AJC files complaint against German branch of Amazon

Asks prosecutors to investigate Amazon.de to see if it has broken German laws against Holocaust denial by selling far-right books.

The branch of the The American Jewish Committee in Berlin filed a complaint against Amazon.de on Friday urging prosecutors to investigate if it has broken German laws against Holocaust denial by selling far-right books. "We must not allow the laws against denying the Holocaust and hate against minorities in Germany to be eroded through the proliferation of online companies," according to AJC-Berlin director Deidre Berger. Christine Hoeger, a spokeswoman for Amazon.de, said in an e-mailed response to The Associated Press that the company would check the list of books outlined by the AJC once it receives it, to see if the books conflict with Amazon's eligibility requirements. She said, for example, that Amazon does not sell books on a federal list of material considered harmful to minors, or books that courts have banned. "Should Amazon - or any other dealer - decide which books German readers should be able to read?" she asked in the e-mail. "Amazon is a dealer, not a regulatory institution, and we are of the opinion that the content of media can and should not be evaluated by private businesses that have no expertise or competence in this area." Amazon.de is the German arm of Seattle-based online retailer Amazon.com Inc. The books cited by the AJC, such as The Auschwitz Myth by Wilhelm Staeglich and a volume by convicted Holocaust denier Germar Rudolf, were available for sale on Amazon.de on Friday afternoon. Denial of the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, punishable by a possible five years in prison. AJC member Benjamin Schoeler, reached by telephone, said the goal of the complaint, however, is to get Amazon.de to evaluate the books it sells, and pull ones that promote Holocaust denial or anti-Semitism. Though the books cited by the AJC are all available via second-party sellers through Amazon.de's "Marketplace," Schoeler said buyers order and pay for the books through Amazon.de. "We see the firm as responsible for what they are selling," he said. Hoeger said the company had refused to sell some books that did not fit its content criteria for their views on Nazism, but that they used the "highest degree of caution" and wanted to ensure that other "titles that are worthy of discussion" were available. "We see it as one of our most important tasks as a bookseller to offer our customers access to the widest choice possible," she said. "Therefore our customers will also find titles in the future in which troublesome content regarding the Nazis is found - as they will find an extensive selection of titles in which the Nazis are sharply criticized and condemned." Schoeler conceded that even if banned on the German site, the books could be purchased elsewhere - like in the US via Amazon.com - but said nothing could be done to stop that. "It is legal to purchase such books in the US, but it is not here," he said. The complaint was faxed on Friday to prosecutors in Munich, where AmazonGermany is based. There was nobody available at the prosecutors' office to comment on the case, but such complaints usually take at least weeks to be evaluated before a decision is made on whether to open an investigation.