Not long ago, I ran down an interesting rabbit hole.

As a genealogy researcher, i have both an interest in and a knack for finding people and stories. Today a friend's casual comment on a completely unrelated subject led me eventually this meme on Facebook:

It caught my eye, both because it speaks an important truth and even more because I knew a friend who would especially appreciate it. But I'm also researcher enough not to pass something like this along without knowing more about the context. So I did a Google image search for the picture.

That turned out to be so much easier than most of the image searches I do. I've mentioned before that I'm organizing my father's journals, and also the old photographs from the same time period. Since most of the labelling on the photos is missing or minimal, Google Lens has been of immeasurable assistance, though a good deal of detective work is still necessary.

The context of this photo popped up immediately. (Well, almost—I'll get to that caveat in a moment.) Wikipedia has the exact picture, and helpfully explains that it is a photo of "Polish Jews being loaded into trains at Umschlagplatz of the Warsaw Ghetto, 1942." On this, I think Wikipedia can be trusted. So it's legit.

But I mentioned that the search wasn't exactly as easy as I had implied. That's where this rabbit hole got especially interesting.

Google refused, at first, to show me any results, as they were likely to be "explicit." I don't know about you, but to me, that designation implies that the results would show me pornography or graphic violence or other obscenity. Granted, the ideas and actions represented by that photo are obscene enough, but not the photo itself, which legitimately documents an important and dangerous time period.

In order to see it, I had to turn off Chrome's "Safe Search" feature, which I had heretofore assumed was there to filter out graphic sex and violence. The feature manages to discern the difference between pornography and the naked ladies featured in art museums; why is historical data a problem? Some day I may get curious enough to check out other browsers. Anyone here have experiences to share?

On top of that, I learned that what I was seeing was someone's second attempt at sharing this meme, Facebook having taken down the first. What Facebook found offensive I do not know. I'm tempted to post it directly myself and see what they do, but I'll try cross-posting this first. I generally just post links to Lift Up Your Hearts! when I want to share them on Facebook, and I doubt the FB censors will dig that deep. We'll see.

Here's why it matters: Knowledge of history is essential. My 15-year-old self would have choked on that, as of all the history classes I endured, there was only one I thought worthwhile. (I take that back; there was also the unit on Native Americans back in fourth grade, which was pretty cool.) Nonetheless, one of the lessons I remember best from all my years in school is that one of the clearest characteristics of a totalitarian régime is its attempts to cut its people off from their own history, whether by re-writing it (à la the novel 1984) or by changing the language (whatever the benefits of simplified Chinese, it has greatly limited the people's ability to read historical Chinese documents), or by simply encouraging an atmosphere of ignorance.

The meme, it turns out, is as much about the First Amendment as the Second.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 18, 2024 at 7:50 am | Edit
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