German court forces pensioner to hand over Nazi tank he kept in cellar

The 84-year-old was ordered to sell the tank as well as an anti-aircraft gun to a museum or approved collector

A German pensioner who kept a Second World War Nazi tank in his basement for over 30 years was given a 14-month suspended jail sentence and fined €50,000 ($59,000) on Tuesday.

The 84-year-old, named only as Klaus-Dieter F under German privacy laws, admitted breaking the country’s War Weapons Control Act in a plea bargain to avoid being sent to prison.

He also agreed to donate a further €200,000 ($237,000) to charity under the terms of the deal.

In addition to a 1943 Panzer tank, he also kept an 88mm anti-aircraft gun, a torpedo, a mortar, 70 assault rifles and over 2,000 rounds of ammunition in the basement of his private villa in Heikendorf, a wealthy suburb of Kiel in northern Germany.

Prosecutors stumbled upon the remarkable trove of weapons when they searched his home looking for stolen Nazi artworks after a tip-off in 2015.

Lawyers for Klaus-Dieter F initially argued the weapons were a collection of memorabilia and were all deactivated and could no longer be used.

But the judge rejected that line of reasoning and urged the defence and prosecution to agree to a plea bargain to spare the 84-year-old from prison.

Klaus-Dieter F is understood to be wealthy, but he will have some help raising funds to pay the fine and charitable donations after the judge rejected calls to confiscate the weapons.

Instead, he ordered Klaus-Dieter F to sell the tank and anti-aircraft gun to a museum or approved collector within two years.

A museum in Seattle is understood to be in negotiations to buy the tank, while a private collector in Germany has expressed interest in the anti-aircraft gun.

Prosecutors alleged they also found extensive Nazi memorabilia in the basement, including swastikas, SS runes and mannequins in Nazi uniform, but these claims were not examined during the trial and Klaus-Dieter F’s political views were not discussed.

Under German law, it is illegal to display Nazi symbols or artefacts in public, but they can be kept for scholarly or museum purposes.

The German Army had to be called in to help remove the tank and anti-aircraft gun from the cellar when they were first discovered.

The Panzer, considered one of the most effective tanks deployed in the Second World War, weighed over 44 tons.

At the time of the discovery, Alexander Orth, the local mayor, told German media he was not surprised.

“He was chugging around in that thing during the snow disaster in 1978,” he said.

Updated: August 3rd 2021, 10:48 PM
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