For many around the world, the swastika is a sign of genocide and hatred, reviled for its association to the Nazi party. But for centuries before the Holocaust, and to this day, the swastika represented something very different for millions of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains across the globe. The symbol bears special significance for one year-old born and raised in India. She is a poet, student and interfaith activist, and her name is Swastika Jajoo. The name is not uncommon in India, where the swastika is a revered symbol in many of its faith traditions.
Though the symbol has always played a central role in Jajoo's life, the meaning of the swastika to her has begun to shift as she mulls the prospect of studying abroad.
‘It’s time for Australia to ban the swastika’
It's often featured in Hindu homes, on temples and in artwork. Many draw the swastika on accounting books and in their offices to affirm prosperity, as Manav Lalwani, a Hindu American young professional, does and his father and grandfather did before him. Lalwani is the director of product development at a manufacturing company in New Jersey, which his father owns with three Jewish business partners.
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This context, Hirschfield continued, is one in which Holocaust survivors still bear tattoos from concentration camps. For them, the swastika likely communicates all the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. When he was a child, Lalwani said, his father placed the swastika out of sight behind a TV monitor in deference to his Jewish business partners. He said his father has been in business with some of his partners for decades, and so over time, the swastikas in his office have become less of an issue, and he takes care to explain its significance in Hinduism to any new employees.
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When her grandfather gave her a piece of jewelry decorated with swastikas in high school, she had to explain to him why he would never find her wearing it in the U. The swastika was well-known in Europe and the U. Over a century ago archaeologists encountered it in the cultural remains of the Ancient Greeks, Celts and Anglo-Saxons, as well as across Eastern Europe.
The symbol also found a place in modern Western architecture and design before the Nazi party made it taboo. The Nazi use of the swastika stems from the work of 19th Century German scholars translating old Indian texts, who noticed similarities between their own language and Sanskrit. They concluded that Indians and Germans must have had a shared ancestry and imagined a race of white god-like warriors they called Aryans.
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This idea was seized upon by anti-Semitic nationalist groups who appropriated the swastika as an Aryan symbol to boost a sense of ancient lineage for the Germanic people. Even this narrative may be flawed, however, said Rev. What this suggests, he continued, is that people who view the swastika as forever-tarnished by the Holocaust may actually be thinking of an entirely different symbol than the one beloved by Hindus, Buddhists and many others.
For those eager to shift the narrative, dialogue can go a long way to begin bridging the divide.
It is indisputable that for an overwhelming majority of Australians, seeing the swastika, forever to be associated with crimes against humanity and genocide, daubed on their fence, or on a walking trail, or near a train station, is as threatening as being confronted with a gun. Whatever country you come from and whatever language you speak, seeing the visible representation of the Nazi party induces feelings of revulsion and horror. And if you are the child or the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, it tears a hole in your heart, and puts you on edge knowing that those using it could harbour similar malevolent intentions as the Nazis who almost wiped out an entire people.
The monstrosities with which the swastika is linked must never be forgotten. Indeed, for a country known for its multicultural fabric, this contagion of hate is pushing our tolerance to a breaking point. It means that a long-deferred reckoning on how to deal with this stain must now take place. Considering the painful effect the swastika has on its intended victims, it is an unacceptable reality that in our elected officials have yet to ban public displays of the swastika or other Nazi insignia.
Beyond the Swastika
There are people on our streets openly parading around these symbols of evil. At a recent Shabbat dinner I heard from a woman who was confronted by an individual wearing a swastika armband at Oakleigh library. She felt in fear for her own safety, as did the mother with two children who saw that man outside the Carnegie library last year. Above all, we owe it to the victims, the survivors, and to the diggers who fought Hitler and sacrificed their lives in order to ensure his ultimate defeat, to once and for all close the lid on this issue.
It is worth reminding everyone what the Nazi swastika represents — the shooting of one million unarmed Jewish civilians in including more than 33, Jews in just two days at Babi Yar; the gassing of nearly three million Jews in the death camps; the murder of more than 70, German citizens who had been diagnosed with mental and physical disabilities; the killing of the Roma, Sinti, homosexuals and political opponents; the enslavement of millions across Europe, and the bloodiest war in history, causing more than 50 million deaths.
Can anyone look the survivors in the eye and convince them that this is simply about freedom of speech when we know that these racists, who seek to destroy the touchstones of our democracy like dignity and equality, are the enemy of our shared ideals? The only place where a swastika should be shown is in the classroom and the museum.