Very near my favorite gelateria in all of Rome, between antique stores selling jewelry and furnishings from decades and centuries past, there is a well-lit shop selling Nazi and Fascist memorabilia.  The storefront claims to sell “military antiques,” and I suppose that is technically true, but although I am visually aware that they also sell World War I helmets, imperial Russian flags, and even Napoleonic War weaponry, what catches the eye is the large (probably 4-feet long) blimp hanging from the ceiling painted with Swastikas, figurines of and postcards of Mussolini, and the huge bronze sculpture of Adolf Hitler’s head watching over everything.  When I walked by there the first time without my camera, there was a more-than-lifesize statue of Mussolini in the middle of the store, in bronze, and I thought it must weigh an actual ton and who would buy it?  Someone did; it’s gone now.

“Honey, I think this’d be perfect for the foyer.”

I realize there is a market for this stuff.  We learned that when we saw American Beauty.  If there is a market for something, like illegal and harmful drugs, it will be sold by someone else. The world works this way. If you sell it, they will come.  A quick search on ebay reveals quite a market  indeed.

The Hitler bust really ties the room together.

The Hitler bust really ties the room together.

When you see the store, you almost can’t believe your eyes.  This isn’t the internet, or an out-of-the way store in a seedy part of town.  It’s on a gorgeous, cobblestoned little road running parallel to the Tiber River behind Campo de’ Fiori and within spitting distance of Castel Sant’Angelo. Unless you are one of the collectors of this stuff, which I am not, it shocks you to see it. The shop owner clearly doesn’t care and almost certainly desires this reaction, because while most of the stores on Via dei Coronari are darkened at night, this one is illuminated like an operating room.  The white light floods out onto the street, demanding that you look at it.

Il Duce.

Duce Decor.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite here. I love history and archeology and museums and antiques and kind of a nerd about possessing old objects. We spend a lot of money to see the Egyptian artifacts at the Vatican Museums down the road here, and we know they are guilty of generations of slavery and oppression. To say nothing of the Romans! Kings of slavery and torture who everyone around here, including me, is obsessed with! If it were possible for me to own some kind of Egyptian or gladiatorial artifact, I think I would hyperventilate with excitement.  I know a family who owns, and uses as a coffee table and magazine receptacle, a 600-year-old Aztec table apparently used for human sacrifice. I’ve rested my coffee mug on that table many times and never thought that it was inappropriate to own such a reminder of murder and gore. And while I certainly do not agree with flying Confederate flags around, I don’t see a problem with owning one’s great-great-grandfather’s Confederate rifle. And Confederate items show up on the popular American TV show Pawn Stars all the time and no one bats an eye.  All of this stuff is apparently cool.

But Nazi stuff is different, at least for now. Maybe the passage of time will soften the disgust of seeing a store like this in the middle of charming Via dei Coronari.  Maybe our tendency to recoil at parts of horrible history while drooling over others makes all of us hypocrites.. Maybe one day these items will become like that Aztec sacrificial table. But the future is not now. Now, it seems grossly insensitive and wrong to sell these items to collectors (who are these collectors??) for a profit, and to be so bold about the location, lighting, and window dressing seems especially unsavory.

Yes, the store sells items from many wars, countries, and epochs.  But if it ever occurred to me to pop in to get my dad a World War I helmet for Christmas, which is objectively kind of neat, not knowing in advance about the Nazi items present, I would immediately be squirming and sweating at the sight of Hitler in the corner and I would leave. I would never, ever patronize that store, even if they also sold bottled water and it were the only place open in the middle of August.

Given that the rent at this location is probably astronomical, there are apparently people who do come on purpose and do not leave.  There must be a lot of people who buy it.

So, have you all seen this store? Know anyone who’s bought something from there, controversial or otherwise? Are you as grossed out as I am or do you think there’s no difference between this store and any other antique store? Is there something about being in Rome – the history, the eccentricity – that makes this more palatable than if it were in Dallas, for example, or for that matter, Berlin?