I'm currently in Jerusalem celebrating the birth of a grandson where I receive two emails from the headquarters of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, both related to the theft of an icon of evil -- the Arbeit Macht Frei sign from the Auschwitz Death Camp.
The first came from the Midwest:
Hello, my name is Dan I read about the theft of the sign an wanted to see if I could be part of an effort to make a replacement. My father fought against the SS and he was affected by it for his entire adult life until his passing on Dec. 13, 2003. He never had a good nights sleep after being in the Ardens during the "Battle of the BULGE". I am a Roman Catholic and am very saddened by the theft. I have fallen on extremely hard times, but I think I could rally some support to replace the sign in St. Louis if you think the original my not be recovered. Our family business is no longer, but we had an 83 year old steel fabrication plant. I have no treasure, but do have a desire to help. I may be able to recruit some people here to replace it if given the proper dimensions. I Don't know about transportation .etc. I know people in the St. Louis Mo. Jewish community who may want to help. . At your service Dan...
The other email came from an outraged son of Holocaust survivors who sent me an SOS with a link to an online eBay auction. Here's the description posted by a Pennsylvania man using the Nazi "SS panzergrenadier" title:
For sale is a sign in German meaning 'Work for Freedom' that dates back to the 1700s and was used in many Nazi Concentration camps. It was designed specifically from the sign over the main gate at Auschwitz. It measures about 7 feet long and is made from 1/4 round bar steel with 1/8 x 3/4 steel lettering...Gate is not included, just the actual lettering and boarder pictured.
To date there have been 7 bids, up to $142...
And eBay has also included these additional items in the auction: "Concentration Camp" armbands and various SS daggers among other hateful items.
2009 has been an especially painful year for the dwindling Holocaust survivor population and their families. They have watched in horror as Iran, a member state of the United Nations (founded 70 years ago to ensure the eternal demise of Nazism and everything it stood for) make Holocaust denial official state policy. There have been official Holocaust cartoon competitions and media interviews with "academic" experts. Worst of all, they see Iran's soon to be nuclearized, Holocaust-denying President Ahmadinejad, threatening Israel, the Jewish state born out of the ashes of the Holocaust.
Whatever the motivations of the five thieves who stole and sliced up the Auschwitz sign, their actions reflects the growing sense of dread for the survivors, that as their generation leaves the stage of history, their suffering and their loved ones' martyrdom is being debased, manipulated, and desecrated. "It's like they are murdering my family again" is the sigh I have heard from too many survivors.
Which brings us to the Internet. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has been monitoring digital hate for over a decade. There was one hate site in 1995. Today, well over 10,000. The Internet, it turns out is also tailor-made for big lie conspiracy theories from denial of the Holocaust to 9/11 as an American plot. Taking advantage of our First Amendment, many overseas extremist and pro-terrorist groups post on US servers, seeking to wrap their hate around the flag of Freedom of Speech.
But eBay is not about Speech, but about commerce. And if anyone has any lingering doubts of the unparalleled marketing power of the Internet, just look at the Nov 1- Dec 23rd, 2008 figure: $25.5 billion online -- in a bad economic year!
Without a doubt, eBay occupies prime virtual real estate in our digital malls. Out in the real world, malls do not allow the KKK and neo-Nazis to rent space and pedal hate. They can and should do a better job at being good online neighbors--inviting bigots and those seeking to cash in on the suffering of others to take their pushcarts elsewhere. We don't need new laws, debates or lawsuits, but the application of common sense and Menschlichkeit. The Jerusalem Post reports that ..."there are no restrictions regarding facsimile signs from concentration camps listed under "offensive material policy" on eBay, but there are restrictions regarding other Nazi memorabilia including films, toys and most products containing a swastika."
So how about it eBay: This Christmas send a clear message who you stand with: The victims of genocide or those who would like to see Hitler's vision fulfilled.
UPDATE:December 28th...It appears that the auction was canceled on Friday...Looks like someone did the right thing
Follow Rabbi Abraham Cooper on Twitter: www.twitter.com/simonwiesenthal