The Ethical Issues of Ebay Selling Holocaust Memorabilia

As the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht approaches, Holocaust-related stories surface more often and resonate more deeply.? Of particular note is Ebay making Nazi artifacts available for sale. As the last survivors of the Holocaust perish, the ethics of memory — what this story is really about — becomes entirely our question to deal with.

This is a far more complicated issue than most people realize, even though I share most people’s initial revulsion at the crass commercialization of the Holocaust by turning tokens of unspeakable horror into high-end collectibles.

But because I know most things are more complicated than they first seem, I stop and consider how the commercialization of the Nazi genocide happens all of the time.

As the old, disturbing and accurate adage goes, there’s no business like Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust) business. From Hollywood and TV, to the building of museums lead by people who became multi-millionaires from their work, profiting from the Shoah is hardly new. So isn’t Ebay just the digital e-commerce version of what we already tolerate and even celebrate? Ultimately despite the number of other examples, I have to say “no”.

However crass the other examples may be, they are at least open to public awareness and critique. People may be trading in, and profiting from, the Shoah, but we can all see what they are doing, evaluate its impact, and respond accordingly. With Ebay, that is not possible.

Are the sellers survivors who choose to dispose of these items this way, or simply dealers who would sell anything for a buck? Are the sold relics being used to fill educational displays in holocaust museums, or as fetish items by modern day Nazis? To me, it makes a real difference, as I think it should.

Ultimately, as it is with so many ethical issues, the issue is anonymity and accountability. With Ebay, unlike so many other examples of “Holocaust commerce”, there is too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Were the folks at Ebay able to address those issues, I might think otherwise. For now though, they should get out if this particular line of business.

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