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Anti-Hitler Antiques Spark Controversy Following Holiday Home Tour

A collection of anti-Hitler imagery offends some on annual Moorestown Cooks Tour, but was it blown out of proportion?

Thomas Wittmann knows well the perils of dealing in Third Reich antiques after years of enduring heckling from people who misinterpret the way he makes his living.

But the latest round of criticism the lifelong Moorestonian has received has him both scratching and shaking his head.

Wittmann’s Main Street home was one of five selected by the Curtis Auxiliary of Virtua Hospital to be showcased during its . By most accounts, Wittmann’s home was a standout, with guests expressing admiration both for the Christmas decor and the impressive collection of historical antiques on display.

However, not long after the tour, word got back to Wittmann that someone who’d been through the home had taken offense to a particular collection of items: a trio of anti-Hitler figurines in a curio in the hallway.

Wittmann said the pieces were produced in the United States during the Second World War. One has Hitler’s face on the body of a skunk, another acts as a pincushion—with the needles stuck in the Fuhrer’s behind—and the third features Hitler’s likeness in the bottom of an ashtray. The items in question are on the top shelf of the curio, which contains other antiques including decorative daggers from various European countries and several German war helmets.

Wittmann, who’s been in the antique militaria business for 30 years, generally keeps items others might find offensive out of sight intentionally. There are no swastikas or obvious Nazi references anywhere on the first floor, which is all Cooks Tour guests saw. Among the many other prominently displayed antiques throughout the house—paintings of historical figures, ceremonial pipes given to German soldiers in the early 20th century, war helmets—the satirical Hitler pieces are in fact, relatively inconspicuous.

A reader who anonymously emailed Moorestown Patch called the material in Wittmann’s home “extremely offensive” and said the Cooks Tour was a “disgrace.” However, when asked to comment on the record, the reader declined.

For its part, the Curtis Auxiliary attempted to get in front of the controversy, issuing a statement that read, in part, “We are deeply sorry that any member of our community was offended and want all to know that it certainly was not our intent.”

“I never saw any harm in displaying them,” Wittmann said. “There’s nothing innately wrong with historical artifacts. It’s just a thing … If you want to get all excited about that, I just don’t feel that that’s fair.”

Preserving history—all of it

Though he’s learned to let the criticism over what he does roll off, Wittmann, who was born at the tail end of World War II, is still very sensitive to people’s feelings about references to Nazism or Hitler.

He goes to great lengths to explain—both in person and on his website—that he in no way endorses or glorifies the Nazi regime with his collection. The people who buy these items from him are professionals—doctors, lawyers, teachers—whom he’s had as customers for years, not radical right wingers or neo-Nazis.

“I’m not interested in people like that,” Wittmann said distastefully. “And besides that, they don’t have the money to afford it. This stuff’s expensive.”

Wittmann buys a lot of his World War II paraphernalia from deceased veterans' families after they discover the stuff in their late grandpa's attic. 

“At the end of World War II, when we occupied Germany, our soldiers went looking for weapons,” he explained. “Our guys stole everything that wasn’t nailed down. They ‘liberated’ it. People don’t throw stuff like that out.”

But they do sell it for a tidy profit, which is where Wittmann comes in. Sure, he’s making a living off this—and a lucrative one: “This stuff just appreciates in value … It’s really recession-proof”—but he also sees his job as one of preserving history.

“To me, I don’t feel there’s anything other than history to look at, like a flag. It represents a period of history,” he said. “If you like history, you can imagine all the stuff that happened around it.”

‘A mountain … out of a mole hill’

Denis Mercier, a former professor of mass media and pop culture at Rowan University, can appreciate Wittmann’s situation. Mercier took a good deal of heat himself when he began collecting politically incorrect imagery depicting African-Americans from the post-Civil War period up to the Civil Rights era for a doctoral dissertation on the subject in the '80s.

“I was unprepared for the lack of sympathy this subject would arouse,” said Mercier. “Black people said this stuff should be destroyed … I said, ‘No, you don’t airbrush history because you don’t like it.’”

Through his research, Mercier gained valuable insight into “how the racial divide continued and continued and continued” in America through end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.

Wittmann stands on the same side of the fence as Mercier. These are pieces of history, however ugly the details behind that history may be.  

Wittmann doesn’t understand the mentality of those who object so strenuously to his collection: “The artifacts here today, we should just destroy them because you don’t like that period in history?”

Mercier said references to Nazism understandably touch a raw nerve for many people, most of all members of the Jewish community, for whom “the word ‘Nazi’ connotes so much more.”

Moorestown’s Jewish community has become sensitized of late following a string of incidents starting with the and was followed by a Jewish resident receiving a bigoted letter from another resident, that has since gone viral. Partly in response to these incidents, the Anti-Defamation League held a meeting in Moorestown Monday night.

That said, Mercier believes the finger-wagging over the Hitler caricatures in Wittmann’s curio is “really a mountain we’re making out of a mole hill.”

“This is way out of proportion,” he said. “I would think that satire would be appreciated.”

Indeed, the United States produced a great deal of anti-Hitler/anti-Nazi propaganda both in the lead-up to and during the Second World War, ranging from the Three Stooges “You Nazty Spy!” to Charlie Chaplin’s classic film The Great Dicator to the Looney Tunes cartoon “Herr Meets Hare,” starring Bugs Bunny.

Wittmann may not understand all the consternation, but he learned long ago there's not much he can do about it. 

“You can’t stop people from getting mad,” he said.

Our Town December 20, 2011 at 08:24 PM
To utr, why does our collection and recollection of history have to be relegated to a museum? Would you find the same level of offense upon walking into the Smithsonian and finding the same objects? To Judith, how about a reference to a controversial group prior to WWII similar to those to which I made reference in my first post? Would you consider objects from the end of the Ottoman Empire with the same disdain?
Ric December 20, 2011 at 08:34 PM
I agree. I hope to please these complainers, I am not supposed to throw out my DVD of the German film "Downfall" because there is a picture of Hitler on its cover. It shows how mad Hitler was in his last days in the bunker and how blind his followers were.
Judith December 20, 2011 at 08:34 PM
Happy Hanukkah! Yeah.
utr December 20, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Your original premise was that artifacts from history are important lest we forget the past. How does a private collection further your premise? If only a few have access to these artifacts how does that help us remember. I would actually appreciate seeing these things if it was in the Smithsonian. They would frame the items relevance in a thoughtful historically sensitive way. Check out the Enola Gay sometime, the plaque next to it neither glamorizes nor condemns what the plane represents it just stated its significance in history. This guy is selling NAZI paraphernalia for profit not history big difference than a museum collection. At the very least, the Cooks tour people should have warned it's customers that some questionable content was on display in this house. Is that a fair statement?
Some Guy December 20, 2011 at 09:01 PM
utr...the first boots Mr. Wittmann purchased were from a museum that was selling them. Please tell me the museum that has ANY of the items he sells on display? The fact is, as this thread highlights, it is a highly sensitive issue and no museum wants to lose endowments by displaying these items. Nor can you sell any of these items on Ebay as they are outlawed. So instead of having these items lost forever, or worse, enter into the wrong hands for the wrong reasons, Mr. Wittmann chronicles the items (he has published 5 textbooks), tells their story, reminds us of the atrocities that took place in the hope that history doesn't repeat itself. Meet the person before making a judgement....
utr December 20, 2011 at 09:15 PM
Give me an example of where I said something factually untrue. Does he sell these items for profit. Were the NAZIs not responsible for the homicide of 6 million human beings? Does his website indirectly promote the glory of the third Reich? I have not called Mr Wittman any names. So what is the problem?
Our Town December 20, 2011 at 09:44 PM
So should the homeowner be banned from selling such items or dealing in their trade or simply banned from the tour? Why not set up a tour of empty houses so as to not risk offending anyone. Floral curtains, a no no so as to not harm the sensibilities of those with anthophobia. We'd better ensure all of those houses are white so as to not incur the wrath of the Chromophobics in town. That this even evokes this much lunacy is lunacy in itself. Certainly the Nazi's and their activities and horrors were detestable, no one is debating that, but to suggest that someone can't display (as far as what I can tell is) anti-Nazi artifacts in the privacy of their own home without rendering that home off limits for a voluntary tour is a little far reaching.
Shari December 20, 2011 at 09:48 PM
I support Mr. Wittman's rights under the first amendment to say and do as he wishes; however, I do not have to agree with him nor do I support the Cook's tour for picking his house. I would not have entered his home nor supported the auxillary. Seeing Nazi memorabilia as household decorations is offensive to me.
Shari December 20, 2011 at 10:07 PM
Ms. Covert neither badmouthed nor disseminated misleading information. She showed a hateful letter that had been sent to a Moorestown citizen and also advised others that Mr. Wittman's home offended some people during the Cook's tour.In addition,she also organized a meeting of some people who had some specific concerns.
american December 20, 2011 at 10:58 PM
So a little nazi decor is okay? You sound like a fool trying to equate being offended by images of HItler, with people not enjoying floral curtains. I guess you are just sticking by your type, though.
Mike December 20, 2011 at 11:24 PM
I couldn't agree more
Judith December 20, 2011 at 11:27 PM
How many times do you have to be told "Our Town" that Mr. Whittman can collect whatever he wants, but that the issue is that the home shouldn't be on the Cook's Tour. This issue is about the Cook's Tour. So please, no more discussion about someone's right to collect what they want. It is a distraction from the fact that the Cook's Tour made a bad decision.
Judith December 20, 2011 at 11:29 PM
I was being funny!!
Judith December 20, 2011 at 11:34 PM
Your are correct. It is voluntary. That is why I will bet record low numbers next year. Riverton here we come!
Bruce December 21, 2011 at 01:09 AM
@utr...thanks for the web site! I've been looking for some quality historical items for my collection...along with my Aunt Jemima pancake mix!
moorestowner December 21, 2011 at 02:30 AM
Calm down people. Are you really yelling at one another on the website of the local news source? Really?
Disappointed December 21, 2011 at 03:32 AM
If you don't talk about it, it will go away. If you don't display, trade, or sell it, it will go away. The ignorance of getting angry over the way a person respects, understands, and deals in a sensitive time period from history is humorous. Moorestown is a very uptight place if this is how you treat a fellow resident who opened his house for you to see. Mind you this was done for charity and on a voluntary basis. Furthermore NO pro-nazi artifacts were viewed, only 3 U.S. produced anti-Hilter pieces. This man should be given the utmost respect from you for the knowledge he poses about such a critical time in our history. Like a previous poster said "Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We should be remind of every horrible time in our history often, maybe then we could move towards unity and love.
Glenn Formont December 21, 2011 at 05:07 AM
After reading these comments, I'm so glad I moved from Moorestown and put a few miles between myself and the refuge of lunatic whiners that Moorestown has become. This cr*p should come to an end. Grow up and stop embarassing the town. Merry Winter Solstice and a Happy New Year.
utr December 21, 2011 at 12:39 PM
So if Coach Sandusky moved into town, you'd be okay with it? After all, he volunteered for charity and opened his house to shelter under privileged kids. How did his charitable, gracious ways work out?
Elizabeth December 21, 2011 at 01:11 PM
Judith is right. This is about the Cook's Tour's choices. And this was a bad one. Coming on the heels of the Yom Kippur issue, it's a REALLY bad one. Did they seriously not think this house would be a problem? Sorry, Gina....you cannot defend this decision. My guess is that guy opened up his house again, not for charitable purposes, but to increase awareness of his business. I'll bet all this controversy has netted him some sales. I, for one, am done with the tour. And, by the way, I am NOT Jewish.
Ric December 21, 2011 at 04:57 PM
Please, your much overstated High Moral Indignation is way over done - especially at this time of Christian charity. Do you seriously think it is your business to decide what a person keeps in their house? How about you open your doors for an inspection? So what if he opened his home to help his business? He certainly would NOT be the first person to do that. And finally, what difference does it matter if you are or aren't Jewish? Sorry, I don't feel compelled to put down what I am or am not - it is not germane to the topic. In case you did not know - not all 60 million of the WWII victims were Jewish. Hitler was a terrible madman. Sigh, I hope for your family’s sake you keep your High Moral Indignation under check at home.
utr December 21, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Hi Bruce, Here's another link for you. http://www.lawnjock.com/black_jockey_statue.html Buy these and you can be on the Cooks Tour next year. We are #1
erica December 21, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Gosh, Rob I have to give you all the credit in the world for heading a Patch page!! There's so many people that are going to see sensitive topics like this in a close-minded manner and not read through the facts that you wrote, then attack you, which is obviously completely unfair and, in my opinion, ridiculous! In saying that I think you did a great job here, and Moorestown Patch is looking great. Keep up the good work!
erica December 21, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Judith, a pin cushion in Hitler's butt and an ash tray that gives smokers the chance to snuff their burning cigarettes out in Hitler's face seems pretty anti-Hitler to me... And just because he has a German war helmet or other German war paraphernalia doesn't mean he is a neo-nazi. Germans fought in wars before World War II and fought in battles completely unrelated to Nazis. By generalizing all German history as a part of Nazism you are insulting an entire culture, and making our culture look uneducated. The people that have organized these tours have been through the homes and have seen these houses, and approved of them. They wouldn't support anti-semantism or Nazism (I can't even believe that needs clarifying!). Stop and think before you attack!
M.Verado December 21, 2011 at 06:42 PM
I am truly embarrassed by the display of narrowmindedness, and judgmental insinuations being levied against a fellow Moorestonian without a shred of evidence as to his motives, other than earning a living. If you hate mongers are truly sincere about removing any reference to the horrors of history, perhaps we could start with the crimes of our forefathers against the american indians, many of whom to this day are corraled on reservations. Lighten up.
Bruce December 21, 2011 at 06:44 PM
To all you over sensitive tour takers....get a grip!....or next year stay home and read your bible....and you can be as self righteous as you want.
Disappointed December 21, 2011 at 07:17 PM
utr, Yes, comparing Mr. Whitmann to a monster like Sandusky is an appropriate correlation. You sir/madam are a fool.
Peace be with you December 22, 2011 at 04:44 AM
Let's not forget the reason for the season "for there a Savior is born" Peace to all in celebrating the birthday of the Messiah and Savior Jesus Christ ! Merry Christmas! God Bless.
Mara Jacobs December 22, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Gina - it seems to me that you are mixed up in this controversary up to your eyeballs! Is there a hidden agenda here? This all makes me very sad, especially the slanted article by Mr. Scott - his research and facts are off.
A Collector January 19, 2013 at 05:44 AM
I collect Confederate Currency. Does that make me a slave holder or sympathizer? You people are ridiculous. Collecting historical items shows an interest in history, not collusion or support of an ideology. I have Nazi medals, coins, and stamps in my wide collection and I can assure you that I am not a Nazi.

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