CALIFORNIA: Display of swastika in Downtown Santa Cruz outrages

(Mercury News) SANTA CRUZ — Phil Borsuk was "mortified" to look up from Pacific Avenue over Thanksgiving weekend and see two German Nazi flags hanging in a window of The Residences at the St. George.

The 80-year-old man, here from Los Angeles to visit his daughter, lost most of his extended family to the Holocaust in World War II. Saturday he pointed out the swastikas to many who walked by, he said, and what started out as quick errands trip ended up with an emotional complaint to a nearby police officer.

"To see this in our country, it was unfathomable. I could not believe my eyes. It just bothered me so much," said Borsuk, a former Army soldier stationed in Germany during the Korean War. Monday he choked up recalling the weekend's experience.

"My wife's family was all killed, most of mine were killed and to walk by and see that, to see that Nazi flag, caught me in the middle of a Costco run. It was a hell of a run," Borsuk said.

The flags have outraged both the Jewish community and passersby on Pacific Avenue. Seven million Jews were killed by Nazis during the Holocaust of World War II, from 1939 to 1945.

But the resident's landlord and the Police Department said that because the flags are inside the man's apartment, they are protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.

"You can't regulate what's on the inside of somebody else's house," said police spokesman Zach Friend. "It's a freedom of speech issue, although clearly not a well-informed opinion."

The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also defended the man's decision to hang the flag, calling it a constitutional, First Amendment right.

"We understand how people who are victims of the Holocaust and those close to them take understandably great offense at seeing the Nazi flag in the United States," Zimmerman said.

"Combat this kind of speech with speech, and explain to the public why Nazism is wrong and why constitutional rights should prevail," Zimmerman said.

The man rotates the swastika flags with other, less controversial banners, and Friend said police started receiving complaints of Nazi flags about a month ago. Over the weekend the resident hung America's Old Glory and Britain's Union Jack under two Nazi flags. Monday, he hung a modern German government flag between the two flags of the Third Reich.

The man who lives in the apartment has not been identified and did not answer the door for a reporter and photographer on Monday afternoon. St. George manager Patrick Cooper said he could not release the man's name out of privacy concerns. Friend said police have had no criminal complaints about that specific unit.

On Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz resident Anna Barringer, 31, had just finished bragging about Santa Cruz to her companion, Nathan Cramer, 36, of San Jose, when they saw the Nazi flags.

"I am absolutely shocked. It's offensive," Barringer said.

"Is that legal in America? It's not in Germany," said Cramer, who lived in the European country for 3 1/2 years. There, Nazi flags are banned.

Kathy Goldenkranz, immediate past president of Temple Beth El in Aptos, called the display "pretty disturbing." "Who would put that up there, especially in downtown Santa Cruz?" Goldenkranz said. "We have a very large Jewish population here and it's offensive to anybody, frankly."

Maybe not anybody.

Rabbi Yochanan Friedman with Chabbad Temple by the Sea came downtown to see the flags, and said he cared more about Santa Cruz residents' reaction to the Nazi symbols than about the actual swastikas.

"I'm far more concerned that the community respond strongly enough and with outrage than about the flags themselves," he said.

Soon after, a young man on a skateboard rolled up and stopped right behind the orthodox rabbi, who was dressed in traditional hat and clothes and standing under the Nazi flags.

"Are you Amish?" the young man asked.

"No," Friedman replied.

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