Go Greased Double-Lightning: Hitler’s Car

July 20, 2013 — Not to whine, but Adolph Hitler is really hard to write about. And I don’t mean in a philosophical conundrum kind of way, dealing with the human and the monster, the existence of evil and the deterioration of mind, the corruptive potential in the human soul. He’s just become…cliché. Almost cartoony. He’s a giant wound in world history covered by a Tweety Bird Band-Aid.

So let’s not talk about Hitler.

Let’s talk about his ride.

The Canadian War Museum is a large, modern-looking building in downtown Ottawa that traces Canada’s history of war from the colonial era all the way to, well, yesterday. Because we’re still warring and stuff. I’m not a military history kind of guy, but this place is impressive. I’m going to have to do a whole post on it at some point.

But I was there specifically to see its crowning artifact. Which is also its most uncomfortable artifact.

In 1970, the museum came into possession of what was believed to be the car of Hitler’s deputy Hermann Goering, who was also the founder of the Gestapo and commander of the Luftwaffe.

It fell into American hands in 1945 when it was found, after a brief firefight, on a flatbed in the village of Laufen in Austria. It ended up in Maryland at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, where it was auctioned off to a private collector who had much of it restored. Eventually, it was donated to the Canadian War Museum for tax purposes.

Now, Goering was a terrible roach of a human being, but the one good thing you could say about him (and most people) was that he wasn’t Hitler. It was a comfortable enough distance from what we’ve nominated as the symbol of Ultimate Evil in Modern Times that it seemed okay to, well, display his car like a prized possession the way museums do.

Then it was discovered to actually be Hitler’s own car. Crap. Awesome. Crap.

So what do you do with Hitler’s car? You certainly want to show it to people, but you don’t want to seem too jazzed about it. You want to be like the guy in the alley with the watches inside his overcoat saying, “Hey, psst, buddy, wanna see something?”

Still, you can’t hide from history and it’s not in the charter of most museums to make us feel cozy inside, so they changed the signage and kept the car on display. It became the most popular attraction at the museum. Obviously.

The museum is arranged chronologically, so it takes a few hundred years to get to WWII. But then you turn a corner and see this long, shiny black limo with a cracked window. It’s backdropped by a large and mostly black-and-white image of a Nazi rally. The only color in the image is the red banners of the Third Reich, the bent propeller of the swastika centered in each. Hitler himself is not at all discernable as a point behind the podium.

The car is a Grosser Mercedes 770 W150 built in the late 1930s. I’m even less a car guy than I am a military history guy, so all that is gobbledygook to me. All I know is that it had seven headlamps, exterior spare tires on each side, and looked like something you’d need to wear gloves and goggles to drive. Overall, it seemed like the type of car a villain in a Disney movie might drive. Most interesting, even though you can’t tell by looking at it, the car is armored, including one-inch-thick bullet-proof glass.

The kid in the background also thinks that Hitler is cliche.

Which brings us to the cracked front passenger-side window. The first story I saw was that after its capture, U.S. soldiers wanted to see if it truly was bulletproof, so they fired off a few rounds at it. Later, I read another story that said the car was found in a combat zone, so was already shot up. Either way, because of its restoration, the only real evidence that the thing had seen some action is that single cracked window. It adds to the ominous look of the car, like somebody died in it or something.

The placards on the exhibit show images of Hitler in the car, standing up in the front passenger seat and waving to the crowds. The limo was one of a seven that he used for ceremonial occasions, as well as when he needed to escape over county lines from Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.

On the day we visited, the museum was well-peopled, although I can’t say crowded (I have trouble with the “ow” part). The same with the car. There was a steady flow of visitors to it, but they didn’t stay around as long as I thought they would. Or at least as long as I did. They walked up to it, read the short amount of text on the placards, snapped a shot, and then moved on.

It’s almost as if they felt bad for gawking at it too much. I certainly felt the same, especially when I was…um…getting my picture taken with it. Should have worn my “I’m no fan of Hitler” T-shirt to avoid giving the wrong impression.

Now I really want an “I’m no fan of Hitler” T-shirt. Hold on. Gonna make one right quick.

What do you think?

Damned Zazzle.

In 2000, the director of the Canadian War Museum tried to sell off Hitler’s car. He was afraid that its display glorified Nazism and wanted the $20 million he thought he could get from it to invest in the museum. However, the good folks of Ottawa put up a fuss (almost wrote furor) and wouldn’t let him part with it.

It’s their symbol of evil, nobody else’s.

As long as they don't Zazzle it.