If you really want to despise someone, look no further than Stamford, Conn., where you can find Basil (Bill) Panagopulos, who runs Alexander Historical Auctions. This outfit prides itself in its Facebook entry as being “one of the world’s premier auctioneers of militaria [sic], historic letters, manuscripts, documents and relics in all fields of collecting.” The good Panagopulos also peddles Nazi memorabilia.Among the items he is offering for sale today are “the hidden journals of Dr. Josef Mengele,” with an estimated price tag of between $300,000 and $400,000. Mengele, you may recall, was the SS “doctor” who ran selections for the gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, where he also conducted terminal medical experiments on inmates. Among his victims was my mother’s sister, whom he sent to her death in April 1944.”One day,” my mother wrote, “a young woman was late for roll call outside her barrack. Mengele ordered her to come forward, knocked her to the ground, and put his boot on her chest. Humming an aria from Madame Butterfly, he kept his foot there until she was dead. He showed the SS men a new way of killing.”So what precisely is Alexander Historical Auctions hawking? The “historically important” Lot 4, according to the auctionhouse’s website, consists of “31 autograph manuscripts, approx. 3,380+ pp. in various formats, largely bound journals . . . some illustrated.” The content of these journals: reminiscences, ponderings on eugenics, “philosophical and introspective writings,” poems and travelogues. Who cares? The ramblings of a sadistic sociopath who murdered thousands more than Osama Bin Laden ever did should not be allowed to yield a small fortune in profits to the anonymous consignor – with a healthy commission to Panagopulos, of course.Moreover, the lucky purchaser will “own the copyright to materials contained within the lot” together with the consignor until Dec. 31, 2035. Say what? Yup, the seller of this garbage, presumably richer to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars after today’s auction, will retain the “co-exclusive right to use copies of any and all writings in this lot in any documentary or film about Josef Mengele or any direct relative of Josef Mengele.”But wait, there’s more.Lot 5 is an “extremely rare and revealing page full of pencil drawings in Mengele’s hand, some captioned, undertaken while he was in hiding in South America, ca. 1970. Among the sketches is a four-legged hideously-toothed beast at upper-right, a smiling cyclops, a car shown between two collapsing buildings, a Lutheran priest complaining about taxes,” and so on. The estimated price for this gem is between $7,000 and $9,000. Pardon me while I puke.And just in case you’re a bit squeamish and Mengele is not up your alley, Alexander Historical Auctions will gladly sell you a handsome signed and dated 1924 photograph of Adolf Hitler himself (Lot 1, estimated price: $15,000 to $18,000); a handwritten birthday greeting from the Fuhrer to a presumably Aryan “gracious lady” (Lot 7, price tag: $10,000 to $12,000) or, for the budget-conscious neo- or crypto-Nazi, a postcard signed by Hitler’s sister Paula valued at a measly $200 to $300.This is not the first time Panagopulos has played in the big leagues. In February of last year, he claimed that he had sold another Mengele journal to the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor who was going to donate it to a Holocaust museum. At the time, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants condemned the sale as “a cynical act of exploitation aimed at profiting from the writings of one of the most heinous Nazi criminals.” Nothing has changed – except, apparently, the magnitude of the outrage.Let’s be clear. While selling child pornography is a criminal act, establishing a market for signed Mengele manuscripts is perfectly legal, in this country at least.But the same First Amendment that allows Panagopulos and his ilk to abet the glorification of Nazism allows the rest of us to expose and ostracize the purveyors of such obscenities.Do Mengele’s disgusting affects have some historical value? Certainly.And Panagopulos apparently offered to sell the journals to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial. Key word there: sell. Apparently, the museum made the very sound judgment that such artifacts should not be traded for financial gain. Obviously. Which is why the online auction site eBay prohibits the sale of Nazi memorabilia, as does Yahoo! Panagopulos has no such qualms. If we as a society boycott Iran, the least we can do is boycott him and the other lowlife profiteers he enables.
(Rosensaft, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School, is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.)