D-Day Museums Targeted by Thieves

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A BURGEONING international market for second world war memorabilia is putting strain on the numerous small museums that commemorate the 1944 D-Day landings, which are increasingly under the eye of unscrupulous collectors, French police say.

Two recent thefts have highlighted poor security at the more than 25 collections - mainly in private hands - which draw thousands of summer visitors along the Normandy coast. In one incident, the booty included a rare German "Enigma" encoding machine which investigators suspect was stolen to order.

In the other, scores of items - including several weapons - were replaced by fakes and then resold to dealers.

In recent years there has been a huge increase in demand for anything from the second world war - guns, uniforms, buckles, helmets," said Michel Brissart, who runs the Omaha D-Day museum at Vierville-sur Mer.

"It all ends up going abroad: the US, the Emirates, Russia, Australia. Here in France we are too poor to keep it."

It was Brissart's museum - overlooking the scene of the US landings on Omaha beach - that two assailants targeted in March this year, overpowering the receptionist when she opened for business. The thieves took some 30 articles, including daggers, uniform caps and firearms - as well as the Enigma machine valued at £120,000.

"Practically everything they took was German, because sadly German memorabilia commands a much higher price than Allied stuff," said Brissart. After reporting the incident to police, Brissart alerted contacts in the world of collectors and two weeks later he was telephoned by a dealer in Paris.

"He said he'd been approached by two men with a list of items for sale, including photographs. It was ours, all right." Police staked out the dealer's premises and two men - aged 19 and 20 - were arrested. The Enigma has been returned to Vierville with most of the other goods. Six items are still missing...

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