“Great pictures of Hitler” and a Nazi iron cross book “filled with magnificent photos” — these were the descriptions inside a catalogue spruiking a war memorabilia auction that sold dozens of Nazi Germany artefacts near Canberra on Saturday.
Opinion was fiercely divided on Facebook when auctioneer David Smith posted preview photos of the “military and garagenalia” sale that took place in the NSW town of Bredbo, an hour south of the ACT.
“Only a certain type of person would be proud to own a portrait of this abomination of humanity, or anything… that relates to it,” one comment read.
Another person called for Third Reich items to be destroyed, for “glorifying an evil regime that poisoned many with its ideology”.
But others rejected that outrage, saying the existence of the memorabilia “does not glorify it, but rather brings a tactile realism that words in a book never can”.
“They must be preserved for the same reason we preserve any and all historical artefacts, regardless of their symbolism,” another said.
Some agreed the artefacts should be preserved, but not profited from, instead suggesting they be donated to the Australian War Memorial.
But Mr Smith rejected a suggestion to destroy them or stop selling them — calls that were previously made by the Anti-Defamation Commission, a Jewish group aiming to fight anti-Semitism.
He said the commission’s claim that the trade was “blood money” was “just ridiculous, totally ridiculous”.
“Our servicemen, our diggers, went over and fought and they actually liberated the Jewish people,” he said.
“It’s the Jewish people that are the ones up in arms about it but we actually liberated them, and then they brought back souvenirs to say, ‘well we won the war’. And now when those people pass on, [the Jewish community] expect us to destroy history.
“As far as I’m concerned — and a lot of my buyers are concerned — that’s just not on.
“I can understand it was a terrible Holocaust and that was bad, but our guys went over and fought for them and liberated them, so they need to respect that as well.”
He said he would “absolutely not” follow suit of other auction houses around the country which pulled sales of Nazi propaganda after a backlash from the Jewish community.
“We don’t try to glorify it, but I certainly earn my living through commissions from auctions and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Mr Smith also rejected the idea of donating the artefacts to the Australian War Memorial, which is undergoing a $500 million expansion.
“Well I think the war memorial is pretty full and the beneficiaries of the wills might need the money,” he said.
But Mr Smith, who auctions estates on behalf of owners, said he would review the language of future catalogues.
“I probably [will consider changing it], I didn’t even know we had ‘magnificent’ in the catalogue regarding Hitler,” he said.
The word “magnificent” was used to detail multiple Nazi items in the catalogue, including:
“Third Reich Iron Cross Book – Leatherette Bound Cover With Iron Cross And German Wording To Front, Filled With Magnificent Photos And German Wording: $495 – $550”.
As well as:
“Album With Various Third Reich Pictures – Some Great Pictures Of Hitler & Various Rallies $140.00 – $195.00”
Many of the some-700 pieces for sale were unrelated to Nazi Germany, while roughly 75 items were linked.
About 20 catalogue descriptions mentioned “swastika” — several of which were swords and bayonets which had the Nazi symbol.
Seven others referenced “Hitler”, including profile plaques, propaganda signs, photo albums, framed paintings, stamps and money banks.
Other Nazi objects sold included weapons, helmets, match boxes, military notes, ashtrays, flags, ammunition pouches, helmets, vases, magazines, crosses and gold bars.
Other auction houses move to ban Nazi propaganda
In October, a Melbourne auction house withdrew Nazi artefacts from an upcoming sale after a Jewish anti-bigotry activist said the objects crossed “so many red lines”.
The inclusion of Nazi items was described as “disgusting” by Dvir Abramovich of the Anti-Defamation Commission.
The new policy matches that of major auction house Sotheby’s, which had a worldwide ban of the sale of Nazi memorabilia.
Online platforms have moved in a similar direction, with eBay reportedly permitting “items of historical significance” as listings, such as Nazi currency and stamps, but having banned Nazi propaganda, parts of military uniforms or other items bearing the Nazi symbol.
The BBC reported Facebook had also removed promotions for the sale of Nazi goods from their site on several occasions — though they remained for sale on many Facebook pages.
The ACT Jewish Community was contacted for comment.