History or hate?

Sales of Hitler’s pos­ses­sions and other Nazi ar­ti­facts cre­ate a back­lash

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Ian Shapira

He has auc­tioned the jour­nals of Nazi death camp doc­tor Josef Men­gele for $300,000, Adolf Hitler’s tele­phone from the Fuhrerbunker for $243,000 and Hitler’s ring fea­tur­ing a swastika made of 16 ru­bies for more than $65,000.

And just be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, a Hitler-in­scribed pro­pa­ganda pho­to­graph that shows the ar­chi­tect of the Holo­caust hug­ging a Ger­man girl of Jewish her­itage went for more than $11,000.

Big money abounds in the Nazi ar­ti­fact mar­ket, and Basil “Bill” Panagop­u­los, founder of Alexan­der His­tor­i­cal Auc­tions in Mary­land, is the trade’s un­abashed pro­moter.

But at a time of grow­ing an­tiSemitism and white na­tion­al­ism, the buy­ing and sell­ing of Hitler’s be­long­ings and other Third Re­ich tchotchkes — in­clud­ing coun­ter­feits — is stir­ring up the same kind of de­bate that has dogged dis­plays of Con­fed­er­ate flags and Civil War stat­ues.

Which items of the past are worth keep­ing? Which spoils of war should be pre­served? And which sym­bols of ha­tred are bet­ter off con­signed to history’s trash heap?

On­line giants like Face­book and eBay, along with Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have come down hard against the sale of Nazi ar­ti­facts, curb­ing or ban­ning their sale.

Right af­ter the sale of the Hitler photo in Mary­land, an­other sale this month in Aus­tralia of some 75 Nazi ar­ti­facts kicked up a na­tional con­tro­versy and prompted a re­buke from the lo­cal Anti-Defama­tion Com­mis­sion.

Still, the de­mand for these ob­jects is in­ten­si­fy­ing, ac­cord­ing to Terry Kovel, co-founder of a 51year-old an­nual price guide for an­tiques and mem­o­ra­bilia.

“The mar­ket for his­toric Nazi mem­o­ra­bilia is def­i­nitely grow­ing,” she said. “A lot of peo­ple are afraid the whole Nazi thing has been for­got­ten, and they want to show what was go­ing on. More of it is com­ing out of hid­ing, too, be­cause so much of the ma­te­rial came home with sol­diers who are get­ting to the age of dy­ing, and their fam­i­lies are sell­ing it off.”

though not all, have de­nounced these sales. Haim Gert­ner, the archives di­rec­tor of Yad Vashem, Is­rael’s lead­ing Holo­caust me­mo­rial, said some of Hitler’s per­sonal items are worth sav­ing, es­pe­cially if the own­ers of Nazi ar­ti­facts be­lieve that the ma­te­rial and anti-Semitic history should never be for­got­ten.

But sell­ing these ar­ti­facts to the high­est bid­der, he said, “is in­cor­rect and even im­moral.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Si­mon Wiesen­thal Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les, said some Hitler or Nazi party doc­u­ments or ob­jects should be pre­served, par­tic­u­larly their writ­ings re­veal­ing their mur­der­ous aims.

But he said other Nazi mem­o­ra­bilia — much of which were smug­gled out of Ger­many by Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers — merely in­flate the dic­ta­tor’s mys­tique and em­bolden anti-Semites.

“The Hitler salute is com­ing back in this coun­try, and big­ots get their nour­ish­ment from see­ing things like this photo and the girl,” Hier said. “Peo­ple will see that photo and say, ‘Maybe Hitler had a good side to him’ and ‘Don’t judge him so badly.’ ”

But Panagop­u­los, 60, whose auc­tion house is based 100 miles north­east of Washington, D.C., said the mar­ket is be­ing driven by World War II movies, doc­u­men­taries and end­less seg­ments on the History Chan­nel, once de­rided as “The Hitler Chan­nel.”

Many buy­ers of the ex­pen­sive, head­line-gen­er­at­ing Nazi mem­o­ra­bilia are Jewish.

One of them is Michael Bul­mash, 74, a re­tired Jewish clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist from Delaware. He has spent the last two decades buy­ing Holo­caust ma­te­rial, a siz­able por­tion from Alexan­der His­tor­i­cal Auc­tions. He has do­nated ev­ery­thing — in­clud­ing chil­dren’s books pub­lished by the anti-Semitic pub­lisher Julius Stre­icher and an old back is­sue of Stre­icher’s news­pa­per, Der Sturmer — to his alma mater, Kenyon Col­lege in Ohio, for the Bul­mash Fam­ily Holo­caust Col­lec­tion.

“It’s all about get­ting this stuff out in peo­ple’s faces,” Bul­mash said, “es­pe­cially when you had neoNazis march­ing in Char­lottesville and the pres­i­dent of the United States cre­at­ing a false equiv­a­lence be­tween what neo-Nazis were do­ing and what the peo­ple who were try­ing to stop them were do­ing.”

An­other Panagop­u­los client, Howard Co­hen, 68, a re­tired Jewish op­tometrist in Pitts­burgh, keeps all kinds of “anti-Semit­ica” from Nazi Ger­many in his home, in­clud­ing a Der Sturmer ash­tray fea­tur­ing a car­i­ca­ture of a hooknosed Jew he got for about $2,000. He hides the ma­te­rial in draw­ers or boxes, so no house­guest would ever see them. His wife and adult chil­dren do not nec­es­sar­ily ap­prove or un­der­stand, he said. se­ri­ous history buffs, Panagop­u­los said, not skin­heads or white na­tion­al­ists. “Skin­heads don’t have the means for it, and, even if they did have the means, they would have no his­tor­i­cal ap­pre­ci­a­tion for it,” Panagop­u­los said. “I’m not some knuck­le­head, blood-drool­ing neo-Nazi. My wife is Jewish. Her mother is an ortho­dox Jew. Her fa­ther is a Jew. And my fa­ther’s home­town in Greece was wiped out by Ger­mans in World War II.”

But the im­age of Hitler res­onates with ex­trem­ists.

James Fields Jr. — a self-pro­fessed neo-Nazi con­victed of first­de­gree mur­der on Dec. 7 for driv­ing his car into a crowd of coun­ter­protesters in Char­lottesville, killing one woman and wound­ing 35 oth­ers — texted his mother a meme of Hitler when she urged him to be care­ful at the “Unite the Right” rally.

“We’re not the one who need (sic) to be care­ful,” Fields told her.

Panagop­u­los es­tab­lished his auc­tion house in Stam­ford, Conn., in 1991, first spe­cial­iz­ing in far less in­cen­di­ary fare: a lock of Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln’s hair, or pres­i­den­tial au­to­graphs. Then, about eight years ago, he got into Third Re­ich mem­o­ra­bilia.

His first at­ten­tion-get­ters were two sets of Men­gele jour­nals. In 2010, he sold one note­book for close to $50,000 to an ortho­dox Jew whose grand­mother sur­vived Auschwitz.

But the Amer­i­can Gath­er­ing of Jewish Holo­caust Sur­vivors and Their De­scen­dants or­ga­ni­za­tion found the sale dis­gust­ing and asked Richard Blu­men­thal, then Con­necti­cut’s still at­tor­ney gen­eral, to in­ves­ti­gate its au­then­tic­ity.

“I sym­pa­thize with their re­vul­sion re­gard­ing the ap­par­ent profit from this jour­nal,” Blu­men­thal said in a state­ment at the time.

Spokes­men for Blu­men­thal and the Holo­caust sur­vivors group said they do not re­call whether a probe was ever launched.

the re­main­der of Men­gele’s jour­nals, for $300,000. The buyer was also a Jew, Panagop­u­los said. But the sale still gen­er­ated a back­lash.

“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,” be­gan an op-ed in the New York Daily News by an Amer­i­can Gath­er­ing ex­ec­u­tive.

Un­de­terred, Panagop­u­los con­tin­ued sell­ing all man­ner of para­pher­na­lia: a cache of med­i­cal doc­u­ments show­ing the fuhrer suf­fered from flat­u­lence and was in­jected with an ex­tract of bull tes­ti­cles to jump-start his li­bido; an ar­chive of let­ters, po­etry and school pa­pers of Nazi pro­pa­ganda chief Joseph Goebbels; and a U.S. Army in­ter­roga­tor’s notes of his in­ter­view with Hitler’s doc­tors that re­vealed Hitler took fe­male hor­mones.

In 2014, af­ter Panagop­u­los moved the auc­tion house to Ch­e­sa­peake City, Md., he sold per­haps his gris­li­est item: a blood­stained scrap of fab­ric from the sofa where Hitler shot him­self on April 30, 1945. The win­ning bid: $18,000. He kept an­other piece for him­self but does not dis­play it.

“Strange, isn’t it? Why would some­one keep this?” he asked, clutch­ing the cloth. “But what a rar­ity!”

Al­though Panagop­u­los is a proud spokesman for his trade, many oth­ers who deal in Nazi ma­te­rial are far more se­cre­tive.

Case in point: both the con­signor and the buyer of the photo show­ing Hitler hug­ging Rosa Bernile Nienau, a girl of Jewish de­scent. Hitler’s close friend Hein­rich Hoff­mann pho­tographed Hitler with many chil­dren and made mul­ti­ple prints of the same photos, which were dis­trib­uted across Ger­many.

But Hitler liked Nienau so much — they shared the same birthday, April 20 — that she earned the moniker “the Führer’s child” and she called him “Un­cle Hitler.”

As is cus­tom in the auc­tion world, Panagop­u­los de­clined to re­veal the iden­ti­ties of his clients. At The Washington Post’s re­quest, Panagop­u­los asked the top bid­der of the photo, who lives in Bri­tain, for an in­ter­view, but the win­ner never re­sponded to his re­quest. The photo’s con­signor de­clined via Panagop­u­los to com­ment.

When The Post reached Don Boyle of Scran­ton, Pa., a well­known col­lec­tor of World War II Ger­man ar­ti­facts, he said he had once owned the photo and traded it in 2007 to Ari­zona col­lec­tor Jeff Clark, who runs a web­site that sells Nazi party uni­forms.

It was Clark who con­signed the photo to Panagop­u­los, Boyle said.

In an email, Clark de­nied know­ing about the pho­to­graph, let alone sell­ing it. “I had to (G)oogle to find out what you were talk­ing about,” he wrote.

was cov­ered by news out­lets world­wide. One Am­s­ter­dam-based jour­nal­ist ques­tioned the au­then­tic­ity of Hitler’s in­scrip­tion: “The dear and (con­sid­er­ate?) Rosa Nienau Adolf Hitler Mu­nich, the 16th June 1933.”

“(C)oun­ter­feit Nazi junk,” de­clared Bart FM Droog, who is work­ing on a book about fake Hitler ar­ti­facts.

Elaine Quigley, who chairs the Bri­tish In­sti­tute of Graphol­o­gists, said the photo’s in­scrip­tion matches with some of Hitler’s ear­lier known hand­writ­ing, es­pe­cially his au­to­graph.

Panagop­u­los said the photo was con­signed with mul­ti­ple sup­port­ing doc­u­ments and the orig­i­nal en­ve­lope, fea­tur­ing the blind-em­bossed (ink­less) stamp of Hoff­mann’s stu­dio, in which it was de­liv­ered to the Nienau fam­ily.

Af­ter the auc­tion, Panagop­u­los said, he got word from the Doku­men­ta­tion Ober­salzberg in Ger­many, a gov­ern­ment-funded mu­seum chron­i­cling the area’s ties to the Nazi party, that it wants to put a copy of the pho­to­graph in a per­ma­nent ex­hibit.

“I’ve seen hun­dreds of Hitler au­to­graphs. I am con­fi­dent in the sig­na­ture,” Panagop­u­los said. “And if I’m wrong? I’m on the hook in per­pe­tu­ity. We of­fer a one hun­dred per­cent war­ranty of au­then­tic­ity.”

EILEEN BLASS/WASHINGTON POST PHOTOS

Basil “Bill” Panagop­u­los dis­plays the 1933 Hein­rich Hoff­mann pho­to­graph of Hitler with Rosa Bernile Nienau known as “the Fuhrer’s child.”

A print de­picts Adolf Hitler’s moun­tain re­treat at Ber­cht­es­gaden.

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