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Germans Are Secretly Buying Up Nazi Memorabilia Uncovered In Massive Police Search

German police scouring the underground market for hints of artwork commissioned by the Nazi regime came upon a treasure trove last week, finding nine sculptures in a warehouse in southern Germany.

Police are investigating eight German men between the ages of 64 and 79 in connection with the sculptures, The Wall Street Journal reports. No arrests have yet followed. The search of 10 different locations to find the artwork came after tips from a woman who was offered the bronze horses which once stood in front of Hitler’s Chancellery. The market for major Nazi artwork only amounts to about 30-40 people in Germany. However countless thousands of Germans trade around uniforms, insignias and weapons. A large part of the demand comes from South America and the Middle East.

Trade of Nazi artifacts remains taboo, partly because of strict bans on swastikas and other memorabilia, with very few exceptions. Notably, however, it is legal to sell artwork commissioned during the Nazi regime, so long as that artwork was first legally obtained.

Josef Thorak’s two bronze horses are part of the trove, in addition to two sculptures by Arno Breker and two statues by Fritz Klimsch. Investigators also found a large relief by Breker. The 16-foot by 33-foot piece was never publicly displayed.

After the fall of Berlin, the Soviets moved the horses to a military base where they sat idle for thirty years. But when the Berlin Wall came down, the horses vanished, only to catch the attention of authorities after emerging several months ago with an $8.8 million dollar price tag.

The state maintains that the horses are the property of the government. If an investigation determines that the state is the legal owner, the German minister of culture and media has pledged to store the art in a museum, along with a stern lecture on how the Nazis used art to further their ideology.

But the current owner of the horses doesn’t intend to give them up easily. According to his lawyer, the businessman picked up the artifacts legally from the Russian military.

“There is a huge black market [for Nazi art and paraphernalia], especially in the U.S. where you can buy and sell openly,” Arthur Brand, an art investigator, told The Wall Street Journal.

Artwork played a major role in the rise of National Socialism, owing in part to Hitler’s background as an artist. The regime allocated a generous amount of public funds to bring Unersetzliche Künstler, irreplaceable artists, under the state’s umbrella for the purpose of creating public art to broadcast cultural achievements and ideology.

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