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ARTHUR BRAND reveals how sculptures that stood outside Adolf Hitler's office were found

In Saturday’s Mail, we told how in 2014 Arthur Brand — the Indiana Jones of the art world — was drawn into a shadowy world of neo-Nazis, ex-Stasi agents and crooked art dealers, after a friend with criminal contacts showed him a photo of the huge bronze horses that stood outside Hitler’s office window. They were being secretly offered for sale by a dealer called Steven. At first, Arthur was convinced they were fakes, as the Red Army had blasted to pieces all the statues outside the Reich Chancellery in 1945. Then he took a closer look at the last known film footage of Hitler. To Arthur’s astonishment, a plinth behind Hitler, which should have contained one of the horses, was empty — which meant they had been moved to safety. He discovered that the Red Army had moved them to an army barracks in East Germany. But where were they now?

The time was right to speak to Steven, the crooked dealer offering Hitler’s massive bronze horses for sale on the black market. But one misplaced word from me and they would vanish for ever.

Obviously, I needed to pretend I was representing someone willing to buy valuable Nazi art. Someone extremely rich and unscrupulous.

I called him Moss, and ended up modelling him — rather lamely — on J.R., the ruthless oil baron from the TV series Dallas.

‘Lives in Dallas. And he’s as crooked as a two-dollar bill,’ I told Steven on the phone.

As dealers, I continued, Steven and I would both get a cut if he could find suitable pieces worth at least £1 million. At this stage, I didn’t dare mention the horses.

Steven said he’d get back to me. For weeks, however, my phone was silent and I was convinced I had been rumbled.

I was mistaken. When he contacted me again, it was to say he had something amazing, but it would have to be kept out of the public gaze. He followed up with an email and a colour photo of the horses. They were ‘two of the most important Nazi-era sculptures,’ he wrote, ‘ones that everybody assumes were destroyed.

German police have retrieved two long-lost bronze horses sculptures commissioned by the Nazi regime to adorn Adolf Hitler's chancellery after conducting raids on eight suspected members of an illegal ring of art dealers

‘They’re been owned by a family called Flick, who actively supported the Nazis during the war. They want to offload them as soon as possible for political reasons. The price is 8 million euros [£7 million].’

I was ecstatic. Steven had swallowed the bait.

One evening, I got a call from a journalist working for Der Spiegel, German’s leading news magazine. Konstantin von Hammerstein wanted to interview me about the illegal trade in cultural artefacts.

‘Rumour has it that some well-known works by celebrated Nazi sculptors, long thought destroyed, still exist,’ he said. ‘It’s something I’m already looking into.’

That sounded worrying — a newspaper report would ruin everything. But, providing Konstantin kept a lid on my investigation for now, he might prove to be an asset.

After all, if anything went wrong in my scheme, I could be charged with trying to sell stolen sculptures on the black market.

If a member of the Press was involved, however, we could file the whole operation under ‘investigative journalism’.

I sent him the colour photo of Hitler’s horses and waited for his reaction. Konstantin rang back almost immediately. ‘Herr Brand, if this is genuine, we’re talking about the find of the century.’

He urged me to get in touch with his friend René Allonge, the German police’s chief commissioner responsible for art crimes.

‘I’m telling you this because the people mixed up in this aren’t exactly choirboys,’ Konstantin added. ‘The neo-Nazi movement is on the rise these days and its supporters don’t shrink from violence.’

The Watchman, a famous Nazi sculpture by Arno Breker — one of Hitler’s three favourite sculptors, along with Fritz Klimsch and Josef Thorak, who had created the horses

In Berlin, I reported to a police station for my meeting with Chief Commissioner René Allonge. He was waiting for me, a big smile on his face.

We walked down a long, bare corridor and entered his office, a gleaming white space with a few paintings and posters of stolen art on the walls.

‘See those boxes over there?’ Allonge pointed to about 30 boxes in the corner of his office. ‘That’s the archive [of the art section] of the Stasi. They didn’t just confiscate art collections; they also produced forgeries that were then sold as genuine items in the West.’

Allonge already knew the horses were being offered for sale on the black market. An ex-Stasi informant had told him the horses were owned by a grand master of the Knights Templar. The name Adler had also been mentioned. ‘The horses are almost certainly fakes, but offering forgeries for sale is still a serious crime,’ Allonge told me.

‘Fakes?’ I got out my laptop and showed him the YouTube footage of Hitler before the bombing of the Reich Chancellery.

Nine seconds into the film, I hit the pause button and showed him the empty place where one of the horses had stood. Then I told him about their long sojourn at a Russian barracks.

Allonge was gazing at the screen wide-eyed. ‘You have a lead, I take it?’ I explained how I was trying to arrange a viewing and promised to keep him posted.

A few days later, I rang Steven to tell him that my ‘client’, Moss, was extremely interested in the horse bronzes. We agreed to meet up at Café Gruter in Amsterdam so I could supply proof that my buyer had the necessary funds. The café, when I arrived early with my colleague, Alex, was deserted. Alex installed himself at a separate table by a window.

I was feeling very jumpy — chiefly because I had a miniature camera in my jacket pocket, with the lens hidden in my lapel. What if it went wrong?

‘Relax. They’re not going to bump you off,’ Alex said. ‘Not this minute, anyway.’

Steven arrived. He looked exactly as you’d expect an art broker to look, right down to a chic little scarf and expensive watch.

‘If we mess this up, we’ll either end up in jail or at the bottom of a lake,’ he said with a laugh.

I showed him my imaginary client’s passport and an auditor’s report — all fake.

Steven said he’d never seen Hitler’s horses himself. ‘I don’t even know where they are. When I asked, I was warned not to ask unnecessary questions.

‘Look, these are the kind of types who were mixed up in one of the most murderous regimes in history. Do you really think they’d hesitate to bump someone off?’

We left it that Steven would try to get me a viewing, so I could assure my client the horses were genuine. Later, Alex and I looked at the footage from my secret camera. All there. Better still, Alex had recorded Steven making a phone call while I was in the loo.

‘Adler, I’ve arrived. See you later,’ he’d said. The same name that had been recalled by Allonge’s ex-Stasi informant.

Who had the horses? Was it the Flick family Steven had mentioned in his email? Or Adler, whom he had called while I was out of the room?

It was time to put pressure on Steven. When we met again, in a restaurant, he told me the owners were getting cold feet about shipping the horses to the U.S.

‘There only needs to be one person in the chain who recognises those statues and we’re done for.’

I took a break and pretended to call my client.

On my return, I told Steven: ‘Well, as luck would have it, last year Moss happened to buy a chateau somewhere in Provence. He’d already concluded that it would be safer to take the statues there. They wouldn’t have to go past Customs, so no one will be any the wiser.’ Steven beamed and loosened his scarf. ‘Perfect!’ He fumbled around in his briefcase and got out a file.

‘I’ve asked the owners for something extra to sweeten the deal. They offered me this.’

On the table, he placed a photo that showed a gigantic statue of a muscular, naked man holding a sword.

It was The Watchman, a famous Nazi sculpture by Arno Breker — one of Hitler’s three favourite sculptors, along with Fritz Klimsch and Josef Thorak, who had created the horses.

I scrutinised the photo. How on earth could this statue have remained hidden all these years? Ten metres tall — that was as high as a three-storey building.

‘Please tell me this sculpture’s for sale, too,’ I said excitedly.

‘It is indeed. Before long, Moss will own both the Thorak horses and The Watchman. Eight million euros [£7 million] each.’

The mythical Moss was, of course, thrilled to hear about The Watchman and immediately agreed to the asking price.

But I was all too aware that time was pressing. If anyone were to look seriously into Moss, my whole plan would fall apart.

Meanwhile, the journalist Konstantin had been doing some digging and discovered there was a collector of Nazi memorabilia called Mathias Flick.

This had to be the Flick that Steven had referred to in his email as the current owner of the horses. Konstantin gave me an address for Flick in northern Germany. ‘But be careful. This guy is said to have a huge stash of arms.’

Arriving in a nearby town with my colleague, Alex, I asked a man for directions. ‘Oh, so you’re going to see Herr Flick. A very nice man,’ he said.

It turned out that during a year of heavy snow, Flick had cleared it from the village with his World War II Wehrmacht tank, complete with gun barrel.

If René Allonge ever got permission to raid the place, he’d need to take an army with him.

Flick’s large garden was surrounded by a very high wall — high enough to conceal the three-metre-high horses. So I climbed a tree next to it, but there was a cracking sound and I tumbled to the ground. On the other side of the wall, a dog started barking.

Then we heard a man — Flick? — calling it. Alex hissed: ‘Bet you he’ll call the police and we’ll be arrested for trespassing.’

In the end, Alex saved the day. He managed to get access to satellite photos on his smartphone — so we zoomed into Flick’s garden.

No sign of the horses. But we could see caterpillar tracks on the lawn from the tank — had it been used to move the giant steeds?

New Year's Reception of the Wehrmacht in the new Reich Chancellery, 1939. In the background is The Army sculpture

And, oh my God, half hidden under the foliage, a few metres from where I was crouching, was a giant bronze statue. I quickly shimmied up the tree again.

When I saw it, I thought I must be dreaming. It was perhaps the most famous statue of the Third Reich: The Army [Die Wehrmacht] by Arno Breker. Missing for 70 years, it had stood at the entrance to Hitler’s Reich Chancellery.

René Allonge was keen to launch a raid on Flick’s property, and was busy wading through all the red tape that involved. He would also have to warn Germany’s political leaders in advance — but was wary of doing so until the last minute.

He was fully aware, I suspected, that former Nazis had for decades enjoyed protection from the highest political echelons. He wouldn’t want to risk anyone being tipped off.

At the same time, Allonge had news: he had discovered that a man called Detlef Adler had been involved in a court case concerning some unnamed statues.

Could this be the mysterious Adler whom Steven had called from the restaurant?

Adolf Hitler with Albert Speer (on left) and Arno Breker (on right) posing front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (France) in June 1940

Not long afterwards, Allonge rang again. ‘Arthur, the raids are on for the day after tomorrow! He’d be targeting Flick, Adler and another man he suspected.

‘The Ministers of Justice and Culture have been informed. Everyone’s blown away by the news that the Reich Chancellery statues still exist,’ said Allonge.

‘At 7am on Wednesday, around 200 police officers will assemble in three locations. Then we’ll set off. The army has lent us some explosives experts, as well as emergency service vehicles and equipment. As yet, the officers just think it’s a big drugs bust.’ Two hundred police officers and the army? I broke out in a sweat. If this went wrong, I would have to move to a desert island.

Allonge forbade me from attending any of the raids because I was considered a star witness. However, Konstantin would be going on the Adler raid, while my colleague Alex went on the Flick raid — and I could keep in touch with them by phone.

On Wednesday, May 20, 2015, three raids were launched simultaneously. The endgame had begun.

Konstantin soon emailed me a video clip of Adler’s house in Bad Dürkheim.

‘Someone’s opening the door,’ he said on the phone. ‘It’s Adler! They’re reading something aloud to him, probably the search warrant. More and more cars are pulling up. Adler’s just stepping aside and officers are going into his house. He looks as white as a sheet.’

Next it was Alex, perched in a tree overlooking Flick’s garden, calling to say police were on the lawn, gaping at the huge Nazi sculpture The Army.

By the time Alex rang me again, police had combed through Flick’s underground garage. They had found a V-1— a deadly flying bomb of the type Germany had rained on Britain.

As for The Army, Flick was claiming he had bought it from a scrap metal dealer in East Germany.

But still no horses. As the minutes ticked by, I started feeling despondent. Had the owner rumbled us and moved the statues to a secret location?

‘Arthur, most of the police are leaving Adler’s villa,’ Konstantin reported. ‘They’re coming out, getting into their cars and driving away.’

Just then, my other line rang. Steven! I took a deep breath. ‘I’m just ringing to check how things are,’ he said.

He clearly knew nothing about the raids! I assured him that I was still on for the viewing of the horses next week.

By 10.25, it was clear the raids had been a fiasco. Nothing had been found apart from The Army statue in Flick’s grounds and a gigantic arms cache.

Konstantin called again. ‘Everyone’s gone, except Adler, a lawyer and a detective,’ he said.

There was a long pause. ‘Wait,’ he whispered. ‘A lawyer is coming out with a detective. They’re getting into the lawyer’s car together. Something’s going on. I’ll follow them in my car. Call you in a sec.’

A few minutes later, Konstantin checked in again. ‘We’re in some kind of business park in Bad Dürkheim. They’re parking in front of a huge warehouse . . . They’re opening the gate. I’m going to try to get nearer.’

‘Konstantin?’ I yelled. ‘Take a look inside. Now!’

I could hear his footsteps. ‘Are you still there?’ I asked. ‘Hello?’

‘Yes, I’m still here. My God. I can see them! I can see Hitler’s horses. Oh my God!’

For a second, I nearly blacked out.

‘They’re standing side by side at the back of the warehouse. It’s them. No doubt about it!’

My phone instantly rang again. It was Steven, and he was swearing. ‘They’ve carried out raids right across Germany,’ he told me. ‘I just got a call. It seems they’ve found the horses, too.’

I wanted to whoop — but was just able to stop myself.

Steven continued to swear, livid with rage. ‘Your client Moss won’t be able to buy the horses now,’ he said. ‘This is a total disaster. Twenty million down the drain!’

I couldn’t believe Steven still thought my client existed. Meanwhile, I had received a video clip from Konstantin. There they stood, as if looming up out of the mist: Hitler’s horses!

Steven was still talking. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘perhaps something can still be salvaged.

‘We can forget about the horses and The Watchman. But I’ve got access to a unique carpet, ten by five metres. Made for the last Shah of Iran. It’s Iranian state property, so the deal would be hush-hush . . .’

The 2015 discovery of Hitler’s horses made headlines around the world. In addition, police had found two statues by Breker and two by Fritz Klimsch — plus, of course, The Army. They also tracked down The Watchman, which weighed 40 tons.

Almost immediately, a debate raged on what to do with the sculptures: whether to exhibit them, tuck them away or even destroy them.

In the end, the German government decided that they should be put on show. Before the sculptures can be exhibited, however, a court will have to decide on the rightful owner. As for Adler, Flick and Steven, they got off with nothing more than a nasty shock.

It has been established by the German prosecutor that the charges fall outside the statute of limitations.

As for me, I feared this affair might rebound on me and affect my business.

But Jewish families who come to me for help in tracing possessions stolen during World War II were delighted that I had cheated some Nazis out of millions of euros.

And neo-Nazis were so thrilled at the sudden reappearance of the Führer’s favourite sculptures that they completely forgot to threaten me.

Adapted by Corinna Honan from Hitler’s Horses, by Arthur Brand, translated by Jane Hedley-Prôle and published by Ebury on February 4 at £14.99. © Arthur Brand 2021. To order a copy for £13.19 (offer valid to 5/2/21; UK P&P free on orders over £15), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193 

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