December 11, 2019

Seasons Greeting – from Auschwitz?

Ilyse Muser Shainbrown Director of Holocaust Education
auschwitz photo

I spend a whole lot of time blogging, posting, and speaking about when things are either anti-Semitic or insulting to the memory of the Holocaust, or just outright wrong and a perpetuation of hatred. So today, in an effort to look at the positive, I want to shed light on something that I think actually went right; or at least it is starting to go in the right direction.

I truly love Christmas. Despite being a very proud Jew who greatly values my own traditions and heritage, I’m fascinated by the festivity and beauty of the holiday – particularly how different traditions are celebrated and displayed around the world. So, it’s no surprise that, over this past summer, while traveling with 27 teachers from around New Jersey to Holocaust sites in Europe, I was eager to partake in several of their traditions of buying Christmas ornaments from each city that we visited.

During our free time, and even once as we were waiting in an airport, I had such a great time searching through the shops to find the ornaments with beautiful pictures of snow-covered cities of Europe. I would find my magnet (which is what my family collects while we travel) and would then help them pick a perfect ornament to add to their trees this December.

As we searched through Europe to find those special keepsakes, never did I imagine that late on the Saturday evening of Thanksgiving weekend, while many of my friends were decorating those trees with their new European ornaments, I would scroll through Facebook and see a depicting of Auschwitz.

Yes, you read that right. There in front of me was a Christmas ornament, shaped very much like a Jewish star (which is a whole other conversation), with a picture of Auschwitz on it and the words “Krakow, Poland” on the bottom.

I was stunned.

Was I really seeing that Amazon was selling this ornament? I can assure you that in all the time we spent looking for ornaments in Krakow, never did we see anything like this.

I ran a quick search but found nothing else about it, so I figured I would look into it the next day. By the time I finally had a chance to do a search on Sunday evening I found that, in less than 24 hours, posts and articles about the ornament had been shared on several sites. And I discovered there were also souvenir mouse pads, beach towels, and bottle openers with similar Holocaust images, as well as some offensive images from Hiroshima for sale as well.

But, as it turns out, in those same 24 hours after I first saw the post of that one ornament, Amazon had removed it and the other products from its site. By the time I had gotten around to writing Amazon a scathing email or posting on social media about how terribly insulting and inappropriate the ornament was, it was gone from the world of Amazon purchasing.

That’s the positive in this crazy story – that you can no longer find the ornament on Amazon and that the cyber universe worked very quickly to get the word out that this was clearly wrong.

Sadly, I now hear that there’s a Hitler board game selling like hotcakes as a gift this year; and that, while the “Auschwitz memorabilia” might no longer be on Amazon, it is being sold in other online locations.

Yet as this holiday season gets well underway, and this proud Jew is loving seeing the Christmas decorations lighting up the month of December, I am choosing to look at the good in this situation. There is certainly a great deal of wrong out there, and the power of social media can be both greatly positive and grossly negative at the same time, this is one of those times when the impact was remarkable.

And PS to my friends from the trip this summer – please send me pictures of your trees. I can’t wait to see all the beautiful ornaments from Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Lublin, Warsaw, and Amsterdam!