Lebanese philanthropist buys up Hitler memorabilia to obstruct neo-Nazis


Hermann Historica is a controversial auction house known for putting on sales Nazi memorabilia. Last week, they auctioned a top hat that purportedly belonged to Hitler.

Lebanese millionaire Abdallah Chatila, a Swiss-based businessman who made his fortune in real estate and diamonds, bought it for € 50,000 ($55,000; £43,000) with the aim of keeping it away from the collections of neo-Nazis.

But Chatila didn’t stop at the top hat, scooping up nine other auctioned objects from the Third Reich—including a silver-covered edition of Mein Kampf—for a total of €545,000 ($600,000; £466,000).

"Far-right populism and anti-Semitism are spreading all over Europe and the world," the Lebanese millionaire told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin Dimanche, “I did not want these objects to fall into the wrong hands and to be used by people with dishonest intentions.”

Chatila added that he wanted to donate the memorabilia to the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal group, a Jewish organization. “These items should be burned, but historians think that they should be kept for the collective memory,” he commented.

However, the lots he purchased were just a small part of the 147 Nazi-related collectibles Hermann Historica put on sale last week. Obviously, the Lebanese magnate wasn’t able to buy them all.

The amount of items auctioned can give an idea of the considerable size of the Nazi memorabilia market, a trade whose prices are apparently booming. The sector is rife with fakes and forgeries of all sorts (Hitler’s top hat is suspected to be inauthentic, too) but this doesn’t make it less disturbing.

Who, besides museums and researchers, have valid cultural reasons to amass collectibles from the Third Reich?  And who are actually the people spending hundreds of thousands of pounds doing so?

As Leonid Bershidsky points out in a column for Bloomberg, apart from the auction houses, nobody really knows who the buyers of Nazi memorabilia are. There are exceptions (like British millionaire Kevin Wheatcroft, the man who sleeps in Hitler’s bed) but, in general, anonymity is widespread.

Chatila’s philanthropic gesture may then help shed a light on this murky market and on the people moving it.

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