“Ancient documents described the symbol as an ambigram—ambi meaning
“both”—signifying it was legible both ways. And although ambigrams were common in symbology—
swastikas, yin yang, Jewish stars, simple crosses—the idea that a word could be crafted into an
ambigram seemed utterly impossible.”
― Dan Brown, Angels & Demons
The history of the swastika is ancient and finds its origin in many cultures. Swastika, in its old form, was known as the life-giving sun. In the early 1900s, it was used as a symbol in many advertisements as well.
People across the world viewed swastika as a symbol of good luck and fortune. However, before the World War II, the German Nationalist Movements and later the Nazis used the motif to represent their respective groups. The beloved symbol soon turned into a symbol of hate and evil.
Swastika in Neolithic Age
The symbol of the swastika is as old as many ancient civilizations. Its origin dates back to the Neolithic period which is approximately around 6000 BC. Some sources state the symbol to be as old as 12,000 BC to 10,000 BC. But experts are unsure if those designs are similar to that of the modern swastika.
The first known archeological swastika was “Mazine Swastika”, the earliest swastika ever found was uncovered in Mezine, Ukraine, carved on an ivory figurine, which dates back to 12,000 years, and one of the earliest cultures that are known to have sue the symbol of Swastika was a neolithic culture in Southern Europe, today’s Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as Vinca culture (dates back around 8,000 years).
Models similar to the cross came from civilizations that belonged to the Indus Valley (India), England, Italy, Africa, Bulgaria and in European, Asian regions and the Middle East. The symbol finds its existence in many areas across the globe and cultures including Scandinavia and America.
Meaning and History of the Swastika
Swastika derives from Sanskrit word, svastika which means lucky or auspicious. The names of the symbol vary based on its location like the Hakenkreuz, Fylfot and the Gammadion Cross. The ancient history of the swastika is still under debate, and many theories are surrounding its original meaning and history. In the classical period, was believed to represent the sun and the sun gods. It was said to possess life-giving ability like that of the sun. Some cultures believed the symbol to represent good luck, fortune, energy and the universe.
Hinduism and Buddhism still follow the symbol. The emblem indicates various concepts and is in many places like buildings, temples, houses and many rickshaws. In Hinduism, the swastika denotes the four faces of Lord Brahma, the Creator God whose face overlook the four directions. It symbolizes the spiral of our universe. Each arm of the symbol is curved and originate from the center to denote that everything has to return to their source or creator. The emblem has deeper religious meaning and stands for the eternity, universe, energy and the God.
The image of Swastika face both left and right across the world. Buddhists use left-facing version and call it the sauvastika. Hindus, on the other hand, use the right-facing version. Both Hinduism and Buddhism use different versions too. There is no association with the evil with the left-facing version which is a misunderstanding of the East Asian religious concepts.
Cross Symbols in Troy
The history of the swastika took a sharp turn with the help of a late 19th-century German archaeologist by the name of Heinrich Schliemann. He discovered the ancient city of Troy in what is now Turkey. At the site, Schliemann found examples of the symbol. They were similar to those found on ancient pottery that archaeologists had discovered in Germany. His research led him to believe that the geographic disbursement of the symbol was a result of the migration of Proto-Indo populations of Greeks, Indo-Iranians, and Germanic tribes into Europe. Based on this finding, Persians and Indians (Aryans) are the original settlers of the Germanic region.
Germans began to link the symbol to their deeply rooted Germanic/Aryan heritage. The nationalist groups that were forming at that time aimed to keep their heritage strong and pure. Hence, the German Hakenkreuz became a popular symbol of the nationalist movement. It represented a strong identity with their national heritage. This is the point at which the auspicious meaning of the swastika began to change. As the nationalist cause developed further, people began to associated the Hakenkreuz with racial superiority and racism. Additionally, the theories regarding their heritage and “race” justified more hatred for the Jews. That hatred began to fully ignite after WWI.
Heritage or Hate Emblem?
In 1921 Adolf Hitler took control of one of the nationalist groups, called the German Workers’ Party. He renamed it the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also known as the Nazis. By then, strong anti-semitic sentiments had emerged. Thus, one of the primary goals of the organization was to establish laws that would ban citizenship for Jews. Hitler realized also that the organization needed a flag that could attract people and unify its members under one principle.
There were many submissions for the flag designs; some models resembled the white flag, the old flag of the group. However, Hitler was against the old flag and its associated principles. So, he created the Nazi flag himself by using colors like red, white and black. The overall color of the flag was red with a white circle at the center and the Hakenkreuz symbol in black.
According to the Holocaust Teacher Resource website, Hitler had a reason for choosing the Hakenkreuz or the hooked cross. As per the history, Aryan nomads of India used the symbol in the second millennium BC. In Nazi theory, Aryans were the ancestors of the Germans, and hence Hitler concluded the swastika as anti-semitic.
Significance of the Nazi Emblem
Hitler expressed in Mein Kampf that the emblem “is the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man.” However, as it turned out, what the Nazis meant by “victory” is the complete extermination of the Jews. They also aimed to dominate, conquer and expand their geographic foothold. The new red, black and white logo was used by the Nazis on their propaganda, armbands, military badges, and within the government. It instilled both pride and unity for the Germans and fear and desperation for the Jews.
Once WWII began, western countries began to stop using the blessed symbol. And after WWII, the sight of a German emblem incited such strong sentiment that it and/or the flag was banned in many western countries.