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Court freezes Jerusalem sale of Auschwitz prisoner tattoo stamp set

‘Such an evil item can’t have an owner,’ Holocaust survivors’ group argued; Yad Vashem protested sale as ‘morally unacceptable’

The stamps used to brand prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp, put up for sale at a Jerusalem auction house (Screen grab)
The stamps used to brand prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp, put up for sale at a Jerusalem auction house (Screen grab)

An Israeli court issued an injunction Wednesday halting the auction of tattoo stamps used by Nazis on Jewish and other inmates of Auschwitz, following an appeal from a Holocaust survivor group.

Tzolman’s Auctions, a Jerusalem seller, had listed the original tattoo stamps of digits used to brand inmates at the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.

A million Jews died at Auschwitz-Birkenau along with tens of thousands of others including Catholic Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war, between 1940 and 1945.

“The original stamps used to tattoo the numbers on Auschwitz prisoners,” the Tzolman’s website said. “The most shocking Holocaust item.”

It did not say who had put the stamps up for sale, but valued the items at $30,000-$40,000.

According to Tzolman’s, there are only three such stamp sets known in the world, with this being the largest. The others are in a military museum in St. Petersburg and on display at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Holocaust survivor Bracha Ghilai, 75, shows her tattooed arm at her house in Holon near Tel Aviv, January 23, 2005. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The sale, set for November 9, was protested by Yad Vashem, which called it “morally unacceptable” and said it should get the artifacts, as Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

The Center Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, meanwhile, filed a request with the Tel Aviv District Court that the sale be frozen.

Attorney David Fohrer wrote in the appeal: “Such an evil item can’t have an owner… Its sale is illegal and goes against the public decency doctrine.

“This is an item that is not private property, rather a horrific monument belonging to the entire public, and serving as evidence to the crimes of the Nazis and their aides.”

The court issued a temporary injunction on Wednesday blocking the sale, setting November 16 as the date for an “urgent hearing” on the matter.

This file photo taken on December 5, 2019 shows a man walking by the barbed wire fence enclosing the memorial site of the former Auschwitz German Nazi death camp. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP)

Colette Avital, head of the Center Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, said that the stamps belonged in a museum.

“Objects like this shouldn’t be traded, and certainly should not be owned privately,” she told AFP.

“These are objects that were used for especially cruel crimes,” she said, used “to turn people from humans into numbers.”

According to the auction house, the kit includes the stamps and an instruction booklet from the manufacturer Aesculup on branding cattle.

The auction house notes that stamps for branding cattle were ten times larger than the stamps included in the set it was selling, so, it said, there was no doubt that they were manufactured for the tattooing of prisoners.

Colette Avital attends a local Labor Party meeting in Jerusalem on November 30 2008 (Olivier Fitoussi /FLASH90)

When Yad Vashem chair Dani Dayan was asked on Twitter on Tuesday if a donor could be found to prevent the objects falling into the wrong hands, he said that the Holocaust remembrance center did not buy objects at auction because it does not want to encourage “greedy traders,” adding that there may be a need for legislation on the matter.

“On principle, Yad Vashem opposes the existence of a market for Jewish or Nazi objects from the time of the Holocaust, and therefore does not purchase such items. Fortunately, the number of items donated to Yad Vashem is dozens of times higher than those traded,” Dayan tweeted. “The solution may be in legislation, and certainly not in putting in bids to greedy traders that will encourage them to continue [with the sales].”

But Meir Tzolman, the head of the auction house, defended the sale.

“We want to increase awareness. I am the last to underestimate or diminish the value of the Holocaust. I want to make sure that the item gets into the right hands and does not disappear from the pages of history,” he told Army Radio.

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