THE silver death's head ring that once belonged to the SS leader, Heinrich Himmler, has been stolen from a museum in Adolf Hitler's holiday town of Berchtesgaden in Germany.
Also seized was a 1938 medallion commemorating Hitler's visit to the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini.
The two items are worth thousands to Nazi memorabilia collectors and police warn that such paraphernalia in museums and collections around Europe are at risk. Last month Hitler's gold Nazi party badge was stolen from a Moscow archive, understood to be destined for a wealthy private collector.
The ring that was taken from the Documentation Centre in Berchtesgaden, where Hitler had a luxury villa perched high on a mountainside, was signed inside by Himmler, one of the architects of the Holocaust that wiped out six million Jews.
The Documentation Centre has proved one of the biggest tourist draws in Bavaria since it was opened up near where Hitler's summer home, Berghof, stood before it was dynamited in 1945 by occupying American troops.
Himmler's ring could be worth up to 40,000 to a private collector. Such rings alone fetch nearly 4,000 in Nazi memorabilia markets.
It was a gift from the Reichsfhrer to reward those senior officers who showed outstanding achievement, devotion to duty, and loyalty to the Fhrer.
Initially it was reserved for "old guard" officers, the longest serving Nazis, whose party membership number was under 5,000.
Besides the seniority requirement, officers had to have an impeccable dossier in order to be recommended for the ring. If the SS discipline code was broken after the presentation of the ring and the officer was demoted, suspended, or expelled from the SS, they were required to return the ring and the citation.
A citation was presented with the ring and read: "I award you the SS death's head ring. The ring symbolises our loyalty to the Fhrer, our steadfast obedience and our brotherhood and comradeship. The death's head reminds us that show be ready at any time to lay down our lives for the good of the Germanic people."
Himmler was not wearing his ring in 1945 when he blundered into a British patrol on the Luneberg Heath in northern Germany.
He bit into a phial of cyanide hidden in his mouth before he could be interrogated.
The poison killed him within 12 minutes and he is buried in an unmarked grave.