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Nazi commander's surgical box up for sale in UK

In this image made available by Villa Hall Auctions UK on Tuesday Feb. 7, 2012 show a surgical kit said to belong to a Nazi war criminal who oversaw a labor camp is being put up for auction in Britain. (AP Photo/Villa Hall Auctions UK)

LONDON: A surgical kit said to belong to a Nazi war criminal who oversaw a labor camp is being put up for auction in Britain.

Villa Hall Auctions, a small auctioneer in Cornwall, southwest England, said Tuesday the wooden box of equipment was engraved with the name of Anton Burger, an SS commander of the Terezin ghetto - a labor camp north of Prague in then-Czechoslovakia.

The box contains a collection of blades, scissors, a saw and straps apparently used for a tourniquet - all printed with Burger's name, the auction house said.

The artifact is being sold by the widow of a Jewish man whose parents survived the camp, it said.

The item is expected to sell for up to 4,000 pounds ($6,330) when it goes under the hammer Saturday.

Burger, who commanded the camp from 1943 to 1944, was sentenced to death after World War II but fled, eventually dying in Germany in 1991.

Of the around 150,000 Jews who lived in Terezin, about 35,000 died of labor, starvation or diseases during the war. Roughly 87,000 were taken from the ghetto to extermination camps such as Auschwitz and murdered.

It was not clear how the box came to be in the possession of the family, but Grace Cloke, a spokeswoman at the auction house, said the widow's father-in-law used to deal in the black market so it could have been obtained that way.

Cloke said she hoped a museum would buy the item for educational purposes. But historians and experts said it was difficult to determine whether the box genuinely belonged to the Nazi commander.

"Burger did not have a medical background and there is no evidence that it (the Burger who owned the case) was really him," said Alexander Korb, a history lecturer and director of Holocaust studies at the University of Leicester. "It can be pretty much anybody."

Even if it did belong to the Nazi, experts said it added little to what is known about the labor camp. Terezin - or Theresienstadt, as it is known in German - was not known as a camp where medical experimentation took place.

Nonetheless, they said that the artifact will attract significant interest from Nazi memorabilia collectors because personal items belonging to Nazi officers seldom come to market.

The surgical kit's "vaguely sinister overtones" mean that "people who collect anything related to the Nazis ... will probably attribute some significance to it," said Michael Berkowitz, a professor of Hebrew and Jewish studies at University College London.

 

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