Here we are at the Christmas season again. Although I am not humbugging anything, I am sure you older guys will agree that it seems like we just had Christmas and here it is again. Sometimes I think we would all be better off if we had it once every five years, but that ain't gonna happen. I do enjoy seeing my family and having the annual feast with all the gift-giving and receiving more shirts that I don't need.
And then, of course, there is the annual Wittmann pool tournament that has been going on since 1991, and as I say every year, "I sure wish the trophy could be won by the old man" - maybe this year will be my time as I would hate to die off without my name engraved at least once on that fool trophy. Just does not look good for my legacy. They'll all say, "Yeh, he was a pretty good guy, but a lousy pool player". Anyhow, I certainly wish everyone a great holiday season, and you never know, as there might be a motto-bladed HJ knife under your tree, or, if Santa is really good to you this year, wouldn't an early Böker SS dagger complete with vertical hanger really ring your Christmas chimes? Wow, deck the halls.
WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH OUR HOBBY AND SHOWS?
We all dodged a large cannonball last month thanks to the courage and talent demonstrated by the officers of the Ohio Valley Militaria Society. If you don't know about it, these guys in my opinion may have saved our hobby. I'll tell you all about it, in case you don't know. I'm sure you heard about that massacre in the Pittsburgh synagogue a few weeks ago. Well, that same weekend, there was a major gun show at the Louisville Convention Center, being held in the same building where the largest militaria show in the world is held - the SOS. The building is owned by the State of Kentucky. As bad luck would have it, a local reporter went to the gun show to see about a gun he had. While searching for a dealer to appraise his piece, there glaring at him on a dealer's table is a complete KKK outfit. A little further down, there was a Hitler Youth Sports Shirt fitted to a mannequin, complete with emblazoned orange swastika on the breast of the wife-beater style shirt. Smelling a possible Pulitzer Prize, the reporter got out his phone and took some pictures of these things which had no right being displayed like this. Apparently the owner of the show never considered checking his dealer's tables before opening up the show to the public. A mistake that should not be made.
Well, a large article, complete with pictures, appeared in the local Louisville paper and spread like wildfire to other news agencies throughout the world. I even received email from Europeans saying they read about the problem in their local papers. Further, the local Louisville basketball team made a statement that they would not play in a city that allowed Nazi and KKK items to be displayed and sold at their convention center. As owners of the building, naturally, the State of Kentucky was brought into the situation and said that they would make a decision on further gun and militaria shows being held in their building.
It was a nail-biting two weeks. Your OVMS board was active with the state officials, explaining that militaria shows have nothing to do with hate, but rather involve the buying and selling of war relics brought home by American heroes. We have their stuff, they don't have ours! As all of us in the hobby know, our relics are pure history, nothing else. Many are extremely beautiful and can be paramount to telling the history of a period that in many ways was shameful, but nevertheless, it happened. To destroy the relics or deem them somehow illegal, buries history and in many ways hides truths that should be known if they are not to be repeated. Collectors are not political in the slightest - I know 1,000's of you and honestly could never say that I know anyone that is a skinhead, white supremacist, or some other kind of subversive type. If anything, we are historians and even many of us are just plain nerds. We are educated and many of us are professionals being doctors, lawyers, teachers, retired servicemen and even many policemen. We are anything but what the general public would conceive of us. When material like this is displayed openly and jammed into the face of the general public we indeed have a problem, no matter how innocent it may have seemed. The State of Kentucky fortunately recognized the position of OVMS as well as the world-wide collecting community and realized that there is no harm done at these shows.
For many years, Tom Johnson and I owned and ran the MAX before we sold the show a couple of years ago to OVMS. It had always been our policy to not allow the manikin display of armband uniforms, 3rd Reich flags, Hitler busts or anything that blatantly displays a swastika. We have always known that if we allowed this, it was only a matter of time before trouble would occur for the reasons stated above. OVMS has adopted these guidelines and has further amended the types of displays that are permissible. It only makes good sense. Oh, you will have the guys out there there react negatively to this flippantly stating that their 1st Amendment rights are being threatened. The answer to this question is, "Would you rather have your 1st Amendment rights or would you rather have no hobby and no shows?". Convention Centers have the right to dictate the type of material that is displayed in their buildings, the same as Ebay has the right to not permit the sale of 3rd Reich material on their website. In both cases, if you own the business, you have a right to conduct it in the manner you deem proper.
An episode that happened to Tom and I during the time we still owned the MAX Show comes to mind. A few years ago, a wealthy collector from New England was set-up at the MAX show and was going about hanging a huge 20' by 15' SS banner on the wall behind his table. Tom and I both told him that he could not do this, as it was against the rules of the show. A huge shouting argument commenced with many threats and finally resulted in the man taking down his display and vacating his table. He left his MAX table cover on the table and with a pair of scissors cut out the MAX logo from the table cover to show his arrogance. The next week he posted a drawing of a casket on one of the Internet forums, having the casket labeled "MAX Show". Ironically if we allowed him to continue with his SS flag hoisting, the MAX may have ended up in that casket. It is a shame that some people think of themselves as being above the rules and that they would act in such a disgraceful manner when only the good for all was at stake.
LAST SHOWS ATTENDED
For those that were at the MAX Show at the end of September, I hope you had as good a time as we did. The public attendance was somewhat slack, but we have grown to accept this with the advent of the Internet. Many collectors do not want to spend the money to come to a major show, when they can sit at home and purchase items from their computer. Their choice. That does not mean to say that the lack of attendance necessary means that sales will be down. That was not the case with us this year. In fact, we had one of the best MAX Shows in years. Remember, there are 1,200 tables at this show and in most cases, the dealer is also a collector and so will be the two or three helpers he has with him. So, it is deceiving sometimes. Just because there is not a large public roaming the aisles, does not necessarily mean that nothing is being sold. Sometimes, when I attend gun shows, there will be 10,000 people there. I'll ask someone how they are doing at their tables, and often the answer is terrible and they will say that just because a lot of people could afford the price of admission, does not mean they are there to buy anything. Many times, the only one making a lot of money at these big gun shows is the promoter. That is just not the case at militaria shows. We don't need a large gate attendance, we just need the people that are already there to spread some money around. And they did at this year's MAX Show.
We also go to OVMS's Wilmington Ohio Show in the corn field in November. Here again, it was a very good show for us. I try to promote the show through our U-tube videos and honestly, I do have young collectors come up and say they learned about the show from YouTube - that makes me feel pretty good. But OVMS also uses Facebook and other Internet stuff to promote the show. It has definitely produced results, as I must say, the aisles were quite busy there in November. We not only did good selling, but did find some great things to buy.
For those of you out there that may be a bit scared or intimidated to come to the huge shows like the MAX or the SOS, this Wilmington Show is an excellent place to get your feet wet. It is slow paced, there are many well-known dealers there that you can meet, and greatest of all, dealers have the time there to spend with you and are always willing to give you hints or talk authenticity with you. You will also have the time to meet new collectors like yourself and there is just no substitute for having a guy you can then communicate with about potential purchases in the future. It is the perfect location for new guys just getting started. The show is held three times a year. It's 50 miles south of Columbus and 50 miles north of Cincinnati. Easy to find as it is the only building you'll see during the trip from either of these cities - before you know it, you'll see the convention center sticking out above the corn stalks.
TRYING TO GIVE A LITTLE BACK
I have been doing this business a long time and honestly, I never got rich, but the hobby has been good to me as I have made a decent living and have gotten a lot of fine things for my personal collection. A few months ago I received a nice personal email indicating there was a new Holocaust Museum being set up in a college, outside of Ft Lauderdale. The writer wanted to know if I would consider donating an SS armband. I have been a charter member of the Holocaust Museum in Washington since its inception in the 1990s and have contributed my share of donated funds, as I must say the people that run the place are quite adept at loosening one's pocketbook. But, I always felt good about it, as in this business, whether you want to admit it or not, there is always that slight guilt in the back of your mind. I always avoided dealing in any CC material as I just felt it was wrong to make money from something like this.
So, when I received this email, I thought about it for a day or two, and then decided that it was probably high time I did try to do something for the people that undoubtedly suffered the worst during Hitler's reign. It was the right thing to do, so I wrote back that I would be happy to make this armband donation and I did. I then had a few other email conversations with the organizer of the museum and later sent him a Hitler Youth armband. He asked me if I ever came across "stars" from Germany as well as other occupied countries. I was able to find him a couple of these and he was very thankful. Every once in a while, I also came across anti-Semitic porcelain signs at shows. I always avoided them like the plague, but all of the sudden, I realized that perhaps these would be useful for a museum on this topic. Well, I acquired a couple of these, and I could not believe it, but the organizer of the museum was ecstatic about it. Who would ever believe that buying and donating something like this could not only be a good thing, but I can't tell you how good it makes you feel!
Well, the next thing you know, the museum acquired a violin from one of the camps that had not been played in 7 decades. The violin was very beautiful having a Star of David inlaid into the reverse. It originally was the property of a poor soul that belonged to one of those orchestras that played as human beings were unloaded from railway cars - the SS thought the music would fool the doomed into thinking they were going to a good place - terrible, but true. The violin was restored in Israel and the museum was going to have a concert featuring the first playing of the violin. They asked me to be their guest at the concert! I was very flattered and last month Marie and I went to the concert. It was wonderful! We were given a personal tour of the museum and there were my donated artifacts in their showcases and on the wall, all with my name on them! Wow, I thought, "Wittmann, you may have done some good here". I tell you something, you can't beat the feeling it gives you. After the concert, they actually asked Marie and I to stand-up and we received applause from the audience, several being Concentration camp survivors that I had talked to earlier in the evening. It was quite something for me and I must say, it was a humbling experience.
I have included a few pictures below. The museum is the Craig and Barbara Weiner Holocaust Reflection and Resource Center, located in the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University in Plantation, Florida. The founders are Barbara and Craig Weiner, whom I now consider truly great friends. Craig and Barbara originally come from Quebec and moved to Florida many years ago, where Craig had a successful career in shopping center building. They have now retired and have dedicated their time to developing the museum. They bring in school students in groups of 50 to tour and receive a lecture on the museum and its importance of today. The museum is quite large and the walls are surrounded by 3rd Reich era photos which have been blown-up and colorized. The photos are extremely effective in bringing in the perspective of the displays. Many of the displays are mind-boggling, featuring rare family-owned artifacts never seen before by the public. If you are in the Ft. Lauderdale vicinity, I highly recommend a visit to the museum.
The museum displays a large number of show cases that contain original artifacts dedicated by families that are being displayed for the first time.
Two of the pieces donated to the museum by Tom and Marie are anti-semitic signs appearing in German store windows. The metal sign declares in German that "Jews will not be served". The wood sign is carved around the perimeter in German, "Those who sell to Jews are considered traitors".
Tom and Marie Wittmann with Barbara and Craig Weiner, creators and sponsors of the Holocaust Reflection and Resource Center.
Well collectors, that is all I have to say now, but once again, please have a great holiday. It is important to treat your family right and do the best job you can. To my way of thinking in this hobby, we are all men and lets act like them, always accepting the responsibility required of manhood, fatherhood and treating everyone like you would like to be treated.
Happy Holidays to all!
Thomas T. Wittmann