September 25, 2009

Boston Globe – World War II ended 64 years ago, but it comes to life every time Kenneth Rendell turns on the lights inside a squat, nondescript building in Natick. Amid the glitz of nearby shopping centers, the exterior is purposely plain to protect the anonymity of the place and its treasure – an evocative and jaw-dropping collection of more than 6,000 wartime artifacts Rendell has gathered over four decades.

For eight years, the Museum of World War II has been a preserve open only to a circle of Rendell acquaintances, historians, and military veterans or enthusiasts.


Within its walls, the museum houses a section of the sofa that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide on, silicon likenesses of the period’s major figures outfitted in their actual uniforms, a Sherman tank, and a trove of historically significant letters and documents, including the complete plans for the invasion of Normandy and a draft of the 1938 Munich Agreement, with Hitler’s handwritten changes.

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No less an authority than Phil Reed, a former curator at Britain’s Imperial War Museum, has said it “simply has no equal.”


Admission is free but by invitation or appointment only. The museum may be the capstone of a career that has earned Rendell international renown as a collector, dealer, and authenticator of historic artifacts, yet he has discouraged publicity for his masterpiece . . . until now.

With the publication of his new book, “World War II: Saving the Reality,” a boxed volume that re-creates many of the museum’s most precious items, Rendell is loosening up and expanding the hours of operation.


“This is literally the first time I’ve done anything about having more people coming here. I mean, we’ve kept this hidden; there’s no name on it even,” he said.


The museum still won’t admit walk-ups or anyone under age 18, however, and appointments must be scheduled by telephone or through the museum’s website.


Contemplating his legacy, Rendell, now 66, is also in the conceptual stage of plans to build a larger facility that he would open to the general public.


In a career that has taken him around the world, Rendell has bought, sold, and built fabulous collections of letters, literary and musical manuscripts, memorabilia, and precious artifacts. His wife, former Boston television reporter Shirley McNerney Rendell, is also his partner in a business that has served wealthy clients ranging from Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth, and Malcolm Forbes, to Armand Hammer, the Kennedy family, and numerous universities and museums.


The Natick museum is very much an extension of its creator and his passion for the subject, which he calls “the biggest psychological drama of the 20th century.”


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