Spy artifacts get new home
selves on an operation gone awry.
A printing plate was used by Nazi intelligence officers to print bogus British currency during the war. They rounded up about 100 people, including master Jewish forgers, in concentration camps and told them if they could produce undetectable British notes, they wouldn’t be killed.
After being released, the forgers dumped the weighty crates of fake currency, printing plates and presses into a lake in the Austrian Alps as they fled to allied lines.
A nearby innkeeper discovered the bills floating on the surface of the lake in 1952. But it took a mini submarine in the early 1990s to recover the printing plates. Melton got the items from someone involved in the recovery operation.
Melton’s biggest coup — the item he looked for the longest — is the ice axe that was used to kill Trotsky at his compound outside Mexico City in 1940. The assassin was Ramon Mercader, a communist and suspected agent of Soviet leaderJosephStalinwhowasjailed for years in Mexico.
A man who operated a teaching museum within the Mexican police checked out the axe from a police property room in the 1940s. He then got it in the 1960s as a retirement present.
“He gave it to his daughter and it had been under her bed until 2008,” Melton said. “She pulled it out. I made three trips to Mexico City and we were able to prove that it was the right axe.”
H. Keith Melton holds an Enigma Machine with four rotors and Japanese characters that was to be used in the Second World War to encode messages between Nazi Germany and Japan. The machine is one of the many items that he is donating to the International Spy Museum from his collection of spy objects.