About 18 years ago I went on a blind date. That in itself is not remarkable. I have been on quite a few of those in my day. She was very striking in appearance. She was just a little shorter than I am at 6’2, blond hair and piercing blue eyes. While I can not remember it off hand, I do remember her last name was pure unadulterated German. There was no mistaking this girl’s ancestry was Rhine wine through and through.
After our third date she offered to cook me dinner. Being that I never had more than a box of rice and 6 pack of Tab in my kitchen(not much as changed on that front) I took her up on it.
When I entered her apartment what I saw took my breath away. On her mantle above the fireplace was a Waffen SS Helmet ,Hitler Youth Knife and some type of decorative Swastika. The Waffen SS is a notorious Nazi military unit considered part of the “tip of the sword” in the planning and implementation of The Holocaust.
I couldn’t breath. I walked to the fireplace and picked up the Hitler Youth Knife. Trying to remain clam, and in a steady voice, I quietly asked her where she got them. She told me her deceased grandfather had served in the German army and had passed the items on to her. Breathing a little heavier and in a higher pitched voice I asked her if she knew I was Jewish. She stated that she had no idea what my religion was and that she was deeply sorry if the items offended me. I did not say another word, turned around and walked out. That was that.
I had no reason to believe she was Antisemitic. In hindsight 18 years later, I believe the only context around the items was to show off what her grandfather had given her. To this day I have no idea if she even knew the “Jewish significance” of the items. Believe it or not, there are many out there who have limited,if any comprehension of the Holocaust. They are not deniers, just uneducated on the subject beyond the woefully inadequate coverage in their high school history class.
None of that ran through my mind 18 years ago. As I held that Hitler youth knife, she was Hitler incarnate. While her background ruled out a compatible future, beyond that, was I being fair? Context is everything.
I never thought of that incident again until today. I was jogged back to that evening by reading a series of articles full of accusations, retorts and supposition surrounding a Huffington Post Blogger’s collection of Nazi Memorabilia.
It is now being reported that that Garlasco is an avid collector of Nazi and American wartime memorabilia. He has also reportedly made what some would consider insensitive and inappropriate remarks on memorabilia collector web sites with regards to some of his Nazi artifacts.
Many bloggers and other critics have tagged him as a Nazi, Nazi Sympathizer etc. They have called into question his past and future credibility in work that in some aspects by it’s very nature innately carries the specter of Nazi Germany and The Holocaust.
Garlasco responded with an article in the Huffington Post defending his right to collect such memorabilia and providing the context for the collection.
In my mind, understanding the context of such activities is vital in coming to judgment about them and him or anyone who collects controversial historical artifacts that by their very nature offend certain groups. Nazi memorabilia would certainly fall within that classification.
Context is important because the collection and display of Nazi memorabilia can be and often is a form of Anti-Semitic hate speech in itself. eBay recognized this when it banned the buying and selling of such merchandise world wide.
Would I be offended if someone had a Nazi Swastika framed or displayed on the wall of their home even if I knew he was a collector? Absolutely. The only context I take from that is at worst Antisemitism and at least, crass insensitivity to who may lay eyes on it and be offended. I would not even ask for an explanation. I am out of there never to return.
If I walk into that same collector’s home and saw a plaque with various signs and patches of the Axis, including a Swastika, on one side and of the Allies on the other? That has a different context to me and I probably would not be offended. I would want to know more. I would at least want more information to gain better context to know what I am dealing with.
Are there some Nazi items that are so closely associated with human suffering as to transcend appropriate historical context for a legitimate personal collection. I believe so. If I find out that Garlasco has a Zyklon B canister in his collection my context for his activities will change drastically.
I do not agree with Garlasco’s opinions and conclusions as to Israel. I however, am not going to put his personally distasteful beliefs and conclusions together with his Nazi collection and conclude that he possesses pro-Nazi or antisemitic sentiments. While there is certainly a creepy paradox in someone who reports on alleged war crimes collecting Nazi items, I am unclear as to what this entire revelation is supposed to clarify. If you believe he is anti-Israel and biased in his conclusions then what does the collection add to the mix? Is this supposed to be some “final nail” to say “a ha I told you so”? His credibility is now more in question? It’s backwards circular logic that diminishes and detracts from the real issues.
My friends and family know I am fascinated with WWII history, the Holocaust and yes the history of Nazi Germany. I have write on these subjects regularly on my blog. I have Holocaust history on my mother’s side. While I would never buy a Swastika, I have often looked at Holocaust artifacts for sale on eBay. While I have never bought anything, I have though about it. There are those that may find that creepy. To me it is part of my lifelong search for knowledge ,understanding and personally historical context.
Context people context…
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