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OTTO SKORZENY’S GRAN SASSO WRISTWATCHES

December 23, 2011







A gold Wintex wristwatch recently offered by Alexandra Historical Auctions of Stamford, Connecticut with an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000 failed to sell despite the firm’s exciting catalog description, the relevant extract from which appears below. 

329: THE WATCH GIVEN TO OTTO SKORZENY BY BENITO MUSSOLINI IN THANKS FOR HIS RESCUE FROM CAPTIVITY

 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.


$30,000 – $40,000


In correspondence with the author, Alexandra Historical Auctions President Basil Panagopulos wrote that he had “just digested Skorzeny’s drafts of his memoirs (with corrections in his hand) which are in our possession. On May 15, 1945 Skorzeny and Radl are sent to Werfen where they are interrogated by two American officers and a translator. They are forced to surrender their possessions, are searched, and then are returned their possessions, except for his wristwatch which he describes as: “…a good Omega sport watch, which I wore throughout the whole war…”. He protests the theft, gets the watch back, and then it disappears again. That’s the watch you cite in your so-called research, my skin-headed friend. His memoirs (here) state that he had no way to tell the time after his watch was stolen…but how did he get (our) watch filmed when he was interrogated in Dachau on August 2, 1945? Surely you’ve seen the video – here it is, in case you’re too addled to find it (or perhaps you used to jump without a parachute)”


In response to a request for a scan of the relevant part of this annotated manuscript, Mr Panagopulos wrote back that he was “left with no option but to explore all civil and legal remedies at my disposal, including those available to me in the U.K. and France, and am prepared to make good use of them, You see, I will spend $100,000 to get $5,000 worth of satisfaction. I have twenty-five years in this trade, have sold 40,000 pieces, and have never been accused of knowingly selling a fake.”

Alas for Mr Panagopulos, we had indeed seen the film shot at Dachau on 2.8.1945. We had read Skorzeny’s published memoirs, which make no mention of an Omega wristwatch. In addition to Otto Skorzeny My Commando Operations, We had also read Charles Foley’s book Commando Extraordinary, based on Foley’s extensive interviews in Spain with Skorzeny in the early 1950s, when events were fresher in Skorzeny’s mind. Skorzeny’s memoirs relied extensively on Foley’s text. 

According to Foley’s book, when Skorzeny and three of his men were taken to Salzburg following their surrender, they were placed under arrest in handcuffs. Skorzeny had been strip-searched and and describes noticing that his wristwatch was missing: “…he also complained that his wrist watch [sic] was gone. This was the one inscribed for him by Mussolini – and for months to come Skorzeny was kept busy saving it from souvenir-hungry GIs.” As the still from the US Army CIC film shot shows, Skorzeny still had his Mussolini watch on 2.8.1945, when his interrogation was filmed. The Counter-Intelligence Corps captain asked about the inscription and Skorzeny, through the interpreter, explained it to him, with particular reference to the fascist date XXI in Roman numerals. The wristwatch in question seems to be a 38mm model of some kind but contrary to Mr Panagopulos’ assertions, the film is not sufficiently clear for identification purposes. We did ask Mr Panagopulos if he could produce any blown-up stills from the original roll but to no avail. 

Coming back to Skorzeny’s memoir, the hand-annotated draft of which Mr Panagopulos quoted, the published memoir Otto Skorzeny My Commando Operations stated that Benito Mussolini had gold wristwatches presented in October 1943 to all of the Fallschirmjäger and SS-Jagdverband men who had participated in the Gran Sasso mission. Skorzeny further stated that all of these watches had dials bearing the initial M and that every officer received a “stop watch”, by which he clearly meant chronographs with stop watch functions. Skorzeny also stated that Mussolini had sent him both a chronograph and a normal wristwatch, as well as gold pocket watch with the M inlaid with rubies and engraved with the date of the raid and that his “Mussolini watch” was stolen from him after he surrendered to US forces near Salzburg on 20.5.1945. He writes that he “had it returned to him but that it then disappeared again, this time for good”. 

There is no mention of any “Omega sport watch” in the published memoir, which seems strange. It is quite possible that Skorzeny wore an Omega chronograph. It was a popular choice for many military men at the time. Skorzeny was quite adamant in the early 1950s and in the early 1970s that his Mussolini watch was stolen from him in captivity and that he never saw it again. Before the publication in the mid-1970s of his memoir, there were only ever references to one watch presented to him by Mussolini. There were no references by Skorzeny to its make. However, according to hearsay, it may have been a gold Chronographe Suisse, a make and model popular in Italy in the late 1930s and early 1940s because of its so-called Italian styling. 








And as if by magic, a late 1930s-style twin register Chronographe Suisse in 18k gold surfaced at a militaria show in Pennsylvania in September 2011, with the Gran Sasso inscription engraved on the reverse. Judging by the north-south configuration of the registers, or small dials, the movement is likely to be a Venus 171 Calibre as opposed to the Landeron and Valjoux movements used in the majority of Chronographe Suisse watches of this kind in the 1930s and 1940s. The hallmarks are as one would expect to see on a model dating from the 1940s but the all-important serial number, which should be stamped under the gold hallmark, is missing. 

The father of the current owner of this watch is said to have been one of the Counter-Intelligence Corps officers who handled Skorzeny and apparently stated that Skorzeny had left the watch behind when he escaped from US custody. Skorzeny escaped from an internment camp in Darmstadt on 27.7.1948 and it was widely rumored that his guards had turned a blind eye when a group of alleged former SS-Jagdverband men in US Army uniforms took Skorzeny away, ostensibly for further interviews. This watch, with its rather Art-Deco dial, redolent of the 1930s, is certainly far more convincing than the somewhat effete Wintex offered through Alexandra Historical Auctions. However, as with any such memorabilia, the provenance needs to be watertight or as near watertight as possible. There is also strong evidence to suggest that all of the officers who landed on Gran Sasso on 30.9.1943 received engraved gold chronographs from Mussolini afterwards. 

By the time Skorzeny wrote a description of not just his Gran Sasso chronograph but two other watches he allegedly received from the Italian dictator, adding for good measure that every man who landed on the plateua that day received a gold wristwatch, old Otto was already notorious for his sales of Skorzeny memorabilia like the German Cross in Gold above to gullible collectors. He was far from alone amongst German veterans in this kind of enterprise but was particularly prolific. However, prior to his memoir, there were only ever references to a single watch received from Mussolini, which he unequivocally described as stolen and never seen by him again.


Coming back to AHA’s catalog description, Countess Ilse Finck von Finckenstein née Lüthje was Skorzeny’s second wife, marrying him in 1950. The niece of the Nazi banker Dr Hjalmar Schacht, she hid Skorzeny after his escape in 1948. Skorzeny’s first wife was still alive and living in Vienna in April 2011. Knowing how Skorzeny operated, “Ilse Finkenstein Skorzeny”, as the catalog calls her, might well have inherited this engraved Wintex wristwatch. The story might be true. However, it might also be the case that this was merely an old watch that looked to be of the right period, engraved by some Spanish jeweler in preparation for another of Old Otto’s sales to “der amerikaner dummköpfe” who bought any old rubbish he offered them. 


Or perhaps someone was being a little too clever, identifying Wintex as an Italian brand and finding a vintage example  with a 1930s or 1940s look about it. Wintex was indeed a Rolex sub-marque, registered by Hans Wildorf in 1927 and again by the firm in 1947. However, Wintex was sold by Rolex in 1958 and is now owned by an Italian holding company named Caldex. In one of his rare lapses into coherence, Mr Panagopulos advised us as follows: “Additionally, we’ve been sent the following from a representative of the new owners of the “Wintex” brand:


“Egregio Signor xxxxxx,

abbiamo esaminato attentamente l’immagine dell’orologio Wintex in oro con bracciale a maglia milanese in oro. Il numero del modello è inciso sul fondo e cioè 227852. Trattasi di un modello a carica manuale con movimento svizzero e presumibilmente realizzato nello stesso anno che figura inciso, cioè 1943 (l’Italia era in guerra, ma la Svizzera no).

Crediamo di averLe dato le informazioni da Lei desiderate, e in tal senso uniamo i nostri migliori saluti.

CALDEX SRL

Giovanni Sutti'”



If this was intended to constitute proof that this was the wristwatch given by Mussolini to Skorzeny in October 1943, it fell rather short of the mark. Translated into English, this letter merely states that Mr Sutti and his colleagues looked at photographs of the Wintex watch with a Milanese mesh wristband in gold, that the serial number on the reverse is 227852, that it is a model with a manual Swiss movement and presumably dates from the year engraved on the back, when Italy was at war but Switzerland was not. Mr Sutti ends by saying that he believes that he has given the the required information and wishes the recipient all the best. As civil as he was, the Caldex executive clearly did not have the faintest idea about Rolex-era Wintex watches so he rightly confined himself to presuming that the watch might date from 1943, because of the engraving on the reverse. 

However, a request for sight of a copy of the original correspondence, along with scans of the quoted parts of Skorzeny’s own hand-annoted draft of his memoirs, drove Mr Panagopulos into further paroxysms of blustering rage, eliciting yet more threats, this time of legal action rather than retribution at the hands of gangsters, Israeli Defence Force soldiers, a friend of his who once trained, as a civilian, with the SEALs and the IDF yadda yadda yadda. Our offers to Mr Panagopulos of a right-of-reply resulted in a barrage of invective-laden, defamatory and threatening emails, which he circulated to a number of recipients. Our requests for proof supporting various statements Mr Panagopulos made elicited similar responses

Mr Panagopulos has not however availed himself of his right to reply in the pages of this web log but click here for some examples of the sort of emails he has been firing out, right left and center, since people started asking inconvenient questions about some of his sales.  And then he sent an email saying that he had tried hard to cooperate with us to catch “real bad guys” and threatening legal action for libel, followed by a complaint to Google about alleged breach of copyright arising from images of the Wintex watch in question from his firm’s catalog. We have informed Mr Panagopulos that we will supply his legal counsel with the details of our lawyers for service of any lawsuit for libel. He has not responded. Nor has he responded to our questions arising from speculation about the identity of the person or person(s) who consigned the alleged Munich Pact Desk Set to his auction house and the “West Coast autograph collector” reported as paying $423,000 for it. 


WCS
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13 Comments
  1. Skorzeny showed Romano Mussolini a watch with a postwar inscription? In the early 1950s Skorzeny told several journalists like Charles Foley that his Mussolini watch was stolen by Americans when he was a POW.

  2. I published here two articles about Skorzeny/Mussolini/Watch. News of 1961. Two articles prove that Skorzeny watch was under his possesion in 1961. I would like you put here another publish or prove where Charles Foley or another journalist told about stolen Skorzeny/Watch. One proof in newspaper, book, review or Memories Skorzeny, comando extraordinary, My comando operations, Skorzeny's Special Misions, The unknow war, The most dangerous man in Europe. Remember that Skorzeny told in his memories. That pocket watch was stolen to him, NOT wistwatch. Maybe CIFRA Agency News, nowadays Agency EFE, the most important Agency of news in Spain, has a photo of Wistwatch Wintex with Otto Skorzeny and Romano Mussolini. In that case, what would you say?Regards,

  3. I published here two articles about Skorzeny/Mussolini/Watch. News of 1961. Two articles prove that Skorzeny watch was under his possesion in 1961. I would like you put here another publish or prove where Charles Foley or another journalist told about stolen Skorzeny/Watch. One proof in newspaper, book, review or Memories Skorzeny, comando extraordinary, My comando operations, Skorzeny's Special Misions, The unknow war, The most dangerous man in Europe. Remember that Skorzeny told in his memories. That pocket watch was stolen to him, NOT wistwatch. Maybe CIFRA Agency News, nowadays Agency EFE, the most important Agency of news in Spain, has a photo of Wistwatch Wintex with Otto Skorzeny and Romano Mussolini. In that case, what would you say?Regards,

  4. Looks like your Mr. Chen is stuck with a wrist watch! I have counted eight "Mussolini" watches hving been stuck into people over the past three years. Skorzeny must have had more arms than a Hundu goddess! Keep up the fine work! Understand Gottlieb just discovered Goering's damascus crossbow in a Famous German auction last week! Way to go Steve and Craig and say hello to the rabbi for me!The Mad Hatter

  5. Re: 28.12.2011 09:09 hrs: Having received from A D Royster copies of emails identical to some of your comments here, I presume that you are the "Mr Chen" to whom the above reader refers. If the EFE news agency has a verifiable photograph of the Wintex watch shown by Skorzeny to Romano Mussolini in 1961, I would say that this proves that the watch offered recently through Alexandra Historical Auctions belonged to Otto Skorzeny. However, it would not prove that it was the watch presented by Benito Mussolini to Skorzeny eighteen years before. As for Charles Foley's book, which has been republished several times since 1954, I suggest that you read some of these editions. If you read French, which I doubt, or German, which I equally doubt, you could also read the 'autobiographical' memoirs published in 1950, translated by one of the most reputable editor-translators of his time, Max Roth, and in 1975, translated by a French political fugitive whose command of German equalled Skorzeny's command of French.

  6. We know that you are Prosper Keating, or whatever you like to be named. We're not as smart as you But You're being too smart.I insist. Tell me not in words which documental evidence, books, newspapers, etc., where, when and how Skorzeny watches sold everywhere!. Please, where, how and when?Please Read these books too, Skorzeny wrote and published were before, long before Charles Foley books, Live Dangerously and Fought and Lost(Luchamos y Perdimos, Vive Peligrosamente, (Misiones Secretas) memories of Skorzeny. Page 260 of Luchamos y Perdimos (Fought and Lost), U.S.. ARMY stole a watch OMEGA. In four pages! Not Mussolini Watch.If you read Spanish, Which I doubt, and I will recommended it because is the second language MOST speaked and important in the world, or German, which I doubt more because you are English, Please you read original memories about Otto Skorzeny wroten by him.Luchamos y PerdimosVive PeligrosamenteMisiones SecretasPd. Por cierto, el chino todavia no lo hablo, pero en un futuro quizas lo consigaregards

  7. ¡Ustedes acaban de decubrir la identidad detrás el seudónimo! ¡Bravo! Todo des mundo la sabían. Yo he visto después los años setenta al menos ocho relojes «Gran Sasso» con esto firma et esta fecha grabado. Yo no soy inglès, cabrónes. Yo hablo castellaño, de vez en cuando, aún si me toma dos o tres días antes que puedo hablarlo «suavemente». Que ustedes no sean tan inteligentes como yo me es igual: éste es su problema. Pero si yo estuviera en su lugar, me abstendría de publicar comentarios estúpidos aquí. Envíanme un artículo con imágenes, explicando su punto de vista. Me comprometo a publicarlo. If you can't do this, then stop bothering us and fuck off. No more of your comments will be published here because this is not the Wehrmacht Awards Forum where any mental retard can promote high end fakes in the knowledge that the management will protect him from people asking difficult questions. Your friendly auctioneer sent us some of the "proof" you mentioned and we responded to it. Send in some proof that your watch was given to Skorzeny by Mussolini in 1943 and we will take it into account. Talk to us about the serial number. Send us the 1961 press photographs from the EFE agency. Send us a copy of the Probate documents relating to the Skorzeny estate: a gold watch would most certainly be mentioned in them, especially such a valuable relic as this! Abnd don't worry if they are in Spanish. I think I can just about read Spanish…

  8. 我相信法國報紙會喜歡的材料,我會送他們

  9. This Chen fellow is the one that bought Stee Wolfe's awful fake "Grand Cross" papers. He used to brag about it but since your articles, with pictures of the genuine one and his fake, he has become rather quiet. Now, from all his screeching, he must have bought one of the fake 'Mussloini-Skorzeny' watches that the dealers have been stuffing into the suckers! Did you see that article by Chen in the tbr news site? People like Chen ought to learn the motto that silence is golden! And with a Mussolini inscription. I wonder how much he paid for the watch? With all the fake Skorzeny German Crosses in gold, military caps and tunics, watches and whatall floating around in really advanced collections, I'm surprised WalMart doesn't get into the act!

  10. I think Elmer Chen just threatened to tell the newspapers about you. According to the guy in my local Chinese takeaway. He has been doing this kind of thing for years. He tries to scare people with threats like this. He did it to a friend of mine last year when my friend refused to agree that a 20 Juli 1944 Wound Badge he no doubt paid a lot of dollars for was genuine. He is a fool but also a coward. Even the Chinese do not threaten people's wives.

  11. Ah, but is Mr Chen a collector or a broker? Think on…The Caped Avenger

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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