Two organizations that educate the public about the Holocaust are calling on Amazon to stop selling Nazi propaganda, rekindling a debate over what should be sold through the world’s biggest digital marketplace.
The Holocaust Educational Trust, which trains students and teachers across Britain, posted a letter on Twitter on Friday calling on Amazon U.K. to stop selling books by Julius Streicher, founder of the Nazi-era anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer.
Karen Pollock, the trust’s chief executive, cited “The Poisonous Mushroom,” an illustrated children’s book by Streicher, published in 1938. The text, which likens Jews to the devil, was “designed to brainwash an entire generation of children that Jews were inherently evil,” she wrote in an email.
The book was used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials, during which Streicher was convicted of directing and participating in crimes against humanity. “The front cover alone draws on longstanding and offensive antisemitic tropes,” Pollock wrote in the letter. Throughout his life, Streicher was committed to advocating the annihilation of Jews. Among his final words before he was executed in 1946 were “Heil Hitler.”
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum’s Twitter account shared Pollock’s letter, along with screen grabs of several other anti-Semitic texts by Streicher sold on Amazon. “Such books should be removed immediately,” the museum wrote.
On Friday afternoon, Amazon did not appear ready to commit to a course of action.
“As a bookseller, we are mindful of book censorship throughout history, and we do not take this lightly,” a representative said in a statement to The New York Times. “We believe that providing access to written speech is important, including books that some may find objectionable, though we take concerns from the Holocaust Educational Trust seriously and are listening to its feedback.”
This is not the first time Amazon has been urged to remove “The Poisonous Mushroom.” Last month, Sheldon Lazarus, a producer of the movie “Auschwitz: The Final Witnesses,” told the Daily Mail, “If Amazon can predict what you want to buy, then they should be able to stop this filth.”
In the past, Amazon has promptly removed some listings in response to objections. In December, it stopped selling holiday ornaments and a bottle opener displaying images of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz after the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum called the products “disturbing and disrespectful” on social media.
But Amazon takes a different approach with books than it does with home goods. “Amazon’s Offensive Products policies apply to all products except books, music, video and DVD,” the retailer’s guidelines state.
Nonetheless, Amazon has ramped up its policing of some hate-filled texts. In recent months, it has removed several titles by George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party. A web address for “My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding” by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, now directs to a page featuring a picture of an Amazon employee’s dog. In July, LGBTQ activists persuaded Amazon to stop selling “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality,” written by a vocal proponent of the discredited practice of using “conversion therapy” to turn gay people straight.
Some third-party booksellers that sell titles on Amazon told The Times earlier this year that they would welcome more clarity about why some texts are prohibited and not others. They also urged the company to publish a list of prohibited books.
One argument in favor of allowing the sale of hateful texts is that they may be useful to historians and educators.
Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust said she did not believe that all of Streicher’s books should be destroyed. “But there’s a difference between being available at a museum/educational institution and just finding it online among toys, gifts and trivia,” she wrote in an email.
She said that Amazon had told the trust that it was investigating the matter and would get back to her in three days.