A Zara spokesman said: "We did not realize Swastikas appeared on some of these bags, the swastika was not on the bag which was sourced by us after being supplied by an external producer. "Of course we apologize to anyone who was offended by the bag, and we will be withdrawing it from all our stores."
Though the image of a swastika on a designer bag or as a toy design may prove to be problematic and evoke emotional reaction its usages throughout time have indeed been complex, its meanings diverse, and its visual presentations varied.
But let's face it, the swastika simply isn't the kind of symbol that can be easily modified, interpreted or re-appropriated. Let's have a look at its history and you be the judge.
Postcard, copyright 1907 by E. Phillips, a U.S. card publisher
The town in Ontario was named 'Swastika' after a lucky Gold strike in 1911. On a related note, Swastika, New York, located near the Adirondack Park Preserve in the northeast corner of the state, is adjacent to "Swastika Road."
In 1925, Coca-Cola made a lucky watch fob in the shape of a swastika with right-facing arms and the slogan, "Drink Coca Cola five cents in bottles." During War World I, the swastika could even be found on the shoulder patches of the American pilots of the 45th Division that fought for the Allied forces before America's entry into the war. Below is the swastika design found on the patches of the airmen.
The initial association that the symbol seems to have had was that of extreme nationalism, but not necessarily associated with the Nazi Party. In the 1800s, countries around Germany were growing much larger, forming empires; yet Germany was not a unified country until 1871.
To counter the feeling of vulnerability and the stigma of being such a new unified country, German nationalists in the mid-nineteenth century began to use the swastika, because it had ancient Aryan/Indian origins, to represent a long Germanic/Aryan history. By the end of the nineteenth century, the swastika could be found prominently displayed on nationalist German periodicals.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, the swastika was a common symbol of German nationalism and could be found in a multitude of places.
The emblem of the Thule Society, a German occultist and “völkish” group in Munich, named after a mythical northern country from Greek legend, was a swastika as seen pictured in the image on the left.
By 1912, the swastika was seen in use by many “völkish” groups, and the “völkish” thought began to take on an anti-Semitic cast.
It was popular enough that the firm of Ecklöh began manufacturing badges, tie pins, buckles, and other such artifacts incorporating the device to be sold to German citizens to display their honor and loyalty to Germany.
It was revived dramatically by Hitler when he made it the national emblem of Nazi Germany. He believed that this ancient Aryan sign would bring prosperity and victory.
On August 7, 1920, at the Salzburg Congress, the swastika encircled against a solid colored backdrop became the official emblem of the Nazi Party.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler described the Nazis’ new flag: "In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalistic idea, in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and which as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic.”
According to historians, there are two ways of examining the swastika and its history as a symbol, by viewing the meanings of its two variations -- the clockwise, or otherwise Nazi version of the swastika means hate and death, while the counter-clockwise version, or otherwise ancient multi-cultured symbol, means life and good-luck.
It really isn't all that simple though. You just can't use a swastika say on your vehicle's bumper or post one on the front stoop of your brownstone, slap one on the side of your bike helmet, or tattoo one on your arm thinking people are going to interpret it as a symbol of ancient meaning, i.e., of luck and prosperity. The swastika as a symbol is seriously tainted. Big time.
As an educator and artist, I certainly understand the need for educating and informing others as to its ancient meaning in an attempt to explain why the swastika, in a variety of forms exists in architecture, art, clothing, sports teams logos, as in the case of the Canadian ladies hockey team, "The Edmonton Swastikas," pictured above, or on the chest of a Buddhist statue in modern day Tibet, a country known for promoting peace. These are after all, swastikas that pre-date Nazism.
Google: "Swastika" and you'll see what I mean. Granted, there are many sites defending its origin as a peaceful symbol and in so many ways trying to convince us it's ok to continue using it, whether it's clock-wise or counter clock-wise.
The swastika was used in ancient times and it's fine to study its historical context and subsequent meanings but to revive it for the sake of its ancient history, well, I just have to say, in and of itself that's just not a very productive stance. Nor I might add is it a noble cause. Here's why.
There are other sites, in fact thousands upon thousands of them, that do indeed continue to use the swastika - from the Nazi perspective - as an emblem of hate, serving thusly as a continuum of intolerance, anti-semitism, and racism. Neo-Nazism and its own demented history clearly claim the swastika as their own as seen in the two examples posted below.
Curtis Allgier, a neo-Nazi from Kansas, currently an inmate in Utah has his face tattooed with many swastikas. I actually find it hard to understand how and why any tattoo parlor personnel would grant this guy so much "hate" ink to begin with. Freedom of expression? Maybe he fell asleep on a Sharpie.
The swastika in all its twisted nature as a symbol in contemporary culture, is not always for educational or informative purposes for a productive means, but rather to promote fascist ideologies, which as all educated individuals know, inevitably leads to destruction. The swastika today is regarded as a symbol of the destruction of life rather than its affirmation. Symbols are instruments of thought. And thoughts amount to actions, which are always based on intentions.
A building designed unintentionally to look like a swastika from above is tolerable. it doesn't bother me; why should it? The architect's intentions were productive or at least meant to do good. In fact an architect friend of mine said something to the effects that the "swastika" design is more energy efficient allowing for more light to travel through the space(s).
On the other hand, an image of a swastika scrawled on the inside of a seat on the Long Island Rail Road is non productive. It's harsh. It's offensive. It's passive aggressive. It's violent. It's cowardly. It carries negative and potentially hurtful connotations. It's just plain wrong.
It's about as stupid as this tattoo of "Southern Justice." I mean, c'mon, why? This is just going to provoke anger, possibly violence. No one needs to see it. It doesn't do anyone any good. How can anyone really feel this much pride in hating?
I've been studying the Holocaust for over ten years and have just come around to understanding to a great degree how Germany and occupied countries could become an industrialized unified state sponsored form of hatred, but I still find it hard to understand how an individual has it in them to just be so insensitive and intolerant. To anyone for any reason.
So why do it? Why choose to get a hangman's noose tattooed on your body; why choose to draw a swastika on a train seat? Why choose to be that insensitive? Why hate? I know, I know it's easier to hate than to express care or tolerance.
So, what is it? Intentions. It all comes down to intentions. Intentions matter. In almost everything we do, our intentions provide us with a significant component to our own identity.
The swastika has its own identity and no matter its history, no matter the varying schools of thought surrounding its meaning and potential resurgence as a positive emblem, it will always remain a very graphic reminder of anti-Semitism, hatred and violence. The swastika was doomed since the Nazis adopted it, and I say, may it rest in...uh, er... peace?
Marc Dennis can be reached here.