Opinion: Auction of Mengele journals is an outrage
Bill Panagopulos runs Alexander Historical Auctions, an affiliate of Alexander Autographs, which bills itself as “one of the world’s premier auctioneers of militaria [sic], historic letters, manuscripts, documents and relics in all fields of collecting.” Only the good Panagopulos also peddles Nazi memorabilia at his Stamford, Conn., auction house.
Among the items Alexander Historical Auctions is offering for sale on July 21 are “the hidden journals of Dr. Josef Mengele,” with an estimated price tag of $300,000 to $400,000. Mengele, you may recall, was the SS “doctor” who ran selections for the gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, where he also conducted often deadly medical experiments on inmates.
Among Mengele’s victims was my mother’s sister, whom he sent to death in April 1944. He also twice struck my mother in the face.
“One day,” my mother wrote in her memoirs, “a young woman was late for roll call outside her barrack. Mengele ordered her to come forward, knocked her to the ground, and put his boot on her chest. Humming an aria from ‘Madama Butterfly,’ he kept his foot there until she was dead. He showed the SS men a new way of killing.”
So what precisely is Alexander Historical Auctions hawking? The “Historically important” Lot 4, according to the auction house’s website, consists of “31 autograph manuscripts, approx. 3,380+ pp. in various formats, largely bound journals … some illustrated. All writings are penned in ink in a legible hand, in generally excellent condition.”
The content of these journals is irrelevant. Reminiscences, ponderings on eugenics, “philosophical and introspective writings,” poems, political commentaries, travelogues. Who cares? The ramblings and ravings of a sadistic sociopath who murdered thousands upon thousands more than Osama bin Laden ever did should not be allowed to yield a small fortune in profits to the anonymous consignor—no doubt with a healthy commission to Alexander Historical Auctions.
Moreover, the lucky purchaser will “own the copyright to materials contained within the lot” together with the consignor until Dec. 31, 2035. Say what? Yup, the seller of this garbage, presumably richer to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars after the auction, will retain the “co-exclusive right to use copies of any and all writings in this lot in any documentary or film about Josef Mengele or any direct relative of Josef Mengele.”
Stripped of its veneer, could the purpose of the planned sale simply be to enable a Mengele heir to finance the glorification or perhaps merely the equally reprehensible historical sanitization of his (or her) monstrous ancestor?
But there’s more.
Lot 5 is an “Extremely rare and revealing page full of pencil drawings in Mengele’s hand, some captioned, undertaken while he was in hiding in South America, ca. 1970. Among the sketches is a four-legged hideously-toothed beast at upper-right, a smiling cyclops, a car shown between two collapsing buildings, a Lutheran priest complaining about taxes, a small house in a suburban setting with a lederhosen-clad figure at one side, and a Napoleon-like figure with a sword in hand declaring: ‘Dem Volke’ [the people].” The estimated price for this gem is between $7,000 and $9,000. Pardon me while I puke.
And just in case you’re a bit squeamish and Mengele is not up your alley, Alexander Historical Auctions will gladly sell you a handsome signed and dated 1924 photograph of Adolf Hitler himself (Lot 1, estimated price: $15,000-$18,000); a handwritten birthday greeting from the Fuehrer to a presumably Aryan “gracious lady” (Lot 7, price tag: $10,000-$12,000); a signed photograph of the Nazi racial ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, expected to yield $700-$900; or, for the budget-conscious neo- or crypto-Nazi, a postcard signed by Hitler’s sister Paula, valued at a measly $200-$300.
This is not the first time Panagopulos has brokered sales of Nazi memorabilia. In February 2010, he claimed that he had sold another Mengele journal to the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor who was going to donate it to a Holocaust museum. At the time, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants condemned the sale as “a cynical act of exploitation aimed at profiting from the writings of one of the most heinous Nazi criminals.” Nothing has changed, except, apparently, the magnitude of the outrage.
Let’s be clear: While selling child pornography is a criminal act that will land you in jail, establishing a market for signed Mengele manuscripts and Hitler memorabilia is perfectly legal—in the United States, at least. But the same First Amendment that allows Alexander Historical Auctions and its ilk to aid and abet the glorification of Nazism and all it stands for allows the rest of us to expose and ostracize the purveyors of such obscenities.
The online auction and shopping site eBay prohibits the sale of Nazi memorabilia. So does Yahoo, after a French court ordered the American-based Internet company in 2000 to bar French shoppers from sites selling such offensive materials. The least we can do is boycott Panagopulos and his Alexander Historical Auctions.
(Menachem Z. Rosensaft is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. He also is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and a distinguished visiting lecturer at the Syracuse University College of Law.)