Let’s play a game. Can you find the swastikas in the picture on the right?
Don’t worry if it took a few minutes to find them – they can be hard to spot in the midst of the wrapping paper’s intricate design.
Today Walgreens announced that is removing all rolls of this wrapping paper from its shelves nationwide after a woman from the Northridge community of Los Angeles complained Sunday about the swastikas in the design.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes, I had no idea what to do,” Cheryl Shapiro, the distressed shopper told L.A.’s NBC News affiliate. “I came home and spoke to my rabbi. He couldn’t believe it.”
Shapiro’s experience brings up a larger issue: how close to a swastika should something look to be considered offensive?
The wrapping paper is only the latest in a series of swastika products spotted on the market in recent years. In October, Sears apologized profusely for selling a ring with a swastika on it in its “men’s punk rock style” jewelry collection. In 2013, a clothing line called “Spiritual Punx” began putting colorful swastikas (that look, oddly enough, like donuts) on clothing, stickers, and accessories. In 2007, Zara was caught selling a handbag that featured four green swastikas next to an array of flowers.
The swastika dates back thousands of years, well before Hitler’s rise to power. In fact, before the late 19th century, the symbol was primarily associated with the cultures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, in which it represented good luck or well-being. By the start of the 20th century, the swastika could be seen throughout Europe, not just in Germany. Today it is still seen on temples in places like India and Indonesia.
Of course, in any modern Western context, the swastika is inextricably associated with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. However, is the geometry of the Walgreens wrapping paper in the same category as the Sears “punk rock” ring? After all, the hooked cross, while iconic, is a simple enough design to accidentally replicate if one is drawing enough lines and right angles.
We can only assume that, after this mishap, Walgreen’s will be extra careful in scrutinizing its products to assure they do not offend. Which is certainly more than we can say for this Brazilian homeowner whose outdoor swimming pool features a large — and unmistakably intentional — swastika.