Computer giant Microsoft has been forced to apologise after swastika symbols were found on new copies of a popular software package.
The company said that the Nazi symbol had now been removed from the latest version of its widely-used Office series.
The US software giant said procedures designed to prevent the use of potentially offensive symbols had failed.
The swastikas appeared as options for users within a font called Bookshelf Symbol 7, one of a large number of character choices available in Office 2003 which went on sale at the end of last year.
Microsoft is unclear how the symbols made it into the software but say the Bookshelf font is not their creation and is used elsewhere.
Jewish groups called the inclusion of swastikas in the software as “regrettable”.
Dr James Smith, co-director of The Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire, said: “It is good that Microsoft are withdrawing the swastika symbol but one has to ask what it was doing there in the first place.
“Including it in a word symbol collection encourages casual use by people who have not stopped to consider the issues it raises and is therefore deeply inappropriate.”
Debbie Young, from The Council of Christians and Jews, said: “The swastika is highly offensive to the Jewish community and to millions of others who suffered, including British people during the Blitz.
“I don’t know how it got to be in the software or why but there is no need for it.”
Neville Nagler, director general of The Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “It is regretted that it was possible to insert swastikas into the programme but we are pleased that Microsoft was alerted to this problem and has immediately provided the means to remove it.”
Microsoft confirmed the presence of the swastikas in December. It said anyone who had bought Office 2003 could download a programme to remove the font.
It has spent the past few weeks double-checking the Office 2003 programme and says there are no swastikas in copies it produces from now.
A Microsoft spokesman said: “When we found out about this we pro-actively contacted groups who might be offended to tell them there was a problem and that we were trying to get it fixed in the short and long-term.
“We have also apologised for it being in there in the first place.”
Although the swastika is closely associated with Nazi Germany, the symbol is actually thought to date back more than 3,000 years and throughout its history has represented life, sun, power, strength and good luck.
It is found in many other cultures, such as Chinese, Japanese, Indian and southern Europe.
German nationalists began to use the swastika in the mid-19th century because they associated it with the Aryan race. It officially became the emblem for the Nazi Party in 1920.