In Cherry Hills Village, a subdivision once called Swastika Acres is now Old Cherry Hills. It’s not surprising that there was near unanimity on the decision. In the West, the swastika has become emblematic of pure evil. But many people don’t realize that the swastika predates — by millennia — Nazism. It is an ancient Sanskrit symbol found throughout Eastern, as well as Native American, cultures and religions.
In the early 20th century, when archaeological discoveries were making this symbol more widely known in the West, it grew in popularity as a symbol for good fortune. It was used by companies like Carlsberg and even the US Army’s 45th Infantry that liberated Dachau (by which time the 45th’s symbol was a bird). It was during this time of popularity, in 1908, that the subdivision in Cherry Hills was named.
Cherry Hills Village’s mayor, Russell Stewart, said changing the name was “the right thing to do.” Perhaps he is right, but the decision to erase the name means that we’re continuing to allow Hitler’s use of the symbol to control our perception of it.
The swastika was wrongfully besmirched by the Nazis, but defiled it was. So how do we deal with it now? Do we choose to empower its status as a forbidden symbol, ensuring that it retains its visceral power to shock and offend? Or do we try to understand the symbol in its entirety, exploring its meaning in other faiths and cultures?
Ideally, it would be the latter, especially as we strive to be a more open, multi-ethnic society. But perhaps it’s too soon. Perhaps we’re not there yet. Maybe one day — I hope — we’ll be there.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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