Thriving Nazi Memorabilia Auction Business Highlights ‘Perversity’ of Collectors, ADL’s Foxman Says
The market for Nazi memorabilia is estimated to generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Signs of a global surge of interest abound; Ebay now has a policy section dedicated to it and the satirical newspaper The Onion has even spoofed it.
The twisted niche entered the mainstream in the U.S. when Bill Panagopulos’s auction house, Alexander Auctions, then located in Stamford, Connecticut, sold journals written by concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele during his exile in South America. Now Panagopulos has resurfaced, this time near Washington D.C, and his business is doing better than ever.
Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, told The Algemeiner, “Nazi memorabilia is best understood in context, and we would prefer to see it permanently housed in a museum on the Holocaust.”
“Yes, there are legitimate collectors of war memorabilia, but the last thing we would want is to see Nazi memorabilia wind up in the hands of those who would use it to glorify racism, prejudice or bigotry,” Foxman said.
Earlier this week 1,300 lots — the vast majority containing World War II memorabilia — worth several hundred thousand dollars went on sale at Panagopulos’s auction house. Among the items: a letter from SS chief Heinrich Himmler, sending his mistress “a very special lovely kiss,” in 1942; a map of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp; Julius Streicher’s anti-Semitic children’s books; and papers documenting the deportation of Jews in 1943.
Nazi relics make up 35 to 40 percent of the auction house’s business, Panagopulos told The Washington Post. “Nazi sells,” Panagopulos said. “I would sell Hitler’s mustache,” he joked. He told The Post that the contribution of Nazi objects to his overall earnings has increased over the past few years, partly because of the enduring presence of World War II themes in television shows, films and books.
Panagopulos denied that he provides material to those who glorify Nazis. He told The Post: “My clients are not neo-Nazis — they would have neither the intelligence nor the money to buy that kind of material.” He claimed that some of the most active dealers in Third Reich material are Jewish, including the collector who bought the diaries of Josef Mengele, the physician known as the “Angel of Death” for the atrocities he committed while at the Auschwitz concentration camp, for $300,000 in 2011.
“There are a lot of people who collect Nazi stuff for the wrong reasons,” Foxman told The Algemeiner. “The swastika certainly has its place in historical archives. But if the collector is just focused on Nazi material, then what does that say about them? There is a lot of stuff associated with World War II. Are they also collecting Soviet material? In other words, are they really a World War II collector? If all they collect is Nazi stuff, then I think it’s perverse.”
This sentiment hasn’t resonated with people looking to score rare Nazi objects. Following the auction, Panagopulos told The Cecil Daily, “We had a strong auction, selling about 90 percent of the 1,300 lots.”
Asked why there was such strong response, Panagopulos was blunt in his estimation: “People are drawn to evil.”