Abdallah Chatila and World Chairman of Keren Hayesod Sam Grundwerg
Abdallah Chatila, who bought €600,000 worth of Nazi-era items to stop them falling into the hands of neo-Nazis and Nazi sympathizers who would use them to glorify Hitler and his genocidal regime.
Antisemitic and xenophobic hatred in Europe has reached new heights, a Geneva-based Lebanese businessman said on Sunday following his purchase of Nazi memorabilia, which he bought to stop the items being used by neo-Nazis.
Abdallah Chatila bought €600,000 worth of Nazi-era items, including a top hat once owned by Adolf Hitler, and a silver-plated copy of Mein Kampf that once belonged to Nazi Hermann Goering, to stop them falling into the hands of neo-Nazis and Nazi sympathizers who would use them to glorify Hitler and his genocidal regime.
Chatila earmarked the items for the United Israel Appeal, and the organization will transfer them to Yad Vashem once Chatila takes possession of them, which could take several months.
“It was important for me to do this so these objects did not end up in the wrong hands,” Chatila said on Sunday in Jerusalem at a news conference organized by United Israel Appeal, which arranged his trip to Israel. “A lot of people asked me why I bought these items. For me it was not a matter of money but a symbol, and symbols have no value. If every one of us would do the right thing then the right would win. Tolerance needs to lead us all, it’s not about different religions, tolerance needs to guide us with neighbors, friends and family. It comes before peace. That is the message that I hope will come from here.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Chatila explained his concerns behind his decision to buy the items at auction.
“Living in Europe and seeing [how]antisemitism, fascism and populism is going so far, I didn’t want history to repeat itself,” he said. “Xenophobia does exist, we see it every day. Antisemitism does exist, we see it every day. And people are not hiding the hatred against Jews and Arabs or other populations. The fact that they’re not hiding it anymore, like they used to 20 or 25 years ago, shows that we’re stepping into a different league of hatred in the world.”
Asked what needs to be done to reverse the tide of growing xenophobia and antisemitism, Chatila said, “Do what I just did. Talk, be open, be courageous, and speak up.”
Yaakov Hagoel, vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization, brought the Lebanese philanthropist to the National Institutions House, the place where Israeli president Chaim Weizmann was sworn in before the first Knesset. Hagoel also provided Chatila with a small tribute on behalf of WZO.
Earlier on Sunday, Chatila met with President Reuven Rivlin, who thanked him for his actions “at a time when people are trying to deny historical truth.”
Rivlin described Chatila’s purchase and donation as “an act of grace” that would “show the whole world how to fight the glorification of hatred and incitement against other people.”
Chatila said that when he first heard of the auction of the items in Munich, he thought he had to buy them and then destroy them.
“Then I thought I have no right to decide what to do with the items, and am so glad they are now [going to be]at Yad Vashem,” he said. “I feel a shiver when I understand how important this is for the Jewish people, but I think there is a wider message for the whole world – that ‘never again’ is not a meaningless slogan. Through acts such as this, we can ensure that these things never happen again.”
United Israel Appeal chairman Sam Grundwerg said Chatila’s actions were about educating people to demonstrate tolerance and acceptance for others, and that while others talk, Chatila had taken action for those ideals.
“The phenomena of hatred and antisemitism, which have been part of the Jewish people’s history for thousands of years, culminating in the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, do not belong to the past,” said Grundwerg.
“Mr. Chatila managed to insert a ray of light into a dark chapter in the history of the Jewish people and humanity in general. With his act, he promoted tolerance and hope, and reminded the entire world that there are decent people everywhere who strive for justice and fellowship between human beings… Mr. Chatila, you told the world, ‘I care – about humanity and being humane.’ There are many who speak and make statements – you are a true civilian leader. I hope that many in the world will follow in your footsteps.”