Lebanese businessman buys auctioned Hitler items, donates them to Israel

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A Lebanese-born businessman bought several items that belonged to Adolf Hitler and other Nazi paraphernalia in order to keep them out of the hands of neo-Nazis.

Abdallah Chatila, who lives in Geneva, purchased the items during a controversial auction in Germany and immediately donated them to Keren Hayesod, an Israeli fundraising group. Chatila said his purchase was “totally apolitical and neutral,” but he “wished to buy these objects so that they could not be used for the purpose of neo-Nazi propaganda.”

Chatila spent $660,000 on the Nazi memorabilia including a top hat — believed to be Hitler’s — at 50,000 euros, a rare copy of the anti-Semitic political manifesto Mein Kampf for 130,000 euros, a silver cigar box of Hitler’s, personal letters and more.

In an interview with Germany-based DW Akademie, Chatila said he decided to bid on the items after reading that a European rabbi, fearing the recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks, failed in his efforts to block the auction.

“I said to myself the best thing I could do about it would be to make sure that those items do not fall into the wrong hands by acquiring them myself,” Chatila said.

“My first idea was that I wanted to destroy them. Then in the 24 hours I had to think about this, I realized it wasn’t my right and my position to decide what to do with them so I said I should give them to a Jewish association,” he continued. “So half an hour before the sale, I called up (Keren Hayesod) and I told then what I was going to do and sent them an official letter, because I did not want my name to appear in the market alongside those items without advising why I was buying them. And then, the minute I bought the last lot, I immediately sent a press release explaining why I had done it, because I was also very scared, because of my name, that people would think I did it for the wrong purpose.”

Chatila anticipated that he would attract criticism for either, as an Arab, appearing to have anti-Semitic motives for procuring Hitler items, or appearing too “close” to the Jewish community. 

Born in Beiruit, Chatila comes from a Christian family that fled Lebanon during the civil war. The diamond dealer and real estate mogul is now one of Switzerland’s 300 richest people.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association had argued before the auction that German authorities should compel auction houses to divulge the names of buyers of such items for a watchlist. He was elated to learn of Chatila’s donation.

“You have set an example for the world to follow when it comes to this macabre and sickening trade in Nazi trinkets,” Margolin said.

The rabbi will honor Chatila in January during a visit in January by 100 European parliamentarians to the site of the World War II Auschwitz death camp. Chatila accepted an invitation to join the tour.

“I am very honored by this award,” Chatila said. “I think that the claims of the Jewish people, to be able to live their religion freely and safely, is a righteous act — and it’s something that should be safe for everybody,” he said.

Keren Hayesod said the items will most likely be given to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.