History, Hitler corrupt message of family’s quilt with historic tribal emblem

By Mike Peters
Greeley, Colorado (AP) July 2010

It was buried there, in the bottom of a family trunk, for decades – maybe 80 years, experts are guessing now.

It was a quilt, probably made before 1930, clean and bright and little-used. It was not used, museum people believe, because of the symbol. Once it was considered a staple of quilting, the boxlike cross.

Before it became a symbol of evil.

It’s a swastika, adopted by Adolf Hitler for Nazi Germany, and it will never again be seen as it once was. Before the 1930s – before Hitler – it was an ancient design meaning hope or strength. Never again.

The old quilt was recently found by the family members as they went through their mother’s and grandmother’s possessions. Both are gone now, the grandmother in 1934, the mother in 1989, and they made the quilt together, which is what mothers and daughters did back then.

It was probably made before 1930, according to the family and the Greeley Museums. Hitler adopted the symbol in 1935.

Before those years of Nazi growth, the swastika symbol could be found in many places. An early bank in Greeley advertised in The Tribune in the 1920s, using a swastika symbol in each corner of the ad.

Today, you can find the swastikas on the fourth floor of the Weld County Courthouse in downtown Greeley. The tile floor shows swastikas in the pattern, and on the ceiling, the design is inset into the border trim. The courthouse was built in 1919.

When the family gave the quilt to the Greeley Museums, JoAnna Stull and staff members began researching the swastika. Stull said the symbol had been found in Neolithic rock carvings, 3,000 years old.

“Within Native American cultures,” said Stull, the museum registrar, “the symbol represented fertility and good fortune. Also, early Christians adopted the symbol.”

Stull and the staff found several names for the symbol, including “The Battle Ax of Thor,” “Spider,” “Heart’s Seal,” whirligig and zig-zag.

In studying the quilt, the museum people found the backing was actually made from flour sacks from the Model Flour Mill, which was located in downtown Greeley from 1918 to 1960.

The cotton flour sacks were used for many things back then, when money and cloth were hard to get, and store-bought clothing cost more than many families could afford. They made dresses from the flour sacks, men’s shirts, nightgowns – and they used them for quilt backings. Stull said the family had a farm in the Briggsdale area back then and bought many sacks of flour from the mill.

The trunk where the quilt was found was likely a hope chest for the daughter, who was married in the early 1940s – after Hitler had taken power and taken over the swastika as his own. Stull believes it was probably left in the bottom of the hope chest.

The “hope chest” was adopted for many years for young women of marrying age, who could collect quilts, linens, family treasures and household items that could be used after they were married.

The family members gave the quilt to the museum, Stull said, because they didn’t want it, and they are uncomfortable with having their name released. It’s difficult to be connect to the swastika even today, when the symbol is taking on new associations with neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups.

It was a beautiful quilt when it was made, but it changed from an innocent legacy to something that stood for the enemy in World War II.

Once a symbol of hope, now a symbol of hate.




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