WE KNOW NOTHING MORE than what we read in the papers of the unsuccessful auction sale of a bust of Hitler that was shot full of bullet holes; but it is interesting to learn that so far no one has been sufficiently attracted to the bust to buy it. Nor in fact has anyone felt comfortable with this odd item of art since the day in 1945 when it was "liberated" from Hitler's private quarters. Carl Levin, a public-relations man now, was a war correspondent then, and one of the first Americans into the bunker. He smuggled the bust past the Russian guards after the Russians had shot the bronze Fuehrer, perhaps in disappointment at having not come upon the real one.

The price set on the bust by the C. G. Sloan auction house is $10,000. That is a great deal of money, but not unthinkable for a work that was owned and possibly commissioned by this breathtakingly infamous man of modern times. Moreover, the sculptor was Ludwig Nick, who had some reputation in Germany. Owning a bust of Hitler is not our own cup of beer; but one can see how it might appeal to historians or collectors of World War II memorabilia to possess a likeness of Hitler of which Hitler approved, to understand something of his self-esteem and vanity.

Yet what seems to make the bust universally unappealing are the bullet holes. For their presence -- at least as far as one may judge from a photograph -- changes the entire nature of the work. Before the Russians took their target practice, the head was solely an object of art, good or bad. Afterward, it became something else, something gruesome, a substitute for a human head: a head shot full of holes. As such it became a monument to the brutality the head itself had represented to the shooters.

The interesting thing about brutality is it never looks good on anything, not even when vented against the most brutal of men. Anyone is capable of shooting holes in a head, and so the holes in the bust become common wounds. One does not admire or collect such things.