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How Auschwitz-themed Christmas ornaments ended up on Amazon

Auschwitz-themed ornament 
Amazon said it has removed 'Christmas ornaments' and other merchandise bearing the images of Auschwitz 

It takes about 10 seconds to find an antisemitic product for sale on Amazon

Searching for a phrase such as “Holocaust fashion” quickly yields accounts peddling T-shirts and hoodies featuring cartoons with disgusting caricatures of Jewish people and hateful slogans.

The first item found by The Telegraph when searching for the phrase today was a children's hoodie featuring a print of an antisemitic cartoon from the 1937 Nazi exhibition “The Eternal Jew”. Amazon has since removed the product.

But this isn't the first such incident. On Sunday, Auschwitz-Birkenau State museum appealed to Amazon to remove offensive Christmas merchandise, which included an Auschwitz bottle opener and a Birkenau "massacre" mouse pad. 

The Holocaust site has become a symbol of Nazi Germany's genocide of six million European Jews, with one million killed at the camp between 1940 to 1945. Amazon says it has since removed the products. 

Why do offensive products appear on Amazon?

The online retail giant says it spent $400m (£309) in 2018 protecting its stores and blocked three billion suspect listings.

Amazon tells sellers that it will not allow the sale of “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organisations with such views”.

But while Amazon's systems do flag suspect products and it has humans who monitor product listings, its approach remains “highly reactive”, one industry expert told The Telegraph.

Its efforts apparently continue to fall short of stopping a surge of apparently automated products that spread hateful images.

Earlier this year, a report by the Wall Street Journal into Amazon Marketplace claimed that the site had “evolved like a flea market”, exercising limited oversight over items listed by millions of anonymous third-party sellers.

Third-party sellers accounted for around 60pc of merchandise sales in 2018, but often it's difficult to know that the products are from a third-party and not Amazon.

“Many third-party items the Journal examined were listed as Amazon Prime eligible and sold through the Fulfillment by Amazon program, which generally ships items from Amazon warehouses in Amazon-branded boxes,” the Journal reported. 

Amazon also encourages anyone to sign up and start selling straightaway, relying on automated tools to flag anything suspicious, which means many offensive products can be listed without human vetting. 

Profits from hate-filled products

The Amazon account selling the Auschwitz Christmas trees remained online on Monday morning. Its page is filled with spam-like listings, which experts say are likely generated by a search engine-pleasing algorithm.

If you are after a Christmas tree star featuring a tourist spots from Madrid to Mykonos or even a field in “Preston, UK” you can probably find one on its account.

In response to the Auschwitz listings, an Amazon spokesman said: “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account. The products in question have been removed."

But it is not the first time third-party sellers have tried to flood Amazon with Holocaust images for profit – and it is not clear how many are simply spamming Amazon with listings, or intentionally trying to sell offensive goods.

Accounts selling "The Eternal Jew” cartoons on £18 children's hoodies, T-shirts and even cushions were found by The Telegraph in minutes.

An Amazon spokesman said the offending products had now been removed. The account has since been suspended.

One of the accounts selling the products, Rugzt, was previously flagged by Jewish News in August, but remained online for months and continued to sell its offensive material.

A separate report discovered a line of T-shirts from seller Harma Art featuring pictures of the murder of a Jewish man in Ukraine, which were later removed by Amazon.

Of the accounts still selling antisemitic images, many have spam-like names or product descriptions. One online as of Monday morning even had the garbled name “Fdgdfhsad” – yet it was still able to bypass Amazon's systems.

Industry experts have warned that Amazon's online marketplace is increasingly flooded with counterfeits and algorithm-generated products.

Tosshan Ramgolam, an advisor at intellectual property software firm Incopro, said there was a “race to the bottom” of direct sellers competing for space on Amazon while the infamous “holocaust Christmas memorabilia” appeared to be “caused by a seller automatically pulling images and placing them on its product for print”.

“If platforms took self-regulation of their service seriously, these unfortunate circumstances would rarely crop up.”

Industry experts have warned that Amazon's online marketplace is increasingly flooded with counterfeits and algorithm-generated products

Previous controversies have gripped Amazon's algorithmic marketplace. A T-shirt on a sales page seemingly targeted at children was removed last month for featuring the phrase “Daddy's Little Slut”.

Last year, The Telegraph discovered products celebrating Nazism and the Holocaust, such as T-shirts from a Russian  "alt-right" website.

In July last year, Amazon said it would remove listings featuring NeoNazi symbols from its website. 

As well as incidents of hateful products appearing on Amazon, fake or counterfeit goods have still flooded the ecommerce site. A Which? investigation published just last week found dozens of fake electrical goods for sale on Amazon. The consumer watchdog said Amazon and other sites were failing at  “basic steps” to stop harmful goods.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that there has been a surge in Chinese sellers marketing products directly to consumers over Amazon. “These sellers... represent a high portion of problem listings found on the site,” the Journal reported.

The company selling images of “The Eternal Jew” on T-shirts and cushions, is based in Chaohu, China, according to its merchant's page, and offers over 2,000 variations on the same “novelty T-shirt”.

Amazon declined to immediately answer questions from The Telegraph on why the account had remained online or how such products were able to appear on the site.