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In the Great Gatsby, in Chapter 9 Fitzgerald writes that Nick visited Meyer Wolfsheim and that he was in an office with a door marked "Swastika Holding Company."

The Great Gatsby was written between 1923 and 1925. I looked online and found that when Hitler was put in charge of his party's propaganda machine in 1920 he chose the swastika specifically because he felt that it was Aryan and anti-semitic.

I'm interested to know the following:

1) Was the swastika a symbol that would have been used by a Jewish business owner in 1923 (or the approximate time of the novel)?

2) Would a reader in 1925 have associated this symbol with the National Socialist Party or was the party still relatively unknown such that it's main symbol would not have been known to people until later?

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Where did you get the idea that Hitler "chose the swastika specifically because it was anti-semitic"? As a symbols, swatiska-shaped geometric patterns were very popular designs with long traditions in many cultures. – Semaphore Jan 30 at 10:51
When I visited Tibet a few years ago, they used the swastika in decoration a lot. Also, a few years ago it made the news that a textile corporation bought some models of handbags in India and imported then into Israel -nobody noticed the bags decoration...-. IIRC, they associate the symbol with good luck, and to them it means nothing else. – SJuan76 Jan 30 at 11:23
Maybe you should read the Wikipedia item on the Swastika (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika). It's origins go back to 10,000 BCE & it was once the symbol of the 45th Infantry Division of the US Army as well as the symbol for the Finnish air force from 1918 to 1945. The Finnish air force adopted it before Hitler usurped it for his nefarious purposes – Fred Jan 30 at 11:25
@michael_timofeev it’s rather depressing, shocking and not speaking for their quality that a site calling itself “Holocaust Teacher Resource Center” can’t even get Adolf Hitler’s name right. – M L Jan 31 at 3:50
@ML If you're talking about the spelling "Adolph", it's an entirely acceptable alternate. – chrylis Feb 1 at 8:22
up vote 27 down vote accepted

Hitler did not choose the symbol because it was "anti-Semitic". Nowhere in the web article you cite in the comments does it say any such thing. It says, quote, the swastika "...traditionally had been a sign of good fortune and well being...". What the article says is more or less correct. At the time the swastika was an extremely common decoration and symbol both in India and China. Originally it was probably a symbol for the sun, but by the 20th century that was long forgotten and most Chinese just considered it a "good luck" symbol. In 1920, you could find the symbol on every street in Shanghai.

In the United States, the swastika was perceived as an exotic, ancient symbol and associated with mysticism and kitschy fortune telling. At the time there were many cockeyed theories about "secret, forgotten ancient civilizations". Here is a typical example of a magazine article writing about such theories as though they were fact:

[After the flood] we find a brown-skinned people establishing parallel civilizations in fertile lands close to the shores of the inland sea--the Mediterranean. We find the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Egyptians in the valley of the Nile. And, what is strangest of all, we find traces of the same sort of people and the same sort of culture, distributed in far separated lands--in India, China, Central America, Mexico, and even in England. Distinguishing this culture are certain common characteristics, such as the building of crude stone (megalithic) monuments, the making of mummies, and the use of the symbol known as the "swastika" for good luck.

Popular Science August 1925

So here we see in Popular Science an example of one of these nutty amateur anthropological theories parroted as though it were a well-accepted fact.

In the Great Gatsby, the character Wolfsheim is given the word for his company by the author to evoke a sense of exotic, mystical superstition. For example, Wolfsheim has cuff links made out of human molars, another example of his weird, superstitious nature.

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The article says "...Hitler concluded that the swastika had been eternally anti Semitic." It's not a stretch then to say that he chose it because he felt it was anti Semitic. In any case, good answer. Thank you. – michael_timofeev Jan 30 at 15:59
Care to add the link (page 37 btw): books.google.ca/… – Pieter Geerkens Jan 30 at 20:14
@michael_timofeev I wouldn't give much credence to what Hitler concluded. The swastika is a Sanskrit name, and the symbol was in use in Germany before World War I to support various crackpot racial theories of the German volkish descent from ancient Aryan cultures. – deadrat Jan 31 at 4:16
@michael_timofeev I hope you're not worried that I think your question is without value or out of order. – deadrat Jan 31 at 4:58
@michael_timofeev Perhaps I misunderstood your comment, which seemed to be an unbidden defense of the purpose of your asking the questions. I wanted to assure that you've no need to justify your queries to me. It is of utter indifference to me how you choose to receive that, but it is nevertheless true. – deadrat Jan 31 at 5:25

The swastika was used as a logo for the Danish beer company Carlsberg from 1880 to 1940, so it was not considered political by the large part of the population, at least not until the 1930'ies

Carlsberg symbols swastkia

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Didn't know that one :) – Rohit Jan 31 at 12:42
The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek's premises (a well renown art museum in Copenhagen founded by a son of Carlsberg) also shows the swastika quite prominently. – Ghanima Jan 31 at 22:19
So did the US Army's 45th Infantry Division, and illustrations and covers of many Rudyard Kipling books. The use for marking the location of Buddhist temples on Japanese maps was only discontinued in recent weeks. – Jon Hanna Feb 1 at 14:35

After the Beer Hall Putsch of Nov. 8, 1923, the Nazi Party was banned in Germany (though it continued to operate clandestinely) until being refounded by Hitler in 1925. Thus although the swastika had been adopted as an emblem of the Nazi Party in 1921, during the time at which The Great Gatsby was written there would not have been a strong association with the Nazi Party.

One should note that following the discovery of swastika representations during Heinrich Schliemann's excavation of Troy:

[Schliemann] connected it with similar shapes found on pottery in Germany and speculated that it was a “significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors.”

In the beginning of the twentieth century the swastika was widely used in Europe. It had numerous meanings, the most common being a symbol of good luck and auspiciousness. However, the work of Schliemann soon was taken up by völkisch movements, for whom the swastika was a symbol of “Aryan identity” and German nationalist pride.

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Ok, so at the time, it would have been a good luck symbol just like any other and could have been found on someone's door, regardless of religious background? – michael_timofeev Jan 30 at 11:05
@michael_timofeev: Yes; and might even be chosen as a way of emphasizing pride in one's German heritage. Routine anti-Semitism was still standard across much Western Europe (as well as North America), which most Jews would have merely accepted at that time. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 30 at 11:08

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