The appearance of the posters in prominent positions in the busy Liverpool Street Station began to spark concern last week. Depicting a dark-skinned, hook-nosed and suspicious-looking individual next to the words ‘Are they wearing a big coat to hide something?’, the images provoked immediate comparisons with Nazi-era iconography of Jewish people, with Londoners taking to social media to highlight the similarities.
Further outrage has also been directed at the posters’ proximity to Liverpool Street Station’s memorial statue to Jewish children rescued by the Kindertransport during WWII, which many feel is an affront to the memory of human suffering endured as a direct result of the Nazi’s successful, dehumanising propaganda.
‘The propagandists of the Third Reich knew exactly what they were doing when they used such imagery,’ Susie Symes, chair of the Museum of Immigration and Diversity in East London, wrote in The Guardian. ‘They encouraged a majority of people to focus on and fear minority groups, making them the targets of suspicion and violence. However inadvertently, the designers have used a horribly familiar anti-semitic image. The image plays on people’s fears of ‘the other’, and creates anxiety about a suspicious ‘they’ who may be hiding something.’
While calls for the posters’ removal have been picking up steam online, a spokesperson for British Transport Police said that, though they were ‘saddened that people may have been upset’ by the imagery in the posters, as they are part of a campaign directed by the Department for Transport and the Government, any decision on whether to remove them would fall to them.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport insisted that the posters were ‘carefully designed to avoid any stereotypes’ and used ‘black and white drawings instead of photographs’ to avoid such a scenario, with there being no intention to cause offence on the grounds of anti-semitism.
‘The purpose of the campaign was to improve security — it depicts suspicious behaviour and sends a clear message to anyone threatening the security of our railways that people are ready to report any potential threat,’ the DFT spokesperson said. ‘We tested the design in focus groups and received a positive response. All due diligence was taken to avoid causing offence. The character is a cartoon, and has been deliberately stylised. Any parallels with other drawings are purely coincidental.’
Though the spokesperson also drew attention to other images in the campaign, which they insisted were of a similar stylised vein, there had been no plans to remove the posters. With continued public pressure, however, the DFT have now made a U-turn and will remove the offending poster.
A DFT spokesperson says, ‘There was no intention to cause offence with this security awareness initiative. We apologise to anyone upset by an image used in one of the posters. As a result we have taken the decision to withdraw this poster, as the criticism was detracting from the important message of the overall campaign.’
Assistant Chief Constable Alun Thomas of the British Transport Police has added, ‘The aim of this campaign was to ask people across the country to be vigilant and work together to keep each other safe from the ever-present and real threat from terrorism. However, we are aware that one particular image has caused considerable distress due to its similarities with offensive historic propaganda. It is highly regrettable that this image, and its connotations, were overlooked during the development of this campaign. We recognise, and understand, the upset that has been caused by this.’