An auction of Nazi memorabilia, including a card signed by Adolf Hitler and a banner, has led to renewed calls for Western Australia to ban the public display of the swastika.
Perth-based JB Military Antiques has drawn outrage from Jewish leaders for its sale of items including daggers and flags bearing the swastika, along with items from the SS uniform. Steve Lieblich, the vice-president of the Jewish Community Council of WA, said auctions of Nazi material were “feeding” an interest he found troubling.
“I think that people who are interested are either weird or closet Nazis,” he said. “Conducting their business — it might be legal, but it’s certainly not wise and not honourable.”
Bids have already been placed on many of the Nazi-affiliated items for the auction later this month. Cutlery, crockery and belt buckles with Nazi symbols had attracted 12 bids and a price of $300 by Tuesday afternoon. The expected price for a large Nazi banner was between $500 to $700.
Mr Lieblich said he understood the items being collected for historical study by museums and universities, but not by individuals. NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark described the auction of the Nazi memorabilia as “sickening”. “Among other items, a shooting award bestowed by the Nazi Party should never be offered for sale to everyday Australians,” Mr Bark said.
Customers ‘not neo-Nazis’
Jamey Blewett, who owns the antique business, defended the sale of the items as a service for collectors. He said he felt for people who found the sale of the items upsetting, but said it was not illegal to sell them.
“The problem is buying and selling of Third Reich military [items] is, unfortunately, the largest area of collecting in the world,” he told ABC Radio Perth’s Nadia Mitsopoulos. “If we didn’t sell it we’d be losing a large market, and it’s not just here in Australia — it’s worldwide, especially in America.”
Mr Blewett said he did not believe his customers were neo-Nazis, or that the sales were legitimising Nazi ideology. Rather, he said most of his customers were military history enthusiasts. “The majority of people that buy these pieces are male, they’re middle class, they’re tradies, they’re the average person that you walk past in the street, they’ll be your neighbour,” Mr Blewett said.
He said his business did not stock items from concentration camps.
Bans in other states
New South Wales and Victoria both banned the public display of the swastika earlier this year. Offenders in NSW could face up to a year behind bars or a fine in excess of $100,000. A WA government spokesperson said the Attorney-General was “considering” similar bans. WA Labor MP Kate Doust has led the charge for a ban.
She said introducing laws and penalties to prohibit the display of the swastika would send a clear message. Ms Doust said her main concern was the public display of Nazi memorabilia. “When you think about what that symbol represents to people, why would you want to have it in public display?” she said.
“And why would you want to have a symbol like that — that can attract people as a rallying call to something that we all find quite obnoxious and hideous, and we don’t want to see it replicated again?”
Ms Doust said any ban would not apply to religious or cultural uses of the symbol, such as in Hinduism and Buddhism. But whether or not the ban would affect people buying memorabilia would be up to the government writing the legislation, she said.
Mr Lieblich, who said his synagogue was graffitied with swastikas many years ago, strongly supported the call for a ban on public displays of the symbol. “When a swastika is used in that way, as graffiti on a Jewish school wall or on a synagogue wall, or on posters, and intended to incite hatred and basically encourage violence against Jews, that’s obviously frightening and very serious,” he said.