Auctioned Yellow Star sparks outrage

Paz-Pines: Selling Holocaust items "shameful;" auctioneer: Sale actually keeps remembrance alive.

YellowStarAuctioned224.8 (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines intends to submit a bill prohibiting trade in Holocaust- and Nazi-related items, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The bill follows on the heels of news that the Ben-Ami-Andres auction house in Tel Aviv sold a yellow Star of David patch worn by a Jewish youth during the Holocaust, as well as a Star of David pin, in a sale held Sunday. Paz-Pines's office said in a statement that "selling survivors' Holocaust-related items for profit is a shameful and disgraceful action. We must condemn this phenomenon and assure it will not repeat itself in the State of Israel." Selling such items, the MK believes, degrades the memory of the Holocaust. The bill, which Paz-Pines hoped to bring to the Knesset Monday evening, would prohibit the sale of all items relating directly to the Holocaust and owned by living survivors or inherited by their descendants, a Paz-Pines spokesman said. Titled "Prohibition of Trade in Items Related to the Holocaust or the Nazi Regime," the bill is in its draft stage, but is expected to include a precise definition of what constitutes a Nazi symbol and a Holocaust-related symbol, and ban selling, buying and mediating the sale of such items, the Post has learned. The bill will probably include a penal clause, mandating a year of imprisonment or a fine for those convicted of trading in such items. The legislation might also include a clause exempting institutions such as Yad Vashem and other memorial organizations from buying such items for any commemorative purpose that does not exploit the items for profit. While the bill would, to some extent, limit people's freedom of choice, Paz-Pines feels the value in preserving the memory of the Holocaust vastly outweighs the limitations on personal liberty, especially as the number of collectors in Israel looking to buy such items is considered marginal. Also on Monday, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau told Army Radio that the Star of David patch "should have been donated and not traded." Outside Israel, sales of this kind are not uncommon, and some collectors specialize specifically in the Nazi aspect of Holocaust and World War II relics. Last year, for example, protests by Jewish groups did not stop the sale, in England, of several paintings attributed to Adolph Hitler. One of the paintings fetched as much as $22,300 at the Jefferys Auction House sale, according to Canadian media network CBC - a vast sum compared to the meager $400 the star patch attracted at Sunday's auction. Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said Monday that sales of Holocaust items, which occur both in Israel and on the international market, should be discouraged in the Jewish state. "Commercializing items from the Holocaust, such as the stars Jews were forced to wear, is disrespectful and wrong, and particularly should not take place in Israel. The place for such items is either with the survivors or their families, or in archives and museum collections such as the collection of Yad Vashem." Ben-Ami-Andres manager David Ben-Ami said that while he traded in Holocaust relics, he was squarely against auctioning generally anti-Semitic or specifically Nazi or Nazi-related artifacts and art such as the aforementioned Hitler paintings, but defended his decision to allow the auction of the star patches. "These artifacts have been traded for years," Ben-Ami told the Post. "Years ago, a Jerusalem auction house owned by a Holocaust survivor had a sale comprised almost exclusively of both anti-Semitic memorabilia and Holocaust-related relics - in our sale on Sunday, out of 800 items auctioned only two were directly related to the Holocaust," he said. "I never trade in purely anti-Semitic artifacts - I think when you sell something, you raise its value, and I'm not for raising the value of such objects," Ben-Ami said. On the other hand, Ben-Ami thinks auctioning Holocaust relics actually helps preserve the memory of the Holocaust: "It's important to know that this does not revile the memory of the dead or imply disdain for Holocaust remembrance," because these "symbols, and documentary material such as photographs preserve Holocaust remembrance in the minds of people. When you put a price on something, it lasts," he told the Post. Ben-Ami believes the sudden burst of reactions has nothing to do with the objects sold, but rather with current affairs. "I run a small and relatively unknown auction house and all of a sudden, I have four TV stations at my door," he said. According to him, Holocaust survivors, who thought their recent struggle to win a sufficient welfare package had resulted in victory, have learned that, yet again, they were being relegated to the sidelines by the government, and his auction has been exploited as a vehicle to get their message across. "One survivor phoned me and called me a Nazi," he said. "I didn't say anything, because I understood that he was troubled and was speaking in a rage of emotions - what has happened to the survivors is horrible, just like what is happening to local council employees. It's just a shame they try to 'hitch a ride' on my auction to get noticed by the media," he said.