Simon Wiesenthal Center blasts English auction house's sale of Hitler paintings

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Watercolors and sketches attributed to Adolf Hitler sold for double their estimated price at an auction Tuesday, eliciting the ire of Holocaust survivors and Jewish groups. Anybody who buys and sells Hitler's works is trading in the death of tens of millions of people including six million Jews said Yosef Lapid, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and a Holocaust survivor. He strongly condemned the auction as something no just person would participate in."

"This is something that is completely out of line said Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The sale in the tranquil English town of Lostwithiel was interrupted by a noisy protest by two self-styled comedy terrorists." The works reputed to have been created by Hitler while he served in the German military during World War I sold for pounds 115 0 ($ 220 0 after security staff removed the gatecrashers - one of whom dressed as the Nazi leader and shouted "Third Reich" after making a mock bid.

A second protester Aaron Barschak previously gained notoriety by dressing up as Osama bin Laden and crashing Prince William's 21st birthday party in 2003.

The protest exposed sensitivities over the sale of Hitler's artworks in Lostwithiel a sleepy tourist town in Cornwall a county in southwestern England which is overlooked by a 12th Century castle.

Chris Walton a spokesman for Jefferys Auctioneers said the 21 watercolors and two sketches most of them landscapes sold individually for prices from pounds 3 200 pounds ($ 6 100 to pounds 10 500 ($ 19 975 The highest price was for a painting titled "The Church of Preux-au-Bois." Auctioneer Ian Morris said few of the successful bidders was prepared to be identified or speak to journalists.

"There may be a stigma attached to buying Hitler art he said following the sale.

However, one bidder - who refused to identify himself, but confirmed he was an Estonian acting on behalf of an Eastern European businessman - said he had successfully purchased an artwork.

I think they are probably being bought for business - the paintings are not very good and it's not nice to have a 'Hitler' on your living room wall he told reporters, refusing to confirm his identity.

Barschak's wife, Tamara, said her husband and Peter Cunningham, who dressed as Hitler, had considered the sale offensive.

It's not a surprise that when they did decide to hold it they chose a quiet village in Cornwall she told reporters outside the sale. If it was in London there would have been protests. Adolf Hitler was a mass murderer and to make money from that is wrong."

A gaggle of around 50 military buffs and curious neighbors gathered in the small Cornish town to bid for the works depicting scenes of cottages churches and pastoral hillsides.

Historians claim Hitler then a struggling artist painted during breaks from the front while stationed in Belgium during World War I. The works were later found in a farmhouse in Flanders.

Though the anonymous owners had the paper tested to determine its age confirmed the signature and matched landmarks in the paintings to sites where Hitler had served it cannot be definitively proven that the works are genuine Walton said.

He said experts who authenticated them in the 1980s are now dead.

"Some people would consider the sale somewhat controversial but the pieces were executed so long ago - nearly 100 years ago - that they now just represent something of the past Walton said.

I don't have any trouble with the auction at all said Terry Betts, a 52-year-old Lostwithiel resident. It's part of history not good history maybe. But we live with dictators like that now - don't we? - the Saddam Husseins of the world."

Hitler is thought to have painted hundreds of pieces before becoming Nazi leader. In the past his paintings have sold for $ 5 0 to $ 50 0

In many European countries including Germany it is illegal to buy own or sell Nazi memorabilia. A German auction house in 2001 withdrew a Hitler painting following public protests. The Center of Military History in Washington DC has hundreds of Nazi-related pieces - including four Hitler paintings - but they are locked in vaults and not on display.

Buyers of Hitler items are usually private collectors of military memorabilia or World War II enthusiasts art dealers and auction houses.

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