Furore over holocaust memorabilia on eBay

Over the weekend the Daily Mail broke the story of “eBay’s sick trade in Holocaust souvenirs“. There was the normal tabloid like shock horror that eBay would be profiting from the sale of such offensive items and LBC radio rang me first thing Sunday morning to comment on the story.

However let’s look beyond the emotion and consider the facts:

Firstly (with the exception of Germany, France and Austria) it’s not illegal to sell such products.

Second, whilst it’s not against the law, the items are offensive to most people and eBay do have such items banned under their offensive items policy so they shouldn’t be on the site. But eBay have millions of items to police and things do slip through the net. It’s somewhat surprising that “holocaust” and “uniform” didn’t get picked up by automatic scanners but it appears that didn’t happen. As soon as eBay were made aware of the offending articles they were taken down as a matter of urgency and eBay are apparently making a £25000 donation to charity.

The thing is though, I don’t believe the fault lies entirely with eBay. Those that have the merchandise have a choice whether to keep it in the family, sell it, destroy it or donate it to a museum. The main seller interviewed by the Daily Mail made some weak excuse about using the proceeds to fund his research, but in truth he purchased from a deal and intended to sell for a profit. It’s the buyers and sellers who should be answering the moral questions.

It also doesn’t help when Culture Minister Ed Vaizey uses emotive language such as “vile and repulsive trade” adding that “websites need to be constantly vigilant to ensure that this kind of thing is not made available”. One would have thought that being an MP (and a minister!) he’d be able to raise the matter in Parliament, and campaign to get the law changed with the sale of such items made illegal in the UK, before placing the entire onus on marketplaces to decide what should be banned and what’s acceptable.