It was 1978. I was in fourth grade. I wanted to belong to something so badly. I was invited into my first club at school. Now, understand, our family had been Navy for 20 years, so in my young life, we moved around a lot–every year, sometimes. I had already lived 6 places on two coasts, and I was 9. So being invited into a club was a huge thing! It meant I was accepted–even as an outsider–even in a new small town in Missouri. A beautiful town.
I don’t know if it was a joke played on me, or not, this club–this acceptance. If it was real, then it gives me chills now. “Yes, you can be in our club,” an older boy said, someone who was in seventh grade, maybe. He was so tall. And I was so hungry for acceptance. He knelt down and he drew something on the front of my shoes. The new symbol for our club, he said. When I went home that day, I said, “Mommy, I’m in a club! I’m in a club!” And I must have been beaming with that acceptance.
My mother took one look at my shoes–the only pair of shoes I had for school because we didn’t have a lot of money. And it was in ink, this thing. The boy had drawn a swastika on each of my shoes. I thought it was a cool club symbol because I was young, but my mother saw it for what it was. She was shocked. She knelt down to look at it. She could not erase it–she must have known it would show up anyway. So she carefully made it a box, a four squared box. I was upset that she had done that–at first. I don’t remember if I cried, or tried to stop her–She was ruining the club symbol! She was marking on my shoes! — I’m sure I put up a little fight. “No honey. Not this symbol,” was what she said to me. “I don’t want you in that club.” I don’t know if she explained to me what that symbol meant–I think she must have tried. But I can’t remember. I did it for my mom more than for my fourth grade understanding of hate symbols. It meant so much to my mom, that I didn’t pursue that club. I don’t even remember if the club was really a club, or some cruel joke they were playing on me. I never saw any club meetings, any groups with swastikas on their arms or shoes. Never.
My shoes had a foursquare box on them for the rest of fourth grade. I made up a new club for people with glasses, and I forgot about the old club. We had three guys in the glasses club.
It’s our job to not let little children (or anyone) have to see that symbol everywhere. Even if they don’t understand why. This symbol is getting a revival. If you see it, be vandals and change it. Don’t let that symbol stay. It’ll burn into the walls. It’ll burn into our minds. Turn the swastikas into boxes, Windows Logos, or brightly-colored boxes. Turn them into pinwheels, gift boxes, chessboards.
Turn them into windows that look out onto a better America.
*thank you, Mom.
(this post was inspired by Natalie Laurel’s Facebook photo of the Windows logo shared by many. I know the original might be photoshopped, but buy a can a paint anyway, eh? )
Wow. Your mom is awesome. (And so are you)
She is! And thank you!
It’s really sad that the Nazi party chose that symbol and contaminated its meaning for the rest of history. That stigma has overwhelmed the original meanings. Most don’t even know it’s an ancient sacred and auspicious symbol dating back over 10000 years.
Your point is well-taken, BearBrad. It was a tremendously positive symbol before the dark time. Unfortunately, while Holocaust survivors, their children (like me) and their stories continue to be taught and heard down through the generations, it’s meaning has changed. 😦
Your essay gladdens my heart, Jerome. Thank you, thank you from my core for discussing and giving credence to the topic of strengthened fascism in America. I fear that we all will be discussing it a LOT more now since the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis have been emboldened by our new president who has used (likely unconsciously) the EXACT same rhetoric as the Nationalist Socialist party of Germany and other Fascists in the 30s and 40s. It absolutely chills my soul.
My father, his two sisters and his father were arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in a series of concentration camps as political prisoners because they made a living as English interpreters in the small Polish town of Borosław, comprised of many Jews. My father suffered through medical experimentation as “rehabilitation for his actions against the Reich” from which he never fully recovered.
We older generations have a moral responsibility, a civic and social imperative, to educate today’s young people about the historic horrors and atrocities committed in the name of extreme nationalism and scapegoating of targeted groups. As survivors have intoned for decades, we must never forget, and as Churchill said during the Blitz and thereafter, never, never, never give up. Keep up the good work!