Critics are condemning as inappropriate a Northtowns auction that features for sale World War II-era Nazi paraphernalia and the same model of assault rifle used in the Tops Markets attack.
The items are set to go on sale Saturday, the final day of a three-day auction at Schultz Auctioneers, though online bidding already has begun.
"However they frame it, they are making a profit on a horrific history. And there's no avoiding that," said Despina Stratigakos, professor of architecture and vice provost for inclusive excellence at the University at Buffalo, who has studied the burgeoning market for Nazi memorabilia. "And it is a thriving business, because there is a lot of money to be made."
The items from Nazi Germany feature Adolf Hitler's political manifesto "Mein Kampf" and other books about the Third Reich, a banner with a swastika and Iron Crosses and other military awards.
There's also an antique water sprinkler adorned with a caricature of a Black man.
Additionally there are two AR-15 style rifles, including the Bushmaster XM-15 model, which is the type of weapon purchased by the avowed white supremacist charged in last month's mass shooting on Jefferson Avenue.
"Just the fact that these guys are doing this a few miles from where 10 people were massacred shows their insensitivity and their willingness to do anything for a dollar, OK? That's just outrageous," said Garnell Whitfield Jr., the former Buffalo fire commissioner whose mother, Ruth, was killed May 14.
Schultz did not provide a comment for this article but this is not the first time Schultz and other area auction houses have sold similar items.
Firearms, military paraphernalia and items from a category often labeled as "Black Americana" are regularly listed — and purchased — at auction. Veteran auctioneers say they follow the law in handling weapons and the listings reflect the interests of collectors then and now.
"I have sold those pieces because my fiduciary responsibilities to the estate," said Stephen Phillips, owner of the Lodge Auction House in Buffalo, speaking of "Black Americana" items that some families have invested in for decades. "My responsibility is to make the estate the most money I possibly can."
Schultz Auctioneers is among a collection of businesses owned and operated by Kelly Schultz along the Clarence-Newstead border, including Kelly Schultz Antiques and the popular Great Pumpkin Farm.
Schultz Auctioneers' latest auction began Thursday and continues through Saturday. The antique estate auction boasts nearly 1,400 lots across categories including jewelry, art, toys, furniture and rare books.
A Rochester-area man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached out to The Buffalo News after scrolling through the listings and seeing items that troubled him.
The man initially had emailed Schultz Auctioneers after seeing three Nazi-related items listed for sale in April.
"Nazi items and imagery are incredibly hateful and distasteful. You may have a legal right to sell these items but your choosing to do so makes me question your judgement and values," the man wrote, asking Schultz to commit to a policy, at the least, of not selling reproduction Nazi items.
The man followed up with The News after seeing the Nazi German items, the sprinkler and the assault rifles listed this week.
The lots in question, all listed for sale online and in person Saturday, include:
— Numerous editions of " Mein Kampf," from the 1930s and early 1940s, most priced at an opening bid of $50 for a pair of copies.
— A program from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, hosted by Hitler to show off Nazi power and athletic prowess, part of a collection of ephemera priced at $50 to begin.
— A dagger made for a member of the Nazis' paramilitary branch, listed at $100.
— Thousands of rounds of ammunition.
— A Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle, with five, 10-round magazines, starting at $100 but expected to sell for up to $600, and an Aero Precision M5 semi-automatic rifle, with three, 10-round magazines, at a similar price point, among 21 weapons.
Is it appropriate to sell items from the period when Nazis held power in Germany?
"The Jewish community opposes the resale of Nazi paraphernalia and others items that glorify a culture that perpetrated large scale genocide and the murder of six million Jews and millions of global citizens," Rob Goldberg, CEO of the Buffalo Jewish Federation, said in a statement.
UB's Stratigakos noted the sale of Nazi-related items is prohibited in Germany, leading to a robust illegal market for the goods there.
She said this memorabilia, a portion of it brought back to this country by U.S. Army veterans as war souvenirs, remains surprisingly popular and collectors have varied reasons for purchasing the items.
"I wouldn't want to go anywhere near it," said Stratigakos, author of "Hitler at Home," a study of the dictator's residences. "But for some people, that connection to history is something that they want to have."
And the Rev. Mark Blue, president of the Buffalo chapter of the NAACP, is concerned about both the Nazi memorabilia and the sprinkler, which shows a Black man wearing a straw hat and overalls with the water nozzle coming out of one of his knees.
The item has an opening bid of $50 and Schultz Auctioneers has previously sold similar items featuring caricatured images of Black men, women and children on postcards, Valentine's Day cards and other memorabilia dating back to the late 1800s.
"These artifacts, to me, should be destroyed. They shouldn't be sold," Blue said.
The assault rifles raise their own issues.
Auction houses can obtain licenses to legally sell such weapons. Local auction houses can't under state law sell assault rifles to New Yorkers, unless the resident has a federal firearms license. Out-of-town buyers must pick up the weapon at a licensed dealer in their own state, where a required background check would take place.
State Sen. Ed Rath, R- Amherst, emphasized that any auction house must follow state law in selling these weapons.
"That's really my main perspective on this is making sure that we are applying, successfully, and enforcing, successfully, the existing laws on the books with regards to gun sales," Rath said.
But Blue and Whitfield both say it's not appropriate to sell an assault rifle, particularly the Bushmaster model, so soon after the Tops massacre.
Wilson Curry, who has worked in the industry for 47 years, is known for selling a variety of vintage and collectible weapons but said he rarely lists for sale the types of assault rifles used in the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings.
"Those of us in the business, that run a legitimate firearms business, we grieve along with the rest of the country, trust me on that," said Curry, owner of Williston Auctions in Wales Center.
Phillips, owner of the Lodge Auction House, said he stays away from assault rifles, too.
"I don't even like handling it, personally," said Phillips, a former Schultz vendor who emphasized he's discussing his own business practices.
Phillips said he tries not to cater to extremist collectors.
"You know, for the young kids that do nothing but watch videos, it's important for them to realize what happened before so that it never happens again," he said. "So, I would actually list it, but I wouldn't say 'Nazi Party.' I would list it as 'German, World War II, 1940s.'"
Curry said he would sell Nazi German weaponry but not memorabilia. "That's not our genre," he said.
Curry said he has an estate auction coming in August that will feature a number of "Black Americana" items, including a hand-carved, post-Civil War marionette and other caricatures.
Curry said the items are part of the historical record and, he added, many of his best customers for them have been Black.
"I've never had anybody give me any grief over 'em," he said.