BANGKOK — As the United States and Europe witness ongoing destruction of historical statues no longer deemed politically correct, a Bangkok-based antiquarian is proudly selling historical objects that would trigger historicist puritans.
German entrepreneur Manuel Finsterer knows a thing or two about controversy – rare Nazi memorabilia are his trade.
Finsterer said Americans and Jews who pass by his small shop at JJ Weekend Market, also known as Chatuchak Market, often ask him if the shop owner is a neo-Nazi.
“Why are you selling these things?” the Bavarian-born businessman recalled the conversations. “Are you Nazi or what?”
It falls upon Finsterer, owner of Siam Rare Books, to explain that collecting antique and rare books from a certain historical era doesn’t necessarily mean you support those figures, let alone what they did.
Finsterer first arrived in Thailand as a tourist in 2005. He said young Thais are inadequately educated about world history, yet “fascinated by bad guys,” so he thought they might as well learn history from the bad guys.
“You can educate yourself with these things,” Finsterer says. “Some say you are German, you can’t sell Nazi things.”
He produced some books as a point in case. The first was a commemorative book about the Berlin Olympics Games of 1936.
Even though the Olympiad was a propaganda vehicle for the Third Reich, Finsterer said history can still be learned from it. American track and field champion Jesse Owens, four-time gold medalist at the 1936 Berlin Games, was described in a very positive light in the book despite being a black athlete from then segregated America.
“Jesse Owens said he had a great time in Germany because in the US, when he went training, he had to do it sitting in the back of the bus or eat at separate restaurants,” he said “At the German Olympic Village, he could eat with others.”
In fact, the seller said, the shop has no books defaming Jews and any other race. He then went on to show another book, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust who was eventually captured by Israeli intelligence officers in Argentina in 1960.
The book was accompanied by a 1972 Thai translation book of “6,000,000 Accusers.” The Thai version is faithful to the original copy, detailing the Eichmann’s crimes and the trial that led to his execution by hanging in 1962.
While considered a taboo nowadays in many countries, Finsterer said collecting Nazi memorabilia was commonplace during and after the Second World War.
“British and American soldiers who were stationed in Germany went from house to house and asked for Nazi medals and souvenirs,” he said. “People were afraid to keep it so they gave it away. Even though they went to war, they had seen something, but they still took it as souvenirs.”
Times have changed and Finsterer acknowledged the growing tide of political correctness in the West that does not tolerate historical evidence of racism, but he said the collections are not about “imitating” Adolf Hitler.
“I don’t think I am doing anything bad because I know the historical background,” the businessman said.