Is This Even Legal??? (Warning, May Be Upsetting to Some)

Updated on October 03, 2011
S.L. asks from Pleasanton, CA
41 answers

Well I know I value your advice, ladies, when I turn to you BEFORE calling my mom! Any input is appreciated.

Last night my husband and I were having dinner at our favorite pizza place in San Francisco. We have been going there since it opened and it's a great place. My husband comes out of the bathroom and says, "You won't believe it. There's a picture of a swastika in there." WTH??? There are two bathrooms in this place and we have only ever visited the other one...so after a minute I get up to take a look.

Sure enough, in the other bathroom there is a large, vintage type photo of a woman adjusting her boot and looking down at the floor where there is a swastika inlaid in the tile. It is very clearly the focal point of this photo.

I don't even know where to begin with this. First of all, my husband's grandfather was in the camps before escaping (we are Catholic but he was a member of the Belgian army). Second, I have many Jewish friends and I can't believe in this day and age people would still display this symbol.

Is it even legal? Am I overreacting? I literally feel sick to my stomach and so does my husband. Nothing ever fazes him and it was the first thing he brought up this morning...

BTW I was so shocked I didn't take a picture of it with my phone because if I did I would post it on Yelp...

ADDED: for those who have been asking, yes it is definitely a European photo, and it is the Nazi insignia. Thanks so much for your input so far...

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So What Happened?

Hi everyone,

Thanks for your responses. I did email the owner but have not received a response. He is a very busy guy and traveling a lot, so I am going to assume he's busy and email his general manager next. She knows me from seeing me in there and I'm sure I will at least get an answer from her.

I think at this point it's better if I do not name the restaurant, because I really don't know if they've been given an opportunity to correct this until I at least get a response. I have decided though not to eat there because I just don't feel the same about it anymore. It makes me sad because 1. my family is from the same part of Italy as this guy is and 2. getting Italian food like that here in California is a huge deal, but what can you do???

Lastly, on the issue of free speech (and I don't want to start a major fight here), I have been struggling to determine where free speech ends and the abuse/marginalization of others begins. This is a subject that has always interested me. Although the use of the symbol "predates" the Nazis, and it was "a symbol of peace," and etc. etc., we all know what it means to us NOW and what it represented during the Holocaust. Also, there are many many other Prohibition-era photos which may be selected for a restaurant bathroom, none of which feature a swastika.

When I was in my teens I saw a public broadcasting documentary called "Shoah." It was about Holocaust survivors and they were filmed describing their experiences in the camps. We are (mostly) all mothers on this site and I can tell you the atrocities that were suffered by those poor children have definitely made me re-examine my notion of what free speech is all about. I don't think a person of Jewish descent should ever have to see this image displayed, anywhere.

I do appreciate the diversity of opinions on this site and thank you all for helping me come to terms with this one. You are a great group of women, and I feel lucky to have found this site. And thanks Amy, for finding the photo, because my husband and I looked and looked and still couldn't...

Featured Answers

T.N.

answers from Albany on

"Art" comes in many colors. It is rarely careful to not upset any given group of people.

So, yeah, it wouldn't phase me.

If there were a swastika on the MENU, well, that'd be a different thing!

:)

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S.S.

answers from Cincinnati on

The swatiska is actually a greek good luck symbol. Hitler saw it on a building and decided to make it his. sad. and yes it is legal. Its freedom of speech. but you also have the freedom not to eat there anymore

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B.F.

answers from San Francisco on

It's legal, even if unsavory.

Even if it was a piece from before Hitler, with a different intended meaning, it doesn't change how MOST folks interpret the symbol. I think you've been a customer long enough to ask about it and describe how it made you feel. It's just being honest. And, not to compare swasticas to pizza, but you would probably say something if the pizza began to suddenly dissapoint you. And if no improvements were made, you would probably stop patronizing the business.

On the bright side, the owner might have an interesting story behind it. Maybe even a story of good, not bad. Maybe that's why he's got it up there, hoping people will ask.

Let us know!

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L.L.

answers from Rochester on

Of course it's legal. You can display anything you want. We live in America. Is it tasteless? Tactless? Perhaps...I'd have to see it. The swastika is not just a symbol of the Nazi regime...but that's what we associate it with mostly. The owners of the pizza place might be white supremacists, skinheads, etc...

That's about the same as asking if people can hang the rebel flag. Yes, they can.

I certainly don't approve, but you know what? If you take that away, then you'd also have to take away my right to put a cross in front of my house at Christmas, and I don't want that.

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R.J.

answers from Seattle on

It's definitely legal... but I REALLY wonder at the meaning (allegience w/ the nazi party/neonazi party, propoganda -either side-, pinup, victory, photojournalism, staged art? ) . And the placement (only deserving to be hung in the sh!#house?). That picture wasn't hung randomly. There is SOME kind of meaning to it.

Rather ironically, the people I know with the most nazi stuff in their homes and businesses used to be those who had fought in Europe & Africa, or who had been war correspondents. Now, it tends to be their adult kids who have been handed down wartime souvenirs that are also mementos of their parents.

My HOPE is that when you ask about it, you are surprised as to the meaning (My father looted that when his unit took the Eagles nest, or my grandfather was a wartime photographer, or It's to remind us what happens when we start blaming a religion... like how many people in the US feel about muslims, many people in germany felt about jews), and not that you're at Skinhead Pizza.

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D.B.

answers from Charlotte on

.

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C.O.

answers from Washington DC on

It is legal...you still have the right to freedom of speech...

It IS tacky and totally unacceptable (in my opinion).
No, you are NOT over reacting...while it may "just be a picture" it conjures much hate and bad memories...

My FIL is a Dachau survivor. I think he would come out of the bathroom shell-shocked if he saw anything like that - when you see them up close and personal when it was active...

I would ask the restaurant owner the reason behind the picture...is it HIS view? If it is - I would definitely stop patronizing the place...

GOOD LUCK!!!

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S.L.

answers from San Diego on

This is soo sad...Hitler really changed this symbol...for years this was a symbol of peace and good will - believe it or not!!! And in the 1930's Hitler forever changed the stigma with this symbol....

Yes, it is legal.

I would ask the restaurant owner what the meaning or purpose of the picture is...I would take a serious look around the restaurant - do they employee only white people?

I would LIKE to think this was a symbol pre-1930...however you won't know until you ask...

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A.D.

answers from Norfolk on

It is completely legal, just like it's legal to have a cross or an american flag in public spaces. There are several different meaning for the swaztica symbol--not just supporting Nazism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

maybe just ask the owner/manager what they intended the picture to represent. In putting up such a controversial piece of art work, they know people will ask questions and are probably welcoming the conversation from customers

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A.S.

answers from Philadelphia on

IF my google skills have not failed me... this is a 1920's era prohibition picture taken in the good ol' USA , the woman is hiding her flask... The signifcance of the swastika in this photo is apparently not know... (there was apparenty a brand of whiskey in early 1900's called swastika though..)
now ... given it took a few minutes of googling to figure this all out... not sure if it is smart of hang in public place..

here is the pic I found
http://www.imageenvision.com/historic/7423-stock-image-of...

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J.W.

answers from St. Louis on

It could be just art to the owner. Nothing more.

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E.G.

answers from Atlanta on

Wow, it is STUNNING how many permissive people there are on this board today....

I frankly would want to hurl if I saw that in a bathroom at any restaurant. There is only one way I view that symbol - regardless of whatever religion I am.

While, yes, putting that POS on a wall is a form of "freedom of speech", unless it was the owner of the restaurant who put it there, whoever else decided to paste that in the john did so without prior consent of the owner. I think it is perfectly fine for you to request it to be painted over.

Just my humble opinion.....

E.

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R.K.

answers from Appleton on

The next time you go to that Pizza place look around. Are there any minatory employees? Are minatory customers treated differently than white customers? If so then you may have a clue about the owners true beliefs. While it is an unfortunate part of freedom of speech Neo-Naizs, skinheads, and the KKK have as much right to spew their hatred as we have to spread love and acceptance of everyone.
I know for myself I would not be able to frequent a restuarant or any other business that displayed any racist symbol. Though with neo Nazis or any other of their type I would not speak up. Once they perceive you as an enemy you could also become a target of their hatred. Simply find another restaurant to go to.

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A.L.

answers from Austin on

There are two designs for the swastika.

If the arms are bent counter-clockwise, this is the mystical old-world symbol

If the arms are clockwise, this is the Nazi swastika.

Which was it?

Edit:
Is there a piano in the background? Is it this picture? http://www.shorpy.com/node/5438
It was taken, I believe, in 1922. And at the time, anyway, the swastika was just a detail in a picture of a flapper - the scandal in this picture isn't meant to be the swastika (wasn't at the time, anyway), it was meant to be the liquor bottle she is pulling out of her boot. Still a scandalous photo, though for different reasons now.

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S.B.

answers from Redding on

Wow.
It's not illegal for the owners to display that picture.
Not having seen it, I can't comment on it's meaning or depiction.
Why they would have it there is anyone's guess.

If they are indeed Anti-Semitic, I personally would not spend my money in that establishment.
I have the right not to patronize them.

When my daughter was in high school, someone painted swastikas on the walls and drew them on certain lockers, including hers. She was mortified.
The school swiftly had the images painted over and removed. I don't know if they found out who was responsible. The thing is that I talked to my daughter about other people's ignorance, immaturity. It was probably just some kids who thought swastikas were cool for some reason. We are in a very rural area and unfortunately, some of the kids have had no exposure to any type of real culture. It's the same thing as people displaying Confederate Flags when they've never even stepped foot out of this county, let alone California. They identify with rebels. Woo hoo for them.
Whatever.

Like I said, it's hard to discern the meaning of the photo.
Or why it's displayed.
You won't know until you ask that question of the people who display it.

You have the right not to go back if you are offended.

Just my opinion.

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C.W.

answers from Washington DC on

of course it is legal. NOt sure about the taste level, but it is legal.
Ask them about it. You might find it has a different menaing to them.
If it is indeed what you suspect, vote with your dollars. That is quite powerful.

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C.F.

answers from Portland on

Ok, I showed my husband this picture and read your description to him.

My husband is Jewish.
His grandfathers family died in Concentration camps.

Our advice is to call the Anti-Defamation League, or contact them through this link.
http://support.adl.org/site/PageServer?pagename=contact_us

That picture is antisemitism and has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

We would have contacted the news probably and gotten a picture of it out there and made the restaurant explain themselves.

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J.R.

answers from Miami on

Hi S.,
I admire your wisdom. I would also be confused and sad at seeing such a picture. I am sad at hearing your story.

i agree with the advice posted, I would ask the owner and figure out what his intentions are in posting. I think even by gaging his reaction -- body language, tone and all -- you will receive the answer, even if his words say something else.
Keep us posted.
J.

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D.F.

answers from St. Louis on

It's legal, and immoral. However when ever Idiots put pics like this up in public it reminds us of the horrible crimes against humanity, keeps us talking and never forgetting. Maybe this is why the owner has them up. Ask them. If it's because they are Nazis's themselfs GOODBYE, however if it is to remind us to never forget. Well then thats a good thing, you don't know how many young people think it dosn't pertain to them or it NEVER really happend. ( My G-Grandfather was a reporter during WW11 he took actual footage, it was something most humans can't even imagine). I hope and pray this is his intention to remind and never forget and never let this happen again.

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T.F.

answers from San Francisco on

It is legal, Freedom of Speech. Now I'm curious as to where it is, since I also live in the bay area. One can only hope whoever put it up did so because they are either completely clueless as to the affect or don't want people to forget. Either way they have to know it offends people so seems odd they have it up as well as rude.

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M.E.

answers from San Francisco on

Kudos to Amy S for finding the picture. Now we know it was a design in the tile that predates Nazi Germany's use of the symbol.

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J.C.

answers from San Francisco on

I don't care if it's art. The owner should know better and should be ashamed of himself/herself. I'm sorry, but it's completely offensive.

added: Whether it's actually a swastika or something that looks like one, the owners are just asking for trouble. Still not respectful, in my opinion.

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T.C.

answers from Dallas on

I'm sure it's legal, but WOW!! I would call and complain or write a letter or something. Was it to promote the swastika or was it more a matter of history that they posted it? if it was to make it seem "cool" - I would take my business elsewhere and let them know why!

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3.B.

answers from Cleveland on

I'm blown away. Not about legality, just human respect. Disguisting

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I.X.

answers from Los Angeles on

the photo is dated 1922
Here is a quote from about.com

"Even in the early twentieth century, the swastika was still a symbol with positive connotations. For instance, the swastika was a common decoration that often adorned cigarette cases, postcards, coins, and buildings. During World War I, the swastika could even be found on the shoulder patches of the American 45th Division and on the Finnish air force until after World War II."

I disagree that the swastika is the focal point of the photo, rather an unfortunate addition to the photo. Clearly the photo is about bootlegging and prohibition.

You would be kind to point out the owner that he is offending you. They probably overlooked it since it is clearly not the point of the photo, though an unmistakable aspect of it.

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J.S.

answers from Hartford on

Is this the one with the woman in the pose of adjusting her boot with her foot up on a chair as she stands next to a piano? Because if that's the one, the swastika isn't the point of the photo... it's a patterned tiled floor and if dated in 1922 would mean that it didn't have the same symbolic meaning to the Germans or anyone else yet. It was simply a pattern in tile.

I personally think that this particular photo is harmless because of the surrounding history. A symbol on its own is not offensive. There needs to be more to the story, so to speak, and more relevant information in the picture to make it relateable to the Nazis. As it is, it's not a Nazi photo glorifying Nazis. It's a photo that happens to have a tile pattern that utilized the swastika shape and was put into place long before the Nazi's co-opted it and then made it perverse.

And still, even today, while for many people the Nazi symbolism is predominant, it still carries the meanings that it held worldwide prior to that. The Nazis don't own the swastika. That gives them far too much power.

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A.G.

answers from Houston on

wow!...well first of all make sure its not the Hindu sign for auspiciousness that is being portrayed. Nazis really gave that sign a bad name............then report them to the news if it isn't. Its probably some sort of nazi rhetoric. It might be their right but 99% of the population will be offended enough to not give them their business. Its our right as consumers to know what our money supports.

Id rather eat pizza out of the trash than from monsters.

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C.C.

answers from San Francisco on

Assuming it's the same one Amy posted a link to, I think the focus is clearly the woman who is hiding a flask in her boot - American, pre-war, prohibition era photo - the focus is not the swastika. I actually have a tablecloth that my great-grandmother made during the depression that is tatted lace, and it has this same symbol on there - and she was not in any way a supporter of Hitler or the Nazi movement (the tablecloth survived because she grew up in the depression - waste-not, want-not and all that). Evidently during that time, in popular American culture, this symbol did NOT carry the same connotations that it does now. It was just another design.

That being said, now the symbol DOES carry those connotations, so this photo is probably not the best choice for a public place. I would wait for the owner and/or manager to respond and see what their take is on it. I do think you've probably overreacted to this, but if I were the owner I would choose another photo after this had been pointed out.

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N.S.

answers from Chicago on

I would definitely ask the owner...maybe the woman is his grandmother or great-grandmother. After looking at the picture, it was not what I expected based on the description you gave. Did I see the swastica? Sure I did, but I wouldn't have called it the focal point. It was part of the pattern in the tile. I can certainly understand how someone could be upset by it, though. I would not assume that he meant it to be upsetting or distasteful or that he is a member of an extremist group. There may be some other history, and since the picture is not anti-semetic, in and of itself, I think a conversation is warranted before completely boycotting the restaurant.

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L.R.

answers from Washington DC on

First, be certain of what it really was. If it was turned a certain way it's not a Nazi swastika. I've seen floor tiles and other decorative elements that included the shape but turned another way. I'm not dismissing your distress, just noting that this shape has been used for centuries -- see Grandma T's posting for more on that. She's right -- this appears in religious art for some cultures. Have your husband find out the difference then check again and photograph it.

If it's truly the swastika shape and still distresses you, tell the owner, but I'd hold off on the anger. Those big "vintage photos" like you describe often are bought from some restaurant design company that provides junk for restaurants to stick on their walls -- think about all the mess you see crammed all over the walls and shelves of some chain restaurants. It's often purchased all at once and installed when the restaurant is opened. If that's the case here, I doubt the owners have given it one second's thought since some contractor stuck it on the bathroom wall. Don't assume the restaurant owner is sending some message with this photo. If you're sure of the image, then point it out to the owner and note that it could be extremely offensive to patrons, and I bet the owner will take it down. In other words, assume the best of the owner unless you have any evidence he or she is really a Nazi-lover.

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B.R.

answers from Sacramento on

After reading your post and the other answers here is what I think about this. First of all, under the first amendment, I'm sure it is legal for them to put it in there. Second, the arguments about the swastika having other meanings than what Hitler gave it seem quite legitimate. However, I do think that if I were in your shoes I would approach the manager of the place, explain the way this has affected you ... along with the arguments in favor of his leaving the picture in there ... and simply appeal to him that it might be a better business decision, in light of the misconceptions that picture might have for his customers, to take it down from that public place. He could always display it in his own home if he likes it and wants to keep the picture.

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R.S.

answers from San Antonio on

I would have brought it to the managements attention and told them that I would no longer be visiting their establishment, and would be telling others of their insensitivity to the atrocities committed under that symbol.

I would have to wonder if it had been hung in ignorance...because unfortunately there are people who have no sense or knowledge of history. They have no idea that certain symbols have been tainted to such an extreme that they should never be used again.

I am now very curious as to what their explanation would be...

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A.M.

answers from San Francisco on

Call the restaurant manager/owner. I'm all about free speech but that is disgusting. They wouldn't put KKK pictures up, so why put this? If the manager refuses to do anything make it clear you will no longer be a customer. What's the place called so I make sure I never go.

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K..

answers from Phoenix on

How disappointing. I doubt anything can be done. I'm surprised that such a progressive city would contain such a close minded establishment, honestly. Money talks, so stop bringing yours there, and do as many reviews as you can.

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T.H.

answers from San Francisco on

You may contact the Anti - Defamation League in San Francisco and see if they are interested : ###-###-####. You might also complain to the management and see their reaction.

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T.Y.

answers from Sacramento on

The quickest thing to do is immediately get the owners/managers of the pizza place to step up and find out which employee was the last one to clean.
Really the only other thing you can do is not go there any more and realize that there is still a lot of hurtful people in the US.

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M.B.

answers from Washington DC on

Is it, or is it not the photo people are referring to (and sending links to) in your post?

IF it is, I don't find it offensive at all.

With things like that, I take it as historical, plain and simple. I also would tolerate more direct and graphic photos as well. THAT one is just plain not offensive at all in my book... then there's the whole thing about FREEDOM we have in our country...

HONESTLY, I'm an artist and look at the art of photography in the picture, and I like it. Additionally, The symbol you refer to does not stand out at all. It's a good photo in my eyes.

BTW, the symbol is not the focal point and has NOTHING to do with Hitler given the time the photo was taken. How about the symbolism of the fact the symbol is on the floor... it isn't some nut-job wearing it as a symbol of pride during WWII. TOLERANCE and RESPECT is possible...

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M.M.

answers from Washington DC on

It is legal here. I wuld ask the restaurant about it. Let them know you find it offensive.
And it is illegal in Germany for anyone to display it. My exch student was visibly shaken after having seen the Sound of Music, done by the other high school in town.

It is really innappropriate.

A.M.

answers from Kansas City on

Sadly, yes it is legal. The few things you can really do about this is let the owners know you are offended, and (if it were me) that I would not be returning and everyone I know will know about the picture.

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G.B.

answers from Oklahoma City on

I had a friend in college, he was German and the house his parents bought had a Swastika on the front. They debated about what to do. They are German and the Swastika is kind of like our flag to us, Hitler destroyed what it meant before he was around. It was a long debate but they decided to remove it so that people who suffered at Hitlers hands and the people who had strong opinions about the symbol would not be offended.

I think if the family is German they might feel like it is the symbol of German pride and that it is not what Hitler turned it in to. I think calling the restaurant and asking the owner or manager the meaning of this would be totally within your rights as a customer. And boycotting this restaurant is always an option too.

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J.C.

answers from Anchorage on

I would consider it a matter of freedom of speech, it is a privately owned business and they can do as they please, no one is forcing you to eat there, so find a place with better decor.

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