Last Friday, a couple in their sixties picked up an item that caught their eye at a booth in the antiques market in Tel Aviv’s Givon Square, a bustling piazza near the Sarona compound. Less than a second later, they put it back with a confused look on their faces, muttering “oy vey.”
One glance was enough to explain their reaction. It turns out that the booth’s stock includes Nazi relics from World War II, such as SS officers’ membership cards and swastika pins.
The booth’s owner, a young man, was busy bargaining over other items at that time. When asked later about the authenticity of the Nazi items, he replied, “Check with Yad Vashem.”
“Historical items from the Holocaust period belong in Yad Vashem’s collection,” agreed the Holocaust remembrance center’s chairman, Dani Dayan. “Here they are preserved, studied and serve as historical evidence for researchers and the general public.”
Dayan added that Yad Vashem “is aware that trade in items from the Holocaust period exists, particularly in Nazi items and mementos. This trade is a moral stain, and it also encourages and creates a market for forgeries. And this trade has been expanding in recent years.”
A week earlier, a young law student from Tel Aviv visited that same booth. She, too, was shocked to see these items and shared her feelings with her personal Facebook group.
She said the owner even showed her items that weren’t on the display table – yellow patches that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. “I don’t think these should be collectors’ items,” she wrote.
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Items belonging to Nazis and their victims are sold throughout the world in markets, public auctions and online sites like eBay. The owner of the booth in Tel Aviv said he bought the SS officers’ service cards from eBay. He is now selling them for 400 shekels ($128) apiece.
“We don’t allow selling or dealing in Nazi artifacts, and we’ll take care of this,” the person responsible for the market said.
It should be noted that many forgeries of historical items, including Nazi items, are also on sale at the market. Consequently, it’s impossible to know whether the items at this booth were authentic or fakes without having them checked by experts.
The Tel Aviv municipality said it first learned about the Nazi items after last Friday’s incident and is now looking into the matter. “If we find it’s out of place to sell these items, we’ll act accordingly,” its statement added.
It also noted that the booths at the weekly Friday market change every week, and individuals can sell their wares there as long as they notify the city in advance. “Consequently, the municipality has no knowledge about the items sold at each particular booth. Nevertheless, if information reaches the municipality about some anomalous item displayed there that could offend the public’s sensibilities, we’ll look into that specific case.”
Also available on eBay
On the Israeli public auction portal Bidspirit, one can find items for sale by various Israeli auction houses that include things like a “Nazi certificate,” a “Nazi cup” and other items with Nazi symbols. A similar search of eBay turns up tens of thousands of results.
Visitors to the Tel Aviv market were aghast in part at the knowledge that in the middle of the first Hebrew city, just a stone’s throw from the Cinematheque, there is a trade in Nazi items whose display could be harmful to public sensitivities. In recent years, a number of items from the Holocaust period that were sold in public auctions have reached Israeli courts. Several auctions of such items were halted after they were revealed in the media and provoked criticism from associations of Holocaust survivors.
The Supreme Court recently halted the sale of a tattoo kit from Auschwitz at an auction house. Last month, the Supreme Court ordered that the machine be sent for examination by Yad Vashem to see if it was in fact used to tattoo Jews in the Holocaust or if it is a fake. The fate of the item will be decided later.
Among those opposing the sale was Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who told the court that “trade of this kind is ethically, morally, nationally and publicly unacceptable” and that “it is important to send a clear message that the State of Israel will not countenance a public auction of unique and rare items closely tied to the heart of the events of the Holocaust. Beyond the cheapening entailed by its sale to the highest bidder, this could also lead to the loss of important proof for the commemoration of the Jewish people’s most important national memory.”
Last year, the attorney general intervened in a similar way to stop the auction of a Holocaust-related item – a rabbinical ledger from the displaced persons camp in Bergen Belsen, filled with evidence that could help spouses of missing persons remarry. In wake of the legal proceeding, the owner voluntarily donated the item to Yad Vashem.
Israeli law does not explicitly prohibit trade of this kind. The Yad Vashem chairman says, “Yad Vashem is currently examining possible legislation on this matter in conjunction with the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, which would outlaw trade in items from the Holocaust in Israel.”