Fresno priest finds Nazi swastika and Hitler photo on pillow he ordered from Walmart

A Fresno priest was shocked to find Nazi symbols and Adolf Hitler’s face on a throw pillow inside his home Monday morning while playing with his 5-month-old daughter.

When the Very Rev. Ryan Newman bought the pillow on walmart.com in November, he could see it featured large images of a bicycle and the Eiffel Tower, and the word “Paris.” What he didn’t see were Nazi party seals with swastikas, along with Hitler’s face on postage stamps with the German word “Reich” – referring to the Third Reich, the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945 – on the top near the pillow’s seams. The images cover several inches on each side.

Newman said he was dumbfounded, and then angry and upset.

“To me this is a symbol of hate,” he said. “This is a symbol of evil.”

He said his work is about “preaching love and tolerance and reconciliation” as the new dean of St. James Episcopal Cathedral in central Fresno.

Newman and his wife, Erin, a physician at Valley Children’s Hospital, moved to Clovis in the fall. Their family heritage has some Jewish roots, including direct descendants who are Holocaust survivors.

The Very Reverend Ryan D. Newman, an Episcopal Priest and the Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Fresno, holds up an accent throw pillow he ordered from Walmart.com that includes graphics of Nazi swastikas and eagles and partial images of an Adolf Hitler postage stamp, at his office in Fresno on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

He called and emailed Walmart about the pillow Monday but said he couldn’t get anyone to take his complaint seriously. Part of his email: “I’m outraged and feel very violated. For two months, this pillow has been in our house. My family, friends and colleagues have sat next to this pillow. I pray none of them noticed the pillow and didn’t say anything. The symbols portrayed on the pillows are offensive and wrong.”

Newman asked for an explanation from the company and that the item – described online as a retro Paris bicycle throw pillow – be removed from its website immediately.

Later that afternoon, Newman received what he called a generic email response from a customer service representative.

Part of that response: “Since your item is from a marketplace seller Dreamstrue LLC, as much as I would like to process a solution, we don’t have access in any marketplace seller items. Don’t worry, the best and the only thing we can do is to escalate this to the resolution team of the market place seller. I hope you understand. Rest assured this will be resolved by the Marketplace seller.”

An accent throw pillow ordered from Walmart.com shows graphics of a Nazi swastika and eagle, and part of the image of an Adolf Hitler postage stamp. The pillow was ordered by the Very Reverend Ryan D. Newman, an Episcopal Priest and the Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Fresno, who didn’t notice the controversial graphics until he saw his daughter was playing with the pillow. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

The email assured Newman that he would receive an email or phone call within one business day. Shortly before that one-day window ended, the only response Newman said he received was another generic email, asking if his problem had been resolved.

Requests for comment from Dreamstrue LLC were not returned. The company is headquartered in Beaver Creek, Colorado, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The pillow was not removed from walmart.com until Tuesday, after The Bee reached out to Walmart for comment.

A Walmart spokeswoman provided the following statement: “This pillow was listed by a third-party seller on our online marketplace and is in violation of our policy. We regularly scan our marketplace for these types of items, but, unfortunately, the offensive image wasn’t visible on the pillow’s photo and we were not aware of it until the customer reached out. We removed the item immediately and are reviewing the seller’s assortment.”

The item remained on walmart.com for approximately a day after Newman first made his complaint. The German word “Reich” was visible on the photo of the pillow for sale online.

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This screenshot of a pillow that was for sale on walmart.com (removed by the company Feb. 5, 2019) shows part of a Nazi swastika and part of a postage stamp that features Adolf Hitler’s face with the German word “Reich.”

While the item was removed, the Walmart ad for the pillow was still popping up as of Wednesday night as a banner ad on the top of some websites, although it opened to a broken link.

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This Walmart ad for a pillow containing Nazi symbols was still displaying as a pop-up on some websites Feb. 6, 2019, although it was removed the day before. The ad now opens to a broken link.

Melissa Jordine, a history professor at Fresno State who teaches a number of courses related to World War II, the Holocaust, and Germany, said the images in question on the pillow are unmistakably from Nazi Germany.

She said the swastika with the eagle on the pillow is the seal of the Nazi party. On the pillow, it appears as a circular ink stamp over a print postage stamp displaying a portrait of Hitler. Jordine said the postage stamp appears to be one of those printed by the Nazi regime after Hitler became Germany’s leader in 1933. Paris was occupied by the Nazis from 1940 to 1944.

Newman said he thinks the Nazi symbols were inserted on the pillow by mistake. He noted the pillow also features handwritten information about London and the English Parliament, suggesting the creator didn’t have a good understanding of Paris.

Walmart said it sells 75 million items on walmart.com, including thousands from third-party sellers, and that these items are scanned “both manually and using automated tools.” No more details were provided about inspection protocol, what checks the pillow Newman purchased may have undergone, or how long the pillow had been for sale on walmart.com.

Newman hopes his experience gets the company to improve its product vetting process.

As for the pillow, he’s keeping it. The priest plans to use it to tell a story about the need to “stand for love, acceptance and peace.”

“Not to go preacher on you,” Newman said, “but here’s this beautiful place we love, Paris, but the example is, even in this world that we love, there is still darkness and hatred, and symbols of darkness and hatred. And we need to teach the next generation about these symbols and what they stand for, and we need to rid our world of these symbols.”

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.