History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


Ulrich von Hassell

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Rare autograph of von Hassell, who was executed for the plot to assassinate Hitler,

on a book from his personal library

Ulrich von Hassell, 1881–1944.   German diplomat; member of the German resistance.  Book from von Hassell’s personal library, boldly signed inside, Ulrich v. Hassell, with autograph note by von Hassell regarding its receipt.

This is an extremely scarce, if not rare, autograph item of von Hassell, who was hanged for his participation in the 1944 plot to assassinate German Führer Adolf Hitler.  Our search of auction records has found only one other von Hassell signed book and no letters or other autograph material of his.  We have sold two unsigned copies of books from his library and we have seen a few other unsigned volumes in auction records.  One German auction noted that even his unsigned books are scarce.

Von Hassell has signed in bold, black fountain pen at the top of the front paste down, where his personal bookplate also appears.  Beneath his signature, he has written “Barcelona 1924 / vom Verfasser,” or “Barcelona 1924 / from the author.”  Von Hassell’s bookplate reads “büchersammlung ulrich von•hassell,” or “book collection ulrich vonhassell,” and bears a stylized version of the von Hassell family coat of arms.

This book, entitled Das Bild, or The Picture, is a short novel by German writer Hermann von Boetticher (1887–1941) published in 1924.  The book imprint says that it is the first to third printing.  It was published in Berlin.

Ironically, Das Bild was Boetticher’s final work.  He was likely exterminated in 1941 as part of the Nazis’ systematic mass killings of more than 70,000 people with mental, psychological, and physical disabilities in 1940–1941.  In addition to eugenics to achieve racial hygiene, the Nazis used war economics to justify exterminating those whom they judged to be unworthy of living.  The year after he published Das Bild, Boetticher was admitted to a psychiatric hospital because of schizophrenia.  He spent his final years in a sanatorium and nursing home in Hildesheim until he was moved to a similar facility in Waldheim in 1941and from there probably to the Pirna-Sonnenstein killing center.  In 1941, his mother received his ashes with a note saying that he had died of a brain stroke on May 8, 1941, in the Sonnenstein mental hospital.

Von Hassell, who served as Germany’s ambassador to Italy from 1932 to 1938, and who joined the Nazi party in 1933, is revered as a key member of the aristocratic circle involved in the July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Hitler.  He acted as the liaison between conservative opposition groups and also used his position on the executive committee of the Central European Economic Congress to discuss with Allied officials a possible post-coup d’etat German government that he would help plan and in which he would be the Foreign Minister.  On July 29, 1944, von Hassell was arrested for complicity in the July 20 plot.  After a two-day trial before Roland Freisler’s infamous German People’s Court, von Hassell was convicted and sentenced to death on September 8, 1944.  He was executed two hours later the same day in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison.  

This thin book measures 6” x 8¾”.  It is bound in a cardboard cover.  There is a pencil note in an unknown hand with the date 1983 and an arrow with an exclamation mark pointing left toward von Hassell’s autograph. There is also an pencil note at the top of the back pastedown.  There is considerable wear on the cover at the spine, which shows a few repaired cracks; some soiling and foxing on the front cover; and moderate foxing on the back cover.  None of the defects outweighs von Hassell’s magnificent, pristine autograph. 

Von Hassell’s autograph material is so difficult to find that no illustration of his handwriting or his signature appears in renowned autograph dealer Charles Hamilton’s two-volume set Leaders and Personalities of the Third Reich: Their Biographies, Portraits, and Autographs (1996) or in André Hüsken’s comprensive four-volume set Autographen Des Nationalsozialismus 1919–1945 (Autographs of National Socialism 1919–1945), which includes Nazi ideologues, functionaries, and politicians as well as the German military.  An illustration of a signature of only von Hassell’s last name appears in Emilie Caldwell Stewart, Signatures of the Third Reich: The International Collector’s Guide 91 (1996).  An illustration of a postcard that von Hassell wrote to his son appears in The Ulrich von Hassell Diaries, 1938–’s 1944: The Story of the Forces Against Hitler Inside Germany (Geoffrey Brooks trans., 2011), but, of course, neither that postcard nor von Hassell’s original diaries are available for collectors to obtain.

Von Hassell is important for his efforts to destroy Hitler before he completely destroyed Germany.  Collectors of Third Reich or World War II material should be careful not to let this item pass.


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