Gavel (illustration)
Gavel (illustration)iStock

A Uruguayan court ordered its government on Friday to sell a huge Nazi eagle which was salvaged in 2006 from a German battleship that sank near Uruguay's coast in 1939.

In 2004, private investors funded the recovery of the Nazi ship and the bronze eagle with a swastika under its talons which was originally on the ship's stern was found in 2006. The notorious symbol garnered tremendous controversy at the time, with Germany claiming ownership of the 800-pound eagle and Jews raising an outcry over the display of the swastika. Finally, the government hid the eagle in a warehouse inside a wooden crate, leaving it there for over ten years.

The court ruled that the eagle must be sold within 90 days and the proceeds should be divided among the investors who funded the recovery of the ship.

Following the start of World War II in September 1939, Hitler ordered the German Navy to attack Allied merchant ships. The German battleship Admiral Graf Spee traveled around the South Atlantic, successfully sinking a number of Allied merchant ships. On December 13, 1939, it was attacked and badly damaged by Allied warships in the Battle of the River Plate near Montevideo.

As its injured sailors lay dying, the battleship's captain ordered the ship to be sunk by the crew members before reaching Montevideo's shore to prevent the Allies from obtaining the sophisticated technology aboard the ship. As the ship sunk, the crew was captured and the captain killed himself shortly later.

In recent years, the Uruguayan government consulted with legislators and Uruguay's Jewish community about the fate of the Nazi symbol, which stirred up the controversy once again. There was no consensus about the best approach, with some wanting the eagle to be exhibited and others believing it should be destroyed or kept hidden. A court now made a decision but the Uruguayan government can still appeal the ruling after reviewing it.