Watercolors and sketches attributed to Adolf Hitler sold for a total of $220,000 at an auction Tuesday that was briefly interrupted by a pair of self-styled "comedy terrorists."
The 21 watercolors and two sketches, most of them landscapes, sold individually for prices from $6,100 to $19,975, with the highest price was for a painting titled "The Church of Preux-au-Bois," spokesman Chris Walton said.
The auction was interrupted about midway through when comedian Peter Cunningham, wearing a painted Hitler mustache and slicked-down hair, shouted "Third Reich" and "Mussolini" before security guards escorted him out.
Aaron Barschak, who gained notoriety by dressing up as Osama bin Laden and crashing Prince William's 21st birthday party in 2003, then started shouting before he also was thrown out.
The total sale of $220,000 was more than double the auctioneer's pre-sale estimate, Walton said.
Military buffs and curious neighbors gathered in this small Cornish town for the auction of scenes depicting cottages, churches and pastoral hillsides.
Attention from the sale had forced Jefferys Auctioneers in the sleepy community to move the sale to a nearby hotel. Around 50 onlookers gathered to see the work of a struggling artist who painted during breaks from the front while stationed in Belgium during World War I.
"This was not Hitler the military man or Hitler the dictator who had done these paintings and drawings," said Mike Palmer, 51, who attended to see what the fuss was all about.
The pieces were found in a farmhouse in Belgium, not far from where Hitler was stationed in Flanders. The auction house displayed the works along the wall of the hotel's restaurant, carefully encased in plastic to prevent damage.
The anonymous owners had the paper tested to determine its age, confirmed the signature and matched landmarks in the paintings to sites where Hitler was posted, Walton said.
It's impossible to say whether the paintings are genuine. The experts who authenticated them in the 1980s are dead.
"Some people would consider the sale somewhat controversial, but the pieces were executed so long ago — nearly 100 years ago — that they now just represent something of the past," Walton said. "The paintings are of historical interest rather than artistic merit."
Hitler is thought to have painted hundreds of pieces before becoming Nazi leader. In the past, his paintings have sold for $5,000 to $50,000.
Dealing with Hitler's work and other items related to the Nazi regime has always been a thorny issue.
In many European countries, including Germany, it is illegal to buy, own or sell Nazi memorabilia. A German auction house in 2001 withdrew a Hitler painting following public protests. The Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., has hundreds of Nazi-related pieces — including four Hitler paintings — but they are locked in vaults and not on display.
"It's in very bad taste," said Rhonda Barad with the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish advocacy group. "Most auction houses have steered clear of such sales because it offends a lot of people still alive today."
Buyers of Hitler items are usually private collectors of military memorabilia or World War II enthusiasts, art dealers and auction houses say.