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Sale of Nazi memorabilia

March 17, 2012

When is it okay to profit from the sale of artefacts associated with a vile regime from history?  Should there be a market for items associated with Hitler and Stalin?  What about their henchmen?  Or their victims?

I’d not really thought about these issues until the last week when it was drawn to my attention that the Clifton auction house  Dreweatts was promoting a sale of Nazi memorabilia.  On 6th March they sold a silver tray which was made for Hitler’s 50th birthday.  Presented to him by Speer as just one item from 6 sets of 500 pieces, someone in 2012 wanted it so much they paid £28,000.  On the Dreweatts web site I can see that all sorts of German army military gear and Nazi badges were also up for sale.  An SS steel helmet went for £650 and a collection of various Nazi badges for £140.

As someone who has browsed through hundreds of antique shops and fairs over the years I neither find this remarkable or particularly disturbing.  While looking for old postcards (of Bristol and the Cynon Valley, which I have collected for 30 years) I always come across this stuff on other stalls.  I often assumed much of it is fake tat bought by men who have an obsession with the other side’s role in World War Two.

But I’ve never seen the personal effects of victims of the holocaust on sale.  That’s what startled me about lot 212, which had a guide price of £100 – 120.  The description is “A Highly Emotive Third Reich Period ‘J’ Marked Deutsches Reich Reise-Pass for Hugo & Ida Leser No.330, containing a Jude armband and Star of David cloth insignia.”  and pictured are the pass document, “Jude” armband and the yellow Star of David.  Someone has now paid £360 for the items that were presumably stripped from Hugo and Ida before they were murdered by the Nazis.

I’ve only seen items like this twice before.  Most recently was last summer while visiting the Holocaust exhibition at London’s Imperial War Museum.  Prior to that it was twenty years ago when I was inter-railing and visiting Eastern Europe for the first time.  While visiting the Polish royal capital of Crakow I was determined to see something that, at the time, was most definitely not on the list of recommended places to visit, Oswiecim.  Better known to us as Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The buildings there are full of abandoned clothes, suitcases, arm bands and documents.

If people want to see these items then a museum is where you should go, not an auction house in Bristol.  All the Bristol West secondary school sixth forms are sending three students on a visit to Auschwitz  over the Easter holiday.  Organised by the excellent Holocaust Education Trust, these visits are important to make sure that the current young generation witness at first hand the scene of the 20th century’s greatest crime against humanity.

The sale of Nazi memorabilia is banned or heavily controlled in Germany and many other European states.  Most British auction houses choose not to sell it.  I’m disappointed that one based in Bristol hasn’t followed their example.  They clearly think there’s good money to be made exploiting the gap in this rather distasteful market.  I don’t know how much money they made out of trays, helmets, badges and the memory of Hugo and Ida.  But whatever it is, I’ve written to them suggesting they make a donation to the Holocaust Education Trust.

In order to provoke discussion on this issue my friend Labour MP Fabian Hamilton and I have tabled a Commons motion  (No 2870) calling for the government to regulate this trade.  I’ve pasted the text below.  Fabian is Jewish and I am gay.  So yellow stars and pink triangles have a personal resonance.

EDM 2870

That this House deeply deplores the sale of dozens of items of Nazi memorabilia, including items of oppression belonging to Holocaust victims, which was held on 6 March 2012 by Dreweatts Auction House in Bristol;condemns other auctions of similar items which have been held by other firms previously; decries the profiteering on items promoting and glorifying hatred and violence; applauds the policies of such firms as Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and eBay which prohibit the sale of such items; recognises that such sales are banned in France, Germany, Austria and Hungary; and calls on the Government to bring in immediate regulation and control of this abhorrent trade.


UPDATE – 20th March 2012

I’m pleased to reveal that the chairman of Dreweatts, Steffan Ludwig, has written to me to say that the firm has now decided to change its policy and will no longer be including any items associated with the holocaust in future sales of WW2 and Nazi memorabilia.  Dreweatts will also be making a donation to the Holocaust Education Trust.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Kevin Yorke permalink
    March 17, 2012 7:42 am


  2. rosemary permalink
    March 17, 2012 5:08 pm

    I should have thought this a matter of personal taste, Stephen, rather than legislation, like the question of whether to visit a concentration camp while on holiday or not. When I went to Cracow, I thought it in bad taste, but my companions didn’t, and they went to Auschwitz in the daytime before rejoining me for dinner. When I passed Mauthausen on another trip, I still felt the same, as did my Jewish companion. We didn’t think it the right context in which to make a visit, which might have been suitable as a special pilgrimage, but the other two in the party were quite happy to include it in the tour’s schedule.

    I remember a lot of National Socialist paraphernalia being sold in Lower Park Row when I was young, but I don’t remember anyone wanting to regulate it. We were brought up not speaking of the horrors of the second world war. The idea of our parents was that we should put it behind us, and make a fresh start with our erstwhile enemies. My grandmother had been bombed out, my aunt nearly killed. My father had been a prisoner for the whole of the war, missing presumed dead, as had other people’s fathers. So this reticence seemed polite and sensitive, as well as positive for the future. And there were the refugees to consider, with their own unspoken memories.

    When I grew up, I realized there was a whole industry catering for this fascination with the National Socialists, that I had never encountered or conceived of, and it disgusted me. Films, books, jokes, plays, programmes, talks, tours…I still don’t understand it. Even if you wanted to regulate it, how would you, and where would you start?

    “Redeeming social importance” is the weasel phrase that comes to mind – from Tom Lehrer.
    I think, too, of the Austrians imprisoning one of our historians

  3. March 19, 2012 10:57 am

    I think you’re over reacting on this one a bit. I can understand the EDM is to provoke discussion but banning the trade will force it underground, and the awareness raised by these sales would fade.
    It was common for surviving ww2 vets to bring stuff back. Some of them sold the items along with their own campaign medals because they were so poorly looked after by the state as they still do now. It’s not promoting or glorifying hatred and violence, these items appear due to the bravery of those who fought against the fascists.
    Years ago a veteran of battles throughout the war showed me his artifacts. Luger, dress dagger and swastica banner. No distasteful shrine for him, just a box under the bed. If he chose to sell them to pay his heating bills then good luck to him.

  4. rosemary permalink
    March 19, 2012 12:02 pm

    Yes, Sacredspring, you have homed right in on the other serious point here: people’s individual motives. Motive can’t be policed, any more than taste, though our so-called “hate laws” pretend it can. The strangely fascinated people I encountered in my grownup life and was recalling above (for what it is worth, they tended to be, in my experience, rather camp men of a leftish, pacifist, hue: I don’t remember ever coming across a female reveller in the cult) had grown up after the war. They hadn’t been part of the tragedy themselves, though it shaped their world, and they weren’t Jewish. But there are people still alive today who went through it all, not just decorated veterans and ex POWs, but survivors of the camps. Who knows who is buying and selling, and to what end? In the future there may be a trade in legendary quasi sacred relics, just as there has always been. I don’t see how it can be regulated then or now.

  5. March 19, 2012 6:48 pm

    Just to reiterate what I thought was clear from my article – I am not calling for the end of any market in WW2/Nazi memorabilia like uniform badges, helmets, medals, flags and so on. I understand the interest in these items, though don’t share it. But I do object to the sale for profit of personal items of holocaust victims. That is a quite different sphere of interest. How would people react if items of clothing or personal effects of recent high profile murder victims were put up for sale?

  6. rosemary permalink
    March 19, 2012 7:17 pm

    Yes, Stephen, it was clear in your original piece, but thanks for reiterating it. What isn’t clear is how you would police the collection of what you called personal effects and I referred to as relics. Bits of the True Cross, Charles I’s clothes from the scaffold, and other memorabilia like them, right down to the present day: these have all been sold. People react in different ways to that.

  7. Debra permalink
    April 5, 2012 6:04 pm

    I agree with Rosemary and SacredSpring, The selling any buying of these items should be a matter of personal taste not legislation. I think that you have over reacted.

  8. Gerry. permalink
    April 7, 2012 5:56 pm

    Stephen and his lefty buddies want dominion over the populatiions very thoughts and opinions. This is what scares me.

    • May 26, 2012 1:17 pm

      Nicolette, I like what you say about your own sister using (or raehtr abusing) the system and having tattoos etc raehtr than it helping her children. I believe that the welfare system needs an overhaul. There must be a new way of somewhat earning what people receive as welfare type help. It gives them some dignity and also some responsibility, as well as help keep down the outright free-loaders for the sake of being lazy. I do not like that in anyone. I hope for something that will benefit people and also not unnecessarily hamper on those that provide the funding for the help. I feel if someone really does need help they will benefit by being required to do something in return. Volunteer work of some kind maybe to help even more people let the good works flow on. I think everyone has something to offer and it could be done. Anyone unwilling to have some responsibility in earning what they get for welfare probably isn’t in enough true need and shouldn’t get it. Of course there are those that just can’t do anything. Truly disabled and must rely on others for their survival. I would never expect them to be required the same kind of actions to have help but I still feel they have things to offer that would benefit others. Their own friendship, personality, something .I feel it a terrible attitude for anyone to go to any country illegally and expect to be treated as they didn’t do something wrong. It is breaking the law. I do not like that. It is cheating, which is not the way to do things. I wouldn’t expect to be treated nicely if I was a stow away on someone else’s space, car, property or country. I do have compassion and feel badly though too. It could be so much easier for the process if it was updated. Decades to do things right is not a good way. The children of those who came illegally are in a hard spot. It was not their doing that got them here, but it can lead to more illegal things because of lack of social security numbers, paperwork identity theft, etc. Something does need to change but also not make it a slap in the face to those who have been working for so long to come legally. Put those who have been waiting at the front of the list. Rush them first make the process less complicated. Background check If you are a hard criminal, dangerous, drug dealer, etc .great reason to be rejected. For those decent people, get your pass quickly and not have to wish for a visa lottery. Everyone can start paying into the same system that we are supposed to be to help maintain this country, the roads, police, water treatment, etc. For those who came totally illegally (not that they stayed longer than papers were good for), maybe add on some extra things to become legal’. A monetary fine of automatic withholding from paychecks until it is completely paid. Something significant enough to truly be a fine and a punishment, but not totally devastating either. Those coming legally have their huge share of expenses. Any fines shouldn’t be a small percentage compared to what it would have taken doing things properly before any changes in laws.Everyone is equal and does deserve respect as a human. However, it is harder to respect a person at times if they don’t respect themselves enough to follow rules and take the high road like everyone else is expected to. Lying and cheating the system are convenient especially for those who feel trapped. If our system wasn’t so archaic, it wouldn’t be so hard for people to be here legally like it is now and we would have a lot less of the problem we currently do.

  9. John Hodgson permalink
    April 10, 2012 9:47 am

    Thanks for this important action. You are right to take this stand. A most important freedom is freedom from being subject to socially accepted fear and hate.

  10. Chris permalink
    April 12, 2012 6:11 pm

    I’m always somewhat sceptical – and indeed nervous – about any immediate gut reaction to legislate on grounds of personal taste. I too found the sale of these items to be distasteful, and on the face of it, it does seem perfectly reasonable to want to stop the personal effects of holocaust victims being sold for profit but I’m not convinced that legislation is either needed or desirable. I have no interest in the hobby of collecting militaria (helmets, medals, uniforms etc), but can appreciate that, for those who wish to do so, the buying and selling of such items originating from the Nazi regime is quite legitimate. The personal effects of murdered civilians seems a different matter, but there will be some effects that will have a genuine historic interest – would a ban apply to items such as Ann Franks diary? Where will the lines be drawn: would this extend to the personal effects of those who perished on the Titanic? Will it apply to museum and library collections? How far back in time will it extend? Whose definitions of taste will determine what can and cannot be bought and sold?

    • April 14, 2012 1:49 pm

      Chris these are all valid points and show how hard it is to draw up precise legislation. My article is purely about the sale for profit of artefacts connected to victims of the holocaust. An extension could be made to the victim’s of Stalin’s gulags or victims of Chairman Mao. But I’m not opposed to sales of military artefacts. I’ve also said clearly (I hope!) that museums, research institutes etc are different to private collectors. I don’t think Titanic victims is a correct comparison to the holocaust, which was hardly accidental. I hope the auction houses themselves will self police this area – many of them do so already. My actions have provoked a debate within the trade, which is not a bad outcome.

      • Chris permalink
        April 23, 2012 5:38 pm

        Stephen, in using the example of the Titanic I was thinking of all those who have met tragic and untimely deaths in circumstances that have historic significance, the sale of whose personal effects is likely to attract interest and might be considered by many to be distasteful. I think trying to legislate on grounds of taste in one specific context is likely to open the doors wide for others. Why not save the legal restrictions for circumstances were actual harm might be done, rather than try to use the law to enforce one’s personal viewpoint on a matter of taste? I am growing increasingly apprehensive at what appears to be a growing trend: if you don’t like something – ban it. Trying to force one’s views on others in this way seems to me to be intolerant and not in keeping with what I like to think is an open and tolerant society. I think legislators should be more circumspect before rushing to the statute book.

      • Peter permalink
        September 23, 2012 3:43 pm

        Well i would like to stick my 2p worth in.
        I am a collector of Third Reich items.These range from badges from the 3 military wings.Airforce,Navy ,and Army.By the way these were non-polotical.
        Armbands forien awards for service Hitler Youth items and a good collection of medals and badges for Women .
        Yes almoust all of these items carry the swasticker.I as do most other collectors of these items do not get all carried away by the swasticker.
        We leave this to idiots like the BMP NF Combat 18 and the new boys on the block EDL.
        These pieces are highley interesting and very collectible.I have about a dozen close collector friends and not 1 not 1 are or have been into any of these stupid movements.
        Some collect because the item is rare some collect because the diffrent makers.Just because i may have a set of cap insignia from a polotical cap,dosent meen i like to goosestep up and down in my house carrying a swasticker and planning the 4th Reich.
        Some people over react to a lot of things.
        NOW READ THIS.None of my friends would be interested in buying Star of David armbands .Or lampshades made of skin from inmates.
        Why ,well its not why we collect .We like to learn and understand the past.When we have looked into an item to the full ie history makers ,how it was awarded.Many like to move onto another item.This will involve selling the item to pay for the next one.
        To call me a Nazi lover is a bloody insult.My wife is coloured and i have a mixed race child.
        You will always find a sicko in every walk of life.No one wants to bann items from Starlins rule,hypocrisy.
        Ban items from the camps Yes i agree but it will only send it underground and thats where you will find the nutters.
        Sorry if this seames like a rant but we are not Nazis but lovers of history.How far do these people go whats next all that is roman .Dont forger how many thousands they killed for fun.
        Come on grow up freedom of speach and the right to do what you want to do .To dictate about a dictator thats funney.Thanks for your time best regards Pete

        It is common fact he and his hench men murdered millions more than the Nazis ever did.But they were on our side so that was ok .Bloody hypocrisy

  11. Peter Heaney permalink
    April 21, 2012 11:23 am

    As a former teacher of German and someone who is familiar with the German scene (but more in the past than the present), I agree with Stephan’s view in this matter. Visiting former concentration camps whilst on holiday is a different kettle of fish and based on personal decision. I must say that visiting Auschwitz and Dachau were part of my education. They do not necessarily show how/why man can be so cruel to his fellow beings but they do testify to something that has happened – and possibly happens elsewhere in the world.

    • Dave1987 permalink
      August 26, 2012 2:51 pm

      I would say visiting a concentration camp is a must for everyone in the developed world to remind ourselves that it must not happen again.

  12. Dave1987 permalink
    August 26, 2012 2:46 pm

    I am currently spending the werkend working at military odyssey in kent. This is my first close contact with this deplorable trade and I have to say that I am right behind this. Walking around the covered trading area makes me feel sick to my stomach. All that nazi weaponary, insignia and kit. The feeling isn’t helped by the large number of people walking about the place in full SS/german army uniforms. The problem I far worse than I ever could have imagined. If I had the money I would buy the lot, cover it in fuel and send it straight back to hell. At one stall I found a case of SS gear belonging to the battalion stationed at Copenhagen. My granny was evacuated from Copenhagen after her family were added to the nazi hit list and systematically murdered. She is the only surviving member. I stared at that bayonet thinking maybe it was that weapon that did the job. Rarley in life have I experienced that much anger and hatred. There is no place for this rubbish in our modern society. I really hope something comes of your efforts. Send it all to landfill where it belongs.

  13. Darrell English permalink
    May 28, 2015 12:05 pm

    I’ve spent my whole life since age 5 collecting Nazi Artifacts and have built a museum around my collection.


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