Auction for ‘Memento’ ink marker at Auschwitz museum halted after dozens protest

JERUSALEM — A judge in Israel has halted an auction of an authentic-looking ink marker belonging to the Auschwitz memorial museum.

The pre-auction tag said the item “showed the life, work and emotions of prisoners from the pre-war years at Auschwitz.” Auctioneer Eitan Knavel said before the hearing that he believed it was one of the last of its kind left.

Amos Yadlin, who was chief of Israel’s military intelligence during the second Intifada (Palestinian uprising), offered it in exchange for a token loan for the Israeli display, but no members of the public bid. Knavel said the item would be auctioned under fresh conditions.

The Israeli judge, Shai Zhevitz, granted the order to cancel the auction, with no schedule for a new auction.

“I don’t know how to communicate on this case,” Zhevitz said, referring to Israel’s legal system. “The court did not want to link the tragic history of Auschwitz with the claims of souvenir dealers.”

The judge cited a Lithuanian civil court ruling from 2012, which halved the profit a dealer must pay Auschwitz.

The auction comes amid growing Jewish sensitivity to items like the ink marker that may contain remnants of the Holocaust era. Larger products like the Auschwitz Memorial website are printed on recycled paper rather than hard copy and cannot be reproduced.

Attorneys representing the Auschwitz Memorial had to employ a translator during the hearing to clarify the possible legal implications. When it comes to texts, images and other bits of memorabilia from the Holocaust that are on display in Israeli museums, the lawyers argue, one cannot be considered legally souvenir because of the loss of dignity.

Consisting of only three colors, the ink marker was said to be manufactured in Poland. It was described by Guinness World Records in 2010 as the world’s most recognizable place name.

The Auschwitz museum has not commented directly on the auction, but in response to the news of it went on Facebook, criticizing the auctioneer Knavel. “If the product does not include personal possessions of Holocaust victims, it is neither for sale nor in good taste,” the museum wrote.

In an effort to reduce the appeals process, the museum is seeking to up its own high price, auctioning its preferred item — an authentic brown shoebox from the 1940s.

Edith Cohen, a frequent participant in Holocaust auction groups and a member of Dafna Ziv at the Israel chapter of the International Committee of the Order of the Sons of the Ghetto Fighters, helped present the first catalog for the new auction.

Cohen said as a Holocaust survivor, “I cannot step into an auction house. It makes me more uncomfortable and I’m a strong and independent person. But I feel it is time for me to speak up to let the world know the history and the words behind the property auction.”

“There are many unsold items out there and nobody is asking if these items are for sale,” she said. “Sometimes we want to be able to say, ‘look, look, this isn’t for sale, it belongs to us, it belongs to the museum.’”

Ziv said the sale on such “jokes” was part of the art of auctioning out Holocaust memorabilia for a profit. “It’s considered that the general public is not well aware of the fact that, when items from Auschwitz are listed, it’s in the context of an auction and it’s a way to sell the item,” she said.

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