The United Kingdom’s Channel 4 has come under fire for buying a lock of hair allegedly belonging to Adolf Hitler from a convicted Holocaust-denying historian, only to discover that the relic was a fake.
The hair was to be analyzed on the Channel 4 show “Dead Famous DNA,” which tests the genetic material of historical figures — including Elvis Presley, Charles Darwin, John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Napoleon — for signs of what made them tick.
The TV station paid £3,000 ($4,957) to David Irving, who is barred from entering Austria, Germany, Italy, and Canada for his writings on World War II that deny the atrocities perpetrated by the Third Reich.
News of the acquisition drew sharp condemnation from Labor MP Ian Austin, whose father’s family perished in the Treblinka death camp. Austin referred to the buy as “sick,” “tawdry,” and “bizarre.”
“It’s disgusting, and raises questions about Channel 4’s public broadcasting remit,” he said, according to a report Sunday in Britain’s Daily Mirror.
Upon scrutiny, the lock of hair, claimed to have been acquired from Hitler’s barber who gathered it using sticky tape attached to the sole of his shoe, turned out to be inauthentic, the Radio Times reported.
“He [Irving] may have sold it in good faith but what we can say is all the evidence suggests that the hair he claimed was Adolf Hitler’s, our DNA science strongly suggests it wasn’t,” David Glover, a specialist employed by Channel 4, said.
The station is not likely to request reimbursement from Irving. “David Irving is not a man I’m keen to have contact with at all,” show host Mark Evans said.
However, the show may have an alternative relic on its hands: A dealer known only as Mr. X has purportedly acquired fragments of Hitler’s rib, and a vertebra supposedly belonging to his longtime companion, Eva Braun, for inspection. While both Hitler’s and Braun’s bodies were supposedly cremated, the so-called Mr. X came forward claiming the remains had actually been stored in KGB archives.
According to Gen. Vasily Khristoforov, the head archivist of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the remains of Hitler and Braun were uncovered by the Red Army on May 5, 1945, after they committed suicide, and buried in Rathenau, Germany. Eight months later, in a clandestine operation, they were reburied in Magdeburg.
When the Soviet authorities seceded the area to East German authorities in 1970, the decision was reached to exhume and cremate the remains, amid fears that the grave would become a neo-Nazi shrine, Khristoforov told the Interfax news agency in 2009.
KGB officers then proceeded to dispose of the remains — with the exception of Hitler’s jawbone and skull — burning them and throwing the ashes in the river. The jawbone and skull were kept in the archives, though their authenticity was contested by US researchers.
“The remains were burnt on a bonfire outside the town of Shoenebeck, 11 kilometers away from Magdeburg, then ground into ashes, collected and thrown into the Biederitz River,” the second document reads, according to Khristoforov.
Evans, the editor of the Channel 4 show, pointed to the inevitable moral dilemma raised by the analysis of the dictator and mass murderer’s genome.
“The very last thing that I want to do is in any way be able to give [Hitler] an excuse, potentially, which I could be accused of. If I find the truth and there is a marker for some kind of psychiatric illness, could that be interpreted as an excuse? I don’t want to do that but the bottom line is that the truth is important,” he said.
“Everything else about that man has been pored over in minute detail,” he added. “The one thing no one has ever looked at is the one bit of him that he couldn’t fabricate, he couldn’t influence. He couldn’t change his DNA – his DNA was what he was and that’s what I wanted to have a look at. What we want to hear is the truth about Hitler and ultimately DNA doesn’t lie.”
The first episode of “Dead Famous DNA,” about Elvis Presley, is set to air on Wednesday.