Unorthodox, the world’s leading Jewish podcast, takes questions from its listeners about all aspects of Jewish life, from the religiously profound to the utterly inconsequential. Every week, we discuss one of these questions in “Ask Unorthodox.” If you have a question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A faithful listener to the Unorthodox podcast recently had a question of a rather sensitive nature. Naturally, he turned to the podcast’s Facebook group. “Recently I came into possession of an item,” our friend Adam wrote, “that I have mixed feelings about being in my home. … The object I am referring to is an Iron Cross that was taken off of a Nazi after my grandfather ended his life.” Not wanting to live with this bit of World War II memorabilia under his roof, Adam is “considering getting a lock box at the bank.” But he is not sure. “Input?” he implores. “Guidance?”
The consensus of Adam’s fellow listeners was that he should donate the artifact—a military decoration given in German lands during several wars, the last being World War II—to a museum. One Facebook wag suggested the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, another the International Museum of World War II, in Natick, Massachusetts. But everyone agreed that there was something distasteful about cohabiting with a medal once given for faithful service in Jew-killing. They would treat the Iron Cross like a flatulent father-in-law, or a rediscovered box of K-tel cassettes: too important to throw away, but best housed elsewhere.
But it’s not that simple. Many of us inherit stuff that gives us the heebie-jeebies. No two artifacts turn our stomachs in the same way. Your great-great-great-grandfather’s sword from the Confederate army is icky and embarrassing; the ketubah of your grandparents, who died together in a suicide pact, is macabre and haunted; the femur taken from your mother’s pet ferret, whose carcass she boiled and cleaned, is rather disturbing. And the heirloom Iron Cross, ripped off the uniform of an honorably killed Nazi? That could be creepy (it is for Adam), but also—let’s face it—kind of a baller, because it’s noble and praiseworthy that Grandpa got a Nazi kill.
Now, if you later find out that the Iron Cross came not from Grandpa but originally from weird Uncle Clyde, who paid $500 for it in an underground gift shop in Munich, that’s a different story. In that case, our best suggestion is … throw it out? But Adam, you say you were given the medal by your grandfather, who tore it off the chest of a Nazi he had just strangled to death with his own hands (yeah, that’s how it went down). In that case, we think you’re entitled to your family’s trophy, this testament to our people’s triumph, or at the very least his distinguished service. A museum might put it in storage, but in your house it will regularly spark conversations and occasion history lessons. So, go to the local frame shop, get the Iron Cross buffed and mounted, and put it in your ferret room.
Please don’t give us to a museum—instead, write to us with your questions! If you have a question, about anything, write to us at email@example.com. To get the Unorthodox podcast, visit iTunes here, or use your favorite app.