The Dilemma of Displaying Swastika Imagery in My Promotional Materials

The Dilemma of Displaying Swastika Imagery in My Promotional Materials

I use swastikas in my flyers and posters to draw attention to my show and its themes. As a performer, I feel the pressure to do whatever I can to stand out from the crowd and represent my show in one quick glance. The swastika certainly catches people’s attention—and fast. The background of my image is made up of  a pattern of Jewish stars, the ones Nazis forced Jews to wear on their clothing. This symbolizes the other half of my heritage. But I still question my choice in using the swastika, as it is such a highly offensive symbol of the Third Reich and the Holocaust.

As for my promotional photograph, I took over a hundred pictures before settling on one that I felt adequately depicted my horror towards the Nazi flag. (Thanks to Dana Dubinsky, my patient and talented photographer.) Only the one image even came close. And I made the flags myself—deliberately as shoddily as possible  out of felt, glue, and staples purchased at an arts and crafts chain store. I didn’t want to buy anything that would contribute to an industry that fetishizes Nazis.

Taking the promotional photos in my front room—the only spot with adequate light—across the street from the home of my landlord’s orthodox rabbi was another problem…

For the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I’m making buttons (“badges” in the U.K.) to hand out that display the swastika with a “no” symbol over it. To address modern-day racism, I’m also making buttons with the number “88” covered by the international “no” symbol. “88” is a neo-Nazi symbol standing for the eighth letter of the alphabet: “HH” or “Heil Hitler.” Skinheads display them at soccer games. The badge is intended to expose and thus defuse the power of their secret message.


I still struggle with the impact of the swastika on innocent passersby— especially those of Jewish and German descent. And it’s often not possible to leave my flyers at Jewish organizations; the symbol is too triggering an image for their members, especially older ones who saw it in its original horrific context. My own German mother says the sight of it makes her sick. I considered making an alternate version, but decided that would be confusing. If people saw the swastika version elsewhere, they would feel misled.

Ultimately, I justify using the swastika in my promotional materials because it warns viewers that my performance is ironic and edgy and, as they say in theater lingo, it “gets butts in seats.” I tell myself that’s a worthwhile goal because I believe my parents’ story is worth remembering and sharing.

Your thoughts…?

5 responses to “The Dilemma of Displaying Swastika Imagery in My Promotional Materials

  1. Oh Annette, I can totally appreciate what you’re saying. I think it takes so much bravery just to put yourself out there as a performer. Not to mention to tell a personal story. Then add on the fact that it taps into an incredibly sensitive time in history. I think folks should be prepared for the fact that art is intended to be provocative. It’s designed to elicit emotional reactions from every point on the spectrum. There are those who will be so tied to those images, they can’t go there, understandably. And there are those who will be intrigued and want to find out “what exactly is this performer saying”. I’m hoping for the latter. Good Luck! Keep rocking!

  2. I always thought it was a huge risk to use the swastika symbol in your materials for the very reasons you describe above. It will keep many people away- and people who might be receptive to your story. I appreciate the sensitive thought you have given to this. Handling this imagery is like handling plutonium- there could be serious, long-term damage to your health! Your show tells a great story, with nothing to glorify the actions of HH. I hope people can get past the edge and get their butts in the seats!

  3. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

  4. I fully appreciate the emotional struggle attached to your decision, but I think you made the right choice. You are attracting attention to a piece that needs to be seen. I don’t agree with Joan that using the swastika will keep people away. I think it will do exactly what you want it to do – it will make people pause and explore. The only real danger I can see is that you will attract some skin-head who expects to see something pro-Nazi and will be not only sorely disappointed, but inadvertently educated. It’s the Norman Lear/Archie Bunker approach. Your plan for the “badges” is fantastic, too. You clearly have marketing prowess to rival your writing and acting abilities. Knock ’em dead in Edinburgh!

  5. The first thing I thought of when I saw your flyer was The Producers – springtime for hitler and all that. Otherwise – why not, go for it – it IS difficult to stand out in Edinburgh during the Fringe. My 6 year old daughter made me hide it though ‘it’s that bad symbol mamma’.

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