Coming Out In A Neo-Nazi Bookstore

From a series of articles I wrote for Haaretz on being a Jew in Barcelona.

Epiphany in a Spanish neo-Nazi bookstore

By Roi Ben-Yehuda

I came to Barcelona on a skipped heartbeat. I fell in love with a woman who lived in the Catalonian capital, and I decided to pack up a suitcase and move to Spain. It was as simple as that. But when I arrived my heart skipped another beat, only this time it was for a less auspicious reason – there were swastikas everywhere.

Barcelona is a beautiful city. People often say that about a lot of places, but in the case of Barcelona it also happens to be true. Barcelonians are an extremely affable people who exhibit the virtue of patience and gentleness that an Israeli/New Yorker like myself can only admire covetously. And whatever quality they lack, they make up for in architecture. Walking through the streets of Barcelona is like walking through a symphony of frozen music: one is surrounded by a myriad of buildings that verge on the sublime.

For all its beauty and friendliness, my eyes kept turning, again and again, on something I couldn’t quite believe. In just about every place I looked, I saw swastikas and anti-swastika graffiti. From giant spray-painted images adorning the walls of otherwise innocuous buildings, to tiny ones on the back of benches. From pro-Nazi slogans telling all foreigners to leave the country, to anti-Nazi statements which read: “Nazis, there will not be mercy! Never forget, never forgive. Nazi die!”

Much to my surprise, the Nazi issue was very much alive on the walls and benches of Barcelona.

In today’s Spain, like in much of modern Europe, the symbol of the swastika is thick with meaning that transcends its World War II context. Of course it is not that the swastika has been appropriated to mean something new, rather it is just that it has been extended to its logical conclusion of all-embracing hate of the other.

If the presence of swastikas were not enough, Barcelona also has the dubious honor of being home to Europe’s most famous neo-Nazi bookstore, brazenly titled “Europa Bookstore: Persecuted Books – The Truth Will Set You Free.”

A bookstore full of Nazi-phile content is a particularly vulgar phenomenon for a Jewish writer. I can take Nazi speeches and demonstrations. I can take Nazi videos. I can even take Nazi music. But books? I find books to be the ultimate symbol of civilization. For me to desecrate a book has nothing to do with ripping apart its pages, or burning them – rather, it has everything to do with words.

A neo-Nazi bookstore is therefore a store dedicated to graphic abominations. I am aware that books, like any form of cultural technology, are amoral – vehicles for communication that can carry messages of falsehood or truth, beauty or ugliness, hate or love. But as a bibliophile and as a Jew (can the two really be differentiated), I reject such neutrality.

During my first few weeks in Barcelona I mustered the courage to pay Europa Bookstore a visit. I was surprised to see how well kept and attractive the store actually was; if I hadn’t known better, I would have been excited to enter. In the store’s front window, right below the sign reading, “the truth will set us free,” I noticed that they accept American Express – a rarity in Barcelona.

The books in the store were a literary mix covering revisionism, fascism, Israel-bashing, Hitler-praising, anti-immigration and homophobia. To this was added DVDs and CDs of Hitler’s “greatest hits.”

In my best Spanglish, I told a young woman who asked if I needed help that I would like to take some pictures and talk to her. She hesitated and then declined, but told me that I could “come back tomorrow and speak to the leader.”

But then something happened to me. Perhaps it was all the Nazi material, or the war between my brain (a staunch believer of free speech) and my heart (an elitist moralist), or maybe it was the thought of my Holocaust survivor grandmother seeing me inside this den of disgrace; but as I walked around I had a “for the six million!” moment. One of those moments that lead Jews to do something about injustice. So I took out my camera and started taking pictures. It wasn’t much, but it was my way of giving the middle finger to everything the store stood for (and blowing the journalistic opportunity to meet “the leader”).

As I walked out of the store I heard a voice shouting behind me, it was the young woman who had offered to help me earlier.

“I saw you take pictures”, she said.

“No, you didn’t.”

“Give me your camera”, she had raised her voice. “I want to see the pictures. I want to eliminate the pictures!”

Not sure if it was the translation of Spanish to English, but having a Neo-Nazi use the word “eliminate” in a sentence while talking to me got my blood flowing and my heart skipping beats again.

“I bet there are a lot of things you want to eliminate,” I uttered nervously, “but you are not getting my camera.”

She gave me a baleful look and stormed back into the store. I knew it was high time for me to leave, before I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with her friends. But I also knew I would have to return.

Indeed, later that night, when the store was closed, I revisited the scene (a mere 10 minutes walk from my house). Much to my surprise I found a plaque I had overlooked in my earlier visit.

Situated on the ground, right next to the store, was a commemorative inscription that read: “Anne Frank 1929-1945”.

Apparently the neighbors in the street had their own “for the six million!” moment, and had petition the city government to post this plaque as a reminder to all who enter the store.

Being in a neo-Nazi bookstore in Europe was a profound experience for me. It seems that I walked into the bookstore a human being, and I left a Jew. But I also left the store more Muslim, black, and gay than I did coming in. A foreigner in the true sense of the word: ready for chutzpa-filled action in the face of moral abomination.

Perhaps Barcelona was going to be alright after all.

To read more, please click here. As always, if the spirit moves you, please leave a comment.

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9 responses to “Coming Out In A Neo-Nazi Bookstore

  1. I’m outraged after reading your article. The word is irresponsible and childish, pure emotions. So, the store ‘hurt your feelings’ are? Liberal crap! Just try to make an effort to look deeper into the reasoning why, what makes people be attracted to the Nazi’s propaganda, isn’t changes, they don’t like, cannot except, cannot explain, so are taking easy explanations? Isn’t what a writer should do? Shame on you!.

  2. Me gustó mucho tu articulo en Haaretz y por eso vine a buscar mas información sobre tu trabajo aqui.
    Da la casualidad que conozco la librería Europa. Estuve alli hace cuantos años. La libreria en su parte trasera tiene otras dependencias que incluyen una sala de reuniones bastante amplia en la que el “lider” da (o daba) sus arengas al estilo Adolf Hilter vestido con un uniforme color negro y brazalete con la cruz gamada.
    Como digo yo vi el show en una ocasión y la verdad es que me pareció bastante ridículo. La mayoría de los asistentes eran muchachos muy jóvenes.

  3. Muchas gracias, Toni. For the kind words and very interesting information.

  4. ey Toni, Te importaria contarme lo que escuchaste en el discurso? como llegaste ahi? seguiste amigos? fueron invitados en la calle? Me sorprende enormemente que sea algo tan abierto.
    Espero respondas, si preferis te dejo mi email.
    Gaby

  5. Muchas gracias Toni. Lo de la librería Europa es algo antiguo en esta ciudad. Supongo que sabes que a su dueño es Pedro Varela. modo el Tibrunal Constitucional ha terminado, en una reciente sentencia, ha dictaminado que negar el Holocausto( La Shoa) no es delito en España. Por ello ese tipo de discurso encuentra una impunidad en este país que no encontraría, ni en Alemania,ni en Francia

  6. Let’s see, a Jew full of random neurotic ideas that he is convinced are “truth” and thus must be imposed on the world?

    Who could have predicted that?

    Do yourself a favor, Jew, and splatter your brains all over the nearest wall.

  7. Igor, perhaps if you could write properly we’d be able to figure out exactly what it is you’re trying to say. Other than conveying your sympathy for Nazi propaganda, it is completely unintelligible.

    As for Bill White, you sound even more intelligent. Funny that you should mention “random, neurotic ideas.” Your Nazi bullshit pretty much defines the term neurotic. Here’s an idea Billy, if you really want to help the White race, why don’t you take the suggestion that you made to Ben-Yehuda about “splattering his brains over a wall” and apply it to yourself.

    Oh, and by the way Bill, Obama will likely be your president soon. But, by all means, keep up the good work. You’re clearly making great progress.

  8. Asi es Negev&me, precisamente en estos dias me picó la curiosidad de ver (por internet) que es lo habia pasado con la libreria Europa después de los varios años que vi ese local por última vez y segun parece el tal Pedro Varela ha tenido varios encontronazos con la justicia y ha estado en la carcel algún tiempo.
    Y es normal. Una cosa es que venda esos libros y demás inmundicia nazi y otra muy diferente que en las dependencias de la libreria llevara a cabo labores proselitistas, que supongo será ilegal en España.
    Es curioso pero aunque te parezca una herejía he estado reflexionando que el nazismo parece irse convirtiendo en una especie de religíon maldita. Tiene todas las características: el profeta (hitler), el libro sagrado escrito de puño y letra por el profeta (el nefasto MeinKampf), y además sus “apostoles” y seguidores son perseguidos y condenados a ocultarse. Circunstancias todas que otras religiones han pasado en la antiguedad.

  9. Es increíble que:
    a) En España no se considere Delito, la negación de la Shoa
    b) Que existan personas o negocios que promuevan el nazismo
    Muchas gracias por tu aporte
    Respetuosos saludos
    Ing. Peres Caracas Venezuela

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