Lot 329

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Undoubtedly one of the most evocative relics of World War II, the gold watch personally given to SS commando Otto Skorzeny by Benito Mussolini in thanks for Skorzeny's daring rescue of the dictator from captivity at the hands of his fellow Italians. The gold-cased watch, undoubtedly Skorzeny's most prized possession, is a Wintex wristwatch with a seperate smaller sweep-second dial, the watch face is two-toned, ivory, with a copper-colored outer band upon which are printed six roman numerals representing hours. The watch crystal is original and bears an indented circular area ("cyclops" crystal) near the center of the crystal. The back of the watch is engraved with the letter "M", a facsimile of the first letter in Mussolini's signature. Engraved beneath the initials is: "12 - 9 - 1943 - XXI" indicating the date of Skorzeny's brilliant raid at Gran Sasso, September 12, 1943, as well as the year of Mussolini's "reign", 1943 being his twenty-first year. At the edge of the dial is the watch serial number, "227852". The watch does not appear to be in working order, and there is a very slight area of oxidation at the point where the seconds dial meets the watch dial. The crystal bears no significant scratches, nor does the case. The watch strap, originally leather, was at some point replaced by Skorzeny with a modern gold flexible mesh-type band, not hallmarked. The "Wintex" brand name was one of several used by Rolex, registered by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf on March 7, 1927. The watch was bequeathed to Skorzeny's wife, Ilse Finckenstein Skorzeny at the time of Skorzeny's death in 1975. Ilse continued to reside in in the Tres Cantos section of Madrid, but was slowly cheated out of her wealth by various con artists and manipulators in Spain and in the United States. Early on, she befriended an influential businessman who sought to obtain her legal and financial assistance. By the time of her death in 2002, Ilse was bankrupt and living in a nursing home, supported by the charity of her friend. On Jan. 13, 1998 she granted the man her full power of attorney, and on May 4, 1999 she executed a legal document leaving her entire estate to the gentleman. He since transferred this property to his son, our consignor. In September, 2011 representatives of Alexander Autographs, Inc. met with the heir of Ilse Skorzeny's estate and his son, the consignor. A substantial amount of other Skorzeny's personal letters and documents were also made available for viewing. Also viewed was the original power of attorney given by Ilse and the fully-executed and notarized copy of the legal document bequeathing the property to her Spanish friend. Copies of those documents are included in the lot, as is a letter of provenance signed by the heir and his son, as well as a letter attesting to the fact that the son had been gifted the estate by the father, this document also signed by both. Additionally, film of Skorzeny exists showing him being interrogated while being held by American forces at Dachau in 1945. Skorzeny is questioned intensely about the watch and is asked to remove it for inspection. Frame-by-frame analysis shows ours to be the same make and model of watch. Clips of this film can easily be found on the internet. A photo of a frame from the film showing the watch is included. This is as solid as provenence can be. On July 25, 1943, Benito Mussolini was voted out of power by his own Grand Council and arrested upon leaving a meeting with King Vittorio Emanuele. The next day, Skorzeny was introduced to Hitler who, convinced of Skorzeny's talents as a planner and man of action, ordered him to rescue his old friend and ally. Mussolini was moved around the country before being sent to Campo Imperatore, a mountain resort in Abruzzo where he was completely isolated. On Sep. 3, 1943 Italy signed an armistice with the Allies, thereby broaching their alliance with Germany, making Skozeny's mission even more hazardous. Using his own sources and those of the German Security Service, Skorzeny discovered "Il Duce's" location and determined that only a glider assault would succeed. The only possible landing ground seemed to be a small triangular field just behind the hotel. Indeed, the Chief-of-Staff of the Parachute Corps and his senior staff officer both thought that a landing on so small and unprepared a space would result in major losses and that the few troops who survived would probably not be adequate to complete the operation. Nevertheless, it was the only possible option. On Sep. 12th, the approaching gliders crash landed on terrain even steeper and rockier than expected. As the Italian carabinieri ran for cover, Skorzeny bolted for the hotel and found Mussolini who cried out: "I knew my friend Adolf wouldn't desert me." The two piled into a small German reconnaissance plane, greatly overloading it and nearly causing a crash on take-off, but the party made it to Rome and then Prussia where Skorzeny was promoted and awarded the Knights Cross. Not a single shot was fired during the entire operation.

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December 8, 2011 11:00 AM EST
Stamford, CT, US

Alexander Historical Auctions LLC

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