Credit: Rick Meyerowitz

Talk about Jewish guilt. Steven Heller, former art director for the New York Times for more than 33 years, is obsessed with swastikas. The irony is not lost on him. His grandmother’s family perished in Auschwitz.

As a child of the 1960s, “I developed a healthy hatred for Nazis,” he wrote recently on Salon.com. “Yet I continued to be engrossed (perhaps even awestruck) by their regalia, especially the swastika.”

His fascination with the swastika as design is so strong, he researched it endlessly in an attempt to work through this personal paradox.

“As a designer I have long been fascinated by the unmitigated power of the swastika. Yet as a Jew I am embarrassed by my fascination. This paradox is one reason why I wrote the book “The Swastika: A Symbol Beyond Redemption?” Though working on it did not resolve my conflict. Indeed I have become even more obsessed with the symbol — more drawn to yet repulsed by it.”

Yes it was co-opted by the Nazis and turned into a symbol of hatred when its origins are more benign and spiritual.

As one commenter wrote, “It is ironic that how a symbol has come to represent evil yet the word itself means the opposite: su + asti + a means good + being +(intensifier) in Sanskrit.” [ed. note: this comment is from the same article but posted on his Daily Heller blog on Imprint.]

For me, personally, it will always be a “portal of evil,” as Heller so perfectly describes. But I can’t begrudge him his guilty obsession. We all have our own white whales to chase.

Advertisements