Symbols are strange beasts. The swastika, which has been a symbol of good luck and well-been for thousands of years and among many different peoples, in the last century has taken up a completely different meaning. At least for the Western World.
The word swastika derives from the Sanskrit su, which means ‘well’, and asti, which means ‘being’, and its form – the hooked cross – probably represents the sun and its movement across the sky.
Its use dates back to Neolithic Europe. One of the firsts swastikas was uncovered in Mezine, Ukraina, and it’s thought to be 12,000 years old. The routine use of the swastika as a symbol of good fortune probably started in Southern Europe. This area is now Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with people belonging to the Vinča Culture, about 8,000 years ago. But examples of swastikas are found in many different cultures across Asia (where it is still today a symbol of good luck, for example in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism) and even in America, where it has been used by the Navajo.
In Germany, the symbol became a popular one in the XIX century when the newly formed German Empire knew the first surge of nationalism and attempts were made to connect the German people to the Aryans – the original Indo-Europeans, the first people to come to Europe.
In the 1870s German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated the site of ancient Troy in modern Turkey and uncovered more than 1,800 instances of swastikas on the site.
Because the same symbol had been found among the archaeological remains of the Germanic tribes, a connection between Germanic and Greek people was made, concluding that both descended from the Aryans.
At the beginning of the XX century, the swastika as a symbol of German nationalism was very common and recognizable. Many nationalistic parties used it. So when Adolf Hitler devised a flag for his party in 1920, it was only natural that he thought to use the swastika. With a black swastika rotated of 45 degrees inside a white circle against a black background, the new Nazi flag evoked the idea of nationalism and the colours of the old Empire.A symbol of good luck and well-being for thousends of years, in the XX century in Europe the swastika took up a completely new meaning #Germany #history #symbols Click To Tweet
One of Hitler’s first actions as new Chancellor was to abolish the Weimar Republic flag. On 22 April 1933, he decreed that the new flag of Germany would be the old imperial red, white and black tricolour which would always be flown in conjunction with the swastika flag.
In Europe, the swastika was well on its way to lose its original meaning and take up a completely different one.
Ancient Origin – The symbol of the Swastika and its 12,000-year-old history
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – History of the Swastika
Holocaust Teacher Research Center – The Swastika: A Sign of Good Luck Becomes a Symbol of Evil
Quartz India – How Nazis twisted the swastika, a symbol of the Buddha, into an emblem of hate
It’s troubling and fascinating at the same time to think of how that symbol has changed meaning over the years. I also find it interesting the way different cultures have viewed the symbol And it is truly unsettling to think about how easily a symbol can be used to get people to back such darkness….
I agree on all points. This is an apt example of how culture might be hard to share. Would Asian people, to whome the swastika is still today a positive symbol, ever understand what it means to Western people? And would Western people today ever be able to look at the swastika and not think to what it means in our history?
Hi Sarah – it’s fascinating to find out the history of the symbol (horrible as we think of it) … such a great series – this has been – cheers Hilary
I enjoying doing the research for this. The swastika is such a recognizable simblo for us, but I never knew the history behind it.
JOHN T. SHEA
Interesting, Sarah! Today, the swastika is mostly banned in Germany, in video games, for example, though not in movies. Model kits of WW2 Luftwaffe aircraft made by the German Revell company have the Iron Cross, but no swastikas. The Finnish airforce had blue swastikas on its planes from 1918 to 1944, a pure coincidence though Finland was allied with Germany against Russia during part of WW2.
Thansk for addign these info to the topic. The swastika is such a powerful symbol for us today that it’s kind of hard to look past it, to what it was before, I mean.
What a shame that such a beautiful symbol of good luck has been forever tainted by the Nazis.
I agree. Though I think this is only true for us Westerners 😉
For thousands of years it was a symbol for positivity and in a few short years it went to the most negative definition one can think. What a shame and one that gave my mom shudders when she saw it on tv
This is something that really made me think. The swastika is sure a very powerful symbol for us, very recognisabel and very negative. Still this is true only for us Western people. To many other people in the world, the symbol has a completely differente meaning.
It should made us reflect on how we see reality and why.
It’s a huge sadness to those who’ve used (or still want to use) the symbol in its original form and meaning that the Nazis forever defiled it.
A-Zing this year at:
Normally found at:
Maybe we Westerners will be able to look at the swastika in its original meaning… in a few centuries. Today it’s impossible.
Horrifying how that symbol gives anyone with even little knowledge of WWII the shivers. It’s probably symbol ruined for ever, even if it used to mean “well-being,” death, racism, facism, and genoicide are terms I would relate with it now.
Yes, me too. I knew before starting to research this that the symbol was originally of good fortune even here in Europe. The history of how it changed meaning for us – and how it still means something totally different for other cultures – is something that really makes one think.