MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – A big Nazi eagle with a swastika under its talons is such a divisive symbol that it has been kept hidden inside a sealed crate in a Uruguayan navy warehouse for more than a decade.
The 800-pound bronze piece was part of the stern of the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee that sank off the South American country’s coast at the outset of World War II. Controversy has swirled around the eagle ever since it was recovered in 2006, and now a battle has broken out over its fate after the government asked lawmakers and Uruguay’s Jewish community what it should do with it.
Suggestions have ranged from exhibiting or auctioning the Third Reich symbol to keeping it hidden or even destroying it. The debate rages as far-right demonstrations, including the one in Charlottesville, Virginia, have created fears of a rise in neo-Nazism.
“Our concern is that the eagle doesn’t generate a Nazi sanctuary in Uruguay that will draw Nazis from all over the region,” said Israel Buszkaniec, president of the country’s Jewish Central Committee.
The Graf Spee was a symbol of German naval might early in the war. It prowled the South Atlantic and sank several Allied merchant ships before warships from Britain and New Zealand tracked it down and damaged it during the “Battle of the River Plate” that began on Dec. 13, 1939.
The damaged Graf Spee limped into the harbor of Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, where injured and dead sailors were taken ashore. Its captain ordered the ship scuttled, sinking it a few miles from Montevideo to prevent it and its then state-of-the-art technology from falling into Allied hands. Most of the crew was taken by ship to Buenos Aires in neighboring Argentina and the captain killed himself days later.
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