An approximately 700-pound bronze Nazi eagle that once adorned a German warship and in recent years became the subject of a court case in Uruguay will be melted down and turned into a dove, the South American nation’s president said on Friday, a move that he said would transform a symbol of “violence and war” into one of “peace and unity.”
Amid “times of division, in times of violence, times of war in the world,” the president, Luis Lacalle Pou, said at a news 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 — more than six feet tall and with a wingspan of nearly nine feet, its talons holding a wreath-encircled swastika — was affixed to the stern of the Admiral Graf Spee, an approximately 12,000-ton armored heavy cruiser built by Germany in the 1930s. When the vessel was damaged in one of the first major naval battles of World War II, its commander scuttled the ship in the Plata River shortly after stopping at Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.
In 2006, the eagle was recovered off the Uruguayan coast after a yearslong search by a private venture. But when those behind the recovery expedition tried to sell the eagle, the state moved to block any sale, fearing that the object could fall into the hands of anyone seeking to glorify Nazism.
Nearly eight decades after the violent end of the Nazi regime, most of its iconography has been destroyed or is housed in museums. Other pieces from the Admiral Graf Spee wreck — including an apparatus used to measure distances and the warship’s anchor, both of which are utilitarian Navy artifacts with no Nazi iconography — are now on display in public spaces in Montevideo.
But the existence of such a large intact Nazi eagle posed a problem for Uruguay, which had kept the artifact in its navy storage. In 2019, a court ordered Uruguay’s government to sell the artifact and give some of the money to the private salvaging operation, a sale that the German government and Jewish groups warned against lest the object end up in the wrong hands.
A higher court overruled that decision and eventually gave the state custody of the eagle.
Mr. Lacalle Pou said on Friday that plans to transform the eagle had been made even before that court ruling.
Now, Pablo Atchugarry, a renowned artist in Uruguay, has been selected to carry out the work. He is creating a dove out of Italian marble 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 transforming a symbol of hatred, of war, of atrocity into a symbol of peace — well, I feel very honored to be given the responsibility to carry out this task,” Mr. Atchugarry said.
Mr. Lacalle Pou described the decision to melt down the Nazi bird and create something new out of it as a “step forward.”
“I’m sure that nobody wants a symbol that represents war and violence to be displayed,” he said, adding that there was no sense in having it remain in the navy’s storage for decades more.
Although he said the dove’s ultimate location for display had not yet been decided, he suggested that it could be Punta del Este, a coastal city where the Plata River meets the Atlantic Ocean.