By Phyllis Heideman
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 Nazi leader, said the catalog, was a “dedicated opera devotee.” 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 combating hate.”
Sadly, the auction was only one in a 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 antisemitic 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.
Antisemitism must be fought wherever it raises its ugly head. 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. However, legislation in and of itself is not enough. These laws must be diligently enforced.
Moreover, tech giants are not doing enough to combat online hate, particularly on social media. On the Dark Web, overt and shameless antisemitism remains rife.
Society needs robust political leadership that will speak out against all forms of antisemitism whenever and wherever it raises its hateful voice.
We must tackle the root causes of antisemitism, and the only way to do so is through education. Teaching the history of the Holocaust and the nature of antisemitism should be mandatory in all schools.
As French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, recently said at a ceremony commemorating the Nazi slaughter of French Jewry, “Do not forget, never forget, the duty of remembrance is a duty for the future. … We will teach again and again the reality of the genocide and its dark years. … There is not a classroom … where the memory of the Holocaust should not be taught, not a school where it can be challenged.”
For over three decades, the International March of the Living has delivered in-depth education to hundreds of thousands of students and adults as preparation for their participation in the march. We strive to inspire our participants to fight racism and injustice.
Listening to the stories of survivors and visiting the sites where the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust took place create indelible impressions and provide information essential to understanding the past and committing to help ensure a better future for all.
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman is president of the International March of the Living.