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Bodies dug from graves to fuel trade in Nazi souvenirs

Grave robbers are digging up bodies of German soldiers killed in the Second World War to recover Nazi memorabilia, feeding a multi-million pound market, it emerged on Monday.

Much of the trade is centred on Russia, where hundreds of thousands of Nazi soldiers died during the 1942 retreat from the Red Army

ORGANISED gangs are stripping Nazi memorabilia from the graves of soldiers who died on the Eastern Front and selling it in Britain. Armed Forces charities have expressed fury and frustration at the “deplorable” groups digging up the bodies of German soldiers to feed a multimillion-pound international industry in Nazi relics. The artefacts, ranging from small personal effects such as dog tags to parts of tanks, are sold over the internet or through informal networks. The human remains are then buried in mass graves, scattered, or sold.

The Times has found hundreds of Nazi objects taken from battlefields in Demyansk, near Novgorod in Russia, and Kurland in Latvia, listed for sale on websites such as eBay. A reporter was also offered the chance to buy SS dog tags dug up from a battleground in east Germany at a militaria fair in Kent. Paul Reed, a military archaeologist, said the trade could run to several millions of pounds in Britain alone. “It’s wholesale looting of battle sites, and the bones are just tipped into holes at the end of the day,” he said.

“Second World War archaeology is in its infancy at the moment, and these people are destroying our future, as well as desecrating the graves of fallen soldiers. None of them deserved to have their bones dug up.” At War and Peace, the biggest military fair in Europe, which takes place on Hop Farm at Paddock Wood, Kent, a reporter was offered the chance to buy more than a dozen German dog tags. The seller, who refused to give his name, said they had been dug up from a battlefield near Schwerin in northeast Germany. Several of the tags had been snapped in half. “If you’ve got half a dog tag, it’s going to be from a grave,” Mr Reed said.

The centre of the trade is in Russia, where hundreds of thousands of German soldiers were killed as they retreated in the face of the Red Army in 1942. A British dealer who sells relics lawfully excavated from battlefields on the Continent said that the Russian authorities had no desire to crack down on the gangs. “The Russians have no regard for the Germans,” he said. “In eastern Europe it’s a very big business. It’s almost mafia-run.”

The German War Graves Commission, which traces and reburies some 40,000 soldiers each year in Eastern Europe, said the “grave-robbers” regularly blocked their work.

Fritz Kirchmeier, the charity’s president, said: “Often staff discover that graves have been looted. Worst is the lack of dog tags, without which we cannot identify the soldiers.” It is illegal to sell Nazi memorabilia in France, Germany, Austria and Hungary, but not in Britain…

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