Can The Swastika Be Rehabilitated?
06/27/2012 - 09:02
Steve Lipman
Message from the Raelians.
Message from the Raelians.

What do you do if you see someone wearing a swastika?

Do you confront the offender? Inquire why the person is displaying the hated sign of the regime that perpetrated the Holocaust? Educate? Walk away?

The decision is harder if the person in question obviously means no harm and is apparently oblivious to the Swastika’s emotional impact on Jews, if not on anyone who grew up in the era of World War II or has some historical consciousness.

I faced this dilemma a few weeks ago.

Stepping out of an elevator in a mid-town apartment building, I walked past a middle-aged woman with a lapel pin adorned with a swastika. She was apparently from Asia, most likely Southeast Asia, where the symbol is an important part of culture. The Swastika – the crosses hooked in the opposite direction from the well-known, hated symbol co-opted by Hitler – is an ancient, venerated part of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist faiths, and of some Native American groups. It’s also a Chinese character that represents eternity. On East Asian maps, it indicates a Buddhist temple.

The word comes from the Sanskrit “svastika,” which means ‘to be good.’

Clearly, the swastika predates the Third Reich.

Occasional news stories surface of an Eastern Asian merchant somewhere selling some wares that feature the Swastika, or of a Jew being taken aback upon encountering Swastikas on a visit to some site in India or another land in the region.

Last week the swastika again made the new, closer to home. This time, the perpetrators knew the symbol’s past, and current significance. A small plane towed a Swastika banner over New York City and the Jersey shore over the weekend; it was an attempt to rehabilitate the swastika.

The international Raelian movement, a group that believes that humans were created by extraterrestrials eons ago and that the Swastika represents infinity in time, made a public display of the symbol part of its third annual Swastika Rehabilitation Day.

The swastika, “the oldest and most recurrent symbol in the world,” was corrupted by the Nazis, the movement’s website explained. “Any negative emotions regarding the swastika by people under the age of 70 years old are obviously linked to their education and not to their experiences.”

A “misguided, but not malicious act,” said Etzion Neuer, acting head of the Anti-Defamation League in New Jersey. “Incredibly insensitive … an egocentric attitude.”

The ADL, incidentally, recently declared that the swastika “will no longer be automatically considered an act of anti-Semitism” – it’s graduated to a universal sign of hatred or prejudice.

Unless you’re from some parts of Asia.

From whence, I assume, came the lady whose path I crossed here.

I froze for a second when I spotted the Swastika on her lapel. Was this an unrepentant neo-Nazi inviting a confrontation? Then I looked at her face. She clearly was no neo-Nazi. She was innocent, apparently unaware of the emotional baggage a swastika carries. Maybe she has no Jewish friends, maybe no one told her that her taste in jewelry, if not politically incorrect in this country, is questionable.

In Germany and Austria and Poland and Hungary and Lithuania , countries that suffered under Nazism, a swastika is illegal. Here, it’s merely offensive. To me, the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany, the grandson of a man who died in a Nazi death camp, a swastika was a slap in the face.

The moment passed quickly. The woman stepped on the elevator and the door closed behind me. She never saw me shudder.

Should I have said something? Should I have remarked that “some people might take offense at the broach?” Was it my responsibility to acknowledge her swastika, to prevent other people in New York from a similar near-confrontation or to prevent the woman from embarrassing herself in the presence of someone more violence-prone than I?

I did nothing.

Maybe the purpose of me seeing the swastika was to inspire me to think rather than act.


My jewish brothers/sister,

There are many jews in India since, ancient times from the times of solomon and there was never a Holocaust against them.

They have seen Swastik since, their childhood. They look like us same colored skin, they speak like us. We look like brothers.

Swastik is the symbol of peace because Hitler used it for wrong reason his end was the same. Even he died by burning himself the moral of the story is those who torture others their end is the same.

Do not follow what Hitler did, he discriminated people in the color of skin/religion by following his path we are becoming like him.

We are born humans and we will leave die like humans with dignity. Lets merge Swastika and Start of David(Which is also an ancient symbol of Indian called Shatkon).

Since, ancient times christians priest ordered masscares of Jews then why Cross was not banned. Everything should be judged in the same manner. When you are judge you should be neutral person.

Remember that Hitler not only tortured Jews but, also, tortured Romanis who ancestory is traced to Indian Banjaras.

The Swastika is an important religious symbol to 1 Billion Hindus in the world. You can not just take it away from a billion individuals. Its part of their religion, the rights of 1 Billion should take precedence over the rights of 5 million. That is democracy, the majority wins.

The holocaust was an inexcusable act of genocide. it is a permanent stain on all of humanity, and should never be trivialized or forgotten.

However, Jews who become offended at the use of the swastika by Hindus and Buddhists, or who want to deny Hindus and Buddhists the right to freely exercise their religion by using the Swastika, are as guilty as the NAZI's they claim to revile.

And for those who say that Buddhist and Hindu Swastikas should be removed or covered in their presence. That is the epitome of arrogance and self entitlement.

The Church has tortured and murdered far more people than the NAZI's. And the Jews have a recorded history of committing genocide in the Torah.

Should the descendents of their victims be entitled to demand that Crosses and Magen Davids be covered or removed in their presence?

Its time for Peace and healing.

Oh, and at the Buddhist temples I have been to (many in many different countries) it doesn't matter which way the swastika is facing. Seems about 50/50.

I lived in Asia for years. At first I saw swastikas everywhere, then they faded to the background and became symbols of Buddhism. Why are crosses worn by black Christians after the burning crosses and lynchings of the KKK in the US South? Nazis suck, but I majority of the world's population sees it as a sign of peace.

What if Jews were to adopt the swastika themselves, the Hindu/Jain/Buddhist/etc. versions, as opposed to the questionable Third Reich styles, naturally. In a similar way that Americans of African descent have adopted certain racial slurs into their own culture to lessen their powers and use them for their own culture, as a sign of solidarity?
This is an honest question. Cultures borrow from each other all the time, and the swastika has been around the world so many times it's passport has fallen apart!
I feel one way to "rehabilitate" the symbol, as it has been put here, would be for people of the Hebrew faith to interact with those who have actively used the swastika for millennia.

I agree with this and I'm not Jewish and I do think its time to destroy the meaning of what the swastika means to most people. Its been 70 years since WW2 and I have total respect for Jewish family's and so on but I think people should stop thinking about all the WW2 era and focus more on what it really means. If I saw a male with a swastika on him I would watch and see if he is causing harm or if he is just out for a walk. Never judge a book by its cover.

Having read your article, and the comments that it has generated, it has left me to pause for thought. I agree that Hilter miss-appropriated a very powerful symbol of prosperity, that has been around for over 4000 years, and is still a symbol of prosperity for over 1 billion people all over the world, today. This is not going to change. Hitler incorporated this symbol into a flag to symbolise the might of a regime in a vulgar way. This is not going to change either. But there is something that can change.

The atrocities that the Nazi regime perpetrated on Jews was unconscionable and horrific, and cannot be condoned, The vulgar red white and black flag that symbolised their regime, will NEVER be forgotten and nor should it be. It is a reminder of dark period in European history, and the negative effect this had for millions of camp survivors and their families.

However, the best way, in my humble opinion to right a wrong, honour the memory of those who suffered and denigrate those who use the vulgar red, white and black flag and symbol as a universal symbol of hate (even now, think neo-nazis), all in one go, is to take it back from those who seek to make the swastika a symbol of hatred and fear.

Make it a symbol of prosperity again, take ownership of it, so that it still holds powerful (but positive) meaning. Take back the light, do not let forces of darkness drown it out. Just imagine a world where those who walk in shadows, are confronted by their own symbol of hate and fear, thrown back at them, but as a triumphant symbol of light and prosperity? In so doing, their misappropriated symbol is lost to them, but none of its meaning and without forgetting their heinous crimes, ever. Only then will Hitler and his long shadow truly have been defeated.

I am Jewish and have never felt the horror of the Holocaust personally, however I relate to it very personally.Whenever I see a swastika anywhere I immediately react with strong dread and anger.
If the swastika is popular in India and people want to keep it displayed, then by all means do so. But if Jewish people are coming to visit, the humane thing to do would be to take them down. The only way you can understand their pain is to imagine the Nazis torturing and killing your people. Then this would make sense. Thank you.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.