Canadian Jewish leaders are asking online retailers to be more vigilant, after an investigation by the Mail on Sunday newspaper in Britain found a Vancouver man and several other eBay retailers auctioning clothing and items that belonged to victims of Nazi concentration camps.
The newspaper identified Viktor Kempf of Vancouver as the seller of a pair of trousers purportedly worn by a prisoner who died in Auschwitz.
Kempf did not respond to several emails and telephone calls from The Canadian Press.
B’nai Brith vice-president Frank Dimant said items that belonged to the victims of Nazi concentration camps belong in museums.
He said he didn’t want such items online where they could be bought by Neo-Nazis
“It’s revolting. It’s disgusting. It’s totally inappropriate and highly insensitive, especially that we are just on the eve of Kristallnacht...,” Dimant said Monday, referring to the “Night of Broken Glass” on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, when the Nazi SA rounded up Jewish citizens for concentration camps.
“That someone would be selling toothbrushes, and selling shoes, and selling a uniform of someone who died in the Holocaust is despicable.”
EBay has now removed 30 items allegedly from Holocaust victims, apologized for the items making it past their safeguards to auction online and donated $40,000 to a suitable charity.
Dimant commended the online auctioneer for taking quick action, but he said there is a proliferation of Holocaust and Nazi material sold on other, less-stringent sites. On Monday, a quick search of Amazon.com found replica Hitler Youth knives, SS battle flags and SS weapons for sale.
“As a result of this and Amazon, we are going to be appealing to these various entities to try and govern themselves in a more corporately responsible manner,” Dimant said.
“That is truly deplorable that you think that today you can equip an entire neo-Nazi clubhouse just from Amazon.”
A request for comment from Amazon received no immediate response.
The Mail on Sunday said Kempf told them he understands why people may think it’s wrong to sell the items, but he does so to document a horrific period in history and to earn the money to write books.
Kempf told the newspaper he bought the clothes, purportedly those of a man named Wolf Gierson Grundmann who died at Auschwitz, from a reputable dealer in the United States.
“I understand why people may think profiting is wrong but I sell these items to document 1/8 them 3/8 and to fund my book projects,” the paper quoted Kempf as saying.
“If I was a descendant of a victim, I would want to see how my relatives lived. I would want to buy these items to remember them. I run the prisoner numbers on the items through a database to get the names but I personally haven’t had any contact with any of the families. It’s not my place to go searching for these people.”
He said he didn’t want people to think he was just doing it for the money.
“These periods in history are horrific, nobody should ever forget them,” he told the newspaper.
Vancouver Police said they could not discuss whether any complaints had come into the department, but if the items were lawfully obtained and lawful to possess, there would be nothing preventing their sale.
“The sale of Holocaust ‘memorabilia’ is not illegal as the sale alone would not meet criteria set out under current hate crime legislation,” Const. Brian Montague said Monday.
A Viktor Kempf has a website registered in Vancouver, and is the author of the book “Regimental Badges of Imperial Russia,” a catalogue and price list for historic Russian badges. Online bookseller Amazon lists a 588-page hardcover book listed for $145.
The site offers medals, badges, stamps and Russian and German militaria.
“This is a non-political and does not subscribe to any revisionist organizations and neo-beliefs. We only provide this as a service to other collectors,” it said.
The site also contained a link to a 2009 catalogue of Holocaust artifacts, which is no longer operational.
Dimant said he has kept the uniform that his father wore, and will one day donate it to the Museum of Tolerance.
“I think it’s totally unacceptable morally to be selling this on eBay, or to be peddling in this kind of material,” he said. “Really? Shoes of children, of people who were gassed and tortured and subsequently killed. Really? What collector would want to buy that?”
Dimant commended eBay for taking quick action, but he says there is a proliferation of Holocaust and Nazi material sold on other websites and the Jewish human rights groups will also reach out to other websites to take measures that will keep such items offline.