Few artifacts associated with dark historical moments are more perversely fascinating than a pair of panties for sale in an Ohio antiques shop. The lace underwear embossed with the monogram “EB” were reputedly recovered in 1945 from Berchtesgaden, where they were said to grace Eva Braun. The provenience for the $7500 knickers is not clearly established, but the interest in the skivvies of Hitler’s mistress is a telling reflection of our deep-seated curiosity in the human dimensions of evil. The fascination with such a prosaic thing illuminates our desire to comprehend (if not explain) the most evil people by focusing on their banal humanity.
Few collectibles provoke more anxiety than Nazi artifacts, whose exchange is strictly regulated throughout most of the world. Many of the codes regulating Nazi memorabilia attempt to keep them from falling into the hands of contemporary neo-Nazis, but many observers simply see the profiteering on Nazi symbols as ghoulish if not immoral. Harry Grenville, whose parents died at Auschwitz, called a 2015 auction of wartime memorabilia “hugely offensive,” lamenting that “this auction house is set to make a tidy sum of money from the sale of items that are hugely offensive to a lot of people. It raises again the question about freedom of speech – you can’t force people to stop selling Holocaust memorabilia and making money from it but you can deplore it.” Grenville is not alone in his uneasiness that Nazi material things have become “collectibles” traded like any other other good. Nevertheless, this aversion to the trade in Nazi collectibles stands somewhat at odds with the pervasive presence of Nazis in popular culture, where Nazism and Hitler are nearly universally recognized stand-ins for evil. Read the rest of this entry