Nazi uniforms similar to the ones that have been the target of theft from museums in Denmark and the Netherlands are seen here on display at the Museum of Military History in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Flickr
Uniforms from Nazi Germany have been stolen from several museums in the Netherlands and Denmark over the past three months prompting question about what might be causing the heightened interest in Nazi paraphernalia behind the heists.
In the night of November 3, 2020, unknown perpetrators stole a total 20 Nazi-related exhibits from the Deutsches Museum Nordschleswig in Sonderborg, Denmark, German English-language media DW reports.
According to a press release from the museum, the perpetrators of the museum heist in Denmark’s Sonderborg were after Nazi paraphernalia.
“[They stole] objects that shed light on the National Socialist past of the (local) minority. They mainly went for various uniforms. These uniforms are coveted and valuable trophy items in certain collector circles, which could be a possible motive for the break-in,” the Museum is quoted as saying.
Before that, in October 2020, in a robbery in the War Museum in the Dutch city of Ossendrecht, near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium, burglars stole numerous display mannequins wearing historical uniforms and weapons.
The damages from the heist in the Ossendrecht War Museum are calculated at about EUR 1 million.
Also recently, in August 2020, a total of six perpetrators broke into the “Eyewitness Museum” in the southern Dutch town of Beek.
In a burglary which took only six minutes, they stole Nazi exhibits, resulting in damages worth EUR 1.5 million (USD 1.78 million).
It remains unclear whether the two museum heists in the Netherlands and the one in Denmark, all of them targeting Nazi uniforms and paraphernalia within the past three months, are somehow related.
The two museum burglaries in the Netherlands, however, caused other Dutch museums to take precautions.
Frans van Venrooij, the director of another war museum located in the Dutch village of Loon op Zand, took to secure locations many of his more valuable exhibits, such as silverware used by Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler as well as a number SS and Hitler Youth uniforms. He also fortified the main entrance.
The War Museum in Overloon reacted by returned valuable exhibits on loan from the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation; those included one of the so-called death books from the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
According to DW, there are clear indications that Nazi devotional objects are in greater demand than ever before, with a number of reports of stolen or forged Nazi paraphernalia in recent years.
The report cites online art market platform “Artnet” as saying that high-quality replicas or forgeries of Nazi items are presently being manufactured on large scales in countries such as Bulgaria (whose treasure hunting and antiques trafficking criminal industry has a history of forging archaeological artifacts, even Ancient Thracian treasures), Poland, Ukraine, and even Pakistan.
According to the report, the replicas or forgeries of Nazi paraphernalia in question are oftentimes of such a great quality that even experts could be fooled at first.
A case in had was a recent Holocaust exhibition in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires where most of the exhibits turned out not to be original.
Collectors of items from Nazi Germany said to be most interested in uniforms, helmets, military orders of merit, daggers as well as personal items belonging to high-ranking officers or Nazi members.
According to Arnd Bauerkaemper, professor of 19th and 20th century history at the Berlin Free University and an expert in Nazi history, there are several reasons for the growing interest in Nazi-era artifacts, ranging from commercial interests to a fascination with National Socialism.
“Who creates the demand for these things? This is where you will come across a group of people that displays right-wing extremist tendencies. At the same time, you will also find some people who are not politically motivated but are fascinated by National Socialism,” says Bauerkaemper.
He blames the present-day fascination and fetishisation of the Nazi era on the great distance between the present and the events of the past.
“This historical detachment plays a big role; just think of Prince Harry’s fancy dress costume as [German Nazi General Erwin] Rommel — there was something playfully innocuous about it,” the professor states.
He has referred to a 2005 gaffe when 20-year-old Harry, one of the British successors to the throne, dressed up in a Nazi uniform, and later apologized for doing so.
At the same time, though, there are people buying Nazi devotional objects to prevent them from reaching the wrong hands.
In 2019, Lebanese businessman Abdallah Chatila purchased personal belongings from Adolf Hitler’s estate to donate them to the central Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.
Back in 2019, the government of Austria decided to turn the building where Adolf Hitler was born into a police station in order to prevent it from becoming a gathering spot for Nazi admirers.