Soldier tells about looting Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in his own words

Fred Butts, a Cape Cod industrialist who wintered in Boca Grande, Florida, was thought to be the first American soldier to loot Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat high atop Kehlstein Mountain in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden at the close of World War II. Sixty years later, shortly before his death, he told his family the story which they captured on tape.

Here is his story in his own words.

“My name is Fred Butts. During World War II I was a platoon sergeant in Company B, 2nd Platoon, 290th Engineering Battalion. On May 17, 1945 I became the first GI to break into Hitler’s chalet they called The Eagle’s Nest.

“Our unit was attached to the French 2nd Armored Division and we were outside of Berchtesgaden on May 16, 1945. Because I could speak a little French my platoon was sent into the town with the armored division.

“World War II in Europe had ended a few days earlier. What was left of the German Army in Bavaria was retreating. Hundreds of German soldiers were walking aimlessly along the roads west away from the advancing Russian Army.

“We rolled into town in six by sixes (Army trucks) early in the morning. French soldiers were running around looting everything in sight and getting drunk. It was total confusion. No order no nothing.

“From Berchtesgaden I could see The Eagle’s Nest atop the 7,500-foot mountain that was covered with snow even in May The next day myself and a French soldier, I didn’t even know his name, decided to climb up to Hitler’s nest.

“After a couple of hours of climbing the mountain and going through several tunnels carved through the rock the French soldier and I could see The Eagle’s Nest a couple hundred feet above us There was no one else around, just us.

This special leather-bound phone book was Hitler’s. Fred Butts took it out of the Furhrer’s living room while serving in an American engineering battalion that looted his Eagle’s Nest retreat. Photo by Mark Futch

“We walked through knee-deep snow the last few hundred feet to Hitler’s house. We tried all the doors, but they were securely locked. I took out my .45 pistol and broke a rear window, reached inside and unlocked the door.

“The French soldier and I went inside. We found a house that had been put to bed for the winter. All the chairs and tables had covers on them. It was very evident no one had lived there since the proceeding fall.

“We went through The Eagle’s Nest looking for things to take, because by then we were pretty good looters.

“The main room was octagonal with six huge windows on all sides. The windows were 10 to 12-feet wide and 8 to 10 feet high. They were so well-constructed you could raise or lower the bottom half of each window with almost no effort.

“There was a pocket beside each window with a photograph in it. The picture showed what you were looking at through the window in front of you. All the mountains in the picture were named so you could tell what mountains you were looking at.

The main room with all the windows must have been 50-feet in diameter. A few steps took you to an L-shaped room that had a huge fireplace at one end. The short end of the L contained a mahogany desk with a chair.

“A tapestry covered the desk. There was a phone book and telephone and nothing else on the desk. I took the tapestry and the embossed leather-covered phone book that was made especially for Hitler. I brought both of them back to the United States from the war.

The two monogrammed wine glasses and the stainless steel tray Butts is holding once belonged to Adolf Hitler. He stole them from The Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s Bavarian retreat at the end of World War II. Photo by Mark Futch

“The nearby bedroom was very sparse. It contained a single bed, a chair and a chest of drawers. The bed was covered with a camel’s hair blanket. I took the blanket and brought it home with me.

“The kitchen and storage room had all sorts of cooking utensils, china and serving dishes. There were very fine crystal glasses with the Nazi eagle on them and the letters A on one side of the glass and H on the other.

“I also found a large stainless steel serving tray, a key to the front door and a couple of awards presented to Hitler by the mayors of various German towns that I took. They were in specially designed folders making him an honorary citizen of the particular town.

“I pulled a sheet off Hitler’s bed, wrapped my loot in it, and threw it over my shoulder. As we started to head down the mountain a couple of newspaper reporters and several more American soldiers arrived at The Eagle’s Nest.

“Up on the mountain there were storage areas for The Eagle’s Nest. They contained some of the finest wines and liquors you ever heard of. There were also 20 or 30 cartons of Lucky Strike cigarettes in one storage room.

“By the time I got my loot down the mountain most of the wine glasses with Hitler’s initials on them were broken. People have asked how we got all the stuff home. Two of the lieutenants in our battalion were being reassigned directly to the war in the Pacific. We used their foot lockers to get the stolen stuff back to the USA.

“The town of Berchtesgaden wasn’t very large, but it contained some magnificent homes owned by the big wigs in the Nazi party. People like Goering and Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, both had homes there. Hitler also had a house, down the mountain in Berchtesgaden that had been badly damaged by bombs dropped by the British Royal Air Force.

Butts holds a gold-hilted sword he took from Field Marshal Hermann Goering’s retreat in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria during the end of the Second World War. Photo by Mark Futch

“I also broke into Goering’s house and took a sword with a gold hilt. I suppose it belonged to the field marshal, but I couldn’t prove it.

“The 101st Airborne Division is credited with capturing Berchtesgaden. However, the French 2nd Armored Division we were with came into the town from the other end at the same time.

“I don’t know which division got there first. I do know the 101st took over the town and The Eagle’s Nest and managed both after the war as occupation troops.”

This story first appeared in print in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, September 27, 2010 and is republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. I was very interested to read your report of being the first GI to reach the Eagles Nest after the war. My father was one of the war correspondents you passed as you left the Eagles Nest and started back down the mountain. I wish my father were still living and could read your story.

  2. I enjoyed your story! My father was in the 101st Airborne Division, 506, and was one of the first in that division to go into the Eagles Nest! Many of the men were plundering the treasures but my father was more interested in the wine vault!! Especially the hard liquor!! My father had passed away in February, 2009. He never talked about it much but this is one of the stories he had told me. I wish I knew more!

    Sherry Robinson Pagoria
    April 8, 2012

    • Sherry –
      Thank you for your response to this story. I’m glad your father shared with you at least a little bit of his World War II experience. Equally glad this was helpful in filing in some of your gaps.
      Thank you, again.
      Don Moore

    • Sherry my father was there also ,he was in Pattons third army div. I have a picture with my dad and some French and American soldiers posing with bottles of wine ,,,,maybe your dad is there also?

  3. A soldier that loots, is a criminal. Picking up a souvenir on the battlefield is one thing, looting is something totally different. Civilians get shot for looting, so what makes a soldier any different? Butts was a thief in uniform who lacked self-discipline, a disgrace to his country and uniform. To the victors go the spoils……I say bull s**t. Artifacts that were stolen belong in a Military or Cultural Museum.

    • oh be quiet. it was ww2 for gods sake. every single soldier there took a piece of the crumbling Reich. If you were there you would have too. get off your high horse

    • First off you don’t seem to know much about history and war. Looting by soldiers in war time through out history was their legal right in most of the world’s armies for risking their lives. Not obeying Washington’s orders could get you a firing squad. But looting a Tory’s home or British troops was fine by him.

      Same thing during the American Civil War. Both sides looted and it was accepted. In fact, union solders didn’t know what to with slaves they captured in the earlier years of the War. The most famous looted item in American history happen during this war when the Army looted for itself what we now call Arlington National Cemetery. The Arlington home and land belonged to the wife of General Robert E Lee. The army took the estate and government did not allow her to pay the back taxes so the army could purchase it at public auction during the civil war.

      Most of this was done by the union General Montgomery Cunningham Meigs. Meigs would end up hating Lee for siding with the south and breaking his oaths to the USA and the US Army. Meigs had also served under Lee many years before the war with both men being friendly or friends. Meigs, like Lee, was southern born. Meigs was born in Augusta, Georgia and both he and his son stayed loyal to the union. His taking or looting the estate, Arlington House, was partly a gesture to humiliate Lee for siding with the South. And he made sure bodies were buried near the House so if Lee did move back in he could so all the death he caused. later after the war the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the estate had been sized/looted was illegal, handing it back to Lee’s son, who was forced by public out cry to sell our National Cemetery back to the US Army with the Help of General Meigs.

      As far as looting in WWII the US military code allowed for looting by soldiers against the countries we were at war with. There were rules you could not loot things of cultural and historical importance. You could not loot gold since it was illegal for US citizens to own more then 5 oz of gold due to the 1933 FDR Executive Order 6102. Beyond that if you could carry it and it was German or Nazi or taken from German troops it was yours. In fact there were forms you could fill out before mailing the items back home so that your loot could be replaced if damaged or stolen. The Nazis looted every place they ruled.

      Western Allied troops just looted Germany and German troops. They did not loot allied countries like France, Holland, etc. In fact the allies did not even loot Italy. Also if our troops had really been smart when entering Berchtesgaden and just grabbing some house hold items or getting drunk in Goering wine seller all they had to do was take all those painting hanging on Goering’s walls and other Nazi homes with Masters’ art works which the Nazis had looted and whose real owners were dead having been sent to the death camps. Those painting that today sell for 100 million dollars, as well as all the other Nazi-looted paintings, gold, diamonds that were stashed in a mine near Berchtesgaden. The troops never though to take this stuff either. Passing up all those riches to get some crystal glasses and drunk todays American business men would fire you for being that stupid.

      Also during the war true story American troops entering a French town that they fought their way into. The SS ran the French bank in this town for looting purposes. So being when the army troops got there and the SS left quick the vault was filled with large amounts of cash, German Marks, French francs. So our troops looted all the cash now it was on French soil so they might have been stealing and could have been arrested. But there was a very good simple and logical reason why they took all the cash and never gave it back. And that was because they always needed toilet paper to clean their back sides and all the paper cash was taken to use as toilet paper. Now they were big time criminals robbing a French bank it was the perfect crime nobody found the loot even though they knew it was buried at the bottom of many out houses.

      Last thing about looting when the war ended and we took over Japan our Army ordered all Japanese swords to be given to American troops to be destroyed even ones in Museums. Most American troops mailed the swords home instead of melting them others were destroyed. A very old rare expensive sword was given/taken to a general since all swords were ordered destroy some Japanese gave there swords to US troops this US Army general then gave the looted/gifted sword as a gift to our President Truman in 1946. Today the value of that sword is said to be well over 20 million.

      If you want go watch the old Clint Eastwood movie Kelly’s Heroes it’s a movie about a group of US soldier’s during WWII that decided to fight their way 30 miles behind the German lines to steal 16 million in Nazi gold. It’s not a real story but the ending is surreal. Now if you want a good idea of America troops that were looting watch the last couple of episodes of the HBO series Band of Brothers a true story about 101st airborne troops of easy company. The episode when they reached Berchtesgaden details a lot of their looting also the episode when the 101st finds the Kaufering complex camp then loots all the food from the near by German town to feed those still living in the camp.

    • You ever serve in a combat situation? I think not. I am a Vietnam vet and there was no looting to speak of but after you have been shot at, froze your rear off for the likes of you I think those guys, very young boys, had a right to some souvenirs.
      I suggest you get some respect for those young men who fought and died for trash like you.
      Hell yes I am angry at you flicking libertard losers.

      • Hi, Robert, i am 100% with you, it seems, that young generation or not, don’t realize what a combat vet has to do to survive, so picking up souvenirs to never forget what you’ve been through is a must…especially the eagle’s nest…an ex-French paratrooper.
        Best regards

      • “and there was no looting to speak of”…..Mai Lai? No looting, just killing civvies.right? Anyway the gooks had nothing to steal.

      • It never ceases to amaze me all the criticism about the allies killing Vietnam civilians yet the VCs killed off anyone that had the slightest education, especially teachers. This is always glossed over or totally ignored. All the executions carried out by the VCs and NVN infiltrators are conveniently forgotten as if it never happened, but any killing by the American Forces is always brought to the for mainly by there fellow countryman. You certainly had a lot of criticism and backing by idiots with Hanoi Jane(voted one of the 100 influential women of the 20th Century) being typical

  4. Steve, I agree.
    This man stole extravagant items which had been paid for with the wealth stolen from the victims of the holocaust. These items should either be in museums or destroyed.
    The reality is that those items will likely end up on an auction block sometime in the future, and this thievery will be handsomely rewarded.
    I found it appalling to read that one of “Hitler’s globes” was auctioned for $100K a few years back, effectively rewarding the craven selfishness of some former GI. To think of the survivors of the holocaust coming to America after the war and having to live as paupers for a generation makes these sort of acts more disgusting.
    Not to mention the resale market for these items, which greatly consists of followers of Hitler’s ideology. Hitler’s globe was bought by a child of holocaust survivors who bought it to keep it out of the hands of those people, but I’m sure that most people in the market for Hitler’s glassware or address book is in for darker reasons.

    • , “which greatly consists of followers of Hitler’s ideology” this is the biggest crock I’ve ever read. If you were a collector youd know this is far from the truth. We collectors despise neo-nazis and the sort. We collect these items to preserve history and I can assure you that the collecting community is not full of Nazi followers. You think scummy neo Nazis can afford these items? think again. These GI’s had every right to take what they wanted after they fought with their sweat blood and tears to reach the nest. Get over yourself.

      You people know nothing of preserving these items. Your type thinks Museums are the save all. Let me tell you something…..I know plenty of people who own and work in museums from large to small, and they are more corrupt than the government! 90% of donated items don’t even get a chance to be displayed and sit in storage rooms waiting for the new employee or curator to snatch for their own collections or resale. These smaller Museums open for 5-10 years….collect all sorts of donations, then close down! Where do you think that stuff goes?? Don’t be ignorant. Private collections are in a lot of ways better than Museums. You have an individual who actually appreciates the history and will take every measure to preserve and show anyone who will look/listen.

  5. if 1 actually researched military history you would know that the 290th didn’t arrive until 4 days after the 506th had arrived even members of the 506th(101st) have stated at least 1 Nazi officer committed suicide there and some of servants who worked there throughout the year have stated that the US Airborne were the 1st to arrive as some of the servants have stated they were starting to loot the nest when soldiers with eagle patches on their arm arrived and scared them off.Besides the military would not send in engineers 1st over combat soldiers to liberate a town.Even a private of the 101st stole Hitlers private photobook from 1 of his COs who looted it from the nest..I appreciate this mans service but he would have looted Hitlers personal belongings instead of wine glasses if he was the 1st,as of all of his personal stuff is well documented of being looted and still in the hands of members of the 101st.As far as the comments of soldiers looting should be ashamed of themselves looting during war has always been around since the dawn of man and even Jews looted during their war with Romans,christians and muslims and it is a known fact that when the US civil war broke out out of 150,000 jews only 10,000 or less served and a large number served in an officer role.capacity and looted southern sympathisers homes.I’m not racists by any means but just because of the holocaust we’re are supposed to excuse jews who did the exact same thing.In the early 30s before Jews were rounded up a Jewish man sold a painting he had to a German officer (because he ran into financial trouble) for over $150,000 then(worth over $300,000 today)which was far above the fair market value of the time meaning the officer payed more than what it was worth.A few years ago a daughter of the man who sold the painting because of a loophole that she found said any property sold or confinscated after 1928 are deemed illegal property gained found she could make a claim and get it back which she did and turned around and sold it for over $38.This would constitute as greed in my opinion..

  6. So, this guy robbed, looted, pilleaged… And he’s proud of it!… I don’t get it!… Does stealing from someone who’s considered bad (evil, or whatever word you want to use) make stealing acceptable? I always thought of measuring my own conduct based on what is right and last time I checked stealing was not acceptable under any circumstance… Now, if those were the bad guys, this guy had the chance to show that he was above their level, and the first thing he did was behave like a thief!… Honestly! Someone tell me why this is honorable and why there should be a whole article throwing laurels at this man…

    • You’re right, all he did was lay his life on the line on a daily basis, how dare he take a few small items like that…….( rolling my eyes)

  7. anyone who can be brave enough to go into battle and risk their lives can take any souvenir he/she pleases! don’t judge until you’ve had the same experience. Heck, stealing shells from the beach is stealing from humanity and future generations who could have marveled at its beauty, but instead its sitting in a box on your shelf! …..if you want to look at it that way!

  8. My father was in the 3Division 441AAA Battery WW2 I’m looking for any thing related to where my father was in his campaign if you have any information on this please contact me. Thank you

  9. How can you judge men who crossed europe, fighting,bleeding,loosing friends, suffering and discovering death camps and horror to take hitler’s and his fellow bastards wines and personal stuff, glasses or else, this is nothing and this is not looting compared to what they suffered and endured, come on…!!! wake up… I know people who used to be in the 2nd armored div. (french 2nd DB) who went back with pictures and swatstika brassard from hitler’s and one of the two original treaty of non aggression germano/russian that was made…
    I just call it war reward and it hasn’t been sold but passed to sons and grant sons…you don’t steal from a thief don’t you…???

    • World War II military casualties:
      United States: 407,300
      Soviet Union: 8,668,000 to 10,922,000
      So who wont the WW II?

  10. You go thru war and battlefields, let me know what you would do, you are a bunch of hypocrites. You have no idea of war and feelings . Lose your buddy next to you, here one minute gone the next. I don’t blame those men for one minute taking objects earned in four long years of battle. You people commenting should be ashamed of yourselves. These men kept us free, and I bet none of you did a damn thing for this country.

  11. were there any pictures there from the artist, E. Herzig? or do you have any information about this artist?

  12. The winners always loot. The Russians took the most valuables from the Germans. I think the Americans settled with souvenirs….and they earned every one of them!

  13. There was a private in the 101st Airborne by the name Pvt Gunn, does anyone know of him! I saw some photographs that were taken by Hitler from a view from Eagles nest

  14. 2 to 4 years in active service on a strange continent risking your life daily against a fanatical enemy bent on the destruction of millions of people and the guy walks with a couple of glasses and a phone book. Yeah that sounds about even. Thanks for your service Sgt. Butts.And thanks for the freedom that all Americans still enjoy to this day.

    • Daniel – the negative comments about Sgt. Butts “looting” come from those sympathetic to the Nazi cause, in some cases, white supremacists. We like your thinking on this one. Thanks –

  15. My Oma (grandma) was from Berchtesgaden and in addition to the allied forces looting Eagles Nest they also broke into the civilians homes, stole their valubles and some even raped the woman of the town.

    • Not untypical of US behavior in Germany after the war, heard many reports of atrocities, but then again ‘to the victor the spoils’ they write the history and all this is hidden.

  16. My uncle was a pvt in ww2 and he had pictures from the eagles nest.i made copies and have them on my computer. they show the house as it was back in 1939 or so. One picture has a picture of hitler and a painting of his girfriend on the wall. I don,t know much about them?

  17. You americans stole our belongings from bertchesgadan which was criminal no wonder your just second class we need butt to return our items or is he bottles to do this.

    • Kurt –
      An American soldier who has fought his way through Europe putting up with Hitler’s Nazis every step of the way should not be denied the right to pick up a few war trophies from the biggest Nazi of them all — Adolph Hitler. What about all the pictures and sculptures Hitler and Goering stole from museums in other countries throughout Europe?

      I’m quite sure that had the shoe been on the other foot, Hitler’s soldiers would have picked up a few war trophies in the United States of America.

    • LIKE GERMANS DIDNT???? GET OVER IT IDIOT
      MY DAD WENT IN ON OMAHA BEACH D-DAy,combat engineer, he saw things the germans and german people did that most couldnt wrap their minds around so i will not listen to you!!!!! i’ve got items from ww2 personal items from some germans, but guess what, they will never leave my family’s hands!!!

    • What a hypocrite. Most of the items would have been looted by the Germans from the conquered European countries during WW II. Look at Goering’s stack, there a plenty of photos of his looted collection,

  18. All of you people that judge these guys for looting can stick it up your asses until you leave your peaceful lives to go into combat for a year or more in a foreign country for a war that someone else started. Those guys watched their best friends get blown to pieces in many instances and suffered privations that none of you self-righteous, holier-than-thou, hypocritical pieces of crap could ever imagine. Göering received that sword as an ace in the Lutwaffe during the Great War, 24 years before the Holocaust. No victim paid for it. The guys that took home trophies deserved them, and much more, except for the Services of Supply guys that stole trophies and personal items from the combat troops in their own army.

  19. Right or wrong, at least the liberators didn’t line up the locals and shoot them as the Germans did in all the countries they occupied, and I am not referring to the Jews, who seem to think they were the only ones who received special treatment.

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