Yad Vashem Condemns Auction of Auschwitz Tattoo Machine

Selling the device, which will likely go for over $30,000, rather than donating it to a museum is 'morally unacceptable,' the Israel's Holocaust memorial says

A Holocaust survivor shows a tattoo from Auschwitz concentration camp, at a memorial ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2013.
A Holocaust survivor shows a tattoo from Auschwitz concentration camp, at a memorial ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2013.Credit: Frankie Fouganthin / Wikimedia Commons

Update: Israeli Court Halts Auction of Auschwitz Tattoo Kit

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Tuesday condemned the sale at auction of a machine used to tattoo numbers on inmates at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, calling the trade in such historical items “morally unacceptable.”

According to Hebrew media reports, the machine, which was manufactured by medical device firm Auscelap and comes with its original documentation, is set to go for sale at Tzolman’s Auction House in Jerusalem. Walla News reported that the item, which is one of only three currently in existence, will likely sell for over $30,000.

“The appropriate place for these historical artifacts from the period of the Holocaust is in Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, where they can be thoroughly researched, expertly preserved and ultimately utilized as historical testimony for the purposes of research, education and commemoration,” Yad Vashem Directorate Chairman Dani Dayan said in a statement.

“The trade of these items is morally unacceptable and only encourages the proliferation of counterfeits. Yad Vashem opposes the sale and urges both auction sites and online sellers to stop selling these historic items from the Holocaust.”

Responding to an online entreaty that Yad Vashem purchase the item to keep it out of the hands of private collectors, Dayan tweeted that “Yad Vashem opposes in principle the existence of a market for Jewish [or] Nazi objects from the Holocaust period and therefore does not purchase such items with money.”

“Fortunately, the number of items donated to Yad Vashem is dozens of times higher than those traded,” he wrote, criticizing “greedy traders” and suggesting that there may be a legislative solution.

In October 2019, the Tel Aviv District Court blocked the sale of a letter written by a young girl who was killed in the Holocaust before it could be sold at auction. The seller, ultra-Orthodox businessman Dudi Zilbershlag, a member of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum council, refused to hand the letter over to the family of the slain girl or to give it to the Yad Vashem archive.

The following month, the memorial protested the sale of personal items belonging to Adolf Hitler, which were purchased by a Lebanese businessman who said he intended to donate them to the United Israel Appeal.

“The murderers were part of the story of the Holocaust, and to prevent a warped use of their items, such as commerce or a cult of personality, they should be kept at Yad Vashem, which is responsible for commemorating the events and collecting objects from that period,” the institution told Haaretz at the time.

The majority of objects at Yad Vashem are from Holocaust victims, “with the goal of conveying their voice and presenting the Jewish story during the period of the Holocaust,” Yad Vashem said.

“Unlike the collection and display of the items of Holocaust victims, which are of important moral value and aim to present and commemorate the story of a Jew who no one would know about otherwise, the goal of collecting Nazi items is to show the entire phenomenon and those who were behind the murders.”

Yad Vashem called the collection, preservation and presentation of Nazi items a “means to demonstrate how a human society created an ideology that led to the systematic murder of another people.”

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