With Google’s Help, Internet Becomes New Front for Battling Holocaust Deniers

Google partners with Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. Will it quiet deniers?


Today is UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in its honor, Google has partnered with Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, to bring its vast collection of documents and pictures to the web. Over 130,000 images are available at full resolution, and Google used an experimental “optical character recognition” system to transcribe text for many of the photographs, increasing the depth of the indexing.

Google tells the story of the partnership’s origin on its blog. Three years ago, Google’s Jonathan Rosenberg visited Yad Vashem and marveled at the holdings of its archives. A number of Googlers began devoting their famous “20% time” to the project. Before today’s collections site, Google launched a YouTube channel for Yad Vashem in 2008.

The blog shares a remarkable story:


Doron Avni, a fellow Googler…found a photograph of his grandfather
taken immediately after his release from a Nazi prison. His
grandfather had vowed that if he should survive, he would immediately
have his picture taken to preserve the memory of his experience in the
Holocaust. He stitched the photo into his coat, an act that later saved
his life. After hiding in the forest for a year, Russian soldiers
mistook him for a German enemy, but released him once they saw this

The central issue here may be the ways in which the Web offers new forms of remembrance, and new ways of combating denial. As we reported a few days ago, Yad Vashem’s YouTube channel recently implemented a Farsi page, which could be crucial to contesting the claims of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a “myth.”

Then again, digital tools can be used by both sides. In 2009, Facebook took some flak for refusing to shut down Holocuast denial groups on its site. In some European countries, Holocaust denial is flat-out illegal, a stance that hasn’t held water Stateside, where freedom of speech is paramount.

The intriguing question, though, is this: As information becomes more readily and widely available, will the truth win out? Or will deniers evolve, becoming increasingly ingenious in their conspiracy theories as the likes of Google are in their information dissemination?


[Image: Flickr user mikeyphotog]


About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal


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