A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 13, 2013

The Price of History: Schindler's List Receives Zero Bids on eBay

It is a testament to the value we place on history and on the intellectual property that conveys its authenticity. The market for 'originals' of whatever provenance has grown exponentially.

Perhaps we seek validation for our own legitimacy or perhaps we just think that a 'greater fool' will see value in something notorious, famous or merely noteworthy. So all manner of documents some real, some fake, some of debatable worth, have found their way to market.

A list compiled by German businessman Oskar Schindler, who famously saved a thousand or more Jews from the gas chambers by employing them, sometimes dubiously, in his factory would appear to have all the elements of such an asset. It represents a real, if searing, reminder of historical events, of human kindness - and it was memorialized in an Academy Award winning movie by iconic director Steven Spielberg.

But the experience of those attempting to sell this document is also a cautionary tale. Because it underscores the meaning of value. The attempted purveyors of this document were asking $3 million as a starting bid. There was both skepticism and optimism when the auction was announced: after all, how to make sense of the hundreds of millions that collectors pay for works of art? But then the director of the Holocaust Museum in Cracow, Poland where those who comprised Schindler's list originated challenged the asking price, saying the document was interesting but not 'the' original and the auction collapsed.

Subsequently, an auction house in New Hampshire has put another Schindler document up for sale. This one purports to support another element of the story, the Nazi approval to move his factory. Bids so far have reached $21,000. The prices asked or bid are less interesting the lesson this holds for IP generally and historical papers specifically: we are becoming more sophisticated about our understanding of where intangible value lies and how it should be determined. The days of assumptions and guesses and unsupported (or unsupportable) claims have fallen as knowledge about and commercial interest in these 'soft' assets has hardened. Which is both a welcome harbinger of attention belatedly due and a signal that a time of innocence has passed. JL

Alana Abramson reports on ABC News:

An auction of one of Oskar Schindler's famed lists on eBay at a starting price of $3 million closed without receiving any bids, as some experts questioned the price tag.
Schindler, a factory owner and member of the Nazi Party, saved more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factory. His employees were documented on lists made famous in Thomas Keneally's book, "Schindler's List," the basis for Steven Spielberg's 1993 film. Those on the lists were saved from deportation to concentration camps.
The list that was up for auction contains 801 male names and is dated April 8, 1945.
David Crowe, a Holocaust historian and the author of the book, "Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List," said that the date of the list may be one reason it did not receive any bids.
Crowe said that the film depicted the first two lists ever created, in the fall of 1944. He only views those lists as the "lists of life," as they are called in the film. The subsequent lists -- including this one -- were simply updates of the original lists. They are not worth $3 million, he said.
"When they say 'Schindler's list,' it's almost like they are using the romance of the original list and the magic of that to sell what was prepared at the end of the war," said Crowe. "This list is far less valuable."
The auction also came under criticism last week from Michal Niezabitowski, director of the Historical Museum of Krakow. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last week that Niezabitowski also said the list on eBay was a copy of the original, and was not worth $3 million.
Crowe said that because he had not seen the list, he could not comment whether it was the original version of the list or a duplicate. But even if it was the original version, he said, he did not think it would be worth $3 million.
"This is not fraudulent," he said of the effort to place the list on eBay. "They certainly do tell the end of the the story, but they don't illuminate the beginning, so they are less important."
The list is described on eBay as "guaranteed authentic." Zimet received the list from a descendent of Itzak Stern, Schindler's accountant, who helped compile the list, and an affidavit from that relative accompanies the list.
The auction closed the evening of July 28 after being open for a little more than a week. Eric Gazin, the president of Gazin auctions, was listed as the seller. Gary Zimet, curator of Moments in Time, which buys and sells original manuscripts, currently owns the list.
Although the list was placed on eBay, it was only open to pre-qualified bidders who had been vetted by Gazin. Gazin said that he still has bidders who are interested, but he was not able to verify their finances in time.
"We are in active discussions with multiple parties," he said.

Gazin said that if an original document existed, it would come from the Stern family. He has no plans to lower the price.


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