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You Can Now Buy Rainbow Swastika T-Shirts, But Please — Don’t

Swastika T-Shirts

A T-shirt company has released pro-LGBT swastika designs, much to the alarm of Jewish groups.

When KA Design's promotional video for its rainbow printed swastika T-shirts popped on my newsfeed, I didn't see the full spectrum of light. I saw red. A biting, scathing red that felt like chewing on glass or broken bones. It didn't feel like crimson anger. It felt like fear.

The Facebook campaign for the various "pride swastika" T-shirt designs touts expressions like "the swastika is coming back" and "love with the swastika" and, perhaps the most patronizing, "questioning boundaries."

Well, KA Design, if you're questioning, here's your answer:


The company, which is owned by TeeSpring, describes the campaign as an effort to reclaim the symbol to represent LGBT people. Despite references to the swastikas origins in Asia, the designs depict them turned by 45 degrees, in line with its Nazi, not Hindu origins. One of TeeSprings representatives told Pink News, "We really like the symbol in its shape and aesthetics, and we would love to share the beauty of this symbol detached from the hatred associated with it."

This statement, which reduces the hate symbol into an elegant design, speaks to how little this company understands what the Nazi symbol means. As a queer Jewish woman whose father was born in a displaced person camp in Germany after my grandparents barely survived the horrors of Auschwitz, when I see a swastika, I see one thing: a threat. A threat to my existence, my safety, the very idea that I am a human being. I see the moments my childhood self smiled at her reflection, proud of her blond hair and blue eyes because that meant that maybe, just maybe, the next time they came for us, they would be my ticket to escape. I see that whisper of survival fade the first time I visited Birkenau, walking through the room of hair shaved off its prisoners, with strands every bit as golden as mine.

This is not the first time I've been faced with people trying to "reclaim the swastika." It will probably not be the last. Yes, the symbol has deep spiritual origins of peace in Eastern cultures. But the vendor trying to sell swastika tees on campus while I was in college wasn't Hindu. He was a Los Angeles guy trying to make a buck off being "edgy." Selling Nazi-inspired merchandise is a Western pastime that comes often from hyper-liberal groups committed to ending cultural appropriation -- sometimes at any cost. For some reason, the people trying to reclaim the hate symbol rarely come from the cultures it originated from. But it can be argued that even people from those cultures don't have that right. Yes, it may have been your symbol, but when you're not the group who was murdered under the design, what gives you the ability to cleanse it of its violence? It's akin to sucking the venom out of an unbitten man's wound.

The concept that KA Design's t-shirts could ever come from progressive, compassionate place, even if the swastika is nestled in the O in the rainbow word "LOVE" comes from a deep misconception -- that Nazism is truly dead, or the symbol is out of use. Nazis and their Jew-hating sympathizers are alive and well, even on the campaign's Facebook page.

This year, attacks on Jewish people raged both within and outside the LGBT community; we saw the destruction of 100 Jewish headstones in St. Louis, the display of anti-Semitic imagery on Donald Trump's twitter, and the exile of Jewish women followed by the use of white supremacist slurs by Chicago Dyke March. With a rise of neo-Nazism in the Western world, and vicious uses of the swastika as threats to Jewish students, families, and communities, wearing a colorful recreation of Nazi regalia means one thing -- you are ignoring the fact that anti-Semitism is alive today, or simply don't care.

Ignorance or at least a lack of acknowledgment is at the heart of campaigns like these. Yes, LGBT people, particularly gay men, were tortured and slaughtered under Hitler's regime. There have been meaningful efforts to take back the Nazis' stain on our community, particularly reclaiming the pink triangle symbol used to mark gay prisoners in concentration camps.

Atrocities against gay people were committed under swastika flags. But we were not its primary victims.

When KA Design only reclaims the Holocaust symbol for the queer community without mentioning the millions of Jews raped, cut open without anesthesia, and gassed to death, it ignores generations of wounds, something that many of us in the LGBT community will never know. Erasing Jews from the Holocaust narrative is anti-Semitic itself.

Although the violence LGBT people experienced during World War II is raw and real, many Jewish people literally have the genocide in their bloodlines. As much as we can attempt to understand the atrocities -- if one even can -- being someone who might have been persecuted by Nazis doesn't entitle you to reclaim their regalia. For many, the Jewish experience includes a terrifying intimacy with the Holocaust. It includes holding your grandparents when they wake up to night terrors, haunted by the memories of marching shoeless in the snow, the sky clouded with ash. It includes not knowing how to mourn your aunts and uncles who have been reduced to dust. It includes living in a world where two-thirds of the global population has never heard of the Holocaust or denies it even happened.

Amid the backlash, TeeSpring has now released shirts with swastikas crossed out. Still, for many of the people see the symbol as a threat, it's not a reassuring or warm thing to see any embodiment of a swastika while walking down the street.

If you wear a swastika on a T-shirt, you're not announcing your solidarity with the East. You're not fighting cultural appropriation or bringing back "Zen" and "love." You're letting the world know you have no concept of what it, the Holocaust, or modern anti-Semitism means. A threat is a threat, no matter how cute it looks.

ARIEL SOBEL is an award-winning slam poet, screenwriter, and recent graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. Born with her heart bleeding down her sleeve, Ariel makes the personal professional, especially in her TED Talk, "Losing My Artistic License." See more on

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