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Did A Bot Generate Those Auschwitz Ornaments On Amazon?

What do the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the House of Slaves memorial in Senegal, a small track and field stadium in Chile and the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp all have in common?

Amazon has sold Christmas tree ornaments featuring images of each of those places, although it has removed the Auschwitz ones, saying in a statement that they violated its “selling guidelines.”

The Auschwitz Museum’s Twitter account first brought the ornaments to wide attention on Sunday.

Though Amazon has faced repeated criticism for selling items with Nazi-linked imagery or that deny the Holocaust, new examples — like Nazi action figures, and custom-made Nazi LEGO figures. keep popping up.

In the case of the ornaments, an algorithm may be to blame.

Algorithms help generate countless products on Amazon, from uncanny iPhone cases to wall decals featuring elderly people just doing stuff. The images used in these products appear to come from stock photos or from pictures found on Google Images that do not have copyright protections.

The account behind the Auschwitz ornaments similarly features dozens of other ornaments with photos of landmarks and tourist destinations, from New Orleans’ French Quarter, to Greek Islands, to an Indian temple. Auschwitz fits the pattern: over 2 million people visited the camp in 2018.

So does the DMZ ornament: the so-called “truce village” of the Joint Security Area in the DMZ between North and South Korea, where soldiers from the rival nations can look each other in the eye from only a few dozen feet away, is also a popular spot for tourists.

It’s not really clear who exactly makes these ornaments. The seller’s account name is given as “Fcheng,” though the manufacturer is listed as Jollin Travel Gifts. The Forward could find no business registrations for either company name in the United States.

Sometimes, though, Amazon strikes a very different note on the Holocaust. Last month, a viral video showed the production team for Amazon’s series “The Man In The High Castle,” a dystopian thriller that asks what would have happened if the Nazis had won, cutting up thousands of swastikas used for the set and costumes. Amazon Prime is also promoting a show about Nazi hunters, starring Al Pacino, which will premiere next year.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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