Albert’s weathered fingers brushed the raised surface of the silver ring and a tear slipped silently down his cheek. He rolled his index finger around the inside of the ring, each indentation of the inscription cutting deeper and deeper into his heart. The past seventy years had not eroded the memories attached to it and still he wept. Every tear blood stained, every tear bursting with the past. The raised skull head signified so much more than most people could ever imagine, it was the reason the ring had remained in Albert’s loft for so long. Now the time seemed right to show it to the world. He had been hiding his past for too long and now he had to face the implications that it held. Who could imagine that this cylindrical piece of silver could have such an emotional hold on so many people. The coldness of the loft suddenly hit Albert, transporting him back to a time 70 years ago that he would rather forget. The musty smell helped to encapsulate and intensify his feelings. Time could never erase the events he had witnessed, the things no 20 year old should ever see or do, but he was under orders. Had he not done it then someone else would and had he not done it then he would have faced death. But he was not alone, many more had done the same as him. They knew it was wrong, but they too were powerless. He was not trying to justify his actions but all that belonged to another time and another place. A time when he was immature and mentally still a child, who was taught to do as he was told.
He placed the ring back in its cushioned box and winced at the irony of its encasing. The ring did not belong in a soft and sensitive environment it should have been locked away in a cold, steel padlocked box, never to be opened. Locked away just like the secrets it held. This was not a crisp and sparkling diamond, suitable for the refinery of a cushioned case, this was vulgar and cold and epitomised everything it stood for. Albert opened the trunk and placed the ring back at the bottom underneath the memories and the pain and shut the trunk.
Villiers and Vine had never seen such a crowd in their auction house. There was only one item on every body’s lips – the ring. There was an unprecedented number of online buyers eagerly awaiting the start of the auction. They knew this was big, really big, for a little backwater auction house whose usual sales amounted to an art deco table that fetched £60, sold to a lady who was reliving her youth, or the remnants of a house sale following its owners passing.
The ring that had been pushed through the letter box on a cold, frosty morning in February, no address included, no name. Mrs Chapman had collected the post that day just the same as every other day. As she opened the red cushioned box she recoiled at the vulgarity of the ring. She was not familiar with this type of jewellery, but she was aware of its significance. She slumped trembling in her chair at the raised skulls head and the worn “Sig rune” etched into the sides of the object. It had been worn a lot. It was not a replica – a ring with this type of wear could never be a replica. This ring was significant – it had history – it would also make the auction house more money than they had seen in a while. Her husband was a collector of World War II memorabilia and she had picked up a few tips over the years. In 1983 the town became twinned with Rüthen in Germany which sparked his interest in all things associated with the war, much to the annoyance of Mrs Chapman. But it kept him amused in the evenings leaving her free to watch the soaps on TV undisturbed.
“Next we have Lot no 22, a SS-Ehrenring commonly known as a SS Honour Ring or Death’s Head Ring. This is a rare find as it is one of 14,500 manufactured for Himmler which was a “reminder at all times to be willing to risk the life of ourselves for the life of the whole” and comes with the standard letter from Himmler and citation. There are only 5220 left in existence but they have either been lost on the battlefield or whereabouts are unknown. It is engraved with SS-Totenkopfring Karl Ullrich 20/04/1936 and Himmlers signature. This was anonymously donated to us with proceeds going to The National Holocaust Centre.”
“Can we start the bidding at £2000 on the net.”
“£5000!” A voice called from the vast crowd. Everyone turned to the centre of the crowd where the voice had emanated. There sat a well-groomed man in his 20’s, fair hair, with a chiselled jawline. His appearance was somewhat unfamiliar in these parts, where everyone knew everyone.
“We have £6,000 on the net, any advances?” The sale was making James Villiers tremble. He had never been the auctioneer at such a prominent sale even though he had been in the trade for 30 years. The family run business had given him a comfortable life, but he was never going to be rich.
“£10,000.” The voice called from within the crowd. This was one persistent man, who was obviously determined to get this piece. The bidding raged on, causing gasps within the crowd. Most were onlookers who had no intention of bidding but who were enthralled by the whole spectacle. Something of which had never been seen before in this quiet sleepy town, nestled in the heart of Norfolk. Most people had never heard of Dereham let alone visited it. The most excitement the parish of this town saw was a fight down the Bull Inn when it was kicking out time.
Bidding for the ring escalated, developing into a bidding war between the chiselled gentleman and the internet. By the time the total reached £20,000 the oohs and ahhs had escalated. Tension was high and James Villiers was only just managing to hold his nerve and keep this auction together. In his head he was totalling up the commission for the company.
Internet bids kept coming in sending the total souring to a magnificent £30,000, there were now just three bidders on the internet and one in the room. Just the stranger who obviously had money to burn. Mrs Chapman stood at the back of the room with her husband mesmerised by proceedings. Mr Chapman had placed a bid early on in the auction but following steely looks from Mrs Chapman decided his marriage was too precious for that.
With one bang, the gavel came down and the auction was over, much to rapturous applause. £49,600, James Villiers stern face belied how he felt inside. His stomach was doing summersaults, churning with excitement. The company had never made so much money in 10 minutes, £10,000 give or take, but who was counting?
The suited man with the chiselled jaw had won the bid, a satisfied look spread across his handsome face. He sat there for a good 10 minutes until there was only himself and another man left in the room.
The other man was Albert Thomson, sat at the back, but with his head in his hands. The closing of the big oak door to the auction room made him wince as it reminded him of the shootings. On 4 April 1945, 20 Jews tried to escape the Nazis near the town of Eggenfeld. Troops from the division stationed there apprehended them in the forest near Mt. Eggenfeld and then herded them into a gully, where they were shot. Although he, Karl Ulrich (a.k.a Albert Thomson) hadn’t killed them himself, he was instrumental in the atrocity. The looks on their faces would haunt him for the rest of his days.
A silent tear fell down Albert’s cheek as the new owner of the ring hugged him. His face looked gaunt and tired. The auction weighed heavy on his heart.
“I couldn’t let the ring leave the family Grandad, this ends here, now. You’re not that man anymore, it’s time to say goodbye to the past. I didn’t want anyone else to profit from this ring so it will be sent to the Topography of Terror Museum in Berlin.”
Albert sobbed and hugged his Grandson. “You would do that for me?”
“I have seen the pain in your eyes for years. I know how deeply you regret your actions. I’m not saying that I understand your reasons for what you did but I know I love you, so I had to do this. Karl Ullrich no longer exists, he is just a page in the history books, you need to move on. Nothing can make up for what you did but the fact you are sorry goes some way to making amends. I love you Grandad and hopefully Dad will forgive you, the way I have.”