Nazi Memorabilia Boom: 'The People Want Souvenirs'


Such bits of Americana, though, are declining, giving way to a hard new currency. "Nazi, Nazi, Nazi," Panagopulos explains, pointing at objects all around him. He doesn't like the things, calling them "bad karma." To him this is no joke: His family comes from Greece, where German troops burned down his parents' home village.

Too Pricey for Public Institutions

But Panagopulos is a businessman, an American by birth who values freedom of opinion and free enterprise. He receives a 20 percent commission from buyers, plus a variable fee from sellers. New historical films are fueling demand in the US, Panagopulos says, and World War II has become part of American pop culture.

Many historians find such transactions obscene. "Our buyers aren't neo-Nazis," Panagopulos counters. "They wouldn't have the brains or the money." Quite to the contrary, he says, it's often wealthy Jewish people who buy items such as Mengele's journals. Universities and museums also have the opportunity to bid.

The items come from other traders or from family members who discover the objects in the homes of the war generation when they pass away. Some of it makes its way across the Atlantic by airfreight. There's certainly no lack of material, and there are even trade fairs for experts in Nazi memorabilia.

Public institutions generally don't have budgets large enough to bid on these items. Achim Baumgarten, director of the division at the Federal Archive in Koblenz, Germany, that handles estate matters, laments that he only has a few tens of thousands of euros at his disposal each year. For larger purchases, he must first obtain authorization from the federal cabinet.

In other words, it's unlikely that the documents up for auction in Stamford this week will end up making any contribution to historical research. The documents include treatises written by Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann during his time on trial in Israel, and a manuscript said to have been written from prison in 1983 by Klaus Barbie, the notorious head of the Gestapo in Lyon.

Goebbels' Girlfriends

The auction house, as is customary in this business, won't identify the seller profiting from these apologist babblings, only stating that the papers come from Europe. But there are a number of indications that Swiss businessman and Nazi admirer François Genoud, who died in 1996, had them in his possession.

Genoud essentially founded the trade in relics from the Third Reich, wanting both to preserve legacy of his idols and profit from it. It seems he took a liking to papers of Joseph Goebbels' from the period biographer Peter Longerich calls the influential Nazi's "pre-political era."

Goebbels, who studied German literature and history and styled himself "Ulex" after a character in a novel, spent his student years in reading, writing and amorous banter. For example, he maintained relationships with both sisters of fellow student Karl Heinz Kölsch, as can be seen from their effusive correspondence. After one of his frequent visits to the town of Werl, Liesel Kölsch wrote on December 5, 1917: "My lips don't work at all anymore, so it won't be possible to use them on Saturday." Her sister Agnes wrote: "My head can't be used either."

In the end, Goebbels made both sisters unhappy. On August 15, 1918, Agnes wrote him, "Do you know, Ulex, that I unfortunately estimated you to far too elevated, noble and mature?"

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