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Idaho court won't remove pre-Nazi swastika tiles

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Images of red swastikas built into tiles in the early 1920s in the Bonneville County Courthouse won't be removed during a remodel of the building, officials said.

The swastikas are at intersections of a much larger geometric pattern comprised of small red, white and black tiles put in place in 1921, well before the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930s, the Post Register newspaper said in a story published Thursday.

"When you take something out of historical context, you can argue that it was bad," said Julie Braun, a local historian. "But it wasn't bad at the time."

The courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the tiles are mentioned in the building's entry on that list.

Dave Radford, a Bonneville County commissioner, said the county was told by the National Register about seven years ago that the courthouse should be maintained as closely as possible to its original design to remain on the register.

Commissioners decided to keep the tiles in place but paint over them, though sometimes the paint wears off in high-traffic areas, he said.

"Most people who see that are offended, and I understand that," he said. "Mostly it's been to maintain the history of the courthouse because it's the jewel of the county."

The swastika was a symbol of good fortune from early Byzantine and Christian civilizations to the Mayan and Navajo people of the Americas and the Hindus and Buddhists, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

However, the symbol is now associated with the Nazi party.

Some say the tiles should be removed.

"Which is stronger — the need to protect the image of the state now or to preserve the history?" said Idaho Falls attorney Reginold Reeves, who wants the tiles taken out. "Suppose a Holocaust victim walks into the court, what is she going to think?"

The building was designed by local architects Lionel Fisher and Charles Aitken and built in 1921. Braun said it's not known who designed the floor or who installed the swastika tiles.

Swastikas have appeared in other parts of the state where they are clearly associated with white supremacists.

The small town of Hayden in northern Idaho was for 30 years an outpost of the white separatist group the Aryan Nations.

Residents largely rejected the group, and a $6.3 million civil judgment against the Aryan Nations in 2000 over a violent attack forced the group's leader, Richard Butler, to liquidate the compound.

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Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com

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