Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire. Credit: cc-by-sa/2.0 – Lacock Abbey by Ian Capper – geograph.org.uk/p/4583345

National Trust seeks explanation over sale of Nazi memorabilia

Alex Stevens, 22.08.18

Local living history event on Trust-owned land sparks furore 

A living history day held on National Trust (NT) land has seen the trust criticised for making money from an event labelled as “fascist fetishism”, after Nazi items were reportedly on sale and an original Star of David fabric patch was displayed.


The NT said the displays were insensitive and unacceptable, and that it was seeing “what lessons can be learned” from the event – while emphasising that it was not itself directly involved in the event.

An attendee told The Sun newspaper how she had cried and felt “bewildered that nobody else seemed to be offended by what was going on”, describing displays as “fascist fetishism”. 

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The BBC and Jewish Chronicle reported that the same attendee described seeing two men wearing black SS uniforms at the Lacock at War event, which took place on NT-owned grounds on 18 and 19 August.

About 8,000 people attended the event, which was in its seventh year.

She told the Jewish Chronicle: “There were people who had stalls selling memorabilia. I came across a black SS beret with the skull in front.

“Then I saw in someone’s cabinet a Jewish Star of David on an armband, displayed next to other things like Nazi stationery. It was someone’s personal collection that they’d put on display.

“So I decided that we should leave. I was feeling very uneasy. As we left I saw two men strutting into the event in what appeared to be full black SS officer uniforms. That was the moment when I physically couldn’t stand up anymore and I had to sit on the floor.

“I burst into tears. These guys had this expression of complete smugness, and I got this real feeling about them, that they didn’t get to wear this very often but they were really loving the fact they were wearing it that day.

"I just don’t know what would possess someone to put that on and walk about with such a swagger.”

A National Trust spokesperson told Museums Journal: "We are aware of concerns raised over a living history event held at Lacock over the weekend and have contacted the organisers for an urgent explanation.

“The event was organised by the Military Vehicle Trust (MVT) and included uniforms and materials, which understandably caused distress and led to a complaint.

“We will make it very clear to the MVT that these displays were insensitive, unacceptable and should not be repeated. The event took place on the village playing field, which we lease to Lacock Parish Council. The Trust has no direct involvement in the event itself.

“Historical re-enactments can help raise awareness of important and difficult moments from the past and bring stories to life in an engaging way. We don’t therefore have an issue with re-enactments in themselves but do believe they should be done sensitively and in a way that genuinely helps people learn more about the historical context of the period.

“We’re looking into what happened at Lacock this weekend to see what lessons can be learned from it. We also recognise the organisers had no intention of upsetting anyone with their event.”

Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, said: “Museums need to think carefully about which organisations they work in partnership with and what the public perception of those partnerships might be.

“The Museums Association’s Code of Ethics clearly states that museums should ‘avoid all private activities that could be construed as trading or dealing in cultural property’ and while the transactions in this case might have been conducted by third party organisations the reputation of the NT has been potentially brought into disrepute by association with the event.”

John Wardle, the secretary of MVT, told the BBC: "One of the traders was selling Nazi memorabilia. There's nothing illegal about selling Nazi memorabilia.

"There were no Nazis at the event – there were people dressed in German uniforms but they weren't Nazis."

Wardle also told the BBC that there had been no complaints in the past.

Comments

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Anonymous
23.08.2018, 15:26
I must declare an interest as I am both a member of the MVT, although I do not own a military vehicle or participate in reenactments, and the MA, as well as being a Museum Designer. I do agree that the NT should have an active interest on all events on their properties and make it their business to understand and attend the events. They cannot just take the money and hope for the best. No Museum Curator would do that. I have had cause to suggest censorship of photographs taken in Europe after D-Day because they were of dead soldiers, from all sides, that might have been identifiable by family members, in a number of Museums. The MA Ethical guidelines do give good advice and should be read more widely.
Anonymous
23.08.2018, 16:10
Indeed. Controversial issues, if properly and thoughtfully handled, can be as appropriate subjects for exhibitions as anything else and in fact can provide excellent learning opportunities, if only to discuss ideas around censorship and the writing of history. One just has to tackle the subject with the greatest possible care and sensitivity: the more so the more current the issue. If Nazism was an ideology now firmly in the past, there were absolutely no Nazis in existence anymore, and the whole issue was centuries old, that might be one thing. But sadly that's not the case. The visitor upset by seeing the guys in Nazi uniforms was not to know whether they were just re-enactors or something more sinister. The NT should really have been in charge, to interpret and contain the issue appropriately.

A Hindu friend told me that Nazi-type swastikas offend Hindus too, as she said the Germans inverted and mis-appropriated what was an ancient and important Indian religious symbol.
Anonymous
23.08.2018, 11:18
I sympathise with anyone who is upset at the sight of nazi Memorabilia, we should all be and remember what it stood for and why it had to be beaten. Having written a short introductory history on WW2 for a military museum I understand the fine line that must be taken when recalling this period of violent history. Disturbing images or exhibits must be considered in the light of what you are trying to say to visitors and how you want them to react, historical context is key here as is common sense. Please can I enter a plea for people not to overreact and start banning or censoring materials and exhibits, we need honesty when dealing with history, something the Sun newspaper would do well to take on board.
Anonymous
23.08.2018, 15:14
I agree with you - context is everything. I guess part of the problem here was that because the NT weren't organising the event, but it was this military history group instead, the military lot weren't thinking about the whole picture and its potential for causing huge offence if it wasn't thought through very carefully. It might have been better if it had been the NT in charge, if they were going to do something like that, then at least their curators etc would have been thinking through the implications from the start. The MVT might not have considered this angle at all.
Anonymous
23.08.2018, 10:42
You do see Nazi stuff on sale quite regularly as part of collections of militaria. Any antique market with a stall of military memorabilia is likely to have Nazi regalia in amongst everything else. Some people are keen collectors of that sort of thing, although it's true that you might wonder about the motives of some of those people and suspect that some if not all of them might have more than innocent historical reasons for being interested.

But it's equally true that some people, especially those who have family lost in the Holocaust, are going to be mortally offended and upset by seeing such things. Who can blame them? I find Nazi stuff distasteful, even without any family reasons. But someone who lost their family to concentration camps will have had their whole lives shaped by WW2. The history is still far too recent. A swastika badge is an emotionally loaded item, especially as we know very well that Nazi ideology is not remotely dead but alive and well in many parts of the world.