A bronze Nazi eagle weighing about 700 pounds that once adorned a German warship and has become the subject of a court case in Uruguay in recent years will be melted down and transformed into a dove, the South American nation’s president said on Friday, a a move he said would transform a symbol of “violence and war” into one of “peace and unity”.
Between “times of division, times of violence, times of war in the world”, the president, Luis Lacalle Pou, said in a press conference in Montevideo that “the signal of our country to our people, to the outside world, is we are a society of peace, we are a society of unity and we practice it”.
The eagle – over six feet tall and with a wingspan of nearly nine feet, talons holding a swastika surrounded by a wreath – was strapped to the stern of Admiral Graf Spee, a heavy armored cruiser of some 12,000 tons built from Germany in 1930. When the ship was damaged in one of the first major naval battles of World War II, her commander scuttled the ship in the Plata River shortly after stopping in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.
In 2006, the eagle was recovered off the Uruguayan coast after years of searching by a private company. But when promoters of the salvage expedition attempted to sell the eagle, the state moved to block any sale, fearing the object could fall into the hands of anyone trying to glorify Nazism.
Nearly eight decades after the violent end of the Nazi regime, most of his iconography has either been destroyed or is kept in museums. Other pieces of the Admiral Graf Spee wreck – including an apparatus used to measure distances and the warship’s anchor, both utilitarian Navy artifacts with no Nazi iconography – are now on display in Montevideo’s public spaces.
But the existence of such a large intact Nazi eagle presented a problem for Uruguay, which had kept the artifact in its navy depot. In 2019, a court ordered the Uruguayan government to sell the artifact and give some of the money to a private rescue operation, a sale that the German government and Jewish groups warned against lest the item fall into the wrong hands.
A higher court reversed that decision and ultimately granted state custody of the eagle.
Mr Lacalle Pou said on Friday that plans to turn the eagle were being made even before that court ruling.
Now, Pablo Atchugarry, a renowned artist in Uruguay, has been selected to do the work. He is creating an Italian marble dove that will serve as a model for the new metal bird, he said at the news conference. The whole process will take months to complete, he said.
“This idea of turning a symbol of hate, of war, of atrocity into a symbol of peace – well, I feel very honored to have the responsibility to do that,” Atchugarry said.
Mr Lacalle Pou described the decision to melt down the Nazi bird and create something new as a “step forward”.
“I’m sure nobody wants to be shown a symbol that represents war and violence,” he said, adding that there was no point in keeping it in navy storage for decades.
Though he said the dove’s final location for display hadn’t yet been decided, he suggested it could be Punta del Este, a coastal city where the Plata River meets the Atlantic Ocean.