A controversial auction of a kitsch tattoo gun that is said to have been used at the Auschwitz concentration camp was halted on Wednesday after it received more than 50 bids from bidders willing to pay the full amount, with one offer at €23,000 ($25,770), according to The Times of Israel.
The estimated value of the tattoo machine – which is described on the website for the auction company Albas with an array of kitsch – had fallen from €30,000 to €24,000, suggesting that the auction was already bearing fruit.
The auction attracted such a bacchanal of interest that it even became the subject of its own TV news program in Israel. The auction site offered the following explanation of the auction: “The machine ‘Circuit S’ was and still is used by the Auschwitz barber, which used to have its own shop in the camp. The barber would use it to create the tattoos on the faces of those executed in the camp and inmates of other camps used to put their fingers, hands and feet in the machine, just like many Jews at the camp.”
And the description of the machine on the auction site continues: “The machine was moved after being set up by a German embassy worker of the United States stationed in Poland. The machine was never used at Auschwitz anymore since the end of the war. The cultural relations between the United States and Israel, and in particular between the United States and Israel were so keen to bury the crime that did take place in Auschwitz, that no one dared to discuss it.”
“Circuit S” went on to say that when a bad grade in tattoo kit testing is wanted, a tattoo code is manually removed and put into “the machine and in a workbook so that the barber at Auschwitz can be completely independent.”
The site details that that tattoo kit even has “20 faces from which the barber at Auschwitz can choose his chosen tattooations, thus, being completely independent, perhaps the only barber in Europe able to use the Circuit S.”
The auction sparked controversy in Israel, where commenters took issue with the description, with one calling it “the most offensive and distasteful piece of history imaginable.”
One reader wrote on the editorial page of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “If Auschwitz exists as a designated place of memory at Yad Vashem, you would think that the organizers would be especially sensitive to the implications. But the local government and Yad Vashem are still discussing what is appropriate to do – this most telling and tasteless part of our collective history, represented by a recent exhibit at Auschwitz Museum.”
Some suggested that the word Auschwitz in the description was deceptive.
“In fact, the museum chain could surely change the name of this auction: No!” one reader said. “The last thing that people with any sense or sense of irony want to do is have one of our memories turn into something disgraceful and soulless.”
An employee at the Auschwitz museum office referred The Washington Post to its website, where the notion of a tattoo kit was in fact mentioned.
“From the archives we learn that there was a kitsch tattoo machine at Auschwitz,” the museum said in an emailed statement. “We believe it was made in Germany (now Hamburg). We don’t know if it is still in existence, but we do know that the same recipe was used again at other camps, including Birkenau, and now what we do know is that there were also kitsch operations in Rovno and Grotzi – likely set up during the Second World War in the German army. So, it turns out that the kit will not be at Auschwitz, but will belong to the world.”