A businessman has today revealed that he bought Adolf Hitler’s top hat and other Nazi artefacts at an auction in order to stop them falling into the hands neo-Nazis.
Abdallah Chatila spent £500,000 on the haul of Nazi items, including Hitler’s cigar box, a copy of Mein Kampf and the £43,000 hat.
He initially planned to burn them, but has since decided to give them to an Israeli fundraising group, which in turn will hand them to the country’s Holocaust memorial centre.
Chatila, a Lebanese-Swiss businessman, said today that it had been a ‘very easy’ decision to purchase the items amid rising anti-Semitism in Europe.
Artefact: A top hat belonging to Adolf Hitler (pictured in 1933, the year he became chancellor of Germany) was bought by a businessman to stop it falling into the hands of neo-Nazis
Chatila explained he had bought the items at a Munich auction house when he saw the ‘potentially lethal injustice that those artefacts would go to the wrong hands’.
‘I felt I had no choice but to actually try to help the cause,’ he said at a press conference in Jerusalem today.
The businessman said he had worried the Nazi-era artifacts could be used by neo-Nazi groups or those seeking to stoke anti-Semitism and racism in Europe.
‘What happened in the last five years in Europe showed us that anti-Semitism, that populism, that racism is going stronger and stronger, and we are here to fight it and show people we’re not scared,’ he said.
‘Today – with the fake news, with the media, with the power that people could have with the internet, with social media – somebody else could use that small window’ of time to manipulate the public, he said.
‘That’s why I felt I had to do it.’
The items, still in Munich, are to be eventually delivered to Israel’s official Yad Vashem memorial,
They will be part of a collection of Nazi artifacts crucial to countering Holocaust denial, but will not be put on regular display, said director Avner Shalev.
Purchase: Businessman Abdallah Chatila, pictured at a press conference in Jerusalem today, said it was a ‘very easy’ decision to buy the items to stop them being used by racists
Chatila also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and visited Yad Vashem.
The businessman was born in Beirut into a family of Christian jewellers and moved to Switzerland at the age of two.
Now among Switzerland’s richest 300 people, he supports charities and causes, including many relating to Lebanon and Syrian refugees.
The auction was brought to Chatila’s attention by the European Jewish Association, which has sought to sway public opinion against the trade in Nazi memorabilia.
Rabbi Mehachem Margolin, head of the association, said Chatila’s surprise act had raised attention to such auctions.
He said it was a powerful statement against racism and xenophobia, especially coming from a non-Jew of Lebanese origin.
Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and Lebanese people are banned from communication with Israelis.
‘There is no question that a message that comes from you is 10 times, or 100 times stronger than a message that comes from us,’ Margolin told Chatila.
The message was not only about solidarity among people, but also ‘how one person can make such a huge change,’ Margolin said.
‘There’s a place for optimism.’