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Swastikas under the coffin of a Pole killed in the Gaza Strip? We explain

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After the funeral of Damian Sobol, a volunteer who died in Israeli shelling in the Gaza Strip, Internet users began to ask what the swastikas were doing around his coffin and whether they were real. We checked.

On Saturday, April 20 in Przemyśl a funeral took place Damian Sobol, a Polish volunteer of the World Central Kitchen (WCK) organization, who died on April 1 in the Gaza Strip after an Israeli military rocket attack on a humanitarian convoy. The funeral ceremonies began in the church of St. Józefa, and ended at the Main Cemetery in Przemyśl. Before the mass, Dariusz Dudek, advisor to President Andrzej Duda, read a letter from the president to the participants of the ceremony and presented the posthumously awarded Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta to the family of the deceased.

After the funeral, many questions on social media were raised by photos showing the coffin placed in front of the altar of the church in Przemyśl. The attention of Internet users was drawn to the floor or – as some wrote – “carpet” with visible symbols of the swastika, currently associated mainly with Nazi Germany. Under entry Łukasz Bok, who attached a photo to the information about the volunteer's funeral, the commenters asked: “Isn't this photo a fake about this carpet?”; “This rug is on purpose to spread smoke throughout the world about 'bad Poles'?”; “Why are there swastikas on the carpet?”; “Eternal rest, but what's with the carpet?”; “What's with the floor?” The photo itself has been viewed over 1.2 million times.

Yet another website user X marked the swastikas visible under the volunteer's coffin i He asked: “It's fake, right?! Pinch me…”.

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An entry with a photo from the funeral and a question about the swastikas visible around the coffin.X.com

We explain whether the swastikas in the church in Przemyśl are real and what they really mean.

A decoration from almost a hundred years ago

We immediately answer Internet users' questions: the photos are real. They come from Damian Sobol's funeral and have not been altered. Swastika symbols can also be seen on other photos and recordings from the celebration. However, this is not a decoration of the carpets on which the coffin was placed, but a pattern of the floor which in the Przemyśl church. Saint Józefa has been around for almost a hundred years.

Floor with swastikas in the church of St. in Przemyśl. Józef during the funeral of Polish volunteer Damian Sobol.Wojciech Olkusnik/East News

As recorded in tab “History of the Salesians and the parish in Przemyśl” on the website of the parish of St. Józefa, the interior design of the church, built since 1912, “was based on the design of the Italian architect Mario Ceradini, in the style known as Vistula Gothic (Neo-Gothic)”. The following was written about the floor:

The terrazzo (terrazzo – ed.) carpet floor laid in the middle of the main nave in 1925 shows 12 figures of the sidereal zodiac (zodiac signs – ed.) framed with the sign of an isosceles cross with broken arms – the Buddhist swastika, the swastika of happiness and good luck.

Also in guide after Przemyśl and the Przemyśl Foothills by Stanisław Kryciński, it is written: “At the transverse street of St. Jana Nepomucena [znajduje się] neo-Gothic Salesian church from 1913. (…) An interesting detail of the interior design is the decoration of the church floor made of black and gray terrazzo. Its main motif is the swastika, which in 1913 (and in 1925, when it was created – ed.) did not yet evoke bad associations.

Photos of the floor was published among others in 2019 on the account of Przemyśl lovers “Ja Przemyśl”, which created the album “Przemyśl floors”. “You will be surprised what gems you can see under your feet,” it was announced.

A symbol known, among others, from early Christian art

As noted by, among others, the author of the quoted guide to Przemyśl, at the time when the floor of the Przemyśl church was being built, the swastika had completely different connotations than it does today. It was a popular religious symbol, especially in early Christian and Byzantine art, and survives today as an important symbol of Buddhism and Hinduism. It symbolizes prosperity, success and happiness.

In the interwar period, the swastika symbol was used, for example, by the Polish Army in the emblems of artillerymen of the 21st and 22nd Mountain Infantry Division and in the badges of some units of the Podhale Rifle Regiment and infantry units of the Legions.

The Nazis adopted the swastika as the symbol of the NSDAP party in 1920, and it became the symbol of the Nazi Third Reich from its founding in 1933. In this way, reference was made to the tradition of the Indo-European people of the Aryans, who used the swastika and to whom the Nazis appealed, believing in the existence of an “Aryan race”, whose descendants and representatives were supposed to be Germans.

The church itself Józefa in Przemyśl, where swastikas have been visible on the floor for almost a hundred years, was not seriously damaged during World War II. Currently, along with its equipment, it is included on the national heritage list.

Main photo source: Wojciech Olkusnik/East News

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