A Swiss businessman who purchased a collection of Nazi memorabilia had a singular goal: to keep the items from landing in the “wrong hands.”
“I did it for humanity,” Abdallah Chatila explained to CNN. “I just wanted to take them off circulation.”
The items include Hitler’s personal cigar box, a collapsible top hat worn by Hitler, German military leader Hermann Göring’s limited-print edition of “Mein Kampf,” several handwritten letters from Hitler to a childhood friend, a box of silver music, the typewriter Hitler’s assistant used to capture his texts, a silver frame offered to SS commander Ulrich Graf, and a baptismal gift to Göring’s daughter.
All the items will be shipped straight to Israel and turned over to Israeli nonprofit Keren Hayesod.
“I wanted to destroy [them],” Chatila said of his motivations for buying the collection. “But in the end giving them to a Jewish organization might be a more fitting end to the story.”
He said it will be up to Keren Hayesod to decide the items’ fate.
“It is extremely important to me that items from this painful historical era do not land in the wrong hands,” he said, adding that he didn’t win every bid he placed. “In these days, where tendencies of nationalism and anti-Semitism are growing in Europe, I would like to set an example with the means I have.”
In total, he spent over €600,000 on the memorabilia, or approximately $680,000. He says every penny was worth it.
A controversial auction
In the lead-up to the auction, European Jewish Association (EJA) Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin wrote letters to the leaders of all German mainstream political parties urging them to stop the sales.
“Selling such items should be no different to selling the personal items belonging to Osama bin Laden, or Anders Breivik. The argument of historical interest is pure semantics,” Menachem wrote.
However, after learning of Chatila’s actions, Margolin changed his tune.
“As a Rabbi it is not often that I am lost for words,” Margolin said in a letter to Chatila, writing that he was “bowled over” by his actions to purchase the items and “give them to the Jewish Community for safekeeping.”
“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. You have set an example for the world to follow when it comes to this macabre and sickening trade in Nazi trinkets.”
The EJA has invited 100 members of parliament from across the European Union to Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi concentration camp in Poland, to witness the horrors the Nazis did. Margolin said that Chatila has accepted their invitation for January 20, and he will be there as a guest of honor where he will be given an award by the EJA.
The buyer wants to set an example
Chatila said that he has no interest in ever seeing the items. He is now just waiting for the certificates from auction house Hermann Historica verifying their authenticity before they are shipped off to Israel.
“I have full trust that Keren Hayesod will take the proper decision to handle this donation. I strongly hope that such delicate items will be exhibited in a Holocaust museum that will have a better use than any other entity,” Chatila said.
“The main purpose is for future generations to remember,” Chatila added. “To never forget the evil that transpired.”
A spokeswoman for Keren Hayesod called Chatila’s act noble and said they are trying to figure out how best to handle the donation.
“We are already in the process of consulting with the appropriate authorities and institutions in order to determine what should be done with these items,” the organization wrote in a statement to CNN. “Keren Hayesod will ensure that these items are dealt with in a responsible manner and in a way that is respectful to humanity and the Jewish people.”
Correction: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Abdallah Chatila's name.
CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, AJ Davis and Elwazer Schams contributed to this story.