Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Should Amazon be selling Nazi flags?

If it isn’t already top of your search engine, we’ve noticed that Amazon are selling Nazi flags on the site. At the bargain price of £6.44, comments mocking the items have appeared in reviews on the site:

“Hanging this out of the window really helps to show off my race-hate credentials to the neighbours.”

“I’ve been looking to acquire some bunting and other nik naks to commemorate the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee. What better tribute than an instantly recognisable symbol from recent German history? I’ve bought 20 of them.”

Leaving the jokes aside, a crucial question is to be considered: should flags that represent a racist and offensive ideology be up for sale?

John Rentoul offers an argument in defence of the sale below, with Matthew Bell arguing against the decision.

Which do you agree with?

FOR: John Rentoul

Some Amazon reviewers have responded in the best way to the shop’s stocking of Nazi memorabilia. With ridicule (see the reviews here, for example).

The worst way would be to demand new laws to ban the sale of swastika flags, SS insignia and Mein Kampf. We already have laws against incitement to racial hatred, and that is the right place to draw the line between learning about the Nazis and the Holocaust and glorifying them.

Matthew Bell, my good colleague on The Independent on Sunday, reported recently on the sale of Nazi paraphernalia by auction houses. In it, he quoted Ann Widdecombe, a Tory MP until 2010, who did not approve of the sale of a silver tray presented to Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday by Albert Speer: “It’s very disturbing that this trade exists,” she said. “I mean, who is paying £28,000 for that? And what else are they doing?”

Wondering what else such anonymous people might be doing is a reasonable response, but it is not a basis for banning things.

It is easily mockable that Amazon lists Mein Kampf as something “frequently bought together” with a swastika flag, but once someone suggests banning the sale of books, we can surely see that a line has been crossed into curtailing freedom of expression.

Mockery is far the better reaction.

Related: Amazon sell rape simulation game

AGAINST: Matthew Bell

Selling or displaying Nazi flags is illegal in several European countries, including France, Hungary and Germany. In Britain, we take a more libertarian approach, so there’s nothing to stop you opening a shop on your high street selling Nazi daggers and swastika-monogrammed tea-towels. Several outlets used to do a brisk trade in Nazi-abilia in Camden Passage, north London, one of them run by 1970s rocker Chris Farlowe.

The trouble is that demand for this stuff is growing. The further the Third Reich recedes into history, the more its protagonists acquire a mythical status. Any artefact with a direct link to Adolf Hitler is especially sought after, as the extraordinary sale results in Bristol in March showed. And according to the experts, the prices are only going up, making Nazi memorabilia an excellent investment.

Yet clearly there is something distasteful in profiting from the Holocaust, however indirectly. Britain’s major auction houses have already come to this conclusion: Sotheby’s and Christies won’t touch Third Reich artefacts, and in 2010, Bonhams changed their policy too. ebay, an American firm, has also outlawed the trade.

Dreweatts, a mainstream auction house, which sold the £28,000 tray in March, netted an astonishing £7,000 in buyer’s premium on that one item; they would have raked in the same again from the vendor. But after The Independent on Sunday reported the sale, they pledged to stop selling items directly relating to the Holocaust. They too have now conceded that making money out of the memory of millions of murdered Jews is probably not good for their image. So what about Amazon?

To be fair, their reproduction flags aren’t quite as bad as a truncheon that was actually used to interrogate Jews. And yet, it’s almost more distasteful to think of a factory in China cranking up every morning to churn out these flags. The truncheon at least has some historic value. And the fact is that a lot of gruesome war artefacts still exist, not just from the Second World War but from all history. What to do with it? As some Nazi memorabilia collectors said when I asked why they bought it, if you hide it away, it only encourages the Holocaust deniers. And as with any other trade, making it illegal won’t make it go away, it just pushes it underground.

The solution might be to donate it all to the Imperial War Museum, or equivalent cultural institutions. They can then use it for the one purpose it’s good for: educating future generations about the past. But do we want to live in a society where you can pick up a new, giant swastika flag with your weekly shop? Probably not.

With both arguments considered, do you agree or disagree with the sale of new Nazi flags?

Join in the debate below.

Belfast Telegraph