The Swastika: A Sign of Good Luck Becomes a Symbol of Evil
The Swastika Flag
The swastika is a very old symbol with use widespread throughout the world. Sometimes referred to as a “Gammadion” “Hakenkreuz” or a “Flyfot,” it traditionally had been a sign of good fortune and well being The word “swastika” is derived from the Sanskrit “su” meaning “well” and “asti” meaning “being.” It also is considered to be a representation of the sun and is associated with the worship of Aryan sun gods. It is a symbol in both Jainism and Buddhism, as well as a Nordic runic emblem and a Navajo sign.
By definition, the swastika is a primitive symbol or ornament in the form of a cross. As the illustration below shows, the arms of the cross are of equal length with a section of each arm projecting at right angles from the end of each arm, all in the same direction and usually clockwise.
When Adolph Hitler, the frustrated artist, was placed in charge of propaganda for the fledgling National Socialist Party in 1920, he realized that the party needed a vivid symbol to distinguish it from rival groups. He sought a design, therefore, that would attract the masses. Hitler selected the swastika as the emblem of racial purity displayed on a red background “to win over the worker,”
Hitler had a convenient but spurious reason for choosing the Hakenkreuz or hooked cross. It had been used by the Aryan nomads of India in the Second Millennium B.C. In Nazi theory, the Aryans were the Germans ancestors, and Hitler concluded that the swastika had been “eternally anti-Semitic.”
In spite of its fanciful origin the swastika flag was a dramatic one and it achieved exactly what Hitler intended from the first day it was unfurled in public. Anti-Semites and unemployed workers rallied to the banner, and even Nazi opponents were forced to acknowledge that the swastika had a “hypnotic effect.”
“The hooked cross” wrote American correspondent William Shirer “seemed to beckon to action the insecure lower-middle classes which had been floundering in the uncertainty of the first chaotic postwar years.” The swastika flag had a suggestive sense of power and direction. It embodied all of the Nazi concepts within simple symbol. As Adolph Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the Nationalist idea, and in the swastika the vision of’ the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man.”
The Bremen Incident
One of the first actions Hitler carried or after becoming Chancellor in 1933 was to abolish the Weimar Republic flag. On April 22, 1933 he decreed that the national flags of German would be the old Imperial red, white, and black tricolor and flown in conjunction with the swastika flag. These flags were to be flown together on all merchant ships, which led to a serious incident with diplomatic consequences.
On the night of Friday, July 26, 1935, several hundred Communists took part in an anti Nazi demonstration on a pier in New York harbor as the German liner Bremen was about to depart for Europe. They attempted to board the liner and were fought by 250 policemen, detectives, and crew members. Thirty of the demonstrators gained the forelock of the vessel and tore down the swastika flag flying there and threw it into the Hudson River. In the short fierce struggle with the police, a detective was badly beaten before the Communists were ejected.
Meanwhile, there was savage fighting on the pier and in the adjacent streets. The police used their batons freely on the heads of the Communists and after a time the demonstrators we drawn off. The police arrested four men alleged to be the assailants of the injured detective. Three others were arrested for disorderly conduct.
The injured detective and two of the rioters were taken to the hospital. Ten of the Bremen’s crew also were treated for cuts and bruises. The liner departed on time, and 20 policemen sailed with her as far as the quarantine station to guard against the possibility that other Communists might be concealed on board and start a new attack. The Bremen’s commander, Captain Ziegenbein, commended the police’s work. The police officials, however, blamed the ship’s officers for taking too lightly a warning they had sent them hours before the riot occurred.
The indignities inflicted upon the German flag by the American anti-Nazi demonstrators on board the Bremen resulted four days later in an emphatic protest being delivered to the American Acting Secretary of State by the German Charge d’Affaires in Washington. It was pointed out to the German diplomat, however, that the insult had been aimed at the “Party” flag and that the National flag had not been interfered with: a very fine distinction in the circumstances but one which precipitated the Nuremberg Flag Laws of September 15, 1935.
The whole question of the German National flag was resolved seven weeks later during the Seventh Reichsparteitag Congress held at Nuremberg in September 1935. This annual occasion was used by Hitler to publicly announce that the red, white, and black swastika flag of the Nazi Party would henceforth be the National flag of Germany. The incentive to solve the unsatisfactory arrangement of flying two flags together representing the nation had been thrust upon the Fuhrer as a direct result of the Bremen incident. The official use of the swastika flag came simultaneously with the increased use of racial policies.
The Swastika Flag’s use as the National Flag was a symbol of the acceleration of the Nazi’s anti-Semitic agenda which included the September 15, 1936, “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor.” These laws revoked the Jews’ citizenship in the Reich. Jews could not vote, marry Aryans, or employ “in domestic service, female subjects of German or kindred blood who are under the age of 45 years.”
Jews found themselves excluded from schools, libraries, theaters, and public transpor-tation facilities- Passports were stamped with the word “Jew.” Name changes were disallowed, but Jewish men had to add the middle name “Israel,” Jewish women the name “Sarah.” Jewish wills that offended the “sound judgement of the people” could be legally voided. Furthermore, Jewish businesses were taken away from their owners and placed in the hands of German “trustees.”
The Bremen Incident led the Nazi’s to raise their banner of hatred as a national symbol while making the Jews into “second class subjects” of Germany. The Jews were then treated as the untermenschenHitler believed they were.
TABLE of CONTENTS
- Introduction and Program Goals
- Holocaust Background Information Holocaust Chronology
- Adolf Hitler: A Study in Tyranny
- The Swastika: A Sign of Good Luck Becomes a Symbol of Evil
- Lebensraum: Living Space for the German Race
- Translation of a Property Confiscation Order
- Auschwitz: The Camp of Death
- “Oh, No, It Can’t Be”
- In The Liberated Camps
- Pursuing the Killers
- Europe’s Displaced Millions
- Vocabulary List
- Questions on Hitler
- Swastika Questions
- Auschwitz Questions
- Oh, No, It Can’t Be – Questions
- Thinking it Over
- Holocaust Videography
- Holocaust Bibliography