Thomas Wictor

Bigotry can cost you a lot

Bigotry can cost you a lot

I just tried to win two postcards of German flamethrower pioneers of World War I. It turns out the dealer blocks addresses in the US.

The cards were extremely valuable for two reasons: They showed the machine-gun platoon of a flamethrower company, and they proved my theory that machine gunners in the flamethrower regiment wore their death’s head sleeve badges in a different position than that of flamethrower operators.

Here’s one card.

Though the corner is chewed up, it’s not a bad card. The lynchpin is the closeup of the sleeve badge.

Usually the badge is centered on the sleeve cuff. In most of my own group photos, there are often one or two guys with their badges closer to the top of their cuffs. “Experts” told me it was just sloppiness, but this was the most elite unit in the German army. Kaiser Wilhelm II personally conferred the badge, which was considered an award. The men were allowed to wear it only for the duration of the war. You think they’re just going to slap it on higgledy-piggledy?

Of course not. I knew it signified something, just as I knew that badges worn above the cuff signified something, despite the experts telling me I was full of it. My theory was that the badge worn close to the top of the cuff signified a machine gunner or member of a grenade-launcher squad. It was easy for me to figure this out because the pay book (Soldbuch) and military pass (Militärpass) of each German soldier identified the weapons he was trained to operate.

I own two military passes of German flamethrower operators. They both say that the man was trained in the use of flamethrowers, Kar 98AZ carbines, and Gew 98 rifles. I own one pay book of a member of the flamethrower regiment. He was trained in the use of the Gew 98 rifle, the Lanz trench mortar, the grenade launcher 16 (Granatwerfer 16), but not flamethrowers. If a soldier were trained to operate a machine gun, it would be in his pay book and military pass.

It makes sense for the commanders to tell at a glance who was trained in what, and I’m sure the flamethrower guys said, “Hans can’t even use a Frog toaster! Make him wear his badge in a different position than mine!” Yet every expert to whom I mentioned this said I was wrong. Why was I wrong, I’d ask. No answer would be given. The obvious answer is I was wrong because the expert didn’t think of doing this elementary detective work himself.

Here’s the second card in the lot I wasn’t allowed to buy.

The two MG08/15 light machine guns mean it’s the machine-gun platoon of a flamethrower company. The seller included a couple of closeups.

In that one you can see that the man kneeling to the left of the gun has large oil stains on his tunic. Such stains are characteristic of flamethrower pioneer uniforms. But the most important image the German seller posted is this one.


Machine gunner, with his sleeve badge at the top of his cuff. So I was right, and all the experts were wrong. I don’t feel any sense of vindication because I no longer engage the experts. Someday, long after I’m dead, unbiased historians will recognize the value of my books. For now I write for the twenty-seven people who appreciate my work.

These cards sold for a paltry €100, the lowest I’ve ever seen for original photos of World War I German flamethrower pioneers. The fact that this was a lot of two cards, the cards are unique in that they showed regimental machine gunners, and the guy standing behind the gunner in the last image is a member of Assault Battalion No. 5 (Rohr) make the final selling price unbelievably laughable.

I would’ve paid €700 for them.

WHAT?” you scream.

Look: I’m housebound; I have no expenses because I can’t do anything, and I live rent free in one of my parents’ houses; and I write books about World War I flamethrowers that are considered the best in the world. This image would’ve made my next book even better. Plus, a card like this will appreciate astronomically. Paying that much for these two cards would’ve been a sound business investment, it would’ve increased the value of my collection, and it would’ve brought me pleasure.

I’ve had an extremely difficult life. Buying rare postcards is one of the few things I have left. So I pay what some people think are insane prices for them. It evens out, because I’ve bought even more valuable cards for as little as one dollar. Wait’ll you see my next military book. It’s…breathtaking.

The German seller who blocked me from bidding is an idiot. I once asked a German postcard dealer why so many Germans won’t sell to Americans.

“Because they hate Americans,” he said.

Sweet! Since 1945 we’ve protected their asses by picking up the tab for their defense. That’s the only reason the German economy hasn’t tanked. Everyone points to Germany as this huge success story. Well, they spend 1.3 percent of their GDP on defense. The Russians and the US spend about 4 percent of our respective GDPs on defense. People criticize us for spending too much on weapons, but one of the reasons is because we’re protecting Germany. If Germany had to pay for its own defense and its generous social welfare, guess what would happen to all the free stuff that Germans get?

My plan—since the seller said he would send only to the European Union—was to buy the cards and have them sent to my friend Thierry Ehret, who would then pass them on to me using my foolproof system for preventing American postal workers from stealing my cards.

But the seller blocked me because he hates Americans. I sent him a message in German.

You sold those two cards for only €100? That’s pathetic! Those cards are far more valuable than that. I would’ve paid €700 for them. Bigotry can cost you a lot. In your case it cost you €600. I hope you’re happy. Greetings from California.

Go ahead and hate me, Germans. I don’t care. See, Mr. I-Don’t-Sell-to-Americans, you didn’t describe the cards accurately, and you blocked the knowledgeable people who would’ve paid you the actual, free-market value. I have an Aussie friend who would’ve fought me for those cards. You may even have walked away with €800. So your bigotry made you rip yourself off! You’re like someone who burns down his own house, snickering, “That’ll fix those goddamn foreigners!”

I’ll bet you feel pretty stupid now, don’t you?

Hopefully this post will add to your humiliation.

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