The Auschwitz Souvenir T-shirt
I created the above design and made it available on t-shirts through CafePress in January 2005. I had three main purposes in doing this: (1) to question why it is okay to make jokes about anything (no matter how tragic or serious or sacred) but the Holocaust, (2) to comment on the commodification of the Holocaust by various organizations and individuals who claim to act on behalf of survivors, and (3) to amuse myself. I ordered one of the shirts for myself and didn’t think much about it after that.
In March 2006 someone from CafePress emailed me the following message:
Thank you for using CafePress.com.
Regarding your shop www.cafepress.com/auschwitz, we would like you to include additional information explaining what your message on your merchandis (sic) is supposed to represent in your shop’s front page.
Please reply with the changes that you intend to make by March 29, 2006. If we do not hear from you by this time, then we may place the images in this shop to Pending Status.
Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.
I’m not sure what additional information you want me to include on the shop’s front page, but I’ll be happy to include it if I can get some elaboration.
The shirt is a parody of the “My parents (or some other loved one) went to the Grand Canyon (or some other tourist destination) and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!” t-shirt which I’m sure we’ve all seen. The humor derives from the fact that Auschwitz is not the sort of tourist destination that actually sells these shirts.
Is this the additional information that you’re asking that I put on the front page? I will do so if you like, but I think the joke is obvious. Please let me know if this explanation is what I should add or if you have any suggestions as to what I should add.
The CafePress representative never responded. In December 2006 I noticed that the design had been placed to “Pending Status.” I assumed that they had decided to forgo a response to my request for elaboration, but had only just gotten around to carrying out the threat they had made in March. (I know how slow processes can be in a big corporation.)
I didn’t and don’t dispute CafePress’ right to run their business however they want to run it. If they want to censor designs that they don’t like, that’s okay with me. I was glad that the design had a good almost-two-year run. Again, I didn’t think much about it after that.
Then, a couple of months ago, I happened upon the letter from the ADL while rummaging around on the Web. I was a little annoyed when I realized that that was what prompted the censorship of my design.
I must admit that I was also honored to have provoked such a response. (I wonder if that’s how Matt Stone and Trey Parker feel all the time.)
Anyway, I’m not cool with being pushed around, so I put the design back up on Printfection. (I’ve since ordered and received another product from Printfection and I have to say that I’m very impressed with the quality. They have a huge imprint-area on their shirts and the printing job is very good... comparable to what you get on screen-printed t-shirts.)
The other day I noticed that the ADL recently included their overreaction to my t-shirt design in a list of responses they’ve had to the “inappropriate use of Holocaust/Nazi imagery.”
Posted on the Metzitzah B’peh blog by Helmut Doork, October 2007
December 1, 2006
Dear Mr. Durham,
We are outraged by the t-shirts for sale on your site that read, “My grandparents went to Auschwitz… and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!” and similar products, including a t-shirt that compares the Superdome in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina to Auschwitz.
It is incomprehensible to us why anyone would create a t-shirt that makes light of mass murder carried out at a Nazi death camp. Auschwitz was Europe’s largest concentration camp in World War II, a place where the Nazis not only perfected their death machine, but also carried out cruel and inhuman experiments on living prisoners. It is Europe’s largest Jewish graveyard, a place where nearly 1.5 million people died in the gas chambers or from starvation and disease.
The t-shirts accessible at www.cafepress.com/auschwitz, and others like them for sale on the CafePress site have resulted in many complaints to us from survivors, their family members and others who find it deeply offensive and insulting to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. The shirt is offensively emblazoned with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes Free), the infamous work slogan used by the Nazi tormentors at Auschwitz to taunt and dehumanize prisoners.
While we understand the genre of joke t-shirts, we also believe that retailers bear a responsibility to ensure that their products do not cross the line into causing offense, hurt or pain to others, or trivialize serious and important subjects like the Holocaust. The message on this shirt clearly crosses that line.
Your Shopkeeper Agreement states that CafePress will not host or retail designs that “make inappropriate use of Nazi symbols and glamorize the actions of Hitler” or “material that is generally offensive or in bad taste, as determined by CafePress.com.” That policy would seem to prohibit items such as the “Auschwitz Souvenir T-Shirt.”
We urge you to immediately discontinue sales of this shirt and to reconsider the sale of any merchandise that makes a joke of Nazis or the Holocaust in the future.
Abraham H. Foxman
|Press Release||Holocaust / Nazis|
Online Retailer Removes Auschwitz T-Shirts After ADL Voices Concern
New York, NY, December 4, 2006 – An online retailer has removed novelty t-shirts bearing the message, "My grandparents went to Auschwitz – and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” after being notified of concerns by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
CafePress.com has removed pages advertising the "Auschwitz Souvenir T-Shirt" and several other shirts bearing similarly offensive messages and imagery associated with the former Nazi death camp.
“It is incomprehensible to us why anyone would create a t-shirt that makes light of the mass murder carried out at a former Nazi concentration camp," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “While we understand the genre of novelty shirts, we also believe that retailers bear a responsibility to ensure that their products do not cross the line into causing offense or pain to others, or trivialize important and serious subjects like the Holocaust. We are gratified that CafePress.com has acted responsibly and removed these shirts from their Web site.”
In a letter sent December 1 to Fred Durham, CafePress Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, the League urged the company to "immediately discontinue sales of this shirt," noting that the t-shirts formerly available at www.cafepress.com/auschwitz had resulted in many complaints to the League from Holocaust survivors, their family members and others offended by the message.
To date, ADL has not had any formal response to its letter to CafePress. However, the t-shirts were promptly removed after the letter was e-mailed to the company’s Foster City, California headquarters.
CafePress is an online marketplace with 2.5 million members that offers e-commerce service to independent vendors, who can use the site to create and sell a wide variety of products, according to their Web site. The site does not take responsibility for the content of merchandise, but does maintain a “Shopkeeper Agreement” that prohibits questionable material, including “items that make inappropriate use of Nazi symbols and glamorize the actions of Hitler.”
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anyone displaying a sense of humor.