Weight of swastika heavier outside the bubble

It just keeps coming, doesn’t it?

In the fall, racist and homophobic messages were scrawled on prominent campus buildings for every passerby to see. Last month, a fraternity flaunted a misogynistic message as part of its initiation ritual. And now, a swastika and an SS symbol have been artfully crafted in snow on two Old Campus trees. At least the bigots are getting creative. I do so hope for a Confederate Flag made out of daisy chains to appear on Cross Campus during the first sweet days of spring, just to keep this trend of intolerance from getting redundant.

Much of the outcry over the swastika incident has focused on the fact that the symbol was found on Old Campus, one of the most insulated and iconic spaces on campus. The News reported yesterday that in an e-mail to Pierson students, Master Goldblatt wrote, “It is shocking for these kinds of hateful images to appear anywhere, but it is even more disturbing when it is within the locked gates of Old Campus at Yale University.” Most students with whom I’ve spoken have echoed this sentiment: People who go around randomly reviving Nazi symbols — especially, I might add, when those symbols are made out of snow — are, for the most part, idiots. The problem is that tolerance for idiocy, particularly the kind that celebrates genocide, is quite a bit lower when the idiots in question are supposed to be among the smartest people in the world.

But is an incident like this really worse when it happens at Yale than when it happens elsewhere in the city, the country or the world? The Women’s Center board, and all Yalies who declared themselves outraged by the “Yale Sluts” sign, got a ton of flak for asserting that Yale students should hold themselves to higher standards than average Joes. The world is a misogynistic place, people said, and Yale women better stop expecting better treatment if they’re going to survive after college ends. This kind of argument — that instead of questioning societal problems, we should lower our standards and accept chauvinism in our community — has always struck me as flimsy at best.

But when the symbol in question is something as extreme as a swastika, perhaps the meaning of its context shifts. After all, isn’t the swastika most terrifying when it appears in an environment more historically receptive to violent anti-Semitism than Yale has been?

Last summer, I spent five weeks in Rome. During my first week in the city, I was shocked to see a large swastika drawn in black ink on a wall of a building in a popular neighborhood. As a Jew, I have confronted the history and legacy of the Holocaust time and time again, in both informal and academic settings. But I could not remember ever before coming face to face with the swastika, the unequivocal symbol of the genocide that was responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews and the destruction of Jewish communities all over Europe.

I began to keep an informal tally of the swastikas I encountered around Rome. Once I started paying attention, they seemed to pop up everywhere. I felt frightened and overwhelmed. I kept coming across a symbol that aimed to negate my existence, a symbol that seemed to have the tacit approval of others who saw it.

The meaning of the swastikas in Rome had everything to do with Roman history. The Nazis occupied Rome for nine months. Rome’s centuries-old Jewish community was deported to concentration camps without any intervention on the part of the pope. Even if the perpetrators of the graffiti were only bored punks, the swastika in Rome could not be seen as an arbitrary symbol. It purposefully glorified a period of terror and murder in Italy’s recent past.

The most striking example of Nazi graffiti that I saw in Rome was in EUR, Mussolini’s fascist outpost that now serves as a business center. The harsh, imposing architecture of EUR serves as a chilling reminder of fascism’s power and brutality; building after building testifies to the fascist imperative to wipe out individuality for the sake of national supremacy. Turning a corner, I saw three swastikas, enormous, imposing, recently scrawled at eye level over white marble. The message couldn’t have been more clear: The glorification of genocide and anti-Semitism is bound to continue in the places where it once proved the most deadly.

The crafting of the swastika on Old Campus was a bizarre act that glorified hatred and prejudice and contributed to a disturbing trend at Yale. But instead of inspiring us to get too up in arms about anti-Semitism on campus, the swastika should encourage us to turn our attention to places around the world where this symbol of hatred carries a powerful message of fear precisely because it taps into recent history. The snow has already been scraped off the tree, and I am confident that Yalies will respond intelligently to this event. It won’t be so easy to erase the appeal of anti-Semitism elsewhere.

Alexandra Schwartz is a junior in Saybrook College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays.

Comments

  • David O'Leary '06

    It seems in the pages of the YDN people are in the habit of using the phrase, "I'm a [blank], which makes me offended by [blank]" I'll add mine, despite the fact that a community should or should not be offended by something regardless of their personal associations or biological happenstance. Nevertheless, I'm Catholic which makes me offended by Ms. Schwartz' throw-away comment that the Jews were deported to concentration camps "without any intervention on the part of the pope". While not done in a public manner, to avoid the Church's own persecution, the notion the Church did not try to intervene has been proven to be false. Furthermore, the propagation of this myth results from a phenomenon called reverse discrimination. While not clearly oppressive like most forms of minority discrimination, it is the backlash of discrimination from a previously discriminated group to one they view as their oppressors. Jews and the anti-religious see the Catholic church as oppressive, and discriminatory from their past actions so they attack it as an accomplice in a horrific Genocide. Most people are not aware but close to three million Catholic Pols were murdered by Hitler's regime as well, but thats not important, because Ms. Schwartz has inferred Catholics are either racist or don't care about human suffering.

    I did not plan to have a history argument here, but instead I wanted to offer why I think incidents of bigotry have been occurring on campus. It is related to my historical argument above. A highly paid visitor to Yale a couple of years ago has said, "Y'all don't know what its like, being male, middle class, and white!" Admittedly, Mr. Ben Folds was visiting to perform at spring fling and not give a lecture on reverse discrimination. Again I'll use the formula I started with: I'm male, middle class, and white, and I'm offended by the insinuation that I hate or don't respect [insert minority group here]. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the person who most likely left that swastika was a man who fit my racial and socioeconomic profile, as were many involved with the women's center incident. I'm not excusing the actions or condoning them or even justifying them as a matter of free speech. At worst they are vile, at best they show a horrible misunderstanding of why these individuals are at Yale: To learn and make America and the world a better place with the benefit of a Yale education. That being said I am by no means shocked by this incident. If you accuse a group of people of misogyny, racism, and bigotry for a long enough time it is easy for those who are accused to begin to hold the opinions they of which they have been accused. Reverse discrimination is not a tragedy in and of itself, but it continues to propagate the initial discrimination, and that is a tragedy.

  • JHC

    You still have a lot of screwballs runnin around your grounds. I swore the great minds at Yale would address this situation and not act like hired thugs who all bang into each other and fall down, it'll stop when you give them your Visa/pin#/car keys/ mm best buddy

  • Anonymous

    The rise of anti-antisemitism in Italy has to do in part with statements made by former president Francesco Cossega. He stated to Della Serra newspaper that 9/11 was an inside job and that it was common knowledge amongst intelligence agencies. I think he said that the center-left suspects Mossad and the CIA might to blame. Sadly, certain people can't make the distinction between an intelligence agency and a group of people.

    I sometimes watch Italian TV and in recent weeks have seen family members of 9/11 victims also make similar claims. Those who believe the official US government story are now in the minority in many parts of Italy. The silence on the part of the US govt. and its refusal to allow an independent investigation is further fueling these beliefs.

    Different interpretation of that terrible day aside, we should stand with our Jewish brothers and oppose any and every act of racism.

    I find this act of vandalism to be despicable and whole-heartedly oppose it.

  • Anonymous

    Cossiga*

  • sceptical

    We do not know who has drawn the idiotic symbols. Often such things are done by the putative victims. After all, a swastika in the snow causes no harm to anyone, except the perpetrator if he gets caught - why would anyone want to do it? Unless the purpose is to seek attention for the "targeted" group, or simply for the person (or persons) who found the hateful objects.

  • BeBop65

    Dean Gentry is correct. Stupid, immature, insensitive or worse.

    Consider this. What do you think the objective was of the Aholes who put this here? To get the Yalies, especially Jewish students, in a dither. Don't take the bait. Wipe the snow off the trees, note your outrage(sounds like that has been done already), and move on. Get back to your normal lives, and don't let these Aholes disrupt those lives.

  • Anonymous

    The author of this piece appears to be trying to find reason for an act that was, in all likelihood, not motivated by reason.

    In doing so, she has felt the need to be offensive towards others. Certainly, the two acts are incomparable. Nevertheless, this article fails where it could have succeeded tremendously: instead of looking toward core problems and solutions to those problems, the author chose to reiterate the same superficial, gutteral reaction that we all have when we see an offensive act. When I read an article, I'm looking for insight, not knee-jerk.

  • Anonymous

    David,

    Your groundbreaking theory of "reverse discrimination" has entirely changed my view of this tragic situation. I was about to leap into this debate with an array of dubious facts and self-serving rhetoric, but you've forced me to step back and reconsider the situation.

    If we restore this debate to its proper historical perspective, it seems clear that racism actually disappeared altogether in the mid 1980s. Yet over the next two decades, White Christians have suffered years of senseless oppression at the hands of people like Alexandra Schwartz, who insinuate that some white people have been complicit in acts of discrimination. These lies have had an incredibly damaging effect on the psyches of young white middle-class males: Given the number of false claims that have been made to the effect that some whites are racist, it is no wonder that so many whites strike back by being racist.

    I realize now that for the tragedy of racism, it is the so-called "victims," who are truly to blame. I remember my high school, where the bathroom stalls used to be covered in graffiti that said vile things like "WHITE CHRISTIENS R RACISTS" and "WHIT PPL = GENACIDE". I didn't know it at the time, but I was staring the ugly spectre of reverse discrimination in the face. Even though Ben Folds was being sarcastic, his comment rings true: it's hard to be a middle-class white Christian male in this country.

    David, my heart goes out to you.
    -Mike

    P.S.- your response that "the notion the Church did not try to intervene has been proven to be false," blew my mind. I'm in awe of the way you can just reject others' factual claims out of hand. Please, teach me.

  • @Michael

    "Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly." - Albert Einstein

    "The Vatican radio this week broadcast an outspoken denunciation of German atrocities and persecution in Nazi [occupied] Poland, declaring they affronted the moral conscience of mankind." - Jewish Advocate, Boston (1940)

    "With Rome liberated, it has been determined, indeed, that 7,000 of Italy's 40,000 Jews owe their lives to the Vatican," - American Israelite (1944)

    "Pius XII took an unequivocal stand against the oppression of Jews throughout Europe." - American Jewish Yearbook

    "During and after the war, many well-known Jews -- Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, Moshe Sharett, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, and innumerable others -- publicly expressed their gratitude to Pius. In his 1967 book Three Popes and the Jews, the diplomat Pinchas Lapide (who served as Israeli consul in Milan and interviewed Italian Holocaust survivors) declared Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands." - Weekly Standard

    "The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas… he is about the only ruler left on the Continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all… the Pope put himself squarely against Hitlerism… he left no doubt that the Nazi aims are also irreconcilable with his own conception of a Christian peace." - New York Times, Christmas 1941.

    There's your proof, Mike

  • KT

    In the words of the Vatican itself, Pope Pius XII did speak out against genocide, but the church as an organization could have done more. See http://www-tech.mit.edu/V118/N13/bvatican.13w.html for more info.
    Not to get into a contest of whose suffering was worse, or to at all diminish Polish suffering, but for historical accuracy regarding David's comment, Poles were killed by the Nazis on the basis of their identity as Slavs, not as Catholics.
    All this history aside, the real point here is that the swastika-maker is either immature and maladjusted to the diverse environment here, as Gentry has suggested, or immature and desperate for attention/to cause a splash.

  • Catholic at Yale

    In defense of Pope Pius XII and his protection of the Roman Jews:

    Pope Pius XII was especially concerned with the fate of the Italian populace. The numbers support this assertion since 85 percent of the 40,000 Italian Jews survived the war. This stands in contrast to the 80 percent death rate among all of European Jewry.[14] In the midst of the October 1943 Nazi round ups in Rome, Pius XII swung open the doors and gates of every church, convent, university and property controlled by the Church. Over 5,000 Jews took refuge within the walls of the Vatican. Survivor Michael Tagliacozzo gives the pope full credit as the only one to intervene on behalf of the Jews during these raids.[15]

    A major weapon in Pius XII’s arsenal was the Vatican Information Office, including a special Jewish department within the German section. The numbers are staggering: 36,777 published documents supporting the Jews, 20 million wartime messages transmitted, employment grew from two to 600 workers by 1943, two thousand daily aid requests were being handled by 1941. The need was so great that new technologies were fully utilized for the first time, including a secret radio transmitter hidden in the catacombs of St. Callistus.[16] “By 1944, Vatican Radio was broadcasting 63 weekly programs and transmitted 27,000 messages a month.”[17]

  • JEB

    While I share Ms. Schwartz's concern over the appearance of anti-Semitic imagery on Yale's campus, I find her comparison to the situation in Rome uninformed and unneccessary. For the author to dredge up horrible memories of Mussolini and the Holocaust undercuts the force of her argument. The Catholic Church and the Italian government consistently defend the rights of contemporary Italian Jewry, perhaps more vociferously than anywhere else in Europe. I too am discouraged by the frquent sight of Nazi graffiti on Jewish homes in Rome, but the phenomenon has more to do with Neo-Fascism and popular sentiment against Israel than with institutionalized anti-Semitism on the part of the ecclesiastical or secular authorities. In fact, much to the consternation of the civic authorities, it is the policy of the Comunita Ebraica di Roma, Rome's Jewish community council, to encourage those whose property is vandalized to let the swastikas remain as an act of resistance against the childish tactics of the far right. We should assume a similarly stoic stance toward the recent instances of discrimination at Yale rather than resort to baseless speculation as to the motivations of the offenders.

  • to Michael Z

    To Michael Z:

    Don't make me laugh. "Reverse racism"! Is there a structural, institutional people-of-color/religious minority power that can give you jobs, determine housing, create foreign policy, and educate your children? If the answer is no, then you might want to stop complaining about a few bitter minorities and get the job/life that you have been awarded by virtue of lucky birth into the middle class. May the rest of America achieve that which you have, the good fortune to lament your blessings.

  • to Michael Z

    To Michael Z:

    Don't make me laugh. "Reverse racism"! Is there a structural, institutional people-of-color/religious minority power that can give you jobs, determine housing, create foreign policy, and educate your children? If the answer is no, then you might want to stop complaining about a few bitter minorities and get the job/life that you have been awarded by virtue of lucky birth into the middle class. May the rest of America achieve that which you have, the good fortune to lament your blessings.

  • @ "To Michael Z."

    Dude, I don't know if you noticed, but Michael Z. was sarcastically making fun of David O'Leary for complaining about reverse racism. Ergo, Michael Z. doesn't think reverse racism is a problem. Try reading a little more closely next time.

  • @ "To Michael Z."

    Dude, I don't know if you noticed, but Michael Z. was sarcastically making fun of David O'Leary for complaining about reverse racism. Ergo, Michael Z. doesn't think reverse racism is a problem. Try reading a little more closely next time.

  • David O'Leary

    Michael Z. seems to think I was decrying reverse discrimination as something that harms individuals outright. Read my post again, I was not. I was however saying that it perpetuates discrimination. To clarify, perpetuate, does not mean start or cause, it means continue. People who otherwise have no reason to discriminate may do so, because of the bad experience they have had with such a group. For example, someone who grew up hearing the word "bitch" used to refer to something other than a woman in conversation in his suburban town, may not have known or may not have fully comprehended its misogynistic meaning when used in just such a way. But in a super liberal place like Yale, where some people have become over-sensitized to the word, a freshmen may use it once "This paper is a bitch," be labeled as a woman-hater, and over time and be less inclined to respect those who have judged him too quickly and unfairly. Does having a feminist consider a middle class, white male a misogynist harm him? Does it lower his salary over his lifetime or make him sit at the back of the bus? Of course not. To make it sound like that was what I was saying in my initial post is moronic. However, if that individual tends not to respect the feminist who judged him quickly, how hard is it to transfer that lack of respect to all feminists, or to all women? I contend that it doesn't take much. I'm not suggesting that people just let it go when they think hate speech is being used against them. I am suggesting, however, that approaching such a situation in the right way and with the right attitude, will help the cause of ending hate speech on campus and beyond.

  • David O'Leary

    Michael Z. seems to think I was decrying reverse discrimination as something that harms individuals outright. Read my post again, I was not. I was however saying that it perpetuates discrimination. To clarify, perpetuate, does not mean start or cause, it means continue. People who otherwise have no reason to discriminate may do so, because of the bad experience they have had with such a group. For example, someone who grew up hearing the word "bitch" used to refer to something other than a woman in conversation in his suburban town, may not have known or may not have fully comprehended its misogynistic meaning when used in just such a way. But in a super liberal place like Yale, where some people have become over-sensitized to the word, a freshmen may use it once "This paper is a bitch," be labeled as a woman-hater, and over time and be less inclined to respect those who have judged him too quickly and unfairly. Does having a feminist consider a middle class, white male a misogynist harm him? Does it lower his salary over his lifetime or make him sit at the back of the bus? Of course not. To make it sound like that was what I was saying in my initial post is moronic. However, if that individual tends not to respect the feminist who judged him quickly, how hard is it to transfer that lack of respect to all feminists, or to all women? I contend that it doesn't take much. I'm not suggesting that people just let it go when they think hate speech is being used against them. I am suggesting, however, that approaching such a situation in the right way and with the right attitude, will help the cause of ending hate speech on campus and beyond.

  • Anonymous

    i'm just going to put this out there: avoid sarcarsm because no here is a jonathan swift.

  • Anonymous

    Michael Z, I can't take your arguments seriously when it is veiled by childish sarcasm. Grow up and people will listen to you more.

    Also, I think that this symbol in the snow is a big deal only if it is symptomatic of a larger anti-semitic atmosphere on campus (which is what the Women's center was argued with regards to the "Yale Sluts" sign). If so, then we should ALL be outraged. But, it seems to me that this was just a thoughtless, mean act. It warrants a reply that this behavior will NEVER be accepted, but I don't think it warrants a huge discussion on the complicity of the Catholic Church with regards to the holocaust.