Maybe Gen Z Should Get That Tattoo

Rebecca Zelis
2 min readSep 28, 2020

Instead of submitting to ridicule, reclaim the ‘Z’ as a positive symbol of a global generation working to repair and heal our communities and environment. (Why is the media disparaging a young woman’s effort to “bring the whole generation together”?)

Historically the Wolfsangel represented many things: a rune believed to have magical powers, an emblem for the German Forest Service, and a symbol of a peasant revolution against oppression.

A similar but not identical symbol was used by Nazis during WWII, yet symbols can be what we make them. For thousands of years the swastika was a worldwide symbol of divinity and good luck until the Nazis coopted the image in 1930s Germany.

My grandfather survived Auschwitz and Dachau after being taken from his family by Nazis at age 14. When I was a small child he told me the tattoo on his forearm was his phone number.

While many people who are stuck in familiar narratives and broken systems look backwards, Gen Z is looking forward to a collective and inclusive global movement for positive change. When a young person who calls for a “symbol of unity in our generation” is shamed and humiliated we must question the people and systems doing the shaming.

Gen Z, coming of age amidst a global pandemic, vast inequity, and environmental crisis, could rightfully claim the Z symbol as a representation of unity instead of allowing it to remain mired in old ideologies.

These images from the ADL show the Wolfsangel symbol is usually the reverse of the letter Z suggested as a symbol for Gen Z by a user on TikTok.

Why did the media disparage a young woman’s effort to “bring the whole generation together” and promote “love and unity”?Why is Gen Z being mocked and told to apologize for an earnest attempt to create positive change?

The number tattooed on my Grandfather’s forearm when he entered Auschwitz as a teenager is now tattooed on my bicep. This does not represent subjugation by the SS, instead it symbolizes my belief in a personal responsibility to carry the story of his Holocaust experience into the future. Number 10689 once represented imprisonment, and now represents resilience, freedom, and the triumph of love through generations.

A call for unanimity and change in institutions that are harming people across the globe is a much-needed antithesis to fixed mindsets and status quo thinking. Gen Z deserves respect and admiration as young people striving to make our world better.



Rebecca Zelis

Culture Strategist improving how institutions and systems interact with people.