Nazi symbols lead to media flurry and friendship | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Nazi symbols lead to media flurry and friendship


Nazi images taped to a door inside a residence hall have led to punishment and media attention here, but a Jewish student victim has become friends with the alleged perpetrators.

Jonathan Walters, a 19-year-old freshman from Brooklyn, New York, said his small-town neighbors on his floor do not hate Jews and did not realize the gravity of their actions. The pair taped offensive images to his door inside the Sellery Residence Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in January.

“It’s disgusting,” he acknowledged, but added that their “intent was for me to see this and for me to see it only.”

“It was a prank. Their intent was not to be necessarily threatening or make me lesser than anyone else.”

Walters was down the hall in a public study room when the pair allegedly posted the offensive material on his door. Ironically, Walters was reading a short story for his modern Jewish literature class that touched on Jewish American views of the Holocaust. When a friend approached and told him what was on his door, he first thought she might be kidding.

Walters’ roommate, who is also Jewish, was asleep inside the room but was woken up by commotion over the incident. “At first we were very shocked and at first frightened, frankly,” Walters said.

He started to take it down when another student had the idea to take a picture first. The alleged perpetrators next door may have noted the stir because they soon texted Walters and asked him to come over so that they could talk to him about it.

The incident took place in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Jan. 26 and was reported to the university that day. Some students who felt the wider community should know about it later posted the picture of the door on social media, which brought new attention to the incident, said Greg Steinberger, executive director for University of Wisconsin-Madison Hillel. Some of the largest TV stations and newspapers in the state have reported on the incident.

The University reports it is taking it seriously, treating it as a hate and bias incident and following the procedure it has in place. The two alleged perpetrators have been disciplined, said Meredith McGlone, spokeswoman for the university.

“This is not what our campus is about,” she said. “I can’t say enough how appalled and saddened by it we are. We do not think this represents the values of the Badger community.”

In response to the incident, the university sent out an email blast to students and scheduled a town hall meeting on anti-Semitism.

“The wheels of the system seemed to have worked as they should have,” Steinberger said, adding that he feels there has never been a better time to be Jewish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Walters said the level of reaction has surprised both him and the alleged perpetrators and has drawn them closer.

They’ve been getting together “to play NHL video games more times than I’d like to take credit for,” he said. “We are friends.”

This whole episode highlights the differences among people, he said, “but it also shows that people from around the country can come together.”