BERLIN (AP) — A Lebanese-born Swiss real estate mogul said Monday that he purchased Adolf Hitler’s top hat and other Nazi memorabilia from a German auction in order to keep them out of the hands of neo-Nazis, and has agreed to donate them to a Jewish group.
Abdallah Chatila, a Lebanese Christian who has lived in Switzerland for decades, told The Associated Press he paid some 600,000 euros ($660,000) for the items at the Munich auction last week, intending to destroy them after reading of Jewish groups’ objections to the sale.
“I wanted to make sure that these pieces wouldn’t fall into bad hands, to the wrong side of the story, so I decided to buy them,” he said in a telephone interview.
Shortly before the auction, however, he decided it would be better to donate them to a Jewish organization, and got in touch with the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal group.
Chatila is never going to even see the items — which also include a silver-plated edition of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and a typewriter used by the dictator’s secretary — that will be sent directly to the group, he said.
“I have no direct interest whatsoever, I just thought it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Neither Keren Hayesod nor the Hermann Historica auction house responded to requests for comment.
Keren Hayesod’s European director told France’s Le Point magazine, however, that while no final decision had been made on what to do with the items, they’d likely be sent to Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial which has a selection of Nazi artifacts.
The European Jewish Association, which had led the campaign against the auction going ahead, applauded Chatila for stepping in.
“Such a conscience, such an act of selfless generosity to do something that you feel strongly about is the equivalent of finding a precious diamond in an Everest of coal,” EJA chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin wrote Chatila in a letter provided to the AP.
“You have set an example for the world to follow when it comes to this macabre and sickening trade in Nazi trinkets.”
Chatila said Rabbi Margolin had inspired him in the first place. He also acknowledged there was some opposition in his native country.
“I understand that some of the Lebanese people were not happy with my gesture, thinking that I was helping the ‘enemy,’” Chatila said at his Geneva office, gesturing with air-quotes as he alluded to perennial tensions between Lebanon and Israel.
“(On) the other hand, a lot of Israelis thought that it was a great move because this is another approach for peace — or something that is close to peace,” he added.
Jamey Keaten contributed from Geneva.