A Del Mar-based military antiques dealer is defending his decision to auction off a Nazi uniform worn by Adolf Hitler, dismissing the idea that he is profiting off the Holocaust.
Military antique dealer Craig Gottleib is a recognizable face on the History Channel show “Pawn Stars.” He’s owned and auctioned pieces from the furthest reaches of American military history, such as a flagpole salvaged from the Battle of Chapultepec in the Mexican-American War that inspired the United States Marine Corps’ “Marines’ Hymn.” He also owns a military uniform once worn by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
Though Gottleib has had his hands on some of history’s most interesting relics, he says auctioning off Hitler’s uniform will be the pinnacle of his career.
While Gottleib is excited about the prospect of Hitler’s uniform fetching millions of dollars on the auction block, some people say the vile acts the uniform’s original owner is associated with are cause to jettison the artifact from existence.
“People have suggested they should be burnt. Well, you know what? I think that’s just wrong and silly. If you gave me $3 million to burn these artifacts, I’d say, ‘No thank you. Not interested.’ They’re that important,” Gottleib said.
The discomfort surrounding the uniform and all it’s connected to isn’t lost on Gottleib. He understands the evil his artifacts once represented and can empathize with those who are pained by the site of them. But Gottleib maintains he isn’t profiting off that evil, and insists he's helping preserve history that, despite its heinousness, should never be forgotten.
After all, he said, “It’s not the artifact that’s responsible for what Hitler did."
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“These items are touchpoints to history, and they preserve history in a very concrete way. And so these artifacts are not collectibles, really. Once you go to this level, they are historical artifacts in the public domain.”
“If you don’t get a little bit creeped out when you hold Hitler’s hat, for example, you’re not a human being,” Gottleib added. “The very first time I held this in my hands, it did exactly what I said these artifacts do. They’re little time machines; they transport me into history and give me a concrete connect point to the person, place, events of the second World War.”
Gottleib said there are several well-documented photographs featuring Hitler wearing the exact uniform that is up for auction, and said the uniform was, without a doubt, “present at events that changed history.”
He says at the end of World War II the Nazis destroyed many of Hitler’s personal belongings and very few uniforms survived. The one in Gottleib’s possession was taken from Hitler’s apartment in Munich, Germany, by a Jewish First Lieutenant and brought back to the U.S.
“If you’re not careful history can disappear,” Gottleib said.