PARIS -- The auction catalog entry for Lot 900 was short, simple and utterly shocking:
“CONCENTRATION CAMP -- striped uniform of a political prisoner held in a German camp. Jacket in mixed wool, style grey and Nattier blue stripes. Identification number and red triangles sewn. Good condition. 400/600€.”
The item was due to go under the hammer at the respected Hotel Drouot auction house next Tuesday as part of a sale of historical artifacts, mostly political posters.
However, when two of Paris’ Communist councilors spotted the item, they were outraged and forced the auction house to withdraw it.
“At first I couldn’t believe it was true. It seemed so shocking, scandalous and frankly incredible, so I looked on the auction house website. And there it was,” said Ian Brossat, president of the Communist and Party of the Left group on the governing Paris Council.
“The description of the lot just added to my horror. I simply cannot imagine what the auction house was thinking.”
The auction was organized by the company Delorme et Collin du Bocage, which said that the lot had been put up for sale by the former camp prisoner’s son. “It has been removed from the catalog,” a spokeswoman for the company said.
Olivier Collin, of the auction house, told Le Nouvel Observateur magazine that selling the item “was not against the law” and denied it was trying to profit from the Holocaust. “I would never have chosen to sell this lot if it was linked to the Holocaust. This isn’t the case because it belonged to a deported German political [prisoner].”
Collin said he believed the uniform, which was listed at between $520 and $780, would end up in a museum.
“I called the seller, son of the prisoner who wore the uniform, and told him it wasn’t a particularly good idea to put such a controversial item up for sale,” he added.
The Nazis classified the prisoners in their death camps according to a system of symbols, enabling guards to identify the supposed reason they were in the prison. Jews were identified by a yellow star sewn onto their striped prison uniforms, criminals with green inverted triangles, political prisoners with a red inverted triangle and those labeled “asocial” -- including Roma, vagrants, and others -- with black or brown inverted triangles. Homosexuals were marked out with pink triangles and Jehovah’s Witnesses with purple ones.
Male prisoners were issued a striped jacket and trousers. “Nattier” blue, in the auction house’s description, is a hue between navy and royal blues and was created by French painter Jean-Marc Nattier.
“There have to be limits to what can and should be put up for sale when it comes to the memory and pain of millions of people,” Brossat said.