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You know who else owned things with swastikas on them?
June 24, 2011 9:06 AM   Subscribe

At first, Collectors Weekly deleted virtually anything listed on their site bearing a Nazi swastika. Now they are explaining what changed their mind and why some people collect this particular paraphernalia.
posted by gman (32 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
When my wife was a young girl, she found a small beaded purse her father had brought home from WWII (he was in the Battle of the Bulge).

Not recognizing the swastika, she took all the beads off to make necklaces.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:15 AM on June 24, 2011


That was well written and thought-provoking. Thanks for posting it.
posted by zarq at 9:15 AM on June 24, 2011


My wife's family lived in Germany during the war. When her aunt died, among the memorabilia we ended up with were coins and official documents, all bearing swastikas. My first reaction to seeing and touching them was almost as though they were radioactive. But really it all seems so old and impotent. Learning from history means not being afraid to look it in the eye. But more importantly, I think, by treating symbols as thought they have such great power, we imbue them with that power.
posted by 256 at 9:15 AM on June 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


256: "... by treating symbols as thought they have such great power, we imbue them with that power."

Yeah, well, when Izzue, a clothing store in Hong Kong, elected to dress their window with Nazi-themed decorations (swastika included), a lot of people, me included, were greatly offended.

That particular perversion of a common sight in these parts still evokes the horrors of Hitler's mad obsessions, and using it to sell fashion is unforgivable.
posted by bwg at 9:23 AM on June 24, 2011


I don't want to self-link, but for anyone interested in the Hong Kong/Nazi decorations debacle, you can Google it: site:bigwhiteguy.com Izzue.
posted by bwg at 9:26 AM on June 24, 2011


Nazi, Soviet, or for that matter Confederate flotsam is often symbolic to collectors of where we as human beings have been, not where we are headed.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:26 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, bwg, I don't disagree at all. If I saw a dude on the street in Toronto wearing a t-shirt with a swastika on it, there would be a pretty large danger of me starting a fist-fight. But that's very different from being scared to have the swastika displayed in a historical context when talking about Nazi Germany.
posted by 256 at 9:26 AM on June 24, 2011


256: "Oh, bwg, I don't disagree at all. If I saw a dude on the street in Toronto wearing a t-shirt with a swastika on it, there would be a pretty large danger of me starting a fist-fight. But that's very different from being scared to have the swastika displayed in a historical context when talking about Nazi Germany."

Oh, absolutely. It's an important distinction.

By the way, Hong Kong has places that sell Nazi-swastika tee shirts as well.
posted by bwg at 9:33 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I recall in the 80's that JC Penny had a summer collection of clothes modeled on Luftwaffe pants and shirts. perhaps it was africa korp. Can't find a link.
posted by clavdivs at 9:34 AM on June 24, 2011


When I teach art appreciation I have a section on iconography and how much power symbols have. In my intro I do a lame 'ol teacher thing where I show our college logo, modified to vaguely resemble a swastika and ask students if they like the new proposed logo.

Even though they are 18-19 years old they have a very strong reaction. It's interesting how, even though WWII is as distant as the Civil War to them, they still have strong feelings about the swastika.
posted by cccorlew at 9:36 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


In college I picked up a copy of Hansi: The Girl who Loved the Swastika, based on the utter absurdity of the cover and the title. Then I read it, and the actual content was probably more disturbing than the swastikas on the front.

In other news, we recently had to explain to my daughter that the skull and crossbones on her Marilyn Manson t-shirt wasn't a pirate thing. Completely shielding society and kids from symbols doesn't do us much service, either.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:39 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mitchell & Webb: "Are we the baddies?"
posted by orrnyereg at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've never found an explanation for the confounding reference to the swastika in the 1939 George Cukor comedy, The Women. (The movie was pointlessly remade recently - apparently very, very horribly.)

Googling gives this description (from a comment in a film blog): "In Cukor’s THE WOMEN (39) Lucille Watson blithely refers to the luxury of spreading out “like a swastika” in a large bed."

That's pretty much the scene I remember.
The actress falls back on a satin cover of a double bed - and coos the line about being finally able to "spread out like a swastika"..and that's it!?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:00 AM on June 24, 2011


You know who else owned things with swastikas on them? And had difficulty knowing what to do with them?

That's right. T-Rex, that's who.
posted by darksasami at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The actress falls back on a satin cover of a double bed - and coos the line about being finally able to "spread out like a swastika"..and that's it!?

My *guess* (completely uninformed) is that in 1939 America, the swastika had yet to become the fully fledged symbol of terror that it would become later in WW2. For people who've grown up post-WW2, swastika=Nazis. Period. But before the Nazis took it on as their symbol, it *had* been used in other things. So maybe pre-Nazi folks recognized the swastika as just another symbol, the way we would think of a square or a circle.
posted by antifuse at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2011


I think that's basically true, but I'd add that Americans certainly knew it was a symbol of Hitler's Germany, that it was widespread and growing more visible and prominent all the time, and that it was widely disapproved of in the UK and US. What they didn't know about was the degree of atrocity that had gone before and was yet to come, so it didn't pack the punch it had later on.
posted by Miko at 10:43 AM on June 24, 2011


You know who else owned things with swastikas on them? And had difficulty knowing what to do with them?

That's right. T-Rex, that's who.


I was expecting to see a story about a confused Marc Bolan. In all seriousness, I collect totalitarian propaganda art, which has led some to confuse my politics with that of the artworks. Bad assumption.
posted by Jim Slade at 10:55 AM on June 24, 2011


I've never found an explanation for the confounding reference to the swastika in the 1939 George Cukor comedy, The Women... "In Cukor’s THE WOMEN (39) Lucille Watson blithely refers to the luxury of spreading out “like a swastika” in a large bed."

Jody Tresidder

Jody, I understand that it is a two-part reference. First, if one was to spread oneself out in a solitary double bed, arms and legs akimbo, it would somewhat resemble a swastika. Second (and more interestingly), the film was made when Nazi Germany was extending the reach of its empire: stretching out like a swastika referred to expanding to take up all the space of the bed, as Germany was stretching out to take over Europe.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 11:22 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that's basically true, but I'd add that Americans certainly knew it was a symbol of Hitler's Germany, that it was widespread and growing more visible and prominent all the time, and that it was widely disapproved of in the UK and US.

Miko (& antifuse)

I've done some more hunting - I should have done it earlier..
The Cukor film (1939) was from a play of the same name (a big hit with the public) by Clare Boothe Luce [wiki (1903 – 1987)...American playwright, editor, journalist, ambassador, socialite and U.S. Congresswoman, representing the state of Connecticut.]

The play - "a satire on the idleness of wealthy wives and divorcees" opened on Broadway in 1936. The curious swastika line ("And heaven knows, it's marvelous to be able to sprawl out in bed, like a swastika") was in the original play script.

So I was figuring it was being used (in 1936), possibly to indicate we should at least disapprove of the character who uses it? (This works in context.)

The bio of Boothe Luce continues..."In 1938, Kiss the Boys Goodbye, a play Clare said was a political allegory about American Fascism, but was viewed as a comedy about Hollywood's highly publicized search for an actress to portray Scarlett O'Hara in the film Gone With the Wind, became one of the ten best plays of the year. In Margin of Error in 1939, Clare treated the murder of a Nazi agent as both a comedy and a melodrama. It too proved popular and, along with the latter two plays, confirmed Clare Boothe Luce's status as a leading American playwright. .."

Given the above, I imagine there was ALSO a politically-aware edge to its use here (in the play, and then the film). She went on to cover the war for Life magazine.
"...Her observations of Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England in the midst of the German offensive were published in Europe in the Spring (1940)"

On preview (using the term for the first time correctly myself! Thanks to the recent metatalk thread!)...

Alice Russel-Wallace _ I think that's brilliant.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2011


The actress falls back on a satin cover of a double bed - and coos the line about being finally able to "spread out like a swastika"..and that's it!?

My *guess* (completely uninformed) is that in 1939 America, the swastika had yet to become the fully fledged symbol of terror that it would become later in WW2.


The line was in the original Broadway production in 1936. Mrs. Moorehead, who is anti-divorce and thinks that women should stay with their cheating husbands, says it to her daughter Mary after she leaves her husband:

Well, cheer up Mary, living alone has its compensations. Heaven knows it's marvelous being able to spread out in bed like a swastika.

It's meant to be snide and cutting, and people at that time were aware of the implications.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:40 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know people who collect Nazi memorabilia who aren't creepy weirdos? Because the only people I've ever met who collected WWII German uniforms and Fallschirmjaegar knives and such have been creepy weirdos.
posted by Justinian at 12:37 PM on June 24, 2011


I wore a hat for a few years that had swastikas tastefully embroidered into it. I loved that hat.

I bought it at one of those "foreign embroidered things for the middle-class" stores. If you look closely, many vaguely Buddhist and other traditional SE Asian stuff uses hooked crosses. A lot.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:38 PM on June 24, 2011


If you look closely, many vaguely Buddhist and other traditional SE Asian stuff uses hooked crosses. A lot.

Yes, it's an ancient symbol, used cross-culturally, and almost always had positive associations before the Third Reich modified it for his use.
posted by Miko at 1:23 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you look closely, many vaguely Buddhist and other traditional SE Asian stuff uses hooked crosses. A lot.

This is why I don't buy the "both Vysotsky and Mackey doubt that the swastika will ever be associated with anything other than Nazis for a long time to come" argument. This is a symbol at least as old as the Neolithic. There are billions of people who are more likely to associate it with "good luck" or "temple" than with "Nazi" right now. Millions more are aware of the latter association, but simply do not share the Western perception of Nazism, as with the Izzue controversy above.

Frankly, I think this sort of argument has more to do with a mix of wishful thinking and cultural myopia than it does with reality. Nazi chic is pretty much inevitable over time, just as with Soviet chic... and both will eventually be forgotten as the decades and centuries pass, even as the manji still marks the temple on the map.
posted by vorfeed at 2:23 PM on June 24, 2011


AzraelBrown: "In college I picked up a copy of Hansi: The Girl who Loved the Swastika, based on the utter absurdity of the cover and the title. Then I read it, and the actual content was probably more disturbing than the swastikas on the front."

Hansi! Is that the one where she meets Bubblegum Joe and has to run into the Black Forest? Oh my old xian comic collection. I bet I still have it with the rest of my comics somewhere. Oh, and was there a thing where she writes under the stamp and then slants her writing of the "to" address to indicate LOOK THAT WAY ---> (towards the stamp)...

About as believable as "The Cross and the Switchblade!"
posted by symbioid at 5:53 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Are they also collecting Soviet material? In other words, are they really a World War II collector? If all they collect is Nazi stuff, then I think it’s perverse.”

Collecting both neutralizes the Nazi stuff? Why not collecting both increases the perversity?

Just a thought.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:32 PM on June 24, 2011


Justinian,
I'd suggest late stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, but that depends on your musical and aesthetic tastes.
posted by AJaffe at 7:37 PM on June 24, 2011


Does anyone know people who collect Nazi memorabilia who aren't creepy weirdos? Because the only people I've ever met who collected WWII German uniforms and Fallschirmjaegar knives and such have been creepy weirdos.

Absolutely. I know serious lifelong collectors who have Nazi memorabilia collections (though I don't know anyone who only collects Nazi memorabilia). While I don't believe they have anything as grand as uniforms, they have Nazi items, including those beswastika'd. And they're not creepy weirdos, neo-Nazis, or followers/advocates of Nazism. They're merely history buffs, archivists and preservationists, and people who understand and appreciate things (good OR bad) relics of historical importance.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:12 PM on June 24, 2011


When Der Fuehrer says, "Symbols we embrace"
We HEIL! HEIL! Right in Der Fuhrer's face!
When Der Fuehrer says, "We dress to not disgrace"
We HEIL! HEIL! Right in Der Fuehrer's face!
posted by bwg at 5:17 AM on June 25, 2011


Does anyone know people who collect Nazi memorabilia who aren't creepy weirdos? Because the only people I've ever met who collected WWII German uniforms and Fallschirmjaegar knives and such have been creepy weirdos.

I think you are, by definition, a creepy weirdo if you collect Nazi memorabilia personally (not for an institution or an art project or something like that).

I certainly have had the urge to own a coal skuttle helmet or a Luger. Objects that invoke so much emotion and have so much symbolism are incredibly appealing to me. It's the same reason I have an urge to drive a Trabant, hook my skype up to a an Ericofon, and wear a Caulfield hat.

I don't do those latter things (with the exception of the hat) because they are expensive and impractical. But in the case of the Nazi stuff, and possibly the Trabant, they would identify me as someone who is insensitive to societal ideas of what is and isn't OK to display on my mantle when the in-laws come over. I'd like to be the kind of guy that doesn't care, and decorates his dining room with Kalishnikov parts and vintage Playboy centerfolds, but I'm simply not. If I were, I think I would be completely fair to label me a creep weirdo.
posted by LiteOpera at 3:37 AM on June 26, 2011


bwg, you have to provide the right link
posted by IndigoJones at 5:21 PM on June 26, 2011


See also
posted by IndigoJones at 5:22 PM on June 26, 2011


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