The following article appeared in the December 25, 2000 edition of Forbes magazine in a special section dealing with investments:

Collecting evil

It's only a knife, thirteen and five-eighths inches long, and hardly scratched after 65 years or so. Inscribed along its edge, a seemingly laudable maxim in German, Meine Ehre heisst Treue, which translates as, 'My honor is loyalty.'

But consider its provenance. Once owned by a Nazi SS member, this knife is invested with a certain horror - a small piece of the most efficient machine of extermination the world has ever seen.

Grappling with his family's past:
Norman Ross with SS dagger.
It may surprise you to learn that the knife is owned by Norman Ross, who is Jewish. His Austrian-born mother survived the Holocaust, including a beating from the SS that left her face permanently scarred. But she refused to speak to her son about her ordeal.

For Ross, a 37-year-old personal trainer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., collecting Nazi daggers and swords is a way to grapple with a disturbing past. 'Owning a piece of what happened makes it comprehensible to me,' he says. 'It's concrete evidence of what I was dealing with while I was growing up....'

It comes as something of a revelation to learn that Norman Ross is not some morbid Jewish eccentric. In his book 'Selling Hitler' - which deals with the events surrounding the Hitler diary forgeries - the author, Robert Harris, writes: 'It has been estimated that there are 50,000 collectors of Nazi memorabilia throughout the world, of whom most are Americans, involved in a business which is said to have an annual turnover of $50-million. Prices increase 20 percent a year....In the States, according to Charles Hamilton (a leading dealer), 'the collectors of Hitler memorabilia are 40 percent Jewish, 50 percent old soldiers, and 10 percent of them are young....'

So what on earth is going on here? Why are tens of thousands of Jewish people assiduously collecting artefacts associated with a regime that murdered six million of their people? The answer lies in looking at what the Holocaust has come to represent in contemporary Judaism. Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, the former president of the American Jewish Congress, writes:

'Historians....will no doubt see the unparalleled effort and passion which created the greatest of the Holocaust memorials in the United States on the Mall in Washington as the contemporary version of the building of a "national Jewish cathedral". It enshrines the Holocaust as the via dolorosa and crucifixion of the Jewish people. Those who come to remember are transformed in this shrine into participants in the great sacrifice. They are confirmed in their Jewishness....'

'The great sacrifice' - certainly the term resonates with religious significance and this is precisely what the Holocaust is evolving into: a sacred religious event that is on a par with, perhaps surpassing, other traumatic Jewish events such as the Babylonian exile and Masada.

'A national Jewish cathedral'.
The architecture of the $380-m Washington
Holocaust Museum conveys the appearance of
a Nazi concentration camp building.
More than 16 million people have visited
the museum since it opened eight years ago.

And if there is one symbol that has come to symbolise the Holocaust it is the swastika, which is now indelibly associated with torture, suffering and death. To find a symbol that evoked a similar revulsion, one must go back 2,000 years to the time of the Roman Empire when the object that aroused similar passions was - the crucifix.

It was on these barbarous wooden stakes that tens of thousands of people, including many Jews, underwent the agonies of crucifixion. If you had told a Jew under the Roman occupation that the crucifix was destined to become one of the world's most revered holy symbols, he would have questioned your sanity.

But could it be that similar historical and religious forces are presently at work - that, like the crucifix, the hated swastika is destined to become the symbol of a sacrificial covenant between God and the Jews? The groundswell signs are there: the elevation in recent years of the Holocaust to the status of a Jewish crucifixion symbol, and the number of Jews who are busy collecting 'holy relics' - in the form of Nazi militaria - associated with this 'religious' event?

The Holocaust has been described as a black hole in the fabric of the 20th century, not to mention the historical tapestry of Judaism. Six million men, women and children perished in an event of such traumatic and appalling magnitude that it beggars the imagination. As Claude Lanzmann writes: 'The Holocaust is above all unique in that it erects a ring of fire around itself, a borderline that cannot be crossed because there is an ultimate degree of horror that cannot be transmitted.'

But Jews the world over, like Rabbi Hertzberg, are beginning to see the event as a religious sacrifice - a viewpoint anticipated decades ago by Pope John XXIII, who, on leaving a Parisian cinema after seeing a film on the Jewish carnage at Belsen, exclaimed in tears: 'THIS is the mystical body of Christ!'

Just as the crucifix metamorphosised from a symbol of death to a symbol of redemption, perhaps the time is coming when the Jews will come to see in the swastika not a constant reminder of Nazi murderers, but rather a symbolic gateway to God - a door through which six million Jews have already passed.

Is it too much to imagine that swastika-adorned artefacts, such as Norman Ross' SS dagger, will become holy relics of the home and synagogue, sacred symbols of the sacrifice of God's chosen people? A sacrifice that brought about Judah's return.

The Gnostika, or Shield of David: a Jewish symbol for the new millenium. A million Jews represented by each of the outer six segments; a rotating swastika-scythe; the inner hexagon of the Star of David; white and black (life and death); an abstract menorah in the form of two sets of three candles on either side of a central, dominating seventh candle; and a single drop of transcendent Judaic blood welling up at the hub of the turning swastika - an axis oiled with the blood and tears of six million Jews.