Take a look at hate groups, story of ill-fated ship, online

Everybody agrees; hate groups are proliferating, and one reason is that the bigots, conspiracy theorists and religious nut cases are effectively exploiting the new medium of the Internet.

The Anti-Defamation League has been a leader in turning the tables on these guys; the ADL home page has evolved into a useful resource for community leaders and activists committed to fighting hate groups.

Now, the ADL folks are making it easier for individuals to decipher the sometimes-cryptic symbols that many hate groups use. The Web site is at www.adl.org.

Recently the group premiered its online database of hate-group symbols. The slickly produced feature "will enable parents, educators and law enforcement to identify the influence or possible presence of hate groups in schools and communities," according to the ADL.

The feature, accessible from the main ADL page, is a good illustration of how organizations can use the Internet effectively to educate the public.

The database includes several dozen images of symbols — some looking suspiciously like modified swastikas, others much more fanciful.

Click on a symbol, and get information about the group that uses it — including neo-Nazi, skinhead, white supremacist and "Christian identity" groups.

Many of the entries include links to more extensive information from the ADL files.

The database also includes sections on "white power music" to help parents identify what their kids are listening to, descriptions of popular prison tattoos and a list of racist acronyms.

The ADL doesn't shrink from controversy: The online database lists the Confederate flag among the hate symbols because "it is often used by racists to represent white domination of African-Americans."

The database is just one part of the generally excellent ADL Web site. Look here for information about the wide range of issues the group works on, from supporting Israel to fighting anti-Semitism. A particularly timely feature is the group's extensive study of Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan.

Throughout the site, the organization is crisp and efficient; there is a huge amount of information, but effective organization makes it fairly easy for visitors to navigate their way through it all.

The Struma, which made an ill-fated voyage to pre-state Israel during World War II, is another kind of symbol to Jews. During a period filled with Jewish tragedies, the story of the Struma stands out.

The Struma was a tiny freighter overloaded with 779 Romanian Jews seeking refuge in Palestine. The craft got as far as Turkish waters; disabled, it was towed to the port of Istanbul.

Now you can learn the history of the 1941 tragedy — and about recent efforts to explore the wreck of the ship — on a slick, reasonably informative Web site.

In an all-too-familiar story, the British didn't want the refugees to enter Palestine and the Turks didn't want to keep them in their country.

Ultimately the boat and its human cargo were towed into the Black Sea and abandoned. On Feb. 24, 1942, it was attacked and sunk by a Russian submarine. Only one of the Jews survived.

Flash forward a half-century. A group led by the grandchild of two of the victims set about finding and exploring the wreck of the Struma. They mounted their expedition this past August.

This site offers a concise history of the Struma and of the effort to find its wreckage and memorialize its victims. It includes some historic images and video stills from the dives, which located and explored the wreck — the "Jews wreck," as it was called.

Unfortunately, the narrative is not easy to follow. Learning exactly what the explorers found and did not find takes some work.

Still, the site is a fascinating, sobering chronicle of a particularly poignant Holocaust story, and of the determined effort by one man to make sure the story of the victims is not lost to future generations. Check it out at www.struma.org.

The writer is a Washington-based correspondent who has been writing about Jewish Web sites since the early 1990s. His columns alternate with those of Mark Mietkiewicz. Besser can be reached at [email protected]