Auction house criticised for claiming ban on sale of Nazi memorabilia does 'disservice' to Holocaust victims

Gabriella Swerling
The Blutorden Blood Order Medal was awarded to Ulrich Graf, who helped protect Hitler when he tried to seize power in Bavaria in November 1923 - an event known as The Beer Hall Putsch.  - PA

An auction house has been criticised after saying that banning Nazi memorabilia would do a “disservice” to Holocaust victims, after Hitler’s saviour’s medal sold for a record price.

The Blutorden Blood Order Medal was awarded to Ulrich Graf, who helped protect Hitler when he tried to seize power in Bavaria in November 1923 - an event known as The Beer Hall Putsch.

The silver  medal, which features the Nazi eagle on one side and an image of the Munich monument on the other, was given to Graf after he threw himself on Hitler and survived after being shot. He took five bullets for Hitler. 

It fetched nine times its £3,500-£4,000 asking price at auction after selling for £36,500 at Hansons Auctioneers' Militaria Auction on July 26.

After the buyer's premium and VAT were added to the overall price, the figure paid by the private overseas buyer was £47,450, which was said by experts to be a “world-record price”.

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, has called for a review into the sale of Nazi memorabilia Credit: Tele/Tele

However the record sale has been branded “inappropriate” and “macabre” by the UK’s leading Holocaust education charity. 

The controversy comes following comments made by Adrian Stevenson, a militaria expert at Hansons auctioneers, based in Derbyshire. 

He said: "It's a world-record price for a medal of its type - a phenomenal result. Interest in this medal was high right from the start. It's a remarkable historical piece with a huge story to tell.

"We know that in the 1950s Ulrich Graf's family sold everything of his. They wanted no connection with his Nazi past."

He added: "Our vendor was a British doctor who had a large collection of German Third Reich medals which are among the most popular genres of medals.

"Some countries like France ban the sale of Third Reich but I think that does a disservice to the victims of the Nazis, it is almost like sweeping it under the carpet.

"The Nazis were walking to a monument that honoured the Bavarian Army when they met a police cordon across the road.

"Police opened fire and Graf took a bullet to the shoulder before throwing himself on Hitler and taking five bullets."

"Now Graf was a big, burly wrestler and obviously Hitler was slightly built. Would he have survived those five bullets? Who knows?" Mr Stevenson said.

Top Nazi Party members march in remembrance of 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Munich, Germany, November 9, 1938. Front row, from left, Friedrich Weber, Hermann Goering (1893 - 1946), Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945), Ulrich Graf, and unidentified; back row, Alfred Rosenberg (1883 - 1946) (third from left) and unidentifieds. Credit: Hugo Jaeger /The LIFE Picture Collection 

"But what Graf did 96 years ago potentially changed the course of history. His name has faded into obscurity since but he is still known in the collectors' market.

"There was interest in this medal from all over the world including Germany. You're allowed to collect Third Reich material there but it is illegal to show it in public."

However Karen Pollock MBE, chief executive of the Holocause Educational Trust, suggested that regulation was needed to prohibit the sale of Nazi memorabilia. 

She told The Telegraph: “It has long been our view that it is not appropriate for items like this to be on the market for personal profit or macabre interest but rather placed in archives, museums or in an educational context.”

“Several leading auction houses and online sites already rightly refuse to sell such material and many countries have banned the sale of Nazi memorabilia. Perhaps it is time for clearer regulation on the sale of these items here in the UK.”

In March the Holocaust Educational Trust called for a review into the sale of Nazi memorabilia - which remains legal in the UK - amid the rise in visible anti-Semitism. It is, however, illegal to sell Nazi memorabilia or items linked to the Holocaust in other European countries such as Germany, France and Austria. 

It comes after a dinner set owned by Adolf Hitler was pulled from sale in a Belfast auction after critics said it was “blind anti-semitism”.

Graf, a former wrestler, was one of the earliest members of the Nazi Party after it was founded in 1920. He was one of Hitler's personal protection squad during the battle - which ended with 16 party members and four officers killed.

A spokeswoman for Hansons said: "We fully respect and understand Karen Pollock’s viewpoint. However, we also fully respect the historical importance of the objects we sell. It's impossible to ignore history or brush away the past. This item was sold purely as an historical object.

"Militaria items are collected worldwide by people who have a passionate interest in wartime history. Museums or educational establishments are free to obtain these items if they wish."