Last weekend, I was preparing to submit a book manuscript to a publisher. I had met an interested editor this summer. Let’s call her or him Mrs. X or Mr. Y. To make sure that I had the correct spelling of the person’s last name, I typed it into the google search field and clicked on Google image for results.
To my great horror, as I scrolled down the image results, Mrs. X / Mr. Y was labeled with a yellow Star of David containing the word “Jude” (Jew) in Hebrew-like lettering. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “In September 1941, the Nazi regime, at Goebbels’ urgent request, ordered Germany’s Jews over the age of six” to wear such a star. In 1942, the measure was introduced in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovakia and other countries occupied by Germany.
The lettering was also used for the movie poster of one of the most notorious anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda films: The Eternal Jew (Der ewige Jude), directed by Fritz Hippler and released in 1940. The poster promoting The Eternal Jew, an exhibit devoted to the same topic and under the same title in Munich at the Deutsches Museum between November 1937 and January 1938, used the same lettering. Additionally, a book of 265 photographs was published in 1937 under this title. (Der ewige Jude, Munich: Franz Eher / Zentralverlag der NSDAP, 1937). The press that published the book of photographs also published the Nazi paper: Völkischer Beobachter (People’s Observer).
The photos labeled with the Star of David and the word “Jew” in Google images all link to the same web-site: The Daily Stormer. As investigative journalists A.C. Thompson and Ken Schwencke stated in a recent article, “In An Ugly Election Result Hate Surges Online”: “In the past month, more than 564,000 unique visitors have spent time on the Daily Stormer.” Of the racist online publications “The Daily Stormer,” they continue, “seems to have seen the most dramatic spike in readership. In a recent post, the Daily Stormer claimed that since the election the site ‘has had an added 30% traffic.’ Over the past month, the site has had nearly 10 million page views.”
The site is named after Der Stuermer (The Stormtrooper), the weekly virulently anti-Semitic and racist Nazi tabloid paper published by Julius Streicher starting in 1923. After serving in World War One, Streicher (1885-1946) trained to be and worked as an elementary school teacher. He was a member of the Nazi party starting in 1922. On the night of November 8-9, 1923, Streicher participated in a coup attempt carried out in Munich by Hitler and the Nazi Party, in an attempt to overthrow Germany’s government. It became known as the Beer Hall Putsch. As a result of these actions, Hitler was charged with high treason but given a light sentence, during which time he wrote Mein Kampf, and Streicher was no longer allowed to teach.
Hitler’s coup attempt was inspired by Benito Mussolini’s “March on Rome” in October 1922, which brought fascists to power in Italy. As part of his coup, Hitler planned to carry out a similar March on Berlin. As Stephen Lee points out in European Dictatorships, by 1938, sixteen countries had succumbed to dictatorship and by 1940 only five democracies remained in Europe. The era, he argues, was marked by starkly polarized politics, between left and right; and by rampant racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
Within the first months of the National Socialist regime, Streicher was appointed as chair of the Zentralkomitee zur Abwehr der Jüdischen Greuel- und Boykotthetze (Central Committee for the Defense against Jewish Atrocities and Boycott Agitation). In this capacity, he organized a nation-wide one-day boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1, 1933. He also continued the publication of Der Stuermer and published anti-Semitic children’s books, such as the Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom). Streicher was captured in May 1945 by U.S. forces. At the International Military Tribunal (IMT) or the so-called Nuremberg Trials, he was one of 24 leading Nazi officials charged with and convicted of crimes against humanity, sentenced to death by hanging on October 16, 1946.
It is untenable that search results on Google Images, as well as other engines, label people in this manner. Beyond being untenable, it would seem to constitute a hate crime. Germany has laws in place banning Nazi, Neo-Nazi and Anti-Semitic imagery. So Google has to work under different laws in Germany. Shouldn’t Google address the issue, that is, respond and take it down? If racist graffiti shows up on a school wall, it is considered hate speech. If it shows up on Google, shouldn’t Google intervene?