A HITLER Youth belt marred an otherwise pleasant day out for my family over the recent festive period.
Actually, it wasn’t just the belt — the Nazi tealights didn’t exactly add joy to our day either. Nor did the rows and rows of Nazi medals and military caps.
You might imagine that I had perhaps treated the family to a trip to the Imperial War Museum, or some other historical collection.
If that had been our destination, then you might quite rightly expect us to take such Nazi memorabilia in our stride. What else might one expect at a museum commemorating historical events?
But these items were not housed in a museum — they were in a shop in York, nestled among the chocolate shops, the Minster and Harry Potter emporiums.
An antique shop, packed with cabinets of collectibles and memorabilia, seemed an enjoyable departure from the usual delights of this quaint Yorkshire city.
But there, squatting among the displays of Victorian curios and Edwardian tableware, were the rather sinister Nazi collections.
Swastikas winked at us from every shelf, adorned on almost anything you could ever imagine, from medals and coins, to uniform and those curious tealights.
No stranger to antique shops, I have come across Hitler stamps and coins many times. But this was the first time I had encountered such a proud and extensive display of Nazi memorabilia.
In fact, my 17-year-old daughter was quite perturbed by it. So much so that she challenged the salesperson, who was very understanding but pointed out that while not everyone likes to see this material, it is not illegal to sell Nazi memorabilia and that they do have immense historical value.
She is correct in that it is not illegal in the UK to sell this stuff (unlike some countries such as France and Germany). But many sellers are choosing not to sell it any more — most major auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Christie’s no longer sell Nazi memorabilia.
Online auction site eBay allows items of historical significance to be listed, including Nazi currency and stamps, but bans Nazi propaganda, elements of military uniforms or other items bearing symbols.
Amazon and Facebook Marketplace have similar rules in place.
The reason? Joe Mulhall, senior researcher at campaign group Hope Not Hate, said in a BBC article recently that there is a “real danger that this market funds far-right and extremist individuals who sell and trade this content”.
In 2000 in France, the internet site Yahoo was sued by the Union of Jewish Students and the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism for “justifying war crimes and crimes against humanity” by allowing such memorabilia to be sold via its auction pages.
Of course, there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for people to buy this stuff.
According to a later email in response to my follow-up query from the York antique shop, many of the buyers of their Nazi materials are teachers, for example.
I can understand why a historian or academic might like to use genuine Nazi items to enhance their teaching. But stores have no way of knowing the true motives of any buyer and this is why the sale of this material is a little discomforting.
When Dreweatts Auctioneers in Bristol hit the headlines in March, 2012, for selling a silver tray given by Albert Speer to Hitler as a birthday present (for £28,000), the sale triggered an early-day motion from Fabian Hamilton, Labour MP for Leeds North East, deploring “the profiteering on items promoting and glorifying hatred and violence”.
So should sale of this material be banned in the UK? My daughter certainly thinks so, believing strongly that these items belong in museums and should not be collected and enjoyed by people, even if not all of them have dubious motives.
There is a growing far-right movement in the UK and also a growing interest in Nazi memorabilia. According to Malcolm Claridge, an expert on militaria for Dreweatts, “the trade is booming” (The Independent, 2012). Coincidence?
According to CNN, sales of Nazi memorabilia in Germany — where the law restricting sales have to be circumvented in cunning ways — have grown 10 per cent since the beginning of 2016, coinciding with the arrival of more than one million refugees in Germany in 2015 and the start of the resurgence in the far-right movement there.
I don’t know if there is a correlation between interest in Nazi memorabilia and the rise of the far-right and I am not suggesting that all collectors of this material are neo-Nazis using their purchases to rejoice in Hitler’s views.
But at the very least, the idea of people profiting from — and gaining enjoyment from — the regime that destroyed six million Jewish lives in such recent times is just a little uncomfortable.
Especially when I am unwillingly subjected to evidence of this on a day out in York — a city with a historic association itself of the persecution of Jews.
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