Despite professional and public outcry then and now, the “Nazi War Diggers” who were going to be broadcast on National Geographic two years ago have been (barely) rebranded as action heroes of “Battlefield Recovery” and broadcast on Channel 5.
The Nazi War Diggers were also rebranded as “War Treasure Searchers [Poszukiwacze Wojennych Skarbów]” and broadcast on the Discovery Channel in Poland last year – notably apart from the episode on their exploits in Poland. And, even since that broadcast, there have remained serious questions to answer.
For example, military archaeologist Chris Kolonko (and others elsewhere) queried that the disclaimer ‘mentioned finds were “preserved or donated to a museum”. Does that mean preserved finds didn’t go to [a] museum?’ For the most detailed information, follow Andy Brockman’s rolling coverage on the Pipeline and Paul Barford’s posts on Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues.
Sense and sensibility
While there are a flood of complaints to wade through, which have been most comprehensively live-tweeted by Meghan Dennis @GingeryGamer and storified by Jens Notroff @jens2go, they may have been best summarised by Paul Blinkhorn @RG1100GSBlueNose: ‘Speaking as an ex-@channel5_tv archaeology presenter, #BattlefieldRecovery is a fucking disgrace.’
James Frost’s @sentiBotr algorithm has calculated that ‘tweets using #BattlefieldRecovery are 18% positive, 72% neutral, and 10% negative.’ It appears that, as conflict archaeologist Gabe Moshenska suggests, the ‘bot doesn’t know what bawbag means’.
As typejunky said, ‘Imagine if some dick with a metal detector and a JCB did this to your grandparents[‘] graves from either war in France…. [T]here’s a reason they’re digging where they’re digging. Because they think they can get away with it.’ You can complain to Ofcom here. John Duncan recorded that advertisers included Subway, the Sunday Express Magazine and Sky; Binky Bowles-Balls added Listerine and Oak Furniture Land; Spencer Carter added Mobile Strike Gaming.
Still, be careful what you say. A ClearStory employee evidently made legal threats (or repeated corporate ClearStory warnings) to people who were discussing the issues below-the-line at the Guardian. The comment was actually moderated at the request of someone who felt sorry for the person who made the “idle threat”. I have asked to see it, nonetheless, as it appears to relate to queries about the extraction and export of “ground-dug” objects from Latvia.
Advertising and looting
In a bizarre coincidence, I had already scheduled a discussion of #NaziWarDiggers with my students at the American University of Rome (AUR) for the morning after the news broke about the UK broadcast of #BattlefieldRecovery, and a discussion of online trafficking and market analysis with them for the first day back after the broadcast. Here, I just want to highlight the connection.
Subjecting herself to the grim spectacle, Meghan Dennis @GingeryGamer recorded ‘the first mention of the antiquities market. The host [Craig Gottlieb(?)] notes that [a particular] dog tag has no market value.’
He should know. When he’s not on TV, he sells dog tags and other militaria for a living; he boasts that he sells ‘things that are Nazi related and for lots of money‘. “SS Dog Tag, Verfügungstruppe, Listing #5362″, which sold for $306 in 2015; “German Dog Tag, Listing #5404″, which sold for $101 in 2015; “Dog Tag, Unknown Origin, [Listing] #1962″, which was offered or sold for an unspecified but ‘ridiculously low price’ (at an unknown time), because ‘I have no idea what this dog tag is for, so…. If you know what it is, your gain is my loss!’; perhaps “Half a Dog Tag: SSVT?”
When Gottlieb posted the query about the half of a dog tag back in 2012, which he had ‘received (not a vet buy, but from a collection)’ and was ‘probably not a high-value item’, istra63 judged that it was a ‘fake‘. But Frozzer suggested that it was a ‘nice grounddug item’ and Totenhead suspected that it had been taken from a ‘grave‘. (Gottlieb has since been expelled from Wehrmacht Awards Militaria Forums.)
[Military historian and battlefield guide Rob Schäfer points out that ‘legally [German] WW2 dog-tags are property of the Wehrmacht Information Office in Berlin (WASt)’; ‘digging, trading, [selling] them is a criminal offence‘; it’s ‘one of the reasons Ebay Germany was forced to stop them being listed‘.]
As viewers noticed, the supposedly sensitive and responsible Battlefield Recovery team repeatedly talked about the monetary value of the recovered objects on the market; kept on talking about the objects’ monetary value; were ‘obsessed‘ with their monetary value…
Military archaeologist Anna Schneider foresaw ‘an increase in looting if @channel5_tv air[ed] #BattlefieldRecovery. Its not just TV- it has real world impacts.’ The Nazi War Diggers’ Battlefield Recovery is an advert for the trade in militaria. And Craig Gottlieb is just the tip of the iceberg. typejunky, for instance, found hundreds of dog tags only on eBay in the UK.