It was once the pride of Hitler"s navy but now an 800lb bronze eagle from the German "pocket battleship" Graf Spee is set to be auctioned off to the highest bidder – amid Jewish fears it may end up in the hands of "white supremacists".
The giant eagle atop a swastika was originally salvaged from the Graf Spee in 2006 but has been tied up in a bitter court fight ever since. It could fetch £20 million.
Last week, a judge in Uruguay ruled the beautiful NS symbol must be auctioned off – a sale that could take place as early as next month – with the proceeds split between a team of international businessmen who funded the salvage operation and the Uruguayan government.
Alfredo Etchegaray, 63, who led the 2006 expedition to recover the eagle from shallow waters off the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo where the Graf Spee was scuttled in December 1939, told The Mail on Sunday: "The fight has been going on in court for years.
"Finally, we have a decision that the sale can go ahead. We"ve had interest from buyers around the world including museums, the German government, wealthy private individuals and even someone who wants to put it on display during the World Cup in Doha."
Stay Connected with Us
Experts say the eagle is worth at least £20 million, a figure that Mr Etchegaray says is "on the low side", adding: "There is nothing else out there like this. I"ve been told it could be worth £50 million or more to the right buyer. This is a unique piece of history."
However, Jews and Liberals fear the eagle, which was briefly displayed in a hotel in Montevideo before protests forced it to be taken down, may fall in to the "wrong hands" when it is put up for sale alongside a cannon and a rangefinder from the ship.
Miguel Esmoris, director of Uruguay"s National Heritage Commission, said: "Who are the potential buyers of these icons if not neo-Nazis? We"re not against salvagers making a profit but we cannot allow illicit trafficking in cultural and historical items."
Ernesto Kreimerman, of the Uruguayan Jewish Committee, said: "It must go to a museum, not into private hands."
Mr Etchegaray says any buyer will be screened: "The eagle must be displayed so the world can learn lessons from the past. It must be done respectfully. We are open to all offers."
The eagle – which had pride of place on the Graf Spee which was defeated by the British in one of the first naval battles of the Second World War – has languished in a crate inside a warehouse since it was removed from public view.