Wilson: Demolition for Locke St. condo unearths symbol Hitler stole
On this day in 1933, Nazi Germany formed an official secret police force: the Gestapo.
The stage was set for Adolf Hitler to wage war and to murder six million Jews.
There was another casualty, a small one, a symbol that had meant peace and good luck for several thousand years. Hitler stole it and made it evil. That would be the swastika.
And this spring, on a pleasant street in Hamilton, that symbol suddenly surfaced. It was a shock to people walking past. That form — an equilateral cross with legs bent at 90 degrees — has not lost its venom.
Skinheads and white supremacists use it today, but we don't have many of them around here. Hamilton is pretty much a swastika-free zone.
Eli Hassid is glad of that. He is 64, and his links to Jerusalem go back five generations. That was his home.
Each year there, so that the young understand, there is a Holocaust Remembrance Day. (It's on May 5 this year.) The children learned everything, even that babies were thrown against walls.
"They taught us at school that we forgive but we don't forget," Hassid says. "And we say, 'Never again.'"
Hassid still has a fine place in the heart of Jerusalem, to which he returns twice a year. But 16 years ago he decided to make Canada his home. It was just time for a change.
He spent the first two years in Quebec. Hassid loves ballroom dancing, and he often did that in Montreal.
But sometimes there would be a problem with a new partner, after she learned the accent of that soft-spoken man was Hebrew.
"They left me in the middle," Hassid says. "They said, 'Oh, I don't dance with Jews.'"
Hassid hasn't encountered that in Hamilton. But what he saw a few weeks ago stopped him in his tracks.
He owns a building at the corner of Locke and Canada streets, with two small stores on the first floor. He lives just a couple of blocks away and often walks between home and his rental property.
One door north of that property, Spallacci Homes is about to start building a condo project. Step one was to knock down the old grocery store there. For about 25 years it was the Calabria Supermarket, but had been vacant for some time.
The demolition did not take long. The store seemed to be there one day, gone the next.
Hassid walked past when the job was done. And what he saw, he says, "pinched me in my heart."
On a floor laid bare in the demolition were swastika-shaped symbols, dozens of them in the ceramic-tile pattern, all in a line, black on white.
Hassid is not a man who looks for evil. He was sure those symbols could have nothing to do with the old horrors. And yet, each day, he passed by and felt the chill. He talked to other neighbours and they too were uneasy about what the bulldozers had unearthed.
He reached out to the Kirkendall Neighbourhood Association. And to Rob Bernacci, who runs Locke Street Tire, right next to the site. Some of his customers said something should be done.
Then Spallacci Homes sent someone by with a can of black spray paint and made each swastika disappear. Hassid is grateful.
The mystery on Locke is best solved by looking for what used to stand on that land, before the days of the supermarket.
That would be Slater & Kelly Auto Service, run by John C. Slater and Frank W. Kelly. They had a garage in the back, and in the front an auto accessories shop — just the place to set down some decorative tile, complete with symbols of good luck.
That building went up in 1921, a dozen years before Hitler seized control and began to turn the world dark.