Ebay Criticized for Listing Holocaust Items

Ebay, the online auction giant, recently posted an apology for some items listed on its site that apparently contradicted its terms of use. Someone on the site was apparently trying to sell items related to the Holocaust. When eBay found out about the items, it removed them and offered a public apology to anyone who may have been offended.

I really don’t know why these items were offensive. I totally understand that the Holocaust is a significantly traumatic historical event about which millions of people are sensitive. But the items on eBay were not attempting to make light of Jewish suffering or encourage discrimination or hate against Jews. The items are relics of history. Included in the lot were yellow armbands used to designate Jews during the Holocaust and clothes of concentration camp victims, among other things. These items might be found in museums. Would a museum be profiting off of Jewish persecution if it charged an admission fee to see Holocaust items?

Some Jewish spokespeople argued that such items should not be sold to private parties because they should be “preserved” in museums. That argument doesn’t explain why they shouldn’t be on eBay. The very fact that they were on eBay means they are already owned privately. And listing them on eBay makes them available to museums for preservation. Removing them from eBay, however, does not mean they will be properly preserved.

This is just another example of our extraordinary over-sensitivity. eBay had to do what it did for financial reasons. I can see that. But the items weren’t necessarily in contradiction to its stated terms of use. It disallows items that “glorify hate or promote religious intolerance.” I don’t see that these items necessarily fit that description. One commenter on the situation wrote:

I, personally as a black person, if they had slave items listed on eBay I would be offended, so for Holocaust items I believe they should also be offended and not be sold.

I don’t understand that sentiment. (I barely understand that sentence, actually.) Where would you draw the line? Are you allowed to sell German WWII memorabilia? What about prints of old photographs or drawings depicting Holocaust-era Jews? There really isn’t any end to this. Anything can bring up painful “memories” if set in the right context. But properly dealing with the aftermath and consequences of traumatic events is not the same thing as being shielded from its existence. If “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” it seems that historical and physical reminders of humanity’s past missteps are necessary to keep us walking the right direction in the future.