Bodies dug from graves to fuel trade in Nazi souvenirs

Bodies of Nazi soldiers who died during World War Two are being dug up and looted for their Nazi memorabilia. The looting is generating a lucrative market in trade for the souvenirs around the world.

Most of the Nazi graves are being dug up in Russia, where hundreds of thousands of German soldiers died as they retreated during 1942.  Graves in the north western towns of Novgorod and Kurland in Latvia are particularly favoured targets of the looters.

The looting has been criticised by veterans’ organisations, which say that the graves are military grave sites and should not be touched out of respect for the soldiers.  Artefacts that are being retrieved include dog tags, weaponry, uniforms and even parts of tanks.  Once retrieved and cleaned up, the artefacts are being sold by the looters online or at fairs that specialise in buying and selling war memorabilia.

After the bodies have been stripped of their valuable goods, the bones are dumped in mass graves. This makes it impossible to identify and track the location of the bodies.  Military archaeologists say that they’ve hardly begun to scratch the surface when it comes to World War Two graves or other points of interest.

While it is illegal to buy and sell Nazi memorabilia in France and Germany, it is legal in other countries including the UK. The largest military fair, War and Peace, is based in England and it has been reported that these items have shown up for sale at this fair.  Most of the buyers of these Nazi goods say that they are interested in military history and are not Nazi followers or enthusiasts, The Telegraph reports.

The German War Graves Commission has complained to the countries where the desecrations are taking place since so many graves are being looted. The commission was set up after World War One in 1919 to maintain German war graves across Europe and North Africa. It liaises with family members of those killed at war, with the goal of remembering those who gave their lives for the war effort.  The commission is eager to prevent the looting and trade, hoping most of all to preserve the dog tags, which are often the only way to identify the soldiers.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE