USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Nazi’
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USC Nazi Tree

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO.In this account, he explains an urban legend from USC. This Nazi Tree was recently mentioned in an LA Times article.  This is a transcription of our conversation.

 

Text:

Urban legend turned truth at the University of Southern California, is that there on our premises lies a single Nazi Tree. Before you say, “What? The USC institution—gilded in white privilege—has a Nazi tree on campus?” Well, when you have Von KleinsSmid as a president for a decade, wild shit happens.

So essentially, at the 1936 Munich Olympics, there are obviously lots of USC athletes there, and, you know, in celebration and in giving thanks, the Nazi regime gave saplings to all the athletes. And so one sapling made it back to USC, and it was planted right in between the back of Bovard and the back of PED [the Physical Education Building] over by the Book Store, and so now enshrined on our campus is a gift directly from Hitler himself.”

  

Thoughts:

Though this is the first time I heard a formal telling of this USC urban legend, I did hear word of it in the first few weeks that I came to this school. The informant and I are in an organization together, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress, so discussion of this tree began again in our meetings due to the relevant name change of VKC (which is happening upon the discovery that Von KleinSmid was in support of of eugenics). Looking this up, I saw that the LA Times also mentioned “one of two [saplings] planted on the USC campus survives to this day.”

My informant proceeded to tell me that, after doing some research on Reddit, he decided to explore the campus area of where the tree is possibly located; sure enough, he found the tree, which he stated was “unmistakably the tree because there was a plaque in front of it dedicated to the 1936 Munich Olympics.” He’s not the first I’ve met one to search for this tree— this tree seems to have the same reputation as ghosts, where people hunt around to see if its existence is true. I surmise that, just like ghosts, it’s tied to our shame or guilt of our school’s racist and corrupt history. The official existence of this tree is just another factor that reinforces the notion that USC is racist, both past and present.

 

For the LA Times article mentioned above, please refer to this citation:

Crowe, Jerry. “To Protect and Preserve a Tree Rooted in Games.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times,                         20 Aug. 2007, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-aug-20-sp-crowe20-story.html.

 

Legends

The Basement Nazi Flag

Main Text

Subject: USC has like, a Nazi Germany flag in the basement somewhere. Of like, Mudd Hall or somewhere, st…stashed away. Cuz’ like…it was hanging up during World War II or whatever? In this very building…I guess?

Background Information

The interview was conducted in the Von KleinSmid Center library basement, which is the “very building” referred to by the subject in the interview. The subject is a fourth-year anthropology student at the University of Southern California. During the year of this interview, they heard this legend from an acquaintance, who heard it through word of mouth.

Context

The subject has spread the legend “once or twice […] within the same group circle” in the context of “shitting on USC.” Given the university’s recent admissions scandals, they consider sharing the legend timely, as yet another example of “all the shit that USC has been doing, and that people have been frustrated about.” They have even experienced the urge to share this legend and other similar anti-USC rumors when campus tour groups are passing by, as an “exposé” of the university to otherwise blissfully ignorant potential and incoming students. The subject considers “shitting on USC” a personally significant activity in their life, because it annoys them that people laud USC for being a great school with great resources, when people ought to be more critical of the university’s blatantly unethical actions. They don’t want USC to “get away” with its corruption, and even though sharing the legend does little to bring tangible justice, it still challenges general perceptions of the school.

However, they mention they are “a little hesitant” to present it as a confirmed fact in their pursuit of encouraging others to “shit on USC.” They juxtapose the legend with other anti-USC legends that have had more factual verification, such as Traveler being a Confederate horse and Von KleinSmid being a eugenicist.

The Basement Nazi Flag legend is also not the first Nazi-related USC legend that the subject has heard. They draw parallels between this legend, and the legend of the Nazis having donated a tree to the university. They discuss how the Nazi Tree legend is similar to the Basement Nazi Flag legend, because the truth of both legends are difficult to confirm. On the other hand, they mention that the two legends are generally shared with different intentions: the Nazi Tree legend is sensational and often restyled as a tree that was donated by Hitler, whereas the Basement Nazi Flag is symbolic and meant to directly criticize the hidden corruption at USC.

Despite the questionable factuality of these legends, the subject argues that most people do take legends such as the Basement Nazi Flag seriously, given the political gravity of the subject matter. They mention that, even among those who share similarly critical opinions of USC, the reaction to hearing these legends is usually aghastness.

Interviewer’s Analysis

This legend is an example of folklore as counter-hegemony. Briefly, hegemony is defined as the total control over the terms of a narrative. In this case, USC maintains hegemony over its public image as a prestigious, top-tier university that is desirable to attend. The Basement Nazi Flag legend subverts this hegemony by presenting a visceral example of USC’s politically damnable history. What makes this legend such a powerful attack on USC’s character, is that it not only implies that USC is condemnable for having been affiliated with Nazis in the past, but that it ought to be doubly condemned for concealing that history from present company, essentially pretending like the affiliation never happened. The fact that there are several other similar, much more factually grounded legends such as the USC mascot Traveler being a Confederate horse, and former USC President Von KleinSmid being a eugenicist, suggests that even if the Basement Nazi Flag legend is not factually true, the anti-USC sentiments motivating its spread are rooted in historical reality.

For Further Reading

Two collections of the Nazi Tree legend reference by the subject appear in the Digital Folklore Archives. They are linked below here:

Legends

The Nazi Tree

Main piece:

The legend goes that VKC (who was a Nazi and a eugenicist in addition to being President of the University [of Southern California]) got a donation of a tree from the Nazi party that’s still on campus today.

Some people think that it’s the Fig tree by Moreton Fig, but that’s definitely not right. If you dig around it’s supposed to be an oak tree behind Bovard.

Now, a ton of people deny this – including administrators. But I am pretty sure that it’s the one on the back corner of Bovard – closest to the old Annenburg building. I’m sure that if more people knew, they’d want to cut it down or something. But for now, we’ve got a Nazi tree on campus.

Context:

Drew is a sixth generation Trojan, and is a Trojan Knight. He is intimately familiar with USC’s history and culture.

Background:

Recently, USC’s former president Rufus B. Von KleinSmid has come under fire for his Nazi affiliations. The Nazi tree story plays into this contemporary controversy.

Analysis:

Trees are inherently monumental. That a progressive and diverse college campus like USC could have a flagrant and distasteful symbol on campus as a Nazi tree is entertaining in a sick way. It’s also a little mysterious that there is uncertainty about which tree is the Nazi tree. It adds to the drama of the story, and causes more mental nagging on the part of USC students who hear the story. Any tree could be the Nazi tree.

general
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Nazi Deathcamp Catch Joke

My informant is a Caucasian American who grew up in Los Altos, California. He performed this catch joke on me when we were casually talking in the suite of my college dormitory:

“Collector: It’s weird how hilarious holocaust death camp jokes are…I mean, they’re terrible!

Informant: Hey, don’t make fun of that. My grandfather died in a camp like that.

Collector: Wait–what? What? I’m sorry.

Informant: Yeah, you dick, he died–he fell off a watch tower. [Laughter]“

This is a catch joke in the style where the performer catches his target and then subverts his expectations. In this case, the catch was making the target (me) feel bad for making a Holocaust joke and insulting the memory of his grandfather. The subversion was telling me that his grandfather fell off a watch tower and implying that his grandfather was a Nazi.

The fact that this joke was performed suggests the de-sensitization of the taboo surrounding atrocities of the Holocaust among the younger generation.

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