BOSTON — Two weeks ago, news of a “hidden Nazi memorabilia stash” discovered in Buenos Aires received continent-to-continent coverage. In recent days, however, experts in Nazi-era artifacts have called the collection “carnival-quality garbage,” and something akin to “fake liverwurst.”
The kitsch-fueled drama began on June 8, when Argentinian federal police and Interpol raided the home of a suspicious Buenos Aires art collector. Behind a bookcase, agents spotted a secret passageway leading to a room packed with Nazi-era memorabilia. Among more than 75 “original” objects was a Hitler bust, toys, and medical supplies, all neatly branded with swastikas.
Officials said the objects once belonged to high-ranking Nazis, some of whom — including Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele — fled to Argentina after the war. Media reports on the trove presented the collection as authentic, with some mentioning that — according to Argentina’s federal police head — the objects’ Nazi-era provenance had been confirmed.
These particular circumstances, related to a general increase in Nazi-era forgeries, have some antiquities experts crying foul.
“The so-called horde is all fake,” said Darrell English, a decades-long collector of artifacts related to the Third Reich.
Having viewed photographs and video clips taken of the Buenos Aries trove, English said he is confident that many — if not most — of the items are forgeries. Not only did actual Nazis never touch them, said the Massachusetts-based antiquarian, but it appeared as if they had been forged within the past 20 years.
“The big stand-out was the cat statue with a Nazi swastika necklace and a big swastika on the base — a total joke,” said English, who founded the New England Holocaust Institute & Museum in 2013. Although the museum has since closed, English remains one of the region’s top collectors of Nazi-era artifacts, ranging from concentration camp uniforms to the negatives of historically important photographs.
“The hunting dagger was another big tip-off,” said English of the glimmering discovery in Buenos Aries. “Yes, Hermann Goering gave them out, but this one was over-the-top in both the style of the dagger and the big swastika to catch your eye — that’s the hook that the fake artist uses to capture people’s attention,” said English in an interview with The Times of Israel.
As someone intimately familiar with Nazi regalia, English took one look at — for instance –“a pseudo-Egyptian-Nazi cat sculpture,” and the object immediately “rang a big bell of fake,” he said. The collector had never seen such a motif before, blending Reich elements of style with one of the world’s supposed unter-cultures.
According to Bill Panagopulos, head of the Maryland-based Alexander Historical Auctions, the items in question are “carnival-quality garbage.”
Calling some of the alleged forgeries blatantly obvious, the veteran auctioneer said the seemingly frozen-in-time stash behind the bookcase was too good to be true.
“Just imagine: Nazi-approved children’s harmonicas sold in boxed sets of six with what appear to be laser-printed labels, and presentation-cased, swastika-emblazoned medical measuring calipers,” said Panagopulos.
‘Too many people want to believe everything’
If forgeries of Nazi-era artifacts are so easily detected, why do people bother creating them?
In the assessment of Darrell English, the Buenos Aires stash was being stored by “a person who loves to pass off fakes and underground antiques to people who have more money than brains,” he said. In this scenario, the Nazi-themed objects were never intended to be seen as a collection, as they were when Interpol raided the collector’s home last month. The fake artifacts, said English, were intended to be sold off piecemeal.
“People see swastikas and lose their minds,” said English. “South America plus Nazis equals the Fourth Reich, and there are your headlines,” said the 59 year old, adding that one of his colleagues called the trove “complete garbage.”
The very existence of a seemingly untouched collection of immaculately branded Nazi objects should raise flags of suspicion, said English, whose own stash of Third Reich memorabilia exceeds 10,000 items. Of these artifacts, more than 3,000 are specifically related to the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II.
“What escaping Nazi running for his life would take this stuff with him in his luggage,” said English, who in 1984 was one of the first collectors to discredit the infamous “Hitler’s Diaries,” a forgery packed with lines like, “Eva says I have bad breath.”
According to English, “a Nazi on the run from capture would have had clothes and a ton of fake passports and ID papers, and not a cat statue.”
Recent years have seen an increase in Nazi-era forgeries flooding the market, said English. Some media outlets publish these “discoveries” as genuine without consulting experts, as was the case two weeks ago. Unfortunately, this de factoauthentication lends credence to the next round of fake artifacts, said English, when unwitting buyers recall seeing photographs of “an item just like that” through a news source.
“I have been at this game for half a century now and have seen a lot,” said English. “To date it’s getting worse, because too many people want to believe everything without doing the homework.”