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Nazi display at Westchester gun show draws ire


White Plains - A display of Nazi paraphernalia at this weekend's Westchester County Center gun show drew swift condemnation, as the county, in response, said it would review its policies.

"It is an unbelievable insult," said Richard Laster, chairman of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in Purchase. "I will certainly try to reach (County Executive Rob Astorino) and make him aware of this and certainly, in the future, avoid a repeat of that situation."

The selling of Nazi memorabilia and other controversial artifacts at military history shows is common and legal. Despite that, many of the items in question would be banned from online auction sites, such as eBay, due to their controversial nature.

"It is completely unacceptable," said Ken Jenkins, D-Yonkers, chairman of the county Board of Legislators. "There's no way that this particular display should have been allowed to continue."

He said a board committee will review county procedures to see if changes are needed.

The gun show, which included vendors with mostly historical weapons, was the first at the County Center in 11 years and was brought back by Astorino. His predecessor, Andrew Spano, banned the show after the Columbine school massacre.

In a central booth at the exhibit hall was one vendor prominently presenting Nazi badges, pins and other memorabilia behind glass, along with Japanese, Italian and U.S. military items. A man running the tables, who declined an interview, had a neck tattoo of the Hammerskin Nation, a white-supremacist group. Another nearby vendor sold history books about the Nazi regime.

The Westchester County Parks Department was aware there would be historical memorabilia at the show, but not specifically that Nazi materials would be displayed, spokesman Peter Tartaglia said. The department, he said, will review the incident with the vendor and promoter, as well as its own policies regarding what happened.

"It's an emotional issue and we did not mean to cause a stir at all," Tartaglia said Monday. "We are aware of the sensitivity and we are working to rectify this for future shows."

The promoter, Newman Chittenden of Westchester Collectors, did not return a call for comment.

Despite clear scorn over the display, others viewed the Nazi memorabilia in a historical, and non-political, light.

Warren Katz, a Montrose man who attended the weekend show, said he's been to gun and military history shows for decades and often sees displays of Nazi materials. He said he's seen the same out-of-state vendor presenting Nazi wares at shows throughout the Northeast and described him as a legitimate dealer.

"I've been going to these places for 40 years, just about, and it doesn't shock me at all," he said.

The West Point Museum displays a number of items and symbols from the Nazi era, including Adolf Hitler's pistol, said Les Jensen, the arms and armor curator.

The museum views the pieces, he said, not only as the spoils of war and a symbol of victory against the Nazis, but as rare historical items. Most history buffs who collect Nazi materials, he added, understand the sensitivities toward the items and know to be careful in displaying them.

Frank Fato, a history and political science professor at Westchester Community College, said he considered the Nazi display a non-issue from a legal perspective and cautioned against skirting the First Amendment in an effort to remove a potentially offensive vendor.

"The county is certainly not in the position to make a list of what is OK and what is not OK," Fato said, but added, "Personally, I can understand why people might get upset."

The Journal News
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