Opinion: Swastikas in Breidenbaugh

Emma Canfora '23 writes about the antisemitic symbols lurking in the design of our academic buildings.

Emma Canfora ’23 writes about antisemitic symbols she sees lurking in certain academic buildings on campus (Photo Maddie Neiman/The Gettysburgian)

By Emma Canfora, Guest Columnist

When I first toured Gettysburg College, I was told about Hillel and the interfaith organizations on campus, all of which interested me. Unfortunately, my guide forgot to mention the swastikas in Breidenbaugh Hall and Plank Gym. If you are confused or surprised, you are not alone. When I was first told about this I figured it was graffiti or scratched in, but no, these symbols of hate are all part of the design. 

Breidenbaugh Hall and Plank Gym were both built in 1927. I have been told that, because this was before the Nazis and the Holocaust, the tiles are not antisemetic. This is inaccurate. The Nazi Party existed and adopted the swastika as its symbol in 1920, the same year Hitler designed his party’s flag. It is almost undoubtedly the case that the architect included the swastikas simply as an homage to the East Asian meaning, but to say that the other meaning of it did not exist yet is false. 

Putting this aside for a moment, let’s pretend that the swastika would not come to be a symbol of the Nazis for another fifteen years. It is now 2019, and today the swastika is a symbol of Nazism. Period. Many might argue that the swastika is a symbol used positively in many religions of Eastern Asia, and while that is true, it does not mean the swastika is not offensive. 

The symbol usually has slight differences when used to represent different things but for the majority of the western world, there is no difference. Some of these use different terminology, but for the sake of simplicity, I will be using the term swastika. Very few people know the difference between the varied yet extremely similar cultural symbols that all resemble swastikas. My high school physics teacher used to say “if it looks like a duck, it sounds like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” While context is important, I would tend to agree with him in this case. 

If the everyday American were to see these symbols, they would associate them with Nazism. If most people think that a swastika is a swastika, it can be reasonably assumed that when a swastika is presented it is meant to be hateful. We see this all the time with antisemetic attacks and vandalism. The perpetrators may have drawn the symbol incorrectly, but that does not mean that it is no longer antisemetic or a crime. Most people I know do not google whether or not something is actually a swastika when they see it. White nationalists and racists the world over use the swastika to promote hatred and incite fear in Jewish communities. We like to pretend that because the Holocaust is over, so is anti-semitism. In reality, anti-semitism is on the rise. Anti-semitic incidents in 2018 rose 99% from 2015. I have experienced more of it since coming to Gettysburg College than ever before. On top of it all, four times a week I go to class only to face a physical reminder of the suffering and slaughter of my ancestors. Gettysburg College does a lot for its students, and yet appears entirely indifferent to this appalling display of hatred. I have a very hard time imagining this happening to Christian students here.

It is hard to fully articulate how this makes me feel. It is more than offensive, and infuriating, it also makes me exhausted. .It is exhausting to have to constantly be asked why I believe what I believe. It is exhausting to have to justify my existence. It is exhausting to have to argue that the swastikas on campus should be removed. It is degrading and disrespectful. If you have to pull up google images to show me the difference in direction or curvature of swastikas in order to justify you argument, then you have already lost. Gettysburg has had the better part of a century to fix this and has not. The college claims not to tolerate hatred or bigotry of any kind, but apparently they are making an exception. Anti-semitism persists, partially due to the inaction of people who do not care about things like this. It may change over time, but, to quote journalist Mark Steyn, “the oldest hatred didn’t get that way without an ability to adapt.”

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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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  1. The Author:
    “Breidenbaugh Hall and Plank Gym were both built in 1927. I have been told that, because this was before the Nazis and the Holocaust, the tiles are not antisemitic. This is inaccurate. The Nazi Party existed and adopted the swastika as its symbol in 1920, the same year Hitler designed his party’s flag. It is almost undoubtedly the case that the architect included the swastikas simply as an homage to the East Asian meaning, but to say that the other meaning of it did not exist yet is false. ”

    The Nazi Party began building a mass movement. From 27,000 members in 1925, the Party grew to 108,000 in 1929. The SA was the paramilitary unit of the Party, a propaganda arm that became known for its strong arm tactics of street brawling and terror. The SS was established as an elite group with special duties within the SA, but it remained inconsequential until Heinrich Himmler became its leader in 1929. By the late twenties, the Nazi Party started other auxiliary groups. The Hitler Youth , the Student League and the Pupils’ League were open to young Germans. The National Socialist Women’s League allowed women to get involved. Different professional groups–teachers, lawyers and doctors–had their own auxiliary units.

    From 1925 to 1927, the Nazi Party failed to make inroads in the cities and in May 1928, it did poorly in the Reichstag elections, winning only 2.6% of the total vote. The Party shifted its strategy to rural and small town areas and fueled antisemitism by calling for expropriation of Jewish agricultural property and by condemning large Jewish department stores. Party propaganda proved effective at winning over university students, veterans’ organizations, and professional groups, although the Party became increasingly identified with young men of the lower middle classes.

    So those in charge @ G’burg College were supposed to be aware of a political movement in Germany that for all practical purposes was a non-entity. When the swastika did NOT have a negative connotation.

    Someone like you has the ability to search for information that is available to you almost immediately. The same wasn’t possible time of the building’s design and construction. You need to learn how to use information found to form an opinion. Hopefully the college staff will help you develop that skill.

    Someone’s reputation was destroyed at Gettysburg College earlier in 2019 by an individual who didn’t know how to use information that was found in an old copy of the Spectrum. The actions by the former college president played to the uninformed individual; the reputation of the college took a hit nationally.

    Rather then delving into the misinterpretation of symbols, work on ridding the campus of racism or improving another actual weakness.

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    • So I don’t know how the comment system on here works and if the commenter who wrote “A learning Expierence” will even be notified by this response, but I feel compelled to respond. I think there are a few glaring issues with your comment that should be addressed that I believe you missed in the authors initial argument.

      You can argue about specifics regarding specifically when the nazi symbol became “hateful” but you can not deny the fact that in the last 80-90 years of Western history, the swastika has become a symbol of hate and the fact that a college in the United States has done nothing to address the fact that swastikas remain at Breidenbaugh is quite unfortunate.

      If you want to say that the author has the power to search up this information that you think makes her wrong, then you surely should have the power to process what it means for people on campus, including Jewish students, to have to walk over swastikas on their way to classes. Your comment seems to imply that you are more interested in the colleges initial intentions, but what about their intentions in the last 90 years? The removing of the swastikas would be a simple and cheap fix for the college, especially considering the amount of money they have, and I can assure you that no one would throw a fit over the removal of the swastikas, except maybe you.

      The fact that you attack the writer as someone who needs to learn how to use information to form an opinion is not only unnecessary, but shows that you feel that, just because you disagree with her opinion, you have the right to be cruel.

      Even if you disagree with her opinion and feel that your facts agree with you, you need to learn to be more civil. Comments like yours are the reason that issues like this become so contentious when they really don’t need to be.

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    • I also discovered said symbols and asked a History Professor about it. The swastika depicted is not a Nazi swastika. Hitler took the swastika depicted on the floor and then inverted it. If you look up a picture of the Nazi swastika and compare it to the one on the floor you will notice the difference. There should be some type of official clarification by the school so that mistakes like this do not occur in the future.

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    • I made the same mistake, it was explained to me by a History professor that they are not Nazi swastikas. The Nazi one is backwards. It is very easy to confuse the two. I believe that we should not remove them. If we do, we are falling as an institution to educate students. There should be a meeting Or a sign that explains the difference and how the original swastika was and is used.

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    • Compare the Nazi swastika to the one on the floor. They are not the same.

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  2. Anti-semitism is intolerable and any incidents of it must be reported and thoroughly investigated. Period.
    Any form of bigotry, racism, and overt hate is intolerable. Period.
    The particular symbol offensive to writer indeed, is not the Nazi swastika. The various forms of the symbol or ornament have been used throughout the world since prehistoric times. To now vilify or otherwise denounce their continuing use, mainly as religious symbols, could be interpreted by millions of adherents to particular faiths and cultural practices as overt hostility. For example, there are 535 million Buddhists globally whose use of swastika symbol(different color and tilt from Hitler’s) whose meanings include opposites of life, harmony, flux, and infinite mercy. For example, Hindus revere swastika as symbol of grounded stability, among other meanings all acceptable in civil society, and it is considered most holy and favored. There are more than one billion Hindus in the world..
    Could the symbols on the campus buildings completed 1927-28 be researched and presented as a learning experience: What do they represent? Were they intended to portray the exact opposite of the assumptions contained in the opinion piece? Does anyone amongst alumni or faculty have any knowledge of this? Regardless of origin or intent, perhaps, plaques could be attached near these symbols explaining their meaning worldwide contrary to the detestable copy and use of them by the most heinous scum ever to lead a country to atrocious violations of humankind.
    Symbols are not an appropriate platform to drag little Gettysburg College toward another counterfeit anti-semite embroilment. What is of greater consequence is the author’s description of current day conditions on the campus: Document specifics to present to the Administration for thorough investigation, separating facts from perceptions.
    GBURG is not to be held accountable for the ills of the world. Hopefully, its students are a microcosm of the world engaging in civil discourse of differences and mutual tolerance of the reality of those differences to continue, with harmony.

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  3. The NAZI version is oriented clockwise where the other is counter clockwise. They do look alike but are definitely not the same nor should they interpreted as such.

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