A booming market for Nazi artifacts and Hitler-inspired baubles — Naziphilia, if you will — has sprung up in the United States, enabling shameless entrepreneurs to enrich themselves from the detritus of a regime that murdered millions.These profiteers ought to be shunned by polite society.Take, for example, Alexander Historical Auctions, of Stamford, Conn., and its affiliate Alexander Autographs, which advertises “militaria, historic letters, manuscripts, documents and relics in all fields of collecting.”Among the toxic items featured in one of these outfits’ more recent auction catalogs:*A birthday note from Adolf Hitler to a presumably Aryan “dear and gracious lady.”*The signed receipt for the SS Totenkopf (death head) ring of Juergen Stroop, the Gestapo officer who oversaw the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.*A December 1943 holiday message from SS Obergruppenfuehrer (Lieutenant General) Gottlob Berger to the head of Hitler’s euthanasia program.*The “service contract” of an SS officer, signed by SS chief Heinrich Himmler.*A postcard signed by Hitler’s sister Paula, in 1959.*Lovely signed photographic portraits, perfect gifts for the neo- or crypto-Nazi in one’s life, of not only Hitler (an “extraordinary, very early” 1924 portrait, as well as a more run-of-the-mill 1935 snapshot), but a succession of prominent Nazis, including the racial ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, Third Reich youth leader Baldur von Schirach and Gertrude Scholtz-Klink, head of the Nazi Women’s League.Who buys this garbage?People like Marc Garlasco, who was forced to resign last year as a military analyst at Human Rights Watch after he was outed as both the author of a 430-page book on Nazi war paraphernalia and an avid collector of Nazi relics. In a blog, Garlasco wrote: “The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”Or like the Iron Cross-wearing British heavy-metal musician Lemmy, who explains that “by collecting Nazi memorabilia, it doesn’t mean I’m a fascist or a skinhead . . . I just liked the clobber.”Yet Bill Panagopulos, who runs Alexander Historical Auctions, argues not only that he is just a legitimate businessman out to make a buck but also that he performs a legitimate social function. His purpose, he protested self-righteously after I excoriated him for auctioning off the journals of the notorious SS “doctor” Josef Mengele, who sent untold hundreds of thousands of Jews, my aunt among them, to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, is “not about money, it’s not about condemnation of Nazi’s [sic] families, it’s not about profit, and it’s not about military collectors . . . it’s about not forgetting.”Is he kidding?Profiting from genocide isn’t illegal in America, but that doesn’t make it any less reprehensible.Comparing Hitler to Thomas Jefferson, Panagopulos wants us to ignore the basic difference between Nazi memorabilia and other historical artifacts.“As despicable a character as Hitler was,” Panagopulos writes, “is he not a legitimate historical figure? Should people not offer for sale Mao or Stalin? Confederate leaders and generals? President Jefferson, who was a slave holder? There is ‘good’ history and there is ‘bad’ history, and if we ignore the ‘bad’ we are opening the door to have it repeated.”Nazi-memorabilia market-makers and their customers must be ostracized. Contrary to Panagopulos’ protestations, it’s all about money — and sleaze.
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.