LONDON — Covent Garden is one of the world’s most popular shopping destinations. It attracts millions of tourists annually, drawn by the high-end stores and glorious piazza at its heart. Yet on a stall in the Jubilee Market Hall opposite the piazza, you will find something for sale other than old porcelain figurines, vintage bags and jewelry: Nazi memorabilia.
Warren Grynberg, a 71-year-old Jewish Londoner, says he was devastated when he came across the items last month. “Every Monday, they have an antiques and collectables market” in the Jubilee Hall, he relates. “When I visited Covent Garden the other day, I was walking around and looking — and suddenly there was a case full of Nazi memorabilia,” the tour guide says.
Grynberg lost many family members on his paternal side in the Holocaust. He says that seeing the Nazi memorabilia openly for sale on a market stall in the center of London triggered memories of his family members and the suffering of his father, who lost six siblings, aunts and uncles and many other relatives at the Treblinka death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
“I was very upset and angry at that moment, it was difficult to control my feelings,” Grynberg tells Haaretz. “If I ever go back and confront them, I’ll tell them that every member of my family except for my father was murdered in the Holocaust.”
Once he returned home, he reached out to friends on Facebook to inquire whether the sale of such artifacts was in fact legal. “What I’d thought I do if it were illegal was to return the following week with some Zionist friends to protest,” he recounts. However, as Grynberg soon discovered, there are no U.K. laws that limit the ability to trade Nazi memorabilia.
That is also the case in Germany — though legislation there bans the public display of Nazi symbols like swastikas. Austria and France, where it is illegal to sell or display anything that incites racism, are some of the only countries fully restricting the sale of Holocaust-linked memorabilia.
Yet the trade remains above board in most European nations and previous efforts of British lawmakers to ban the sale of Nazi items have failed, most notably in 2012 after items belonging to Holocaust victims were sold at a public auction.
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The selling and purchasing of Nazi insignia is not only an international trade but also a growing business. When a man sent by Haaretz to masquerade as a potential customer visited the Jubilee Market stall recently, he was told by the trader: “It’s very much an international business — America, Germany, Britain. Not so much in France, but it’s a worldwide business.”
While some leading auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and the online auction site eBay have rejected the market, sales are often facilitated by auctioneers such as Munich-based Hermann Historica, which earlier this month led a disputed auction of memorabilia belonging to the Nazi leadership. The European Jewish Association slammed the sale, calling the auction an “opportunity for people to glorify, show adulation and sentimentality for the Nazis.”
The majority of the items — including Hitler’s top hat and personal cigar box, and Hermann Göring’s limited-print edition of “Mein Kampf” — were eventually bought for about 600,000 euros ($660,000) by Swiss-Lebanese millionaire Abdallah Chatila, who plans to pass them on to Israeli organization Keren Hayesod (known in the United States as United Israel Appeal). He later told CNN: “I did it for humanity. I just wanted to take them off circulation.”
Earlier this year, a Blutorden (Blood Order) medal belonging to one of Hitler’s bodyguards was auctioned off in the Midlands city of Derby. Its asking price was $4,500, but it eventually sold for about $47,000. The Holocaust Educational Trust’s head, Karen Pollock, called the sale “not appropriate,” noting that it was “time for clearer regulation on the sale of these items.”
But for just $40, anyone can buy a Nazi medal dating from the 1940s at the antiques market in Covent Garden. For an extra $13 you can get a 1938 medal featuring a swastika. They are all originals, as the seller told the potential customer.
Other items from the same era are sold alongside the Nazi Germany memorabilia, including medals of British, French and Soviet troops. The latter were “just as bad as the Nazis — horrible people,” according to the trader, who insisted that he only sells the items “as history, so people will understand what it’s all about.”
The main concerns regarding the trade in Nazi memorabilia are that the old artifacts may be accumulated by those wishing to glorify the Nazi past and to boost anti-Semitic acts. Others see it as an immoral form of commerce built upon the suffering and pain of the Jewish people, as well as the LGBTQ community, Roma and other Nazi-persecuted minorities.
EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who led the campaign demanding that Hermann Historica cancel its recent sale of Nazi objects, is now trying to help formulate legislation to prohibit such trading. “In the United Kingdom, as well as many other places across the world, we see Nazi symbols put up for sale,” he tells Haaretz. “We plan to ask Parliament members from across Europe to stand up and stop this phenomenon.”
Covent Garden attracts over 40 million visitors annually, according to its official website. At this time of the year, during the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, thousands of shoppers are potentially finding the Nazi memorabilia on the stall. “We’re seeing a normalization of all things Nazi, Hitler-related and other disgusting items — and that’s the most awful thing in my view,” Margolin says.
The weekly antiques market is operated by Sherman & Waterman Associates, which leases the stalls to traders, most of whom are regulars. The company’s head office is in the same building as the market and is itself a Jewish-owned company, says Michael Collins, one of its partners and directors.
“The last thing we want to do is to cause offense — 25 percent of our dealers are Jewish,” Collins says, adding that he was not aware the Nazi objects were on sale in the market.
“I haven’t witnessed it myself, but if it’s there then we will be proactive in making sure he doesn’t sell it again,” Collins said, adding: “I don’t want them on my market. If someone is offended by something, they just need to come to us. We run the fairest markets and we’ve always dealt with it in the past — we do police a lot of stuff,” he adds.
Collins formally apologized and guaranteed that the Nazi artifacts will be removed. The stallholder “will be told to remove this stuff from the market. We want to run a market that invites all and is not an offensive market,” he said.
A spokesperson for Capital & Counties Properties — owner of Covent Garden London, of which Jubilee Hall Market is a tenant — said in a statement responding to Haaretz’s inquiry: “We will be investigating this as a matter of urgency with the Management of Jubilee Hall Market who are responsible for selecting their own traders.”