Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grave robbing. (Let sleeping dog tags lie.)

I remember a few years ago, reading – and blogging – about auction houses that subspecialize in Nazi paraphernalia. I can’t remember the details, and I’m too lazy to look them up, but there was some Goering-related stuff: teaspoons, ashtrays, coasters. Crap like that.

Goering memorabilia is apparently a real catch. In June, his silk underwear fetched $3.4K at auction. No comparison with his boss, however. A jacket worn by Hitler went for over $300K. (All part of a major purchase made by an anonymous bidder from Argentina. Is Josef Mengele still alive, or was that Paraguay?) (Source: Newsweek)

I can’t imagine who’d want any of this ghastly stuff, but there’s no accounting for warped taste and infinite pocketbook.

It’s not just objects associated with über Nazis that are drawing interest. Some collectors are after relics of plain old rank and file German soldiers from WWII. Which has gotten some enterprising Latvians to dig up gravesites looking for something worth selling.

Around 100,000 German soldiers were killed in Latvia in the waning days of the war. When it comes to long-dead soldiers, Talis Esmits is a good guy. He and a group of comrades see to about 700 reburials each year, helping landowners properly dispose of remains they find in their backyards and fields, working without compensation out of the goodness – or sheer weirdness – of their hearts.

“In Latvia, it is normal for you to have dead soldiers on your yard,” Esmits said. “When people came back to their homes after the war, they saw there was a dead soldier here and a dead soldier there, and they just buried them.” (Source: Bloomberg)

But while Esmit and his guys are going about their morbid, yet well-intended, tasks, there are others at work, and they’re looking to make a buck off the remains of the day.

…in recent years, the often illicit market in Nazi memorabilia has intensified, creating a new class of diggers across eastern Europe that is at odds with Esmits’s work. Of particular interest are relics—items dug up from the ground. “When we first started, the market for relics was a local one—you couldn’t even call it a market,” Esmits said. “Then the internet appeared, and Europe and the world opened up, and many things changed.”

As they say, the Internet changed everything.

And one thing that it’s changed is the market for low-end German leave behinds: dogtags, medals, uniforms, helmets.

This stuff doesn’t demand a ton, but they’re not making any more, say, Wehrmacht helmets, which today demand almost four times what they did just three years ago.

So the scavengers today compete with Esmits to grab up those helmets. And dog tags. Regular soldier dog tags go for $60. Creepily, SS tags can bring in several hundred bucks. When Esmits finds dog tags, he sends the information on them to a German group that focuses on reburials and “closure” for families. Some of the commercial grave robbers also give over the info, but others aren’t so concerned with the niceties. They want the cash.

All of this is making not just those whose have loved ones whose bones are being dug up, and their belt buckles pillaged, upset. It also makes war historians nuts, too.

Even though they were part of the Nazi war machine, I have some sympathy for the families of those dead soldiers. Most of them were probably not ardent, rotten to the core Nazis, but just plain grunts.

I also have some sympathy for poor Latvians trying to scratch out a living selling German dog tags and helmets. But

But what a grim and disgusting way to make a living. Why not just let those sleeping dog tags lie.

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