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State senator says Swastika name must go, but town historian says no

In response to the Black Brook Town Council’s decision to keep the name of one of the town’s hamlets, Swastika, a state senator has said he plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit the use of the name.

State Sen. James Skoufis, a Democrat from Cornwall in Orange County, said he believes local officials didn’t do the right thing on Sept. 14 when they unanimously voted to retain the hamlet’s name. Skoufis said that he plans to introduce his bill “in the coming weeks in time for the forthcoming legislative session.”

“If the town won’t change the name, my colleagues and I will do the job for them,” he said.

Swastika, for most Americans, means the symbol of the Nazi regime, but the hamlet’s name far predates World War II. It was a name picked by early settlers and means “good luck,” according to Sharron Hewston, a local historian. Hewston’s husband has relatives who were born in Swastika. Though the name was believed to date back to 1913, when a post office was established there, she said the hamlet’s name actually dates back to the 1800s. Before that, it was known as Goodrich Mills.

“Despite the hamlet’s name predating Nazi Germany, it’s a word that, for the past 80 years, has invoked anti-Semitism, genocide, and cruelty,” Skoufis said. “Town board members ought to put themselves in the shoes of Holocaust survivors and their children — many of whom I represent — who drive through their hamlet and bear witness to the community’s viscerally horrific name.”

Skoufis’ Orange County has a growing Hasidic Jewish population.

News of the Black Brook council’s decision was picked up by national media outlets on Thursday, including the Associated Press and the New York Post. People have asked Black Brook lawmakers to consider the name several times throughout its history. This most recent request came from Michael Alcamo, a New York City resident who visits the area often.

But for many local people, the name isn’t offensive, according to Hewston — it’s steeped in history that far predates the German Nazi Party and its leader, Adolf Hitler, whose aggression prompted World War II.

“We don’t think of it that way,” Hewston said.

Hewston said the name has no political affiliation, and that local people aren’t anti-Semitic and hold no hatred. She said it’s unfortunate that Hitler “decided to turn it into this horrible, disgusting symbol.”

“Why people are trying to conjure this controversy up is beyond me,” she said.

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