Urban Outfitters’ Possibly-Accidental Holocaust Reference

Aside from perhaps American Apparel, there might not be any clothing retailer that people love to hate more than Urban Outfitters.

This time, UO has angered the Jewish community by selling a t-shirt that seems made to resemble the patches that Jews were forced to wear on their clothes during the Holocaust:

Credit: Urban Outfitters

The Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to CEO of Urban Outfitters explaining the uncanny similarity to Holocaust symbolism. Although UO itself hasn’t issued any sort of statement, the company that makes the shirt, Wood Wood, has. They replaced this shirt with a plain yellow one and explained that they had never intended to make a Holocaust reference:

As some of you are aware, several news sites have been writing about our “‘Kellog’ T-shirt, which features an image of a six-pointed star, allegedly similar to the yellow badge Jews were ordered to wear by the German nazis. First of all the graphic is not the Star of David, and I can assure you that this is in no way a reference to judaism, nazism or the holocaust.

While I’m obviously glad that they apologized to anyone who may have been offended and changed the shirt, I’m a bit confused as to how this happened to begin with.

Because here’s the thing–Wood Wood is a Danish company. That’s right, from Denmark. This is the same country that made an extraordinary effort to rescue its Jewish citizens from the Holocaust. Ordinary Danish citizens helped 8,000 Jews escape to Sweden after the Nazis invaded, and over 99% of Danish Jews ended up surviving.

This is particularly poignant if you think about how differently things went in many other European countries. Only 10% of Polish Jews, 12% of German Jews, and 25% of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust.

Anyway, the point of this brief foray in Holocaust history is to show that the people of Denmark were once willing to put their own lives in danger to save their Jewish friends and neighbors. Today, meanwhile, a Danish company is apparently unaware of the symbolism in its design and mocks the Holocaust with a $100 cotton t-shirt.

I do understand that it’s completely possible–perhaps even likely–that this was completely unintentional. After all, not everyone sees a six-pointed star and immediately thinks “Star of David,” not everybody sees a yellow color and a patch on the chest and thinks “Jude.”

And that possibility brings up some difficult questions. How far should people go to avoid accidentally using Holocaust imagery and offending a ton of Jews? Are we being “too sensitive?” (And I should point out that Jews by no means agree on this. Granted, Jews never agree on anything.)

I can’t really answer those questions. However, I will say that based on UO’s history of culturally insensitive merchandise, I’m not necessarily as willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as I might be with another retailer. Come on, “Navajo Hipster Panty”? Who signed off on that?

Furthermore, it should be noted that the decision to take the six-pointed star off of the shirt was made not by UO, but by Wood Wood. UO seems intent not to learn from any of its mistakes and to continue producing merchandise that offends people, waiting until the inevitable uproar begins to remove said merchandise from the shelves. When will this stop? And, incidentally, when will UO also stop stealing indie artists’ designs, promoting anorexia, and denying collective bargaining rights to employees?

As I mentioned, this particular story does have a happy ending. The shirt is now being sold sans Holocaust-style patch, so it’s just a plain yellow shirt. Yours for only $100 at Urban Outfitters.

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A (Very) Belated Reaction to the Helen Thomas Fiasco

Yes, this is extremely belated, but somehow I didn’t get around to writing about it.

Anyway, everybody knows by now what Helen Thomas said, but what very few mainstream media outlets (aside from Jewish blogs and Wikipedia) have mentioned is that the person to whom Thomas made her now-infamous comments was a rabbi wearing a kippah (Jewish skullcap) on his head. In light of this, what Thomas said wasn’t just culturally insensitive, ignorant, and crude–it was an uncalled-for personal insult to a Jewish individual. It would be equivalent to saying that Muslims should “get the hell out of Europe and go home to Iran, Iraq, and everywhere else”–to a woman wearing a hijab. (The notable difference being that Iran and Iraq, while dangerous and unstable, are at least Muslim countries, while Germany and Poland, the two most enthusiastic perpetrators of the Holocaust, certainly aren’t Jewish ones.)

In light of this, I’m frankly shocked that so many people have defended Helen Thomas and bemoaned the fact that she decided (or was asked/forced/persuaded/coerced) to resign. This is especially “feminist” bloggers who seem to feel that people should be able to say anything they want, no matter how reprehensible, without having to face the consequences–as long as they are women. Feministing is guilty of this, though it at least refrains from going a step further like some others have by claiming that Thomas’ remarks were perfectly acceptable and in fact, accurate.

(There is also much to be said regarding the fact that Feministing regularly and enthusiastically denounces intolerant remarks made about women, blacks, Hispanics, the LGBT community, and many others–as it should, of course–while mostly excusing intolerant remarks made about Jews. This, however, is a topic for a future, very scathing post.)

Anyway, the particular circumstances in which Thomas chose to reveal her views on Jews make a terrible comment even worse, and it’s unfortunate that the media has largely ignored those circumstances. Thomas was right to resign. Journalists are free to hold whatever views they choose, no matter how intolerant or controversial, but journalists who crudely espouse those views to the very subjects of their prejudice have no place in the field.