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The Controversisal Graf Spee Eagle

Written by: George Chittenden : 08 Dec 2019

What is the correct way to treat controversial pieces of heritage, particularly Nazi items that could potentially fall into the hands of white supremacists? This is a question that is currently being asked in relation to the 800lb bronze Nazi eagle which once adorned Hitler's Graf Spee 'pocket battleship'. The ship was scuttled by it’s own crew early in the war, on December 13th, 1939. The ship had already destroyed nine Allied merchant vessels in the South Atlantic before it was hunted down and engaged in battle by a British-led group, consisting of two Royal Navy cruisers, HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax, and supported by New Zealand’s HMS Achilles. The Battle took place in shallow waters off the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, which is where the Graf Spee was scuttled.

Then in 2018 a salvage operation, funded by a team of international businessmen recovered the giant bronze eagle which sits atop of a swastika from the wreck. Initially it was displayed in a hotel in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, but understandably it was removed following protests. Now it is up for auction, and it’s predicted to fetch between £20-50 million. The proceeds will be shared between the businessmen who funded the salvage operation and the Uruguayan government. The question is, where do these items of heritage belong? Should they be displayed in museums only? What measures can we take to guarantee they don’t end up in the wrong hands?

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