Phyllis Heideman | JNS
A wristwatch belonging to Adolf Hitler was recently sold by an auction house in the United States for over a million dollars. Other items in the auction of “historical militaria” included a sketch by Hitler of his proposal for the Munich Opera House, described in the auction catalog as “a superlative Hitler piece.” The catalog also included a signed birthday greeting to Heinrich Himmler, one of the architects of the Final Solution, and a cap worn by a concentration camp guard.
While some of the items on auction may have been valuable for a museum that would place them in historical context, one can only wonder who the buyer might be for a “superlative” Hitler sketch. An auction of Nazi memorabilia under the feeble excuse “if you destroy history, there is no proof that it happened” contributes nothing to historical memory or teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. In fact, it hands a victory to Nazi sympathizers by cheapening the memory of the genocide, eroding the stigma associated with Nazi symbols and creating indifference to their display. To paraphrase Elie Wiesel, “Indifference is the greatest enemy in combatting hate.”
Sadly, the auction was only one in long list of examples of the trivialization and mainstreaming of Nazi iconography. For example, we have seen anti-vaccine activists using a yellow star to protest mandatory health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the use of Nazi “aesthetics” in fashion, with well-known clothing brands incorporating Nazi symbols as though they were just another graphic element.
The Nazi swastika has been banned in many countries—most recently in Australia, where public displays of the symbol have been prohibited and criminalized by the State of Victoria. In other countries, most notably the United Kingdom and the United States, the swastika and other Nazi symbols are being displayed with impunity on the pretext of freedom of speech and expression.
At a time when anti-Semitic incidents are on the increase throughout the world, we cannot allow extremists a free hand to glorify Nazi symbols and exploit them to deliver their heinous political messages. Freedom of speech is one thing, freedom to glorify systematic genocide is quite another.
Countries around the world should follow Victoria’s example and adopt strict laws that ban all insignias, emblems and symbols associated with the Nazi Party — such as already exist in Austria and Germany. Legislation in and of itself is not enough. These laws must be diligently enforced.
Society needs robust political leadership that will speak out against all forms of anti-Semitism whenever and wherever it raises its hateful voice.
This article was originally published by JNS and has been edited for length.
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman is president of the International March of the Living.