A Study in Mendacity
by Wilbur Stump
A Yugoslav-born immigrant from Germany, the Michigan-based Dietrich Maerz is an American success story. Hardly able to read and write in any language when he arrived in the United States, the former autoshop worker is now a successful author and publisher in the field of militaria. As well as his own books, Maerz publishes the work of other new experts through B&D Publications LLC.
He also has a sideline in militaria authentication, administered through Dietrich Maerz Authentication LLC of Richmond, Michigan, charging collectors and dealers for certificates of authenticity. B&DP LLC also publish the magazine International Medal Collector. Not bad for a near-illiterate Eastern European whose first job in the US was one of the Seven Dwarves at the Orlando, Florida, Disneyland before problems with his social security number. However, Dietrich Maerz is now a fully legal Resident Alien on his way to US citizenship, living proof that you do not have to be black or hispanic to realize the American Dream these days, that stupid semi-white people still have a chance.
Before the publication ofThe Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (B&D Publishing LLC – 2007) by Dietrich Maerz, collectors and students of Nazi Germany’s highest award for military valor relied upon the books by Harald Geissler and Gordon Williamson and, for those with reading or learning difficulties, Stephen Previtera’s image-led Iron Time. Maerz had already authored several ground-breaking articles on the Knight’s Cross on various militaria-oriented websites, including the Wehrmacht Awards Forum or WAF as it is known amongst collectors.
His first article declared the so-called ‘Rounder’ Knight’s Cross to have been produced by the Berlin firm of Paul Meybauer, on the strength of a ‘Rounder’ in his own collection stamped with Maybauer’s Lieferant code ‘7’. Maerz’s article was illustrated with period photographs showing the ‘Rounder’ in wear and modern photographic studies of a number of examples of this cross from various sources.
There was one said to have been found in the famous, and invented, “Schloss Klessheim vault” in 1945, still in its cellophane wrapper. There was a “ground-dug” example. There was also an example with family provenance back to the Battle of Stalingrad, belonging to flamboyant Canadian collector Brian Hildemann, who claims to be a member of the venerable von Etzel family and told WAF members that this cross had been given to him in the 1960s by the late Vera von Etzel, whom he claims was his aunt.
Unfortunately, Mr Hildemann suffered a very public online emotional breakdown and confessed that he had acquired the cross from a dealer and that the family provenance of his ‘Rounder’ was a complete fabrication. His real name is Giinzberg and his purported ancestor emigrated to the Western Hemisphere where he worked in a Kosher delicatessen as an after-hours clean-up man.
Referring to the inclusion by Gordon Williamson of the Rounder in his 2002 book on the 1939 Iron Cross, Maerz pointed out that he was not the only one taken in by the newly-identified variant. However, as Williamson remarked, Maerz was the only author of reference studies actively promoting the Rounder, whereas Williamson’s inclusion of it had been tempered with caution. Not everyone was convinced by the Rounder but anyone challenging Maerz and his supporters on the WAF and other major forums was quickly silenced by the management and their posts deleted. Except on the Militaria Collecting Forum, where some heavyweight collectors and authors chased off the WAF and other forums for daring to question the declarations of the dealers’ new poster boy Maerz gathered to express themselves freely on the subject, eliciting threats of legal action from Maerz and the emotional breakdown of his chief helper Brian Hildemann.
The Teflon-coated Maerz’s next article revealed his amazing Timeline Process, by which he established that 1939-pattern Knight’s Crosses by the Steinhauer & Lück firm with flaws to the frame beading caused by cracks in the die were in fact wartime pieces and not post-1957 restrikes of negligible value. For years, according to Maerz, misguided collectors and phalerists had been mistaken in presuming that the existence of 1957-pattern Knight’s Crosses by Steinhauer & Lück with unflawed frames struck on the same dies as those of known, original wartime crosses with equally flawless frames indicated that the dies had become damaged sometime after 1957 and that flawed 1939-pattern crosses were therefore of post-1957 manufacture. In the ensuing excitement, Maerz’s earliest postings on the WAF in which he agreed with longtime students of the topic that the flawed 1939-pattern crosses must have been made after 1957 were forgotten.
The dealers, including the notorious Craig Gottlieb, behind the WAF quickly rewarded Maerz by appointing him a moderator. Maerz’s rehabilitation of the flawed Steinhauer & Lück Knight’s Cross prompted a series of similar initiatives aimed at rehabilitating other high end fakes, like a well-known 1960s copy of the Legion Condor Tank Badge.
Thanks to the research of prominent Paris-based documentary producer, Prosper Keating, writing as Wilbur C Stump, we now know that the faker responsible for the Rounder was the late Hamburg-based dealer Ernst Blass. It should be noted that Maerz has always vehemently denied collaborating deliberately with the circle of crooked dealers who launched the ‘Rounder’ onto the market in 2002. However, allegations of complicity on Maerz’s part in the promotion of the Rounder as well as the rehabilitation of high end fakes from the 1960s and 1970s continue to abound, provoking the usual litigious threats from Maerz.
In 2007, Maerz produced The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross to wild acclaim from his cheerleaders and fans on the WAF and other militaria forums. The reviews on Amazon and other websites were fulsome in their praise: “With The Knights Cross of the Iron Cross (and its higher grades) Dietrich Maerz takes military collecting reference works to an entirely new level.”“An engineer by trade, the author utilizes two major aspects of his profession – logic and attention to detail – to present the reader with a valuable and almost infallible reference volume.” That Maerz’s book was self-published because none of the established publishers would take it on and that many of the fulsome reviews were written by Maerz himself does not detract from the success the book enjoyed as collectors read the extravagant puff pieces on the WAF and rushed to order their copies.
Like the equally monomaniacal Previtera before him, Dietrich Maerz believes that his book on the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is the definitive reference work on the subject and will never be surpassed, even though spotting the mistakes and howlers has become something of a parlour game amongst all the serious collectors and students chased away from the WAF in order to protect Maerz from those seeking to expose him as a pontificating charlatan and frontman for crooked dealers and their schemes.
Dietrich Maerz has also been implicated in the promotion of other fakes, including the Hermann Göring Grand Cross document ensemble sold by West Coast dealer Steve Wolfe to Chinese millionaire collector Elmer Chen for a reported $1 million US. The original, which was photographed by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1940 and reposes in the archives of the German Airforce Museum in Berlin, is quite unlike the version paraded on the WAF Iron Cross forum run by Maerz before its sale to Mr Chen yet the Nazi militaria collecting world’s self-annointed Iron Cross guru failed to point out the obvious differences, thereby letting down the collectors he pretends to respect.
Maerz’s evasiveness on other topics, like the highly questionable Diamonds to the Knight’s Cross regularly shown by the same Californian dealer further undermines his self-proclaimed status as an honest research author and publisher. And he has never responded to questions about the source of the alleged Meybauer-marked ‘Rounder’ he presented as part of his own collection. Given the salary of a Michigan panelbeater, which was probably not much more than that of his accomplice Scoutmaster Hildemann, one wonders how much these two chancers paid for these crosses back in 2003. Did they pay a market price or did they get their crosses for the wholesale price paid to Ernst Blass by the dealers fronting his wares in return for help in establishing them as the real deal in the minds of the sect-like members of the WAF and other mainstream forums?