Doubt Cast on 'Most Shocking Holocaust Item'

Tattoo stamps allegedly used at Auschwitz may have been made later
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2021 11:58 AM CDT
Updated Feb 13, 2022 7:45 AM CST
Court Intervenes in Auction of Auschwitz Item
In this Jan. 27, 2020, file photo, writing that reads in German "Work Sets You Free" is seen on the gate of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland.   (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file)

Update: A tattoo kit touted as "the most shocking Holocaust item" may not date to the Holocaust at all. After the planned auction of the steel-needle stamps, which were allegedly used to tattoo Jews at Auschwitz, was blocked in November, the court asked Israel's Yad Vashem center to try to authenticate the item in advance of a final ruling. Now, the BBC reports Yad Vashem found "it seems highly likely that the stamps were not used to tattoo Jews"—for two reasons. First, the booklet accompanying the stamps was dated 1949, suggesting it was manufactured after WWII (farmers also used the stamps to mark livestock). Even if that wasn't the case, it found such stamps were used only briefly at Auschwitz, and were mostly used to tattoo non-Jews: political prisoners and POWs. Our original story from Nov. 2 follows:

The Israeli auction house described the lot as "the most shocking Holocaust item." So shocking, it turns out, that a court has stepped in to block its sale. The BBC reports Tzolmans auction house of Jerusalem had planned to auction a partial set of eight needle-bearing stamps used to tattoo inmates at Auschwitz, along with an associated instruction booklet from German manufacturer Aesculap. The BBC reports Meir Tzolman—whose grandparents survived the Holocaust—claimed he was in no way trying to "diminish the value of the Holocaust" but rather wanted "to make sure that the item gets into the right hands and does not disappear from the pages of history."

But Reuters reports an Israeli court intervened on Wednesday, with the Tel Aviv District Court granting a request from Holocaust survivors that the sale be suspended pending a Nov. 16 hearing on whether it should occur. The lot had been expected to fetch $30,000 to $40,000. Tzolman described the private seller as "determined to sell any way necessary." He said his auction house has fielded calls from "tens" of interested buyers, and "each one noted a name of a different museum related to the Holocaust."

Auschwitz is the only concentration camp known to have tattooed prisoners, and the stamps are one of just three sets known to exist; the others are held at the Military Medical Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Auschwitz Museum. Haaretz reports the steel dies featured pins that formed numbers that would have been punched into prisoners' skin with ink. Yad Vashem, chair of the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, said such items should be in the center's possession, saying their trade "is morally unacceptable and only encourages the proliferation of counterfeits." (Read more Auschwitz stories.)

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