Booty Includes Curtains, Tables. Bits Of Hitler's Yacht Scattered About N.j.

Posted: March 27, 1997

Adolf Hitler dubbed his private yacht the Grille - a word that, in German, conjures whim and flight - and it was true to its name.

A palatial 476 feet long, the Grille was built in 1935 as Hitler's plaything and became a command center for Nazi submarines. After World War II, it sailed for the British as a training ship, then for a Lebanese merchant. In 1951, it docked at a New Jersey scrap yard, where souvenirs were ripped from its decks and scattered up and down the East Coast.

Like the toilet and sink that, people say, wound up at Greg's Auto Repair in Florence.

``A lot of people have told me the same story,'' said Greg Kohfeldt, 29, the owner.

Curiosity hunters sometimes come by to inspect the Burlington County garage's bathroom. They pay special attention to the writing in German on the stainless steel sink handle and on the stopper.

``I didn't really care,'' Kohfeldt said. ``What value they have, I don't know. It's a sink to me - I need a bathroom. People asked if they could have them, but I can't give them away unless I have something to replace them with.''

Kohfeldt puts little stock in the fuhrer's throne, but others find the Grille's relics quite interesting.

At American Legion Post 194 in Florence, a Grille table - a gift from Doan Salvage Co., the Bordentown firm that scrapped the yacht - is treasured booty. With its large, flat drawers, it's believed to have served as a map table.

``We don't want it because it was Hitler's, but because it's a piece of history,'' said Bob Wilkie, 72, a Legion member and veteran of the Pacific front. In the 1980s, he and other older Legionnaires fended off a move by younger members to sell the table.

Richard Glass, 66, of Florence, also keeps Grille souvenirs. A military paraphernalia collector who served in both the Army and Navy, Glass visited the Grille when it was lying in the Bordentown scrap yard. Together with his father, he built a 23-foot cabin cruiser using screws and wood stripped from the yacht.

Glass was friendly with Sam Carlani, the former owner of what is now Greg's Auto Repair. And, Glass is certain that Carlani got a sink and a toilet off the Grille.

Other collectors sought Grille memorabilia, such as portholes, lockers, tables, dishes and curtains. Many are students of military history who remember the Grille as one of the most distinguished of the various boats, submarines and destroyers scrapped at the Doan Salvage Co.

``She was a pretty famous ship,'' said Chuck Lekites, 58, a curator of private nautical collections and consultant for the Naval Academy. He acquired the Grille's belaying pins and a life preserver, which bears a London marking above faded German lettering, a reminder of the yacht's Royal Navy days.

``All the high Nazi officers were on it,'' he said. ``Admiral Doenitz, head of the whole German navy, was on it. They armed it when the war broke out. Hitler used it to review the German fleet.'' According to a New York Times article of the time, Hitler's death was said to have been proclaimed by Doenitz from its decks in 1945.

The Grille was built by the German firm of Blohm & Voss for $4 million. When the 3,800-ton yacht rolled into the Baltic Sea's waters in 1935, it was reputed to be one of the finest luxury vessels ever launched.

``It was a long, sleek-looking clipper boat - narrow like a destroyer,'' Lekites said. ``A good vessel. Handsome.''

But by the time the Grille passed under the Ben Franklin Bridge in April 1951, its decks were no longer gleaming. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin called the Grille a ``hunk o' junk'' on which ``tin cans rattled across the floors'' and ``loosened portholes and hatches swung to and fro, sending metallic sounds through darkened corridors.''

Still, the Grille's Old World luxury impressed New Jerseyans.

``It was pretty damned big - about 1 1/4 football fields long,'' Glass remembers. ``It had nice wood paneling inside and teak wood on deck. The lounge was all upholstered, and the gallery was all stainless steel. This was prewar stuff - not junky.''

Doan Salvage Co. capitalized on local interest and started charging a 25-cent admission fee to tourists.

``It was about half a year before they hacked it up,'' Glass said. ``There was no hurry. They milked every dime off the ship. They would sell the stuff for half a buck a piece. And people took anything that wasn't nailed on. Anything small enough to get by.''

Despite the money it brought in, the floating curiosity shop was closed before Labor Day.

Bill Gallager, secretary-treasurer of North American Marine Salvage - the firm Doan Salvage Co. merged with in the mid-1950s - says there was talk of turning the Grille into a museum. According to Gallager, the yard's owner, John Doan, replied: ``Cut it up.''

* The Grille came to Bordentown only six years after the war's end. There was little support - either locally or nationally - for preserving anything associated with Adolf Hitler. In fact, the U.S. government allowed an American firm to purchase the Grille only under the provision that it be scrapped.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, looks on the Hitler souvenir business with revulsion.

``Whatever that man touched turned to evil,'' he said. ``Other than using Nazi memorabilia in an educational context like a museum, there's no place for it. There should be no place for it in anyone's home.''

Florence collector Glass said no one wanted to memorialize the Grille.

``I see it as a war prize. These things should be preserved for future generations because they can't be replaced.''

Glass means what he says. He's got his eye on Kohfeldt's toilet.

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