NORTHWEST, TX (KAMC) — The swastika is one of the strongest symbols of hate of the past century — an image Adolf Hitler and the Nazis made synonymous with death and destruction — so why is it built into homes across Northwest Texas?
The owners of these homes emphasize it’s not what you think. It’s not Nazi — it’s Navajo.
“A 5,000-year-old symbol got misused for 28 years, and it poisoned the well,” American Indian researcher, author and shopkeeper of Bahti Indian Arts said.
One home in Plainview, Texas, features two swastikas, one next to the front door and another on the side of the house.
A home in Memphis, Texas, shocks passersby with a red swastika, boasting from the brick facade.
“Eventually, I’m going to tear this house down, but we’re thinking about just leaving that [symbol] because it attracts a lot of people,” homeowner Jessie Morales said.
Morales and his family own the house, which was built before World War II, and the house next door, where they’ve lived for 25 years. The home is just doors down from notable World War II veteran, Cleatus Lebow, who received a Congressional Gold Medal after surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Morales added the symbol was there when they moved into the neighborhood.
“Everybody thinks it’s a [Nazi] swastika, but [that] swastika has got to be turned a little sideways,” Morales said.
He’s right. The swastika on the Nazi flag is right facing and tilted, while the Native American sign found on these homes is upright and facing to the left or right. But they’re easily confused, and most wouldn’t see the difference.
“One person asked me to take it off,” Morales said.
The swastika is traced back not only to a number of Native American tribes, such as the Navajo and the Hopi, but also to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism in Asia, where it is still used in ceremonies.
For the people of the Texas Panhandle, it also has historical significance, and historians said that in the Southwest, the symbol actually used to mean something good — an ancient emblem of peace that predates Hitler by thousands of years.
Bahti has worked in Southwest American Indian art for decades, and he said that before WW2, the swastika was popular as a symbol of healing and blessing.
“It was a good luck symbol, so you saw it on saddle blankets, you saw it on stationery, you saw it on jewelry … If I were building in tornado country, I would want good luck symbols all over the place,” Bahti joked.
It likely once adorned many homes across the region. Even a map of Hale County from the 1920s shows a location named “Swastika,” which mysteriously disappeared at the beginning of WW2.
“That symbol was hijacked, it was kidnapped, it was misused and abused, it was a victim of an evil mindset,” Bahti said.
One home in Pampa, TX, has dozens of swastikas on the outside and on the inside.
“People drive by, stop in the middle of our road, take pictures like we’re crazy, but I find it to be something peaceful,” homeowner Cindy Velasquez said.
Swastikas cover the chimney, the floor, the windows and even the shower of Velasquez’s home. Every day for years, she says, dozens of passersby have stopped, shocked at the symbols.
“‘Oh you live in the Nazi house, oh you live in the swastika house!’ and I’m like no it’s not. Do research on it, and you’ll realize it’s actually not,” Velasquez said.
The symbol actually caused her son, eighth grader Jeremy Helfer, to get in trouble at school when teachers mistook it for the Nazi swastika.
“I decided to put the symbol that’s in our house on [a class project]. Well, I get sent out the classroom, got in trouble, they called my dad, and I was told never to draw it again,” Jeremy said.
The home in Pampa was built in the early 1930s by W.R. Kaufman, who designed many buildings in the Panhandle and New Mexico — years before the start of World War II.
Bahti added that during the war, some Native Americans who had the symbol on baskets, blankets and art burned them to prove their loyalty to the United States. After that, the symbol all but disappeared from many Native American cultures.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “In the United States, the swastika is overwhelmingly viewed as a hate symbol.”
For some, the swastika, no matter the context, may still conjure painful memories. In Germany, it is illegal to display the symbol.
Still, Velasquez said she plans to keep the Native American symbols in her house that have been there for more than 80 years.
“We have no reason to change the house up … [The symbol] was built into it, it should stay here because it’s the meaning of the house. Someone put their heart and soul and thoughts into this house, and so I feel like it shouldn’t be changed,” Velasquez said.
Bahti agrees with her, saying taking down these sacred symbols would give Hitler power from beyond the grave.
“[The Native American symbols were] put up with the best of intents with a good heart for all positive reasons, and to take it down is to acquiesce to an ugly chapter in history,” Bahti said.