Man who lost family members in Holocaust opposes Nazi artifact sales

HALIFAX — A Halifax man who lost family members in the Holocaust says he’s hoping a local antique shop will voluntarily stop selling Nazi artifacts — while a national Jewish group has called for regulation on trade in Third Reich memorabilia.

Shimon Walt said he learned of the sale of Nazi party badges and photos of Nazi-era war medals from his wife, Peggy Walt, who visited the shop after attending synagogue nearby on Saturday.

“I wish those memorabilia, all the swastikas and photographs … would stay locked up in museums around the world in places where we can educate our young ones and ourselves not to forget what has happened,” Walt, a cellist who plays in the local symphony orchestra, said in an interview on Monday.

Walt’s mother Bela survived the Holocaust in Lithuania after she and her mother were transferred to a Siberian work camp.

Peggy Walt said when they returned from the camp, his relatives in the city of Vilnius had disappeared.

She said some died in a nearby killing pit where Jews were taken and shot, while others were shipped to death camps operated by the German state. His mother and grandmother eventually moved to Israel, where Shimon was educated prior to coming to the United States and then Nova Scotia.

The musician said he doesn’t, at this point, favour laws that ban the sale of memorabilia, but prefers that shop owners and flea markets voluntarily cease the trade and sale of the items — and that their use be restricted for educational purposes.

He said he is hoping shop owners consider the sense of hurt that occurs for descendants of Holocaust survivors.

“These are likely some of the last symbols some of my relatives saw before they died,” he said.

Jack Craft, the owner of Finer Things Antiques and Curios, said in a social media post that he agreed “the swastika is considered an offensive symbol,” but he also said customers who purchase the items are often doing so due to an interest in military history,” and “collect historical artifacts to preserve and to study.”

“I respect your opinion, and ask you to try to understand how and why some people may be collectors. For many, it’s a lifelong scholarship and interest in learning about an important time in world history,” he wrote during an online discussion involving a number of participants.

“I can say I’ve had the privilege of speaking to many of these people in our store on a daily basis and they’re quite the opposite of how you label them. To call anyone who collects these things ‘ring wing extremists’ is really disappointing.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, Craft said he “will ensure the symbol is covered on any (Nazi) artifacts” he sells.

He said in a direct message to The Canadian Press that he is declining further comment.

Peggy Walt said the covering of the items doesn’t solve the issue for her, as there is still profit earned on the sale of the artifacts.

“It’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t alter the facts the items are there on display in the store,” she said in an interview.

The topic of the sale of Nazi memorabilia also arose last August when the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Toronto objected to the sale of the items at a Pickering, Ont., antiques market.

Avi Benlolo, the president of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says he suspects the market for Nazi items is widening among white supremacists, and is calling for Ottawa to consider implementing regulations that restrict their sale in the private marketplace.

He notes that Germany has criminal code sections in place to reduce the free flow of the items in shops.

“People who believe in racist ideology are far more emboldened and they’re turning back to the Hitler ideology,” he said during an interview.

“It should be regulated much as Germany does.”

Randall Hansen, director of the Munk school of global affairs at the University of Toronto, also said it’s time for Canada to move towards stricter regulation.

Hansen said while wartime memorabilia such as air airplanes, models or stamps are acceptable, he finds the trade in Nazi symbols unacceptable.

“I think a more restricted ban that targets Nazi symbols … such as swastikas would be admirable and to be encouraged,” he said.

“The question is whether such a ban might survive a Charter challenge.”

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