Jewish group calls for 'disgusting' online sale of Nazi-era items to be stopped
Auction house near Aylmer, Ont., selling items that include swastikas, Hitler's image
An international Jewish group is calling on an Ontario auction house to stop the online sale of scores of German items from the Second World War, many adorned with swastikas and some bearing the image of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Shackelton Auctions, near Aylmer, Ont., posted an online sale this week of 1,200 items of military memorabilia from a private estate sale.
But among the Royal Canadian Legion berets, ration cards and war bond posters are about 100 objects from Nazi-era Germany, including Hitler youth daggers and postcards with Hitler's image — along with flags, medals and armbands, many emblazoned with swastikas. There are also cast iron busts of Hitler, German officers' swords and toys of German armour and soldiers.
Most of the items already have bids in the auction, which is set to end on Aug. 18.
The auction's web page includes a statement that says the items "do not represent the views or opinions of Shackelton Auctions or Sackrider Auctions or their staff."
But Jaime Kirzner-Roberts of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said the auction should be stopped. She's also calling for laws that would make the sale of such items illegal in Canada.
"Our position is that it's disgusting and unacceptable that people should be buying and selling relics of murder and genocide," she said. "We find it very difficult to imagine any legitimate reason why someone would want to possess them."
CBC News contacted Shackelton owner and auctioneer Mike Shackelton about the sale. He said while he sympathizes with those concerned about the items being sold, he will not take them off the auction block.
'I do have mixed emotions on selling these items, but the sale is going forward.- Auctioneer Mike Shackelton
"I do have mixed emotions on selling these items, but the sale is going forward, and it's our hope that these items land in the right hands," he said.
"It is our hope that that these items do go to museums or to groups that are going to do the right thing. That will help us remember history so that these things don't happen again."
No control over who buys them
Kirzner-Roberts, director of the centre's Campaign Against Antisemitism, said a huge concern is that the objects could be sold to extremists and sympathizers of a regime that murdered six million Jews.
Another worry, she said, is that speculators could profit from the sale of items associated with genocide. She's not in favour of destroying the items but wants to ensure they go to a place where they can be shown in a historical context as a way to educate people.
"These items should be given to an educational institution or museum where the public can make use of these items as tools for learning about the horrors of racism and genocide," Kirzner-Roberts said.
When asked if he would identify the buyers of the items, Shackelton said he doesn't want to violate his clients' privacy.
He said the objects are from the private estate of a man from Oshawa, Ont., who was a "major collector" of everything from coins and toys to old advertising posters and gas pumps. This is the fourth auction of items Shackelton has sold for the man's estate but the first of military items.
The collector was a regular buyer at auctions and antique sales, and Shackelton said he doesn't believe the man held pro-Nazi views.
Anticipating opposition to the sale before it went online this week, Shackelton said he raised with the collector's family the possibility of donating the items, but they opted to go ahead with the auction because that's what the owner of the items wanted.
Shackelton couldn't say how much commission his company will collect on the auction but that 15 or 20 per cent of the final sale price is typical in the industry.
No laws against selling Nazi items
Jonathan Vance, a professor at Western University in London, Ont., who teaches military history, said there are no laws in Canada governing the sale of items like this but that there is a big market for it.
Like Kirzner-Roberts, he said he'd like to see the objects sold to a museum but admitted that doesn't always happen.
"It's just as likely, or maybe even more likely, it's sold to someone who's got a Nazi shrine in their basement and lots of money to fill it," he said. "And that's a concern because we know that right-wing politics are on the rise right now. And this sort of historical stuff is highly in demand. Mostly for the wrong reasons."
Vance there are laws in some parts of Europe that prohibit the sale of Nazi items.
This sort of historical stuff is highly in demand. Mostly for the wrong reasons.- Western University history professor Jonathan Vance
Kirzner-Roberts said her group is often contacted by people who find Nazi-era artifacts in attics and closets, and it works with them to find a museum willing to take them.
She said her group doesn't typically speak out about the sale of small lots of Nazi items, which pop up from time to time at flea markets and online auctions, but "this is the biggest sale of material like this I've ever seen."
In its policy on offensive materials, the online auction site eBay prohibits the sale of "historical Holocaust-related and Nazi-related items, including reproductions." Any item that bears a swastika or is identified as Nazi propaganda also can't be sold on eBay.
In February, a Montreal auction site took down an online auction after a similar outcry. The items were returned to the owner, along with suggestions about where they could be donated.