Peninsula pub poster links anti-smoking law to Nazism

But Jessica Ravitz, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific region, said she "got nowhere" in her conversation with bar owner Al Tolbert, who is intent on comparing anti-smoking laws with tactics in Nazi Germany.

A poster in the window of the New Patio Bar in San Carlos reads: "Achtung! Achtung! Rauchen Verboten — Smoking Forbidden — By Order of the National Socialist Republic of California." Underneath that is a swastika and the words, "Sieg Heil." In each corner is an eagle over a swastika.

A woman passing by the bar on El Camino Real was so infuriated she ripped the original poster down and tore it into shreds. She said both her parents lost many family members to Nazi death camps.

"A few days later, an identical poster was back up — this time in a glass frame,"said Ravitz.

Ravitz said at least five people have asked him to remove the sign, but he refused. Tolbert told the Bulletin he has received "30 to 40 calls, and only two of them negative."

He also said the ADL has "stretched my 15 minutes of fame to a good hour," and blown the matter out of proportion. "Really, I think the gal at the ADL has more against smoking than she does against the sign," he said.

But Ravitz said Tolbert is unclear on the concept.

"I would hope he could at least acknowledge how seeing a sign like that would make a Holocaust survivor feel," Ravitz said. "He said, 'That's not my issue.' He believes he is fighting the good fight."

Tolbert told the San Jose Mercury News if the sign offends some, it actually brings smiles to the faces of many other passersby, who "turn around and come back, laughing."

The anti-smoking law took effect Jan. 1, 1998 — nearly two years after its passage. Tolbert personally has not run afoul of the state law, and San Carlos Police Commander Richard Cinfio said he has been "pleasant" during visits.

But feelings apparently aren't mutual: Tolbert resents that he cannot smoke in an establishment he owns. "If you could see these cops, they look like Nazis," he told Ravitz.

However, after the Mercury News article appeared Jan. 5, Tolbert did scratch out the swastikas.

"There's a sick irony in that this law was designed to protect people's health and what the Nazis were doing was hastening their deaths," Ravitz said.

Last week was a busy one for Ravitz and the ADL. On Jan. 4, vandals spray-painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on a San Jose synagogue.

San Jose police said there were no witnesses and no leads. However, it appears the graffiti was the work of youths, judging by both the height of the writing and misspellings.

The graffiti included a triangle above a swastika. Inside the triangle were the numbers "666," often used as a symbol of the anti-Christ, and a dollar sign.

Staffers at Temple Emanu-El showed up for work around 7:30 a.m. Jan. 5 to find "Nazi Jews out of Palactine [sic]," and "Free Palcitine" spray-painted on walls.

Stephanie Shernicoff, director of the Los Gatos-based Jewish Community Relations Council, said the South Bay community has voiced zero tolerance for hate crime.

Ravitz said several non-Jewish residents who live near Emanu-El have expressed outrage and vowed to keep a watchful eye on the synagogue.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.