Do Adolf Hitler's descendants get a cut of his painting profits?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 29 2009 6:25 PM

Ooh, Is That a Hitler?

Do Adolf Hitler's descendants get a cut of his painting profits?

A photograph of a landscape titled "Village scene" attributed to Adolf Hitler. Click image to expand.
Village Scene, attributed to Adolf Hitler

Thirteen paintings attributed to Adolf Hitler were put on sale at a British auction last Thursday. After their authenticity was certified by an Austrian expert, they sold for about $140,000. Do Hitler's living relatives get a cut?

No. Hitler did produce a last will and testament leaving his inheritance to his three siblings. But the German state of Bavaria seized all of Hitler's property after the Third Reich fell in 1945, and it currently owns the rights to his estate. Some historians have speculated that Hitler's living family members—there are more than a dozen residing in Germany, Austria, and Long Island—could sue the state of Bavaria and claim royalties for the Führer's literary and artistic work. But none has come forward to claim a cut from the auction. The odds of getting paid would be slim, and the potential fallout from trying to profit off the genocidal maniac's work is enormous.

In the past, Hitler's relatives haven't been so reticent. Before her death in 1960, Hitler's sister Paula attempted to lay claim to her brother's estate. But for legal reasons—there was no death certificate issued for Hitler, for example, and a Munich court declared his will "void"—she failed. Later, with the help of Hitler scholar Werner Maser, the son of Hitler's half-sister, Leo Raubal, pursued but never obtained the copyright to Mein Kampf. In 1962, three relatives did receive royalties for Hitler's "sequel" to Mein Kampf (Zweites Buch, literally "Second Book") but not for the original.


If Hitler's relatives did control his estate, it's not certain that they would make much money. Mein Kampf, once a best-seller in Germany, is now banned there. And Hitler sold the American and British copyrights for Mein Kampf to two publishers in the 1930s, so those publishers wouldn't have to give his family a cent. Besides, the book is scheduled to enter the public domain soon—on Dec. 31, 2015, 70 years after its author's death. And even if the family could recoup some of the painting or book profits, they might have to split the cash among all the living relatives—or almost 20 ways.

There's much squeamishness surrounding efforts to profit from Hitler's work. Both the British and U.S. copyright owners of Mein Kampf, Curtis Brown literary agency and Houghton Mifflin, donate those profits to charity. Nor is the Bavarian government profiting off Hitler's estate. After the war, it stored all of his belongings in a vault in central Munich and decided against opening a museum. Plus the German government, as mentioned above, banned the sale of Mein Kampf, thereby cutting off what would have been a steady revenue stream.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Timothy Ryback of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?