemens, the phone— constructed of bakelite and painted red— came into the possession of a British officer named Brigadier Sir Ralph Rayner from the Soviets in early May, 1945, according to Alexander Historical Auctions. Sporting a swastika and Hitler’s name, the phone has been called “arguably the most destructive ‘weapon’ of all time.”
But while Bill Panagopulos, owner of Alexander Historical Auctions, vigorously defends the phone's provenance, some are now questioning the phone’s legitimacy, claiming that the phone could be fake— or at least not Hitler’s actual phone.
One of them is Frank Gnegel, of the Frankfurt Museum for Communication. "This is clearly a fake," he said, according to the German news site DW.com, which reported the expert’s comments to the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Gnegel cast doubt on a few aspects of the phone, like its handset (which wasn’t made in Germany) and the fact it was painted red.
"Siemens would have built a proper example from dyed plastic, instead of unprofessionally painting over a black telephone," he said.
Another is Arwin Schaddelee, a Dutch telephone collector and blogger who has written about the phone in detail. He’s also noticed aspects about the item that he thinks are suspect, like its handset, the dial, and the cord. He pointed out that it is a “W38” phone, which he said means that the phone was made for supply to the German post office at the time.
Schaddelee said that ultimately he does think the phone is German, but doubts it belonged to Hitler.
“This telephone never belonged to Hitler, but the engraving with the name and swastika on the back may very well be original,” he wrote in an email to Fox News. He added: "Somebody found a damaged W38 with that engraving which made it interesting enough to repair it and tell an exciting war story about it.”
But Panagopulos told Fox News that they “absolutely” stand by the phone’s authenticity.
“We were utterly, and remain utterly convinced, that it’s 100 percent,” he said.
He defended the phone’s details, as well as Rayner, the British signals officer credited with originally retrieving the phone, saying the man was respectable and had no need for money— and thus no incentive to peddle a fake.
But could it have been just a random Nazi phone, used in the bunker during that time period?
“Then there would have had to be an intent to deceive by Brigadier Rayner, a Member of Parliament, knighted by the Queen, [and] the highest British signals officer,” Panagopulos said.
Panagopulos remains aggravated by the doubt cast on the phone, calling it preposterous.
“A lot of these guys are commenting on aspects of the phone that they know nothing about,” he added.
Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger