He knows he may not win, but Robert Weisman wants his day in court.
He wants eBay — which says it’s following its clearly defined policies — to explain to him why it chose to destroy a historic Holocaust artifact rather than simply return it to him.
He wants to know why it singled out his item — a yellow armband with a Jewish star on it dating to a period prior to when they were worn in concentration camps — while permitting the sale of items such as the skull of a Holocaust victim, pictures of dead victims and something called “Nazi bread.”
He wants to hear the company’s rationale behind what he considers a policy plagued with inconsistencies.
That’s why he’s sued eBay, even though it repaid the original buyer in Spain the $210 offered for the item and subsequently reimbursed Weisman. The idea that the company would take it on its own to “liquidate” a piece of history simply struck him as wrong.
When eBay failed to appear to contest the suit in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, Weisman was awarded an $804.30 judgment, with both parties given 30 days to appeal. On Jan. 12, eBay notified Weisman it would challenge the judgment.
Weisman is willing to take his chances, saying that whatever money he receives will go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
“I knew they would appeal it,” said the 68-year-old Weisman from the living room of his Springfield, Montgomery County home. “I look at it this way: Now I’m going to let the public know what went on, know about some of eBay’s policies. I told them in emails I did not want the money back. I wanted the item back.”
To understand why Weisman put the item up for bid requires some understanding about him.
As a teenager shortly following the advent of the Six-Day War in Israel, the Cheltenham native volunteered to go over there and help out, proceeding to spend eight months working on a kibbutz and helping clean the Hadassah site on Mount Scopus.
It was the first of some 20 trips he’s made over the past half-century to the Jewish homeland, many of them to visit his sister, Ellen, who moved to Israel more than 40 years ago.
Along the way, the man who spent a career running the fur division of Macy’s and other stores began collecting Judaica, including the yellow armband with a Jewish star. Neither he nor representatives from the Simon Wiesenthal Center could authenticate the armband.
Eventually, Weisman’s house became cluttered with collectibles: a bookcase of Murano glass pieces; fountain pens associated with Israeli Independence Day celebrations; signed letters by Theodor Herzl, Ehud Barak, Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion; and nesting dolls of Israeli prime ministers.
He got to the point where he decided some of it had to go.
A frequent eBay user, Weisman put the item up for bid, quickly getting a buyer on Oct. 5. But when he attempted to complete the transaction, the item was intercepted by Pitney Bowes, eBay’s global shipping contractor, on Oct. 10.
According to eBay spokesman Ryan Moore, Weisman violated the terms of eBay’s Prohibited Items policy and was attempting to sell a “restricted item.”
“The transaction was attempted through our Global Shipping Program, but was intercepted by Pitney Bowes prior to being shipped overseas,” Moore said. “Per the Global Shipping Program’s terms and conditions, we issued a full refund to the buyer (and the seller kept the original payment), and the item was disposed of.
“We recognize the historical significance of World War II and that there are many militaria collectors around the world. We allow some related historical items, but ban others, particularly those that amount to Nazi propaganda or that are disrespectful to victims.”
Permitted items include stamps, letters and envelopes displaying Nazi postmarks, Nazi-issued currency and historically accurate WWII military model kits with Nazi symbols.
Items that are not permitted include Jewish identification, such as armbands and Stars of David; uniforms and personal belonging of concentration camp prisoners; photographs depicting dead bodies or scenes of degradation; Nazi-issued documents, uniforms, weapons or other items bearing the swastika.
The armband Weisman attempted to sell would seem to fit under the latter grouping, although he insisted it was not an armband worn in a concentration camp. By the same token, Weisman discovered other supposedly prohibited items for sale on the site that were not flagged.
EBay offered no explanation for this apparent inconsistency.
The only other Holocaust-related item Weisman owns is a thimble from Gross-Rosen, a concentration camp in Poland. However, he has no idea what the thimble was used for or represents. He has no intention of selling it, which is a point of emphasis at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“While I realize that items from WWII, including Nazi items, hold out the possibility of financial gain, this incident underscores that when dealing with the Shoah, it is best to donate such items to a school, synagogue or Holocaust resource center,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center. “As for eBay, they should have a more robust policy when they are told that a historic item is being sold.”
Weisman plans to continue to do business on eBay but will have a better awareness of its limits.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0729