A Sydney auction house selling Nazi memorabilia has sparked outrage among some sections of the Jewish community and reignited calls to ban displays of Nazi symbols as fears grow about the rise of white supremacist groups.
May 4, 2021
The auction of original swastika medallions and photographs of Adolf Hitler, at Smalls Auctions in Paddington, is the latest in a series of controversial sales that have prompted demands to end the commercial exploitation of extremist symbols.
Smalls Auctions, owned by Mark Duff, is a nondescript shopfront and cafe located on Oxford Street, a popular shopping strip in the city’s eastern suburbs.
While some Jewish groups attacked the sale, Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, was less concerned about it after dispatching Jewish Board of Deputies staff to speak to Mr Duff after being informed of the items available.
“The display and sale of Nazi items is hurtful and offensive to all well-meaning Australians, given that 27,000 Australian soldiers lost their lives fighting that regime, while six million Jews were murdered by that same regime,” he said.
“That said, the Nazi artefacts comprise a small fraction of the memorabilia on sale at this location, and as long as they are not being promoted or glorified, they comprise a key part of our history which we forget at our peril.”
But Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, a Jewish advocacy group, said the sale of Nazi memorabilia was “morally reprehensible”.
Dr Abramovich has long campaigned to ban the sale of Nazi memorabilia. “This evil trade, which symbolises history’s most inhuman period, tears to shreds our shared values and has to stop right now,” he said. “Our brave Diggers did not sacrifice their lives to defeat Hitler so businesses in Australia could turn a profit from the devil’s emblems.”
Mr Duff defended the sale, saying the material was part of history that runs the risk of being forgotten if it is not displayed.
“The people down in the Jewish museum in Kings Cross were hassling me for it the other day saying it’s all displayed in context there,” he said. “What’s the difference if they have it down there and I have it here too?”
Smalls Auctions, describes itself as the “home of diminutive treasures” and offers live online bidding through weekly “specialist sales”. Inside the shop, where customers can view items before online bidding closes, are glass cabinets containing Nazi medallions, swastika emblems and photographs of Adolf Hitler and other prominent Nazis.
Also on display is a printed original 1936 speech by Hitler.
Last month, Mr Duff, who said he was Jewish, held a “German War Memorabilia” auction where he sold Nazi badges, merit cross medals and war propaganda posters. Among items sold were an original Nazi swastika armband and flag for $165 and a collection of Nazi military buttons for $140.
Photographs of Rudolf Hess and Albert Speer, said to be the original mugshots from the Nuremberg trials, were listed for $40,000 to $50,000.
Mr Duff is not alone in selling Nazi paraphernalia. Last month, a Perth military antiques store was criticised for selling items it claimed were owned by Hitler, including a hairbrush and cigar box.
In January, a Gold Coast auction house was condemned by Jewish leaders for selling a Luftwaffe flag with a Nazi swastika, and in the same month, reports surfaced that a Morpeth collectables shop was selling Nazi daggers, flags and badges.
It is currently legal to sell Nazi memorabilia in Australia, but governments have been moving to ban the items in a bid to counter surges in extremist ideology.
A Victorian parliamentary inquiry in March recommended the state establish a criminal offence for the public display of swastikas and Nazi symbols, with the report noting similar laws already exist in Germany, Russia and France.
The Victorian government is expected to legislate the recommendations, and NSW is considering similar reforms.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said he had instructed the Department of Communities and Justice to monitor the Victorian government’s response.
The AFP is seeking to outlaw the display of Nazi or Islamic State flags to combat violent extremism.