When we moved Rossana's father to Ohio there was a box of old papers that was left in the trunk of our car. When I pulled it out I found old deeds, family pictures, immigration forms from Rossana's great grandfather. And a dagger.
It was old, the blade was about five inches and had a slightly rusty metal sheath. I pulled it out and noticed that it was made in Solingen. Good steel. It was dull, with no point whatsoever. I thought that with a bit of cleaning it would make a nice utility knife. I turned it over in my hands, wondering where it came from.
And then I saw the Swastika.
It was small, set into well worn and dirty handle. It seemed so incongruous. The knife didn't look particularly threatening at all. I googled 'Nazi Daggers' and found an image that matched it exactly.
The knife was a Nazi youth dagger, given to members of the Hitler Youth. When it was new, it would have had "Blood and Honor" etched on the blade.
I took it to my wife.
"I found this in that box in the trunk. Do you know where it came from?"
She looked at it and smiled. "I remember that, I think dad got it from Uncle Lou. I have some fond memories of that knife."
She saw the look on my face. I handed it to her and told her what it was.
"I don't remember the Swastika. We used to use it when we'd go to Atlantic city when I was a child. I used it to pry open Oysters. It was just a handy knife. I guess my Dad kept it because he thought it might be valuable some day."
I took it out to the shop and put it on a table. I looked at it. I honestly didn't want it in the house. I didn't want it near me. I checked militaria sites and found that in good condition it could be worth a bit of money. I considered selling it, but stopped myself.
Who would buy this thing? Who's hands would it go into? Some mild mannered military history collector? I know at least one person who collects and sells WWII models and toys, including a fair number of German items that have the same symbol on them. He's no Neo-Nazi. My own step-brother had a love of WWII era tabletop strategy games and German military models when he was a teenager. He certainly didn't turn out to be a racist or a holocaust denier.
But I didn't sell it. I couldn't.
Humans tend to imbue inanimate object with meanings and powers they simply don't have. We believe that items in close proximity to people are 'infected' by that persons personality. Their essence. Witness people who collect autographs, or items owned by famous people, or Christians. They believe that a piece of bone or a sliver of wood is holy and might even perform miracles, simply because Jesus, or someone who lived three hundred years after Jesus might have touched it, even when we almost certainly know that the item never came within a thousand miles of him.
So this knife, which very likely was never involved in harming anyone, is just a thing. It has no 'bad mojo'. Except that that's bullshit. The rational mind is over ruled by emotion all the time. Say someone killed your mother with a knife from your kitchen. Would you want the knife back? Hell no you wouldn't. I don't know the history of this knife, but I know the history of the Nazi's. I know very well what they did and the very symbol of that evil is set in the handle of this knife.
So what's in a symbol?
Rossana told me I could do whatever I wanted with it. That was six months ago. It still sits in the shop in a drawer. Do I sell it, praying that it doesn't end up in the hands of some fucked up skinhead? I could use the money right now. What if I sold it and donated the money to the Holocaust museum? Would that be wrong? Should I just destroy it? That way no one profits from it. The world isn't loosing anything important here. This knife won't add anything to our understanding or the war and its horrors. This should be a hard decision. But it is.
What would you do?