The Warsaw ghetto in Poland today made headlines with regards to a national controversy. Artist Maurizio Cattelan has created a statue of Adolf Hitler kneeling in prayer and placed it in the ghetto. The statue that is only visible from one of the ghetto’s gates has been created in conjunction with an exhibit at the center of contemporary art in Warsaw and has received heavy criticism from the Simon Wiesenthal center. The incident made me wander, who would pay for such a statue to be made? And who is interested in buying Nazi items today?
Hitler, who is famous for being one of history’s most ruthless dictators, is also known for being the most famous person in history not to get into art school. The dictator was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, both times due to his perceived lack of talent. His paintings however are still being bought. Last year the painting entitled “Maritime Nocturno” sold for a sum of $12,000 in an auction house in Slovakia. Many other paintings by Hitler are being purchased in locations such as New Jersey and Kansas City, where you can buy a postcard size Hitler painting for $5000 and larger pieces for around $40,000.
Another type of Nazi artwork, are paintings stolen by the Nazis in World War 2, which is considered to be the largest theft of art in history. Between the years of 1939 to 1944, the Nazis stole thousands of paintings worth millions of Dollars. Paintings by the likes of Monet, Van Goch and Picasso were stolen when the Nazis occupied France. Most of the artwork was presumed to have been either destroyed or taken as trophies by the Soviet Army. But now a new online database has been created in conjunction with The US Holocaust Museum to reunite these artworks with their original owners.
Artwork that the Nazis stole causes all sorts of issues. For example, Andrew Lloyd Webber recently put a painting done by Picasso for sale at the handsome fee of 40 million pounds. Lloyd Webber had bought the painting in 1995 but then had an auction where he intended to sell the painting halted. The reason why it was halted was due to a German Jewish Professor claiming that the painting was owned by his family, who were forced to sell the painting to the Nazis. Lloyd Webber was eventually allowed to sell the painting but the case highlights some of the complexities of selling Nazi items today.
Internet giants EBAY have banned the sale of Nazi artifacts. Initially EBAY issued a warning to its users not to sell Nazi artifacts to users coming from France, Germany, Austria and Italy, due to legalities regarding purchasing these items in those countries. Following this, EBAY finally banned anyone from purchasing the Nazi items as part of its efforts to not sell anything related to hate groups, which includes items from the KKK. The ban came as a reaction to a similar YAHOO ban. A French judge had enforced a ban on Yahoo by sentencing YAHOO to a $13,000 fine for every day that it sold Nazi items to French citizens.
Back to my question of, who would buy Nazi items today? There are collectors who still value the items very highly and are not embarrassed to show their collection online. One such collector is Kevin Mackey. Kevin who served for the US Navy, collects belt buckles, pocket watches and other items that were used by the Nazi’s. According to Kevin, with World War Two veterans dying off, Nazi items that the veterans had brought back with them from the war are becoming available on the market. Kevin, actually makes an interesting case for why he had bought these items. Kevin purchased them in order to refute Iranian claims that the holocaust never occurred. This seems like a very noble reason for purchasing and brings a different angle to the debate as to whether these items should be available for sale.
Unfortunately not all collectors are as noble as Kevin. In Eastern Europe, thousands of graves of German soldiers were robbed recently, due to a demand for Nazi memorabilia. Organized gangs have been digging up the graves in search of dog tags, rifles, daggers and helmets. The items have been stolen in order to sell to British buyers from Britain, where it is still legal to buy them.
It seems to me that the question of whether the items are available to purchase is not the real question. We should be more concerned primarily with who the buyers are? and why they are buying?