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Jewish group urges halt to Nazi item auction

July 28, 2022

Dozens of European Jewish leaders have urged a US-based auction house to cancel the sale of a range of Nazi items. The objects include a candy bowl and gold watch that belonged to Adolf Hitler.

https://p.dw.com/p/4EnFd
Adolf Hitler und Leni Riefenstahl
The auction features personal items belonging to Hitler and other senior members of his staffImage: KPA/dpa/picture-alliance

In an open letter co-signed by 34 Jewish leaders, the Brussels-based European Jewish Association (EJA) called for Maryland-based Alexander Historical Auctions to abandon its sale of a slew of Nazi objects.

The items auctioned by the broker include a gold watch and candy bowl belonging to Adolf Hitler, and items belonging to his partner, Eva Braun, including a dress and dog collar for her terrier.

Also on sale are Wehrmacht toilet paper and the cutlery and champagne glasses of senior Nazi figures.

The highest valued item — the watch belonging to Hitler — was expected to fetch between $2 million (€1.97 million) and $4 million. The sale was taking place over two days from Thursday to Friday.

The gold watch that belonged to Hitler
The auction house says the watch is a valid and important historical objectImage: alexautographs.com

What did the Jewish leaders say?

In the letter, EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin urged the house to cancel the sale.

"This auction, whether unwittingly or not, is doing two things: One, giving succor to those who idealize what the Nazi party stood for. Two: Offering buyers the chance to titillate a guest or loved one with an item belonging to a genocidal murderer and his supporters," he wrote.

"The sale of these items is an abhorrence," he added. "There is little to no intrinsic historical value to the vast bulk of the lots on display. Indeed, one can only question the motivation of those buying them."

"Whilst it is obvious that the lessons of history need to be learned — and legitimate Nazi artifacts do belong in museums or places of higher learning — the items that you are selling clearly do not," he wrote.

What the auction house says

Mindy Greenstein, Senior Vice President at Alexander Historical Auctions, told DW that the organization's aim was to preserve history and that most of their collectors kept the acquired items in private collections or donated them to Holocaust museums around the world. 

"If you destroy history, there is no proof that it happened," she said. 

Greenstein lost much of her Jewish family, based in Kyiv in Ukraine, to the Holocaust. Her husband is the auction house's owner, Bill Panagopulos, whose father's hometown in Greece was destroyed during the war.

She went on to say that a lot of the collectors were Jewish and that no one in her family had any issues with the auctions. 

"Whether good or bad history, it must be preserved."

Greenstein said that the auction house sells all sorts of historical artifacts, but that World War II remained a popular topic because of the continued and considerable public interest.

In its own description, Alexander Historical Auctions describes the watch as a particularly important historical item, contradicting EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin's evaluation of the items having little to no historical value. 

"A spectacular wristwatch, especially given to the dictator by his most ardent supporters, has never seen the light of day," according to the auction house. "It is an absolutely unique and important historical object."

Historians believe that the watch was seized by a French soldier on May 4, 1945, when his unit became the first Allied force to arrive at Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden, in the mountains of Bavaria.

Edited by: Mark Hallam

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.
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