Help me get rid of this awkward thing
August 2, 2012 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Years ago I acquired an authentic German Nazi flag and I don't know how to properly get rid of it. What is an appropriate way to handle a ~80 year old historical item that I don't wish to keep and also don't want it to end up on some skinhead's wall?

It was sentimental to the owner (his grandfather fought in WW2 and it belonged to him) and I bought it to help a friend when he needed cash. If I could I would just give it back to him today, but that isn't possible for reasons I'll not go into here.

I'm not really interested in money for it. Are there historical societies that have interest in this sort of thing? For a little more information, the flag was meant to be hung in a small window, not on a flag pole. This is about the extent of my knowledge about its provenance.

In case it needs clarified, I have no nazi sympathies. I want to make sure the next caretaker of this doesn't either.
posted by dgran to Society & Culture (51 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Donate it to a museum.
posted by emilynoa at 1:19 PM on August 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

Your local VFW might have some suggestions if you're not near a museum.
posted by jabes at 1:20 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Set it on fire. Alone.
posted by bensherman at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2012 [12 favorites]

Call around to museums. Most museums I've encountered make at least some passing reference to WW2 or the holocaust, which is usually accompanied by the Nazi flag regardless of context.

Doesn't even need to be specifically a history museum.
posted by phunniemee at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2012

Set it on fire. Alone.

Please do not do this. This item deserves to be treated with respect simply because it's an artifact of one of the most important events in human history.
posted by griphus at 1:23 PM on August 2, 2012 [41 favorites]

Contact the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
posted by amro at 1:25 PM on August 2, 2012 [18 favorites]

Donate it to a Holocaust Museum, as others have suggested.
posted by mareli at 1:26 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would donate it to a Holocaust museum or the state historical society in your town.

I would not burn it. Hiding the past is not how we prevent it from reoccurring.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:28 PM on August 2, 2012 [21 favorites]

Assuming that you don't think your friend will ever want it back, I would personally just destroy it (with fire) in a small, solitary, cleansing ceremony. Then I would go home and take a shower, pour myself a strong drink, and think about life for a while.

I get that we shouldn't forget the lessons of history, but it's not as if the world is going to forget about the Holocaust if this one artifact is lost forever. The Nazis were not shy about spreading their icons around, and if you donate it to a museum it'll probably just gather dust in some back catalog along with dozens of similarly banal but equally unsettling objects.

I would get some personal satisfaction out of the ritual destruction and spiritual/psychological cleansing of such a thing, which I think is pretty much the best outcome that can be asked for given the circumstances. Your flag may once have been the repository of some important sentiment to someone, but that person is dead and their family is no longer in possession of the artifact.

A Nazi flag is not a nice thing. I can't think why you'd want to preserve it.
posted by Scientist at 1:30 PM on August 2, 2012 [16 favorites]

Preserving it, to me, falls under the instruction to "Never forget.". But getting it off your hands is a great idea. Call a museum.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:33 PM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's contact page. The Metafilter "we" may not come up with a good enough reason for keeping it (as opposed to destroying it) (although there are good ideas shared above) but experts in the preservation of history may. I would ask them.
posted by anya32 at 1:42 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

It seems that a lot of people don't know this, but the most respectful way to dispose of a flag is actually by burning it.

Even the United States Flag code states this clearly: "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

I agree with griphus that it should be treated with respect, and I came in to suggest that the OP dispose of it by fire.
posted by Specklet at 1:46 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Holocaust Museum.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:48 PM on August 2, 2012

If not the U.S. Holocaust Museum, the state historical society or local historical society of the state or city where the original owner resided. While they probably don't have a WWII display just waiting for a Nazi flag to finish it off, they can file it with the grandfather's name and service record* on it, and keep it in their archives. Historical items with a local connection are important to those groups.

*You don't need to know his service record, I'm just suggesting the sort of thing a historical society might do with it. You should include a history of the item as far as you're aware of it when you donate it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:50 PM on August 2, 2012

I am not sure how many mefites are qualified to asses how historically valuable this artifact is. Yeah, Nazis were tops at propaganda and producing items like this. It may seem like we have a glut of such artifacts because they were produced such a short time ago. But, the Holocaust Museum could give you an informed opinion.

If they or your local museums can't help you then I would say it is safe to urinate on it, set it afire, and urinate on its ashes.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:54 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I found some scrip from one of the camps among my late grandfather's possessions (he was an American soldier in WW2). I donated it to the Strassler Center for Holocaust Studies at Clark University.
posted by lemonwheel at 2:01 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If burning it means treating it with respect, please don't do it. If no museum wants it, burry it. Or cut it to pieces and flush it down the toilet.
posted by AwkwardPause at 2:13 PM on August 2, 2012

Or cut it to pieces and flush it down the toilet

Don't do this. Can you imagine the horrific embarrassment of having to hire a plumber because you choked a toilet with a Nazi flag? I mean, I get the feeling, but consider the potential consequences.

It belongs in a museum. As munchingzombie notes, who here is actually qualified to assess the potential historical value?
posted by canine epigram at 2:19 PM on August 2, 2012 [22 favorites]

Best answer: There's a Holocaust Museum in Richmond, in addition to the one in D.C.
posted by jenny76 at 2:34 PM on August 2, 2012

Nthing the museum suggestion. If the Holocaust Museum actually has no use for it, it will be catalogued and sit in a warehouse somewhere entirely out of sight. This outcome has all the advantages of burning (removing it entirely from public sight and preventing it from being used as a fetish for hate) with none of the negatives of destroying an historical artifact.
posted by Bromius at 2:34 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

If it was some item of written Nazi documentation/correspondence/log I would encourage it be donated to the appropriate museum. Items of that nature are worth historic study.

The world has enough historic Nazi flags, I don't think another one servers any historic purpose other than as a symbol of the time. As an amateur (at best) historian with a large interest in WWII I personally would burn it.

Saying that burning a flag is automatically honoring the flag may be a little misguided. Honor is in intent. People who burn the American flag in protest are not honoring the flag, for example.

IMO clinging too tightly to the past does not prevent us from repeating it, it merely keeps the passion and divisions alive, which is not an argument to forget or ignore the past, but that we place too much energy in never forgetting our tragedies and not enough in moving on from them.

Burn the flag, no one really needs it.
posted by edgeways at 2:38 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, museum. My husband's family is from the south, and one of the family artifacts was a receipt from a slave purchase in the 1800s. It's interesting to see, but not something you're proud of or want displayed in your home. So they loaned it (or donated it?) to a local historical museum.
posted by McPuppington the Third at 2:46 PM on August 2, 2012

take a picture of the flag, send the flag to a museum, burn the picture.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:03 PM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Burning it or donating it to the Jewish Museum seem reasonable.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:10 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to donation to a museum (particularly the US Holocaust Museum in Wash. DC), consider a university: many hold collections of historical items, and surely there are several that would be interested in this item.

(For what its worth: my grandparents had to run for their lives from the Nazis; they were a 'mixed marriage' --- ie, one Lutheran and one Jewish, plus Grandpop was active in the political opposition. I think that while they would be offended by someone displaying this flag in their home, they would totally agree with "Never forget!" and donating it to something like a museum.)
posted by easily confused at 3:14 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The National WWII museum is no longer accepting flags, but if anyone can give you ideas about what to do with the flag. Having worked with the Education and Collections departments at a major NYC museum, I can tell you that those folks are always eager to talk - be it by email or phone. Start there for sure.
posted by blaneyphoto at 3:17 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Burn it. It is evil.
posted by mermayd at 3:20 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please donate it to a museum. Symbolic items like this only have the power that we choose to give them. The flag is not intrinsically evil, it is just a symbol for evil*. Please treat is as the historical artifact that it is. I'm not saying that the flag is incapable of hurting or offending people. I'm just saying that, in the appropriate context like a museum, we can divorce its symbolic value from its historic value.

. . . if you donate it to a museum it'll probably just gather dust in some back catalog along with dozens of similarly banal but equally unsettling objects.

Great! Out of sight, out of mind, yet still intact. I'm okay with that.
posted by Think_Long at 3:31 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing contacting a museum (Holocaust museum or just a history museum). If they don't want it for some reason, then destroying it with fire is probably the best option.

There are also private collectors out there, but since you don't care about the money and are worried about it falling into the hands of an actual neo-Nazi, I'd suggest skipping that option.
posted by asnider at 3:34 PM on August 2, 2012

Forget the burning routine, or clogging plumbing. There's no reason. If you want to discreetly get rid of it (and no museum is interested) just fold it up, wrap it in paper, stuff in some plastic shopping bags, and toss in the trash. Gone, and will not surface again.
posted by lathrop at 3:40 PM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Don't burn it; donate it to a museum or similar institution that can make use of it.

Burning it might well be legitimately cathartic if you have a particular connection to a group that suffered acutely as a result of Nazi policies, but to do so in order to spite Hitler's ghost would be more than a little self indulgent. Auschwitz was left standing so there would be a real, physical manifestation of an acutely horrific period of humanity's recent history. Seeing physical artefacts in museums makes history less abstract and, hopefully, serves as a warning of what can happen when the worst excesses of intolerance and hatred are not only permitted but encouraged to flourish. Seeing a swastika makes most people (myself included) wince on sight. But avoiding having to engage with the topic is no answer, and that's what eliminating visible signs of it can do. Viewed in the proper context, an object from that period can be repurposed into a symbol that benefits rather than terrorises.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 3:49 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would be wary about taking the amateur historians up in here about the perceived value of the flag. They might be right, they might be completely wrong: they - and you - really have no way of knowing. Hopefully, someone that works in a museum or curatorial background like the mefite Miko might actually weigh in here.

That all said, the flag is not "evil" ffs. It's just a flag. Burning it will not prevent WWII, it will not prevent the third reich's rise and subsequent legacy, and conversely keeping or preserving it is not endorsing Nazism, placing undue reverence on the SS or anything like that.

History is a complex matrix and it is rare indeed that there is and always will be a surfeit of primary objects. Retaining those where possible is an important part of history. World War II happened; keeping this flag in the world does not imply a celebration or reverence of that.
posted by smoke at 3:56 PM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Donate it to a museum or university with that deals with the Holocaust or Jewish history. If you truly cannot get rid of it, I would burn it. I am sure the world has enough Nazi memorabilia and will get along fine without a flag.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 4:25 PM on August 2, 2012

Another advantage of contacting the Holocaust Museum... they would seem to be the ones with the most moral standing to suggest to you how they would prefer you handle it. That way you can build up a little insurance against you just choosing the method that makes you feel the best about yourself.
posted by michaeldunaway at 4:31 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am sure the world has enough Nazi memorabilia and will get along fine without a flag.

Currently. In the future, who can say? Historical artifacts get lost, destroyed, forgotten in the normal course of events, however dedicated their custodians. Yours could be the one that makes it to the year 3012.

(Look at it this way - Would you destroy Jim Crow artifacts?)
posted by BWA at 4:45 PM on August 2, 2012

We and future generations need to remember. Donate it to a museum of some kind that can make use of it.
posted by inkypinky at 5:06 PM on August 2, 2012

Best answer: I work in a museum - it is an artifact. Please donate it to a museum .Their donations policy does express interest in textiles, specifically including flags. If they can't take it, I feel certain they'd have a list of other organizatons to ask. Please MeMail me if you need help getting in touch with someone there.

One reason I would really recommend donating it to a museum is that there are buyers who would want it, and it does have value to those sorts of people, but the destination of many Nazi-era artifacts is the private collections of neo-Nazis, which is fairly sickening. Please lodge this artifact where it will receive judicious scholarly treatment, not become a fetish.
posted by Miko at 5:34 PM on August 2, 2012 [17 favorites]

Dear god, don't burn it. It was sentimental to his grandfather for a reason. The man fought to end what that flag stood for. More than likely, the man watched his friends die in that fight. If it were something my grandfather (who was also in WWII) had brought back, I would want to preserve it. I know he wasn't your grandfather but respect his wishes even if his grandchild didn't.
posted by Silvertree at 6:40 PM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have seen bloody swastika armbands and the like selling for under a hundred dollars in antique stores, so this item is probably not rare or unique.

You might see if a local history professor wants it for their personal collection.
posted by gentian at 7:52 PM on August 2, 2012

this item is probably not rare or unique.

Just to mention again, even if that is true for the type of flag you have (something only an expert can tell you), that might not be important to a museum. Things may not need to be rare or unique to be included in a collections policy, and historical or research value is quite a different thing from market value. Check it out with the museum before making a decision.
posted by Miko at 7:57 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Donate it to a museum. times a thousand. If there is none near you, locate one and post it to them.

it doesn't matter on now non rare it is. if it's genuine then its a museum piece.
posted by mattoxic at 8:25 PM on August 2, 2012

Definitely donate it to a museum (or some type of archive or library). There's room for (and scholars in search of) historical relics that represent the good, the bad, and the ugly in a museum. Nothing of historical significance should EVER be thrown away, even (maybe especially) if looking at it fills one with conflict.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:53 PM on August 2, 2012

Also, while I don't collect Nazi memorabilia (or other potentially controversial collectibles) myself, I'll point out that not everyone who collects such controversial or dubious relics espouse the beliefs that they may symbolize. I mean, I'm sure some do, but don't necessarily assume that that is the rule.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:58 PM on August 2, 2012

I personally think it should be donated to a museum, but if you feel you must destroy it and don't want to burn it, cut it up into eight or ten pieces, put it in a plastic bag, and pour a bottle of bleach on it. Then toss it in the trash.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:03 PM on August 2, 2012


The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is building its collection of original documents, photographs, and artifacts relating to the events of the Holocaust and the experiences of individuals whose lives were directly impacted by those events.

Relevant materials include collections that illustrate and document:
The prewar life of communities that were targeted by the Nazis
The rise to power of Nazism
The repression and crimes of the Nazi regime and its collaborators
The world’s response to the Nazi regime and its occupation of Europe
Resistance, rescue, and life in hiding
Liberation and the reemergence of Jewish life after the war
The pursuit of justice through restitution and war crimes trials
The types of materials sought by the Museum include:
Art: period drawings, prints, sculpture, posters, and other creative works
Books and pamphlets
Broadsides, advertisements, and maps
Film and video historical footage, audio and video oral testimonies; music and sound recordings
Furnishings, architectural fragments, models, machinery, and tools
Personal effects, ritual objects, jewelry, musical instruments, and numismatics (coins)
Personal papers: documents, correspondence, memoirs, and scrapbooks
Photographs and photo albums
Textiles: uniforms, costumes, clothing, badges, armbands, flags, and banners
If you have such materials and are willing to donate them to the Museum, please fill out the online form, e-mail, call (202) 488-2649, or print and mail this form.

If you wish to become a Museum member or make a financial donation, please use the online form or call 866.99USHMM (866.998.7466).
posted by Blasdelb at 11:54 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I recently donated a tiger skin to a museum, and I have a warm fuzzy feeling of having a morally-cloudy inherited item being used for a positive educational purpose. Details of the provenance of the flag would help any museum in their intake process. If you know where it was from, or if the friend would tell you where the grandfather fought (or maybe you can research it with the name), a museum could decide if it's 'store in the warehouse' or 'loan to X partner Museum for their upcoming exhibit about Nazism in Bavaria', etc.
posted by BigJen at 6:56 AM on August 3, 2012

Historian here. How about a completely different donation idea? If this was indeed something your friend's grandfather kept after his wartime experiences, is there a military museum associated with his branch of service? After all, the only reason it was not destroyed in the 1940s was as a small reminder of what Allied soldiers achieved in defeating the Nazi regime. Perhaps that branch of the military would be an appropriate caretaker of an item that one of its own captured at a time of war.
posted by kuppajava at 8:07 AM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Coming in from the military perspective:

If your friend's grandfather fought in WWII and captured a Nazi flag, it is incredibly meaningful and powerful as a symbol, not of Nazis, but of the fight against them. If the Holocaust museums don't want it, I guarantee that some military history museums or historical societies will.

How many people might your friend's grandfather have saved by destroying the Nazi position or encampment that ultimately yielded its flag to him?

Also: I'm sure your friend's grandfather did not keep that flag as any kind of pro-Nazi sentimentality. It was a symbol of triumph for him - over an evil regime and an evil flag.

If you can't keep it, give it to someone who can.
posted by corb at 10:23 AM on August 3, 2012

Do you know what military unit the grandfather served with? Oftentimes there will be a service club, organization, or unit museum associated with this, and they might be glad to have the flag, as it's not just a random flag, but one with a history directly connected to their actions during the war.
posted by Sallyfur at 2:40 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

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