There is no denying that items offered at auction attached to a person of fame or notoriety are inherently more valuable. Artifacts and collectibles from ruthless or unscrupulous individuals who achieved some measure of fame or infamy generally mean only one thing to the seller, value added.
But what if those items set at auction derive from the most despicable person to ever walk the earth? Craig Gottlieb and other collectors and resellers like him have acquired memorabilia or possessions that were linked or once owned by one Adolph Hitler.
Gottlieb, originally from Miami, graduated from Cornell University in upstate New York before embarking on a career in the United States military. He achieved the rank of major in the Marine Corps and is now the founder of Craig Gottlieb Militaria Auctions. His auctions which have brought in millions have been criticized lately for their profiting off of Nazi military ephemera. He currently resides in Southern California.
The mere mention of Hitler’s name invokes a skin crawl for all Jews and even many outside the Jewish faith, but for some like Gottlieb, business is business.
There are some auction houses which won’t even offer the merchandise strictly on the principle of “profiting off the holocaust.” Even a popular television show like History channel’s “Pawn Stars” won’t buy or negotiate on items directly linked to the Nazi regime. In one episode the patriarch of the family and owner of the store Rick Harrison refuses to enter into negotiations of a Nazi uniform for sale, because he sighted “Bad Mojo.”
However, not everyone denies Hitler’s mementos for re-sale. Items such as a rare signed copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” fetched a shade under 65k this past February. There were 11 bidders who drove the price up to three times its expected selling price of $20,000. The autographed book is said to have eventually landed in the hands of a U.S. buyer with a winning bid of $64,850.
Nate D. Sanders who is both Jewish and the owner of the auction house that sold the book, thought the selling of Hitler’s mementos to be heinous, but also added that it is memorabilia and a part of history.
On average auction houses generally take 15% of the sale, so obviously for Mr. Sanders the more expensive an item, the greater the commission. Disgraceful as Hitler was, his memorabilia is big business.
Hitler’s desk where the 1938 Munich agreement was signed, is now one of the many bits of “Hitler history” owned by Gottlieb fetched a purchase price of $1 million, while his blue 770k model Mercedes owned by another collector sold for $8 million in 2009 to a Russian billionaire. There are all sorts of other “pieces of history” that make the rounds through auction houses such as silverware, a personal pistol, champagne, a globe from Hitler’s office and paintings done by Hitler himself.
Still, despite the big business of World War II memorabilia and more specifically Hitler related items, there are countries like Germany and France who completely forbid all sales on such merchandise.
Online bidding site EBay has a policy limiting and restricting certain types of Nazi memorabilia, however that which is allowed for sale may not be shipped to Germany and France even if the purchase was made outside of their borders.
Critics of those profiting from the reselling of such material do agree that there is a historical value to acquiring and displaying these items. One such critic is Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center which runs three museums that focus on Holocaust history. He acknowledged the center has purchased letters and other historical documents from the Nazi era which are on display at its educational Museum of Tolerance. He states that on display in a museum for historical purposes is the “only” value it should have.
Richard Westwood-Brookes of Mullocks auctions which sold several of Hitler’s paintings in 2009, defends the sale of these items as a benefit to get these in the hands of private collectors who will maintain and preserve the historical significance of these works. Hitler, who as a boy had aspirations of being an artist, attempted enrollment at the Vienna “School of Art” but he was not accepted.
Westwood-Brookes goes on to state that the public does not know who buys these items; it is a matter of policy to conceal the purchaser but he did say that their buyers are from all walks of life and all ends of the globe. One should not assume anti-Semitic motivation on the part of the buyers.
World War II merchandise in general has had a steady rise in price since the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” and more recently “Inglorious Bastards” and “Monuments Men” have shown the subject matter of WW II stories to be highly bankable.
Ken Jacobson of the Anti Defamation league, a nonprofit group which fights anti-Semitism expressed concern on how such items are used by the buyers. He hoped Nazi military dealers and the auctioneers would think about what is right and what is ethical.
For men like 43-year old Craig Gottlieb who classifies himself as “Jewish by heritage” but not observant, ethics and profits don’t necessarily go hand in hand.