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A Hindu form

A swastika (also Svastika, Suastika ; from Sanskrit m. स्वस्तिक svastika 'lucky charm') is a cross with four equally long, uniformly angled arms. They can point to the right or left, right, acute, flat-angled or curved and be connected with circles, lines, spirals, points or other ornaments . Such signs, the oldest from about 10,000 BC. BC, were found in Asia and Europe, more rarely in Africa and America.

The sign has no uniform function and meaning. In Hinduism , Jainism and Buddhism , the swastika is still used today as a religious symbol of good luck. In German, a heraldic symbol that resembles the swastika has been called " swastika " since the 18th century .

NSDAP party badge (banned in some states)

In the 19th century, ethnologists discovered the swastika in various ancient cultures. Some transfigured it as a symbol of an alleged Indo-European race of the " Aryans ". The German völkisch movement interpreted the swastika as anti-Semitic and racist . Subsequently, the National Socialists made a swastika angled to the right and inclined at 45 degrees as a symbol of the NSDAP in 1920 and a central component of the flag of the German Reich in 1935 .

Because the swastika represents ideology, tyranny and crimes of National Socialism, the political use of swastika-shaped symbols has been forbidden in Germany , Austria and other countries since 1945 . In Germany, swastikas may only be shown in accordance with Section 86 (3) StGB for “citizenship education” and for similar purposes.

Legal position

On August 30, 1945, the Allied Control Council forbade all Germans to “wear any military badges, medals or other badges”. The ban also included Nazi swastikas. It remained in force in the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR until 1955 . On October 10, 1945, the Control Council banned the NSDAP, all of its branches and affiliated associations and their symbols. In the Nuremberg trials in 1946, the NSDAP and all its subdivisions were declared a "criminal organization". Thus their symbols were also forbidden.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, in accordance with Article 139 of the Basic Law , all Allied laws for the "liberation of the German people from National Socialism and militarism" continued to apply. They were replaced by the inclusion of the criminal offenses of treason, high treason and endangering the democratic constitutional state ( § 80 to § 92b ) in the penal code. In this context, § 86a threatens the public "use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations" for the purpose of their dissemination with up to three years imprisonment or a fine. Paragraph 3 excludes representations of these signs that serve "civic education, the defense against unconstitutional efforts, art or science, research or teaching, reporting on events of the day or history or similar purposes".

The Federal Court of Justice clarified the scope of Section 86 StGB in test cases. Since 1973, the ban has included swastikas on war toys and true-to-original models of weapons from the Nazi era. Later, however, swastikas were allowed, which objectively did not support National Socialism:

Swastika in the prohibition sign
  • in works of art, for example political caricatures ,
  • in auction catalogs ,
  • to practice religion, etc. a. the Falun Gong in Germany,
  • as anti-Nazi symbols from anti-fascist groups to reject right-wing extremist organizations and ideologies. In 2007 the Federal Court of Justice overturned previous judgments against users of anti-Nazi symbols.

According to the current legal opinion, § 86 StGB also prohibits symbols changed by neo-Nazis , some of them such as Odalrune , Triskele and Black Sun only as the logo of forbidden organizations, not in general. The private removal of unlawful swastikas from the property of third parties, for example by painting over, scratching off or pasting over, is usually considered to be damage to property.

In Austria, the Prohibition Act 1947 regulates the handling of National Socialist organizations, ideas and their symbolism and punishes abuse.

In 2005, on a German initiative, the European Parliament proposed a Europe-wide ban on the swastika. The occasion was a photograph of the British Prince Harry in a Nazi uniform with a swastika armband, which he wore at a private costume party on January 14, 2005. In the UK , the Hindu Forum, which represents around 700,000 Hindus, demonstrated against the ban. In January 2007, Germany withdrew its advance. The European Union rejected the ban in April 2007. Above all, Great Britain and Denmark, with their traditionally broad conception of freedom of expression, and Lithuania , which also wanted to ban symbols of Stalinism , prevented a ban consensus .

In 2013 the Constitutional Court of Hungary lifted a ban on symbols of “arbitrary rule” ( red star and swastika) that had existed there since 1993 : the ban is to be regulated anew. Latvia, on the other hand, banned these two symbols.

In the USA , well-known constitutional and international law experts advocate a general ban on showing the swastika to neo-Nazis because it is historically uniquely burdened, calls for genocide and promotes the destruction of a group. This is not a political speech worthy of protection, but incitement to riot and disturbance of public order.


The expression "Svastika" appears for the first time in the Sanskrit grammar of the Indian Panini (around 400 BC) as the name of a brand for cattle. It consists of the syllables su (“good”) and asti (“it is”, “it be”, from the verb as- “to be”). The corresponding syllables in Pali together form a monogram of the swastika. The noun means “that (belonging to) being good”, “that which brings salvation”. The compound svastí- already means " luck ", " salvation ", " blessing " in the oldest Sanskrit . As a statement it is translated as “Everything is / be good”. The noun is masculine in Sanskrit ("the swastika"). In German-language literature it is usually referred to as a feminine, rarely a neuter article. The English plural is "Swastika (s)", the German "Swastiken".

In China the swastika is called wan , in Japan manji , in Tibet gyung-drung . In North American Indians , it translates as "whirling round wood". In Old Norse , a similar sign was called sólarhvél (" sun wheel "). In Old English , a cross with four outer hooks in the same direction was called fylfot ("four feet "). What was meant was a cross on one of the hooks. The equation of the swastika (rotating) with the Fylfot (standing) and the Nazi swastika (inclined) is considered an error.

The rectangular shape is a combination of four Greek letters Gamma construed and so on Latin crux gammata , Graecized Gammadion called. The French expression croix gammée derived from it also denotes the Nazi swastika, as does the word croix cramponnée . In contrast to the related form of the triskele , the gammadion was also called tetraskele ("four-legged").

In German heraldry, a cross with four hooks pointing in the same direction was called a "swastika" (according to Johann Christoph Adelung in his dictionary of High German from 1796) or as a "square cross" (according to Christian Samuel Theodor Bernd in Die Hauptteile der Wappenwissenschaft 1841) . The national movement interpreted the symbol as a sun wheel and called it "swastika". This designation went into the language of National Socialism . In the English and French-speaking areas , the National Socialist swastika is also known as a "swastika". This term is preferred by archaeological literature for historical signs in order to distinguish them from the Nazi swastika.

Archaeological evidence


In Tell es-Sultan near Jericho a pre-ceramic stamp with a round stamp surface was found, in which a symmetrical swastika is engraved. It is dated 7000 BC. Dated. Similar swastika motifs were found on a pendant from the Tappa Gaura in Iraq (before 4000 BC) and on a seal in Byblos (about 3500-3000 BC).

On Samarra ware (around 5000–3000 BC) from what is now Iraq, swastics were found, either individually or as part of an ornamental composition, combined with images of plants, animals and people. A bowl shows a sign of the cross in the center with four arms bent at right angles, surrounded by images of five scorpions. It is dated to 5500 BC. Dated.

In the Indus culture , the swastika has been around since around 3000 BC. Occupied. The oldest known examples are seals or stamps found in 1924 near the villages of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in what is now Pakistan. They show right and left angled swastics. Thus, the swastika was already common around 1000 years before the spread of “Aryan” -speaking tribes in India.

In Balochistan and Susa , decorative swastikas were found on clay vessels in the 1930s. They are dated to around 3000 BC. Dated.

Eastern Europe

At Mesyn on the Desna River in the Ukraine , six bird figures carved from mammoth bones (ivory) were found, in which various lines and geometric shapes are engraved. They are dated to 10,000 BC. Dated and assigned to the Upper Paleolithic . One of these figures bears a sign of the cross formed from parallel meander lines under the thick head section with four rolled arms that are bent at right angles several times. It is the oldest known swastika. The researcher Karl von den Steinen ( prehistoric signs and ornaments , 1896) interpreted them as a stylized image of a bird, especially a stork, and thus as a symbol for fertility, life, spring and light.

Some ceramic fragments of the Vinča culture in Southeastern Europe (Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia) are painted with a swastika made of white humus paint. They are dated to the 6th millennium BC. Dated and understood as a decorative element that is supposed to depict the power and movement of the sun.

Mediterranean area

The Minoan culture in Crete (from about 2600 BC) left behind vases, some of which are painted with individual swastics. The Greek vase painting of the Geometric period continued this ornamentation. Left and right angled swastics occur here. Their development is close to the meander pattern. Both ornaments are probably abstract images of natural forms, for example from the plant world. In the local art of Apulia from the 7th to 5th centuries BC, which was partly influenced by Greek , swastics are common. They have also appeared on soldiers' helmets since the time of Alexander .

From 1870, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found swastics on everyday objects such as ceramics, hand spindles and terracotta on the Hissarlik hill ( Troy , Turkey) . Their assignment and dating are controversial. Today they are assigned to younger excavation layers (VII to IX, from around 1300 BC).

In the Villanova culture (~ 1000 BC) one found grave urns with geometric patterns, including swastikas with multiple kinked ends and wavy ribbons. The Etruscans (~ 900–260 BC) and the Faliskers continued to use the symbols.

In the Roman Empire , the swastika is mostly found as one of many varied, repeated and complex nested elements of the meander ornamentation. Swastika patterns are often part of floor and wall mosaics from Tessera , of frescoes or stucco . Floor mosaics of this kind have been made throughout the Roman Empire since the Hellenistic era (from around 300 BC), including in the Roman-occupied Syria-Palestine. They were found there, for example, in a synagogue in En Gedi from the Hasmonean period, in the anteroom of a villa in Masada , in a reception room of the palace of Caesarea Maritima and in the vestibule of a villa in the upper city of Jerusalem . They belonged to the general display of splendor and geometric aesthetics of architecture at the time, but not to those specific patterns by which buildings used by Judaism or later by Christianity can be distinguished.

Roman swastics can also be found on fibulae (clasps for closing garments), on three contornians , items of clothing, a Mithras monument and Christian grave inscriptions. They are interpreted as decoration and apotropaic (evil-repelling) or magical protective symbol.

Central and Northern Europe

Rock relief (Swastika?) In Ilkley, ≈3300 BC Chr.

In a megalithic rock on Ilkley Moor (West Yorkshire, England), called a swastika stone, a serpentine, serpentine meander line with nine round depressions is engraved, which encloses a four-part swastika-like figure. Some attribute them to the spiral cup-and-ring markings of the Stonehenge culture in the area and date them to around 3300 BC. Others assign them to the Celts and date them to the late Bronze Age (≈1600–1100 BC). Similar patterns were found on Scandinavian metal vessels of that time and on vessels of the Mycenaean culture .

A board-woven border from the Celtic grave of Hochdorf an der Enz from the Hallstatt period (≈500–450 BC) bears a series of swastics. Whether the bearers of the Hallstatt culture are to be equated with the Celts is still disputed in research. The curvaceous, intricate style of the Latène period (≈450 BC until the turn of the century) followed their strictly geometric shapes . Some explain that swastics were very rarely found among the Celts. Like the wheel cross , the " Celtic cross " and the triskele, they are interpreted as symbols of power with a magical reference to the cult of the dead . From various, often colorful representations on everyday objects, such as clothing fabrics, it is concluded that the swastika had no specific symbolic meaning among the Celts.

During the Bronze Age in central and northern Europe, swastika-like signs had four arms curved and spiraling in the same direction. Since the Young Bronze Age they have appeared as an ornament on everyday objects, especially on jewelry, as well as on Scandinavian rock carvings from the Nordic Bronze Age . These motifs can be found on various carrier objects from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Middle Ages. From this researchers conclude that they generally had an ornamental function with possibly apotropaic significance.

The various groups described as Teutons used the swastika as a style element in their everyday culture from the Roman Empire (RKZ) through the Migration Period (VWZ) and the early Middle Ages to the Viking Age . It occurs in the RKZ as a stylized motif on urns in cremation graves north of the Alps, for example on isolated "bowl urns " of the Elbe Germans of the 3rd or 4th century, which were embedded in the moist clay as decorative ribbons using the rolling wheel technique. It also occurs as an engraving on weapons, such as the “Speerblatt von Dahmsdorf” (found in 1865). Similar, sometimes older, spear blades were found near Kowel (Ukraine), Gotland (Sweden), Rozwadow (Poland), Øvre Stabu (Norway) and Vimose (Denmark). According to Rolf Hachmann , these swastics are related to “tamga” (seals, stamps) of the Sarmatians (Iran).

Brooches are also carriers of swastika motifs. On Zealand (Denmark) (11), in the rest of Denmark (3), in Norway (3), Finland (2), southern Sweden (1) and Mecklenburg (1) a number of similar swastika brooches were found riveted from a round bronze plate Ornaments pressed on it with sheet silver, four curved arms and small plates at the end. Similar fibulae found in Hungary have animal heads at the end of the arms. Together they are traced back to older Roman fibulae and dated to 250 to 400 AD.

VWZ gold bracteates from wealth centers in today's Denmark contain swastics along with other symbols and written characters in certain “families of forms”, which are listed in the “iconographic catalog” (IK). The B bracteate from Großfahner , district of Gotha (IK 259) shows a figure who raises her empty hands, above which a swastika and a triskele are attached. IK 389 shows a swastika with a triskelion, cross and other symbols. In the more recent RKZ and VWZ such swastics appear together with runes , especially in fibulae and bracteates. In the model families of the B bracteates from Nebenstedt (II), Darum (IV) (IK 129.1; 129.2), Allesø, Bolbro (I), Vedby (IK 13.1-3), there is a swastika as Insertion in the magical runic word laukaR ("leek"). In the left-hand inscription von Nebenstedt and Darum, a swastika appears as a symbol with an indefinite function. Such swastics between runes were interpreted partly as special characters, partly as symbols, which were intended to reinforce a magical power of the runic statement.

For example, a swastika on the rune stone from Snoldelev in Denmark belongs to the Viking Age .

Handle of a bucket from the Oseberg ship, presumed Celtic origin, undated

Among the grave goods in the Oseberg ship (around 830) a small bucket with two bronze handles was found in 1904. Both show an identical human figure with closed eyes in the lotus position , carrying a blue enameled cross and four red swastics on a yellow background on the chest. They are angled alternately to the right and left and fill the free areas around the cross to form a square. Although the figure is reminiscent of a meditating Buddha figure that Vikings might have met on their trade routes, this specimen is more likely to be interpreted as booty from Ireland because of the very similarly shaped and colored handles of Celtic hanging vessels .

Swastics of Germanic cultures are interpreted differently until today. Christian Jürgensen Thomsen and Oscar Montelius interpreted them, based on bracteates in 1855, as " Thor's sign ". This was facilitated by the discovery of similar signs called þórshamarr on Iceland in the 16th century, which suggested a relationship with the Mjölnir (Thor's hammer). The Swedish archaeologist Carl Bernhard Salin, however, denied this assignment, since these bracteates could just as easily be assigned to the deity Odin due to other characteristics . Even Karl Hauck brings the swastikas on bracteates with Thor or Odin in conjunction. The linguist Wolfgang Meid, on the other hand, sees no linguistic evidence of a religious or cultic use of the symbol.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, Roman and Germanic swastics were often related to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ or His Highness as "the light of the world". They appear on frescoes and stone slabs of church buildings, connected with the meander line, in Romanesque ornamentation and some Gothic buildings. They were considered "means of protection against the devil".


Swastika ornaments from the Aegean came through trade to the Middle Pharaonic Empire (2137 to 1781 BC) and have been used since 1000 BC. Especially popular in Nubia . However, only a few swastiks have been found south of the Sahara . The German researchers Leo Frobenius and Felix von Luschan documented it in 1898 as an engraving on coins or weights of the Ashanti in Ghana, as a tattoo of a woman in Barundi (Uganda) or as an amulet . They denied the origin of these ornaments from the Mediterranean area and assumed that they were created independently of it.

In the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia (built around 1200) you can find many swastics in floor mosaics, wall and column decorations. Some have curvy arms and therefore cannot be derived from Indian or Roman models.


Some indigenous peoples of America have long decorated everyday objects with swastikas. The Navajo wove them into the patterns of the blankets, jackets and rugs they traded in. Other tribes also adopted this custom for their pottery. They saw the swastika as an image of the rotation of the constellation Great Bear around the Pole Star and a symbol of a mythical prehistory: In it four chiefs were sent in each direction in order to find a better form of government than their own. For the Hopi , the hiking and return routes of their ancestors formed a large swastika, which corresponded to the movement of the earth to the right, to the movement of the sun to the left.

The Anasazi in the southwest of today's USA drew pictures with swastics in the antelope ruins. They are considered the oldest examples in North America. Even among the rock carvings of the Hohokam culture in southern Arizona (300–1500), dozens of swastics were found, either alone or with other drawings. They are interpreted as decoration, not as a religious symbol. In the Mississippi River Delta , uniformly stylized, cross-tribal colored patterns were found on ceramics from the 13th century, including swastics integrated into circles of the sun.

In one of the pyramids of Túcume of the early Sicán culture from the Lambayeque period in Peru (≈750–1375) a clay jug with a swastika drawn with charcoal was found.

Research history

19th century

Lead figure from Troy, original without swastika

In the 19th century, ethnology increased sharply in Europe. Swastics were discovered in India, China, Japan, Asia Minor, North Africa and America. Schliemann's findings and their interpretation in particular sparked a discussion. In 1872 the anti-Semite Émile Burnouf demanded in a letter to him: The swastika should be regarded as a symbol of the Aryan race, which the Jews had completely rejected. In his first research report ( Trojan Antiquities , 1874), Schliemann claimed that the swastics from Troy were identical in shape to a swastika from the Bishop's Island near Königswalde (Ore Mountains). He deduced from this a Germanic origin of the sign. Although he was not an anti-Semite, he claimed in his book Ilios (1881): The swastiks he discovered proved that the oldest inhabitants of Troy belonged to the "Aryan race". As the “most sacred symbols of our Aryan forefathers”, they are of tremendous importance for archeology. For this purpose he depicted a lead goddess figure (opposite) with a swastika in the pubic triangle, although this is missing on the original. In doing so, he attributed a religious and ethnic meaning to the Trojan swastics , although most of them were on everyday, non-cult objects. The forgery was discovered in 1902 when Schliemann's collection was exhibited in Berlin.

The Indologist Friedrich Max Müller contradicted Schliemann in 1881 in an essay on the swastika that Schliemann had asked for: the same forms did not prove a common ethnic origin in archeology, nor did the same sounds prove a common linguistic origin in etymology . The British Assyriologist Archibald Henry Sayce nevertheless claimed in 1884 in the foreword to Schliemann's work Troy : “We” (the Northern Europeans) could welcome Troy residents and the Greeks at the time of Agamemnon as “brothers in blood and language”. In the appendix, the journalist Karl Blind claimed : It has now been clearly proven that the Trojans belonged to the "race" of the Thracians and that these were descended from Goths and thus from Teutons.

Some authors tried to substantiate an Indo-European ("Aryan") origin of the swastika with their own studies. For example, the Polish librarian Michael Zmigrodski, a racist and anti-Semite, showed drawings of 300 objects with engravings at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889 , which he interpreted as swastika or allegedly derived characters and divided into categories such as prehistoric, pagan or Christian. He also tried to filter out an allegedly original ideal type without ornamental details and deviations from Schliemann's findings. In doing so, he turned three-dimensional objects into mere carriers of an allegedly uniform, directly recognizable, special and repeated graphic form. His declared goal was to use the swastika to prove a prehistorically anchored, continuous cultural superiority of the "Aryans".

In accordance with the popularity of such theories at the time, the Museum of National Antiques of France and the Museum of Early History in Saint Germain took up its collection. In August 1889, Zmigrodski made the swastika the subject of a congress for anthropology and prehistoric archeology. Most of the participants represented the Aryan thesis, including Schliemann (Germany), Ludwig Müller (Copenhagen), Burnouf, Sayce, Joseph Déchelette and Eugène Count Goblet d'Alviella (France). They disregarded the respective context of the finds as well as African and American evidence, which Thomas Wilson (USA) in particular presented. So the swastika-like graphic signs of different contexts were constructed for the isolated, supposedly speaking for itself identifying feature of the alleged Aryan race.

The presumed origin of the Aryans from India and swastika finds among "non-Aryans" contradicted the ethnic racial ideal. Robert Philip Greg wanted to reserve the swastika in 1884 for the alleged Aryan race. He claimed that neither Greek-ornamental nor Germanic-religious forms were found among Semites . Karl Penka ( Origines Ariacae , 1883; The Origin of the Aryans , 1886) and Ernst Ludwig Krause ( Tuisko-Land, the Aryan tribes and gods original home , 1891) presented Northern Europe as the original home of tall, light-skinned, blue-eyed and combative Aryans. According to Penka, Asian peoples had subjugated and immigrated to India. In doing so, he reversed the current immigration thesis.

Thomas Wilson, curator for prehistoric anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution , wrote a report on the state of research on the swastika at the time on their behalf. In it, he documented their widespread use and rejected the assumption that such signs from different times and contexts can be traced back to a common origin and interpreted as symbols of a certain religion, mythology or ethnicity. He assumed its expansion from the Indus valley.

Since Schliemann's theses, the interpretation of the swastika as a symbol of prehistoric "Aryans" has also penetrated the academic discourse of German antiquity, anthropology, art history and folklore. These and other departments participated since the romance a "German folklore on" with its own "national character" and a "Nordic race" who have determined to be "the Germans" the pre- and early history of Europe. Influences from other peoples and cultures were then often described as degeneration. There was hardly any empirical evidence for this.

1900 to 1945

Völkisch, and later also National Socialist, authors followed up on the already established Aryan thesis and continued to claim that the swastika was of Northern European origin and that it was the Aryan's "symbol of salvation". Since 1917, many propagandistic and pseudoscientific publications have appeared on this , including:

  • Ludwig Wilser : The swastika according to origin, occurrence and meaning (1917; many new editions),
  • Otto Grabowski: The Secret of the Swastika and the Cradle of Indo-Europeanism (1921),
  • Karl Jaeger: On the history and symbolism of the swastika (1921),
  • Jörg Lechler: About the swastika. The story of a symbol (1921; 2nd edition 1934); The meaning and path of the swastika (1935),
  • Gustaf Kossinna : Origin and Distribution of the Germanic Peoples in Prehistory and Early History (1926),
  • Erwin Richter: The Swastika as a Guide to Old Germanic Culture: A Contribution to Germanic Rediscovery (1931),
  • Herman Wirth : What does German mean? A retrospective of primal spiritual history on self-reflection and self-determination (1931; 1934); On the origin and meaning of the swastika (1933),
  • D. Bernardi: The swastika (7th edition 1933),
  • Wilhelm Scheuermann: Where does the swastika come from? (1933),
  • Engelbert Huber: That is National Socialism: Organization and worldview of the NSDAP: with two panels depictions of the badges (1933),
  • Theobald Bieder: The Swastika (2nd edition 1934),
  • Eugen Fehrle : The swastika: of its meaning and its history (1935),
  • Friedrich Langewiesche : Symbols of Germanic Faith in Wittekindland (1935),
  • Karl Theodor Weigel : Runes and Symbols (1935),
  • Walter Heinzel: 5000 years of the swastika. From the Old Norse sun sign to the symbol of eternal Germany (1941).

Wilser had come forward with unscientific theses on runes since 1885 and had claimed an "original" Germanic origin. As a self-proclaimed “racial researcher” he popularized the thesis that the swastika was a Germanic rune. Scheuermann described this as a symbol of fertility, referring to the lead figure from Troy with a forged swastika symbol, and as the military coat of arms of Northern European Aryans who had conquered Troy in prehistoric times. Huber openly admitted a lack of historical evidence for the anti-Semitic interpretation of the swastika. It was only the Völkische Movement that interpreted it in this way for its goals, assuming that it came from India. That has now been refuted. Its original meaning is unknown, but a connection with the sun cult is unanimously assumed. Authors, who were convinced of a "Germanic continuity" from antiquity to their present, cited only a few references, including the swastika, whose Germanic origin they assumed.

The largely speculative “symbol research” that arose around 1900 was part of the Völkisch movement. From 1933 onwards, the Nazi regime strongly encouraged them to strengthen the mass effects of Nazi propaganda by resorting to old Germanic symbolism and to make their own party badges a symbol of ethnic unity and wholeness and a quasi-religious cult object. The interpretation of the swastika as a continuous Germanic sun symbol gave this striving a pseudo-scientific legitimation.

Some “symbol researchers” advocated competing theories and competed from 1933 onwards for political recognition of their position. Weigel explained that the meaning of the runes could only be clarified once the origin and descent of the race from whose “ blood and soil ” they undoubtedly came were clarified . Fehrle, on the other hand, claimed that the swastika was the “Aryan leading fossil” among the many sun symbols and embodied the eternal “die and become”. It is "like a star that shows us the way". The Germanic symbols are never only decorative, playful and functional, but always express "unity with the eternal powers of life". The Nazi regime specifically promoted this competition through various institutes, since all variants of the continuity thesis corresponded to its own power-political intentions. The " Reichsführer SS " Heinrich Himmler declared: It didn't matter to him which theory about the prehistory of the Germanic peoples was true. Since research hypotheses are constantly changing, the NSDAP can also put forward a thesis that contradicts research. It is only important that the researchers strengthen the pride of the German people; they would be paid for that.

To this end, Himmler set up the “ Research Association of German Ahnenerbe ” in 1935 , and appointed the pseudo-archaeologist Herman Wirth to co-founded it. He had declared the swastika to be a feature of a matriarchal religion of salvation since 1931, which ruled on Atlantis and left traces in megalithic tombs and Scandinavian rock art. He tried to substantiate this fiction with extensive projects, such as the rock carvings at Tanum , but was hardly recognized by other National Socialists. Wirth also issued the swastika as evidence of the descent of the Hopi, Mexican and Peruvian Indians from the alleged Nordic-Atlantic master race. Himmler placed the German Tibet Expedition Ernst Schäfers under the "Ahnenerbe" in 1938 in order to carry out prehistoric studies, make racial comparisons and possibly win the Tibetans as allies against Great Britain. Behind this was the assumption that the Tibetan swastika points to descendants of alleged Aryans in Tibet.

Urn of the 3rd / 4th century used for Nazi propaganda Century with double-hooked swastika, Łódź

The National Socialists used archaeological finds in Poland to legitimize their territorial claims and " Germanization ". The Saxon archaeologist Walter Frenzel used a swastika in the Museum of Łódź for a new coat of arms of the city renamed "Litzmannstadt".

Few researchers during the Nazi era contradicted the racist interpretation of the swastika. The British archaeologist William Norman Brown referred to finds in Harappa ( The Swastika: A Study of the Nazi Claims of Its Aryan Origins , 1933). The linguist and religious scholar Jan de Vries , an employee of the "Ahnenerbes", doubted in the first edition of his "Old Germanic Religious History" (1935-1937) the thesis of a continuity and Nordic homeland of the Teutons. Germanic swastics of the Bronze Age would have developed from spiral ornamentation by chance. Swastics from the Iron Age reached Central Europe from Asia via Southeastern Europe. National Socialist reviewers criticized this. The folklorist Otto Lauffer ironically described the Nazi “symbol researcher” Langewiesch in a specialist journal in 1937 as “Deutobold Symbolizetti Allegorowitsch Mystificynski”. Without a rational examination of their theses, German symbol research makes itself internationally ridiculous.

The psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich declared in 1930 that the swastika originally symbolized sexual intercourse between two people, later symbolizing human labor, which in turn was only a form of sexuality. Because it appeals to unconscious instincts, it has become a mass-effective tool of fascism . He referred to Herta Heinrich ( swastika, Vierklee, Granatapfel , Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft, 1930), Percy Gardner ( Ares as Sun-God , 1880), John Loewenthal and others. Here, too, ahistorically, he presupposed a uniform, original, hidden meaning of various swastika images. In 1936 the depth psychologist Carl Gustav Jung saw the swastika and the Roman bundle of lictors as archetypes that express a collective unconscious . He saw their use in fascism as a revival of dangerous driving forces that would have brought about the medieval pogroms against the Jews .

Since 1945

From 1945 the folkloristic symbol research resigned. Younger folklorists and philologists such as Fritz Paul dismissed it as irreconcilable and sharply criticized its methodology: it brought finds from very different times and peoples "through often unbridled analogization into an arbitrary, allegorical or symbolic system of meaning". Germanists rejected the thesis of a "Germanic continuity", for which the swastika had also been cited, as irrelevant. Hermann Bausinger , Wolfgang Brückner , Hans Moser and others showed that outwardly identically formed signs and objects can only be correctly interpreted in their own context and historical continuity can only be assumed with the same actors, the same cultural area, the same function and meaning. Accordingly, according to Rolf Wilhelm Brednich , the older research was largely unscientific and only achieved the impression of broadly documented Germanic continuity through the fact that völkisch scientists continuously cited each other and were promoted by the Nazi regime. Nonetheless, popular science authors often continue to claim that the swastika is a prehistoric cultic symbol of the (Indo) Germanic peoples and possesses archetypal power.

Some of the researchers involved in the “Ahnenerbe” remained professionally recognized after 1945, according to Jan de Vries. He described the swastika (which he called "swastika") in 1957 as part of "foreign" cultural influences on the Germanic peoples. You have been since 2500 BC. Chr. From the Indus culture to Crete, Greece and Italy and is said to have "sunk" to a purely decorative pattern. Because it is completely absent in “Semitic peoples”, it is probably due to Indo-European culture. The Teutons could have received them from Thrace and Macedonia in the Neolithic Age. In the meander ornamentation (1st / 2nd century) and as a spiral shape on pots and hanging vessels of the late Bronze Age, it was probably a "pure decorative motif". It was not until the Iron Age that the right-angled shape prevailed, and only from the 4th century did it appear as a symbol on an urn. It is a variant of the previously common sun wheel, later also a magical sign of luck and a religious symbol, often associated with the god Thor.

Horst Junginger criticized that de Vries had not mentioned its use during the Nazi era in his article “Swastika” for the Protestant encyclopedia Religion in Past and Present (3rd edition 1959).

According to Morten Hegewisch, folklorists like Ernst Grohne or archaeologists like Rolf Hachmann avoided interpreting recent Germanic swastika finds at all. This has contributed to classifying them as solar symbols without being examined. For example, the Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (2005) referred to “sun symbol” with the keywords “swastika” and “swastika”. The author Andreas Nordberg shows the inconsistent meaning and possible purely decorative function of European swastics, whereby the swastika can have depicted the rolling sun as a sun symbol. After going through the findings again, Hegewisch stated that the Germanic forms had imitated the Roman swastika brooches as a result of the Romanization ; neither had any recognizable cultic significance. The Celts, Romans and Teutons would have used other patterns much more often than the swastika and often only used them for decoration. References to individual deities can at best be assumed in individual finds, but not generalized without further analogous evidence.

Religious use


In Hinduism, the swastika is the most important symbol after the om . According to the teaching ( Dharma ) of the Vedas , the figure is seen as an abstract image of four wheel spokes, the hooks of which suggest rotation, or of two sticks placed crosswise for the ceremonial lighting of a fire (Yajna) . It is often connected to four points, one at each angle. It symbolizes the eternal cycle of birth and death ( samsara ) and is considered a sign of reincarnation . It is therefore used at the beginning of almost all religious celebrations. It generally symbolizes the power and rotating forward movement of the sun and means joy, light and life. In the Vedas it marks the sun god Surya , in the Puranas the chakra of the god Vishnu and one of the eight yoga seats. She is also worshiped as a sign of the god Ganesha . The right-angled shape is considered auspicious and is used at weddings, celebrations for the goddess of luck Lakshmi and other celebrations of joy. The rarer left-angled form is called Sauvastika in Sanskrit , is assigned to the female aspect of the deity and, according to the Indian view, rotates counterclockwise. Sometimes negative effects are ascribed to this form: It is a symbol of the goddess Kali and stands for sunset, decline of life, night, disaster and death.

Symbol of Jainism as a sculpture in Udayagiri and Khandagiri


In Jainism, which can be traced back to Mahavira (5th century BC), the swastika plays a central role. As in Hinduism, it represents samsara, here also the four levels of existence: gods, humans, animals and the underworld. It is the symbol of the seventh of 24 “ford preparers” ( Tirthankara ). The four arms also stand for the four groups of the Jains (monks, nuns, male and female lay people) and the four infinite characteristics of the soul (knowledge, perception, happiness, energy). The symbol of Jainism, which has been accepted by all Jains since 1974, sums up its teachings.


The swastika was already known to the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. The mountain Kailash , the circumnavigation of which was said to have redeeming power, was also called "Swastika Mountain" there. In Mongolia , the left-angled shape has appeared as an engraving in rock drawings and deer stones since 200 BC. Chr. Often.

In Buddhism in Tibet , the left-angled swastika symbolizes firmness, perseverance and constancy. In China it is called wan and is considered to be a collection of good luck symbols with ten thousand effects. In Chinese iconography, it symbolizes abundance, abundance, prosperity and long life. As a Chinese character it stands ( Chinese  卍, 卐 , Pinyin wàn ) for the myriad (10,000) or infinity. It is often combined with the symbol fu for bat and then means "ten thousand times more luck". Empress Wu Zetian (625–705) declared a swastika in a circle to symbolize "sun".

In Buddhism in China , it symbolizes the seal of the Buddha's heart or Buddha nature . In the Song Dynasty (960–1276) it also appears on the chest, palms or heels of Buddha statues , not only on the forehead, as in India. An influence of Nestorianism in China is assumed , whose followers wore Christian crosses on their foreheads and chests. In Nestorian works of art, the swastika symbolizes the rotating sun, fire or light. A swastika adorns the roof gables of many historical buildings, especially Buddhist temples . It shows their location on maps.

Sayagata fabric swatch

In Japan , the left-angled swastika is often seen on the chest, feet or hands of Buddha statues and Buddha temples. She marks their location on maps and city maps. It is interpreted as the transmission of Buddha-nature. The Japanese character for them is called manji (Japanese , originally 卍 字 or 万 字 , English: '10,000 characters'). It is usually shown angled to the left. The right-angled shape is called gyaku manji ( 逆 卍 , 'upside-down manji ') or migi manji ( 右 卍 , 'right manji '). Such characters are also used for regular patterns, the manjimon ( 万 字 文 ). These include the manjitsunagi ( 万 字 繋 ), which connects several swastiks in the same direction horizontally or tilted, or the sayagata ( 紗 綾 形 ) on fabrics from the Edo period : It connects the ends of left and right swastiks with lines.

In all Asian countries shaped by Theravada Buddhism (Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Thailand), the swastika marks Buddha's “footprints”. In some of these states, a left-wing swastika is printed on packaging to indicate that the food is strictly vegetarian .


The symbol of Falun Gong from China is called srivatsa and shows a left- facing golden swastika, surrounded by four other swastics and symbols of yin and yang in a circular ring. The representatives emphasize its positive meaning in accordance with Indian and Chinese tradition and differentiate it from the National Socialist swastika.

Representatives of the syncretic religion Daoyuan (founded in 1921) founded in 1922, the company Red Swastika to the world peace and to promote providing acute emergency aid. By 1937 it grew into an international aid organization comparable to the Red Cross , which particularly helped after the Nanjing massacre .

The syncretic religion of the Cao Dai in Vietnam (founded in 1926) adopts symbols from several religions, including a Buddhist left-wing swastika.

Raelism , founded in 1973, uses the symbol of a swastika in a star of David . The founder Claude Vorilhon claims to have seen it on a UFO from aliens. His followers wear it as a medallion. After protests by Jews, Vorilhon changed the symbol to the shape of a flower. Nonetheless, the Raelians advocate worldwide acceptance of the swastika, which they interpret as a sign of a human intelligence donated by aliens. However, demonstrations with swastika flags resulted in arrests in some cases. That is why the founder declared June 23rd to be the annual "Swastika Rehabilitation Day" in 2009.

Non-religious use

Early modern heraldry

In the early modern period , princes, cities and noble families of Europe made diverse cross shapes part of their coats of arms. Among them were some shapes similar to the swastika. Coats of arms with the fylfot from the British Isles were standardized in 19th century heraldry. Some Japanese noble families integrated the swastika into their coats of arms ( Mon ), such as the Hachisuka and Nobuhira Tsugaru (1586–1631). It has been part of the coat of arms of the city of Hirosaki since 1900 .

Popular lucky sign

The swastika has been popular worldwide as a symbol of good luck since around 1900. Architects incorporated them into building design, for example for the Laguna Dam in Arizona, a train station in Buenos Aires, a shopping mall in Sydney, the University of Chicago and the Brooklyn Museum .

Some companies used them as trademarks, such as the St. Louis railway company , Rocky Mountain and Pacific Railroad Company (USA), the New Mexico Coal Company , the Fred Harvey Company for jewelery, the Danish Carlsberg brewery from 1882, the Swedish company ASEA , the Norwegian Per Kure Norsk Motor- og Dynamofabrik , the Icelandic steamship company Eimskip . Others used them for advertising or for their product design. The Pacific Coast Biscuit Company advertised their matzo with the swastika in 1916 . The Coca-Cola Company advertised in 1925 with a swastika - shaped key ring. In 2003 she offered the plastic figure Robowaru in Hong Kong, which wore two swastikas on her chest. After criticism from Jewish associations, she withdrew the figure. The Buell Manufacturing Company made a blanket called "Moki" with four swastikas on the corners, which, according to the catalog, should represent "a large warehouse with lots of tents, water and good luck". She followed Indian models.

The writer Rudyard Kipling had the swastika printed as a decorative symbol in early editions of his works. However, he refrained from using the symbol since the National Socialists. From 1920 the Carlsberg company gave up the swastika as a company logo and from 1933 avoided swastika motifs in their advertising.

Around 1900 some silver teaspoons with swastikas on a stick were made in Eureka Springs (Arkansas) as part of a souvenir collection fashion of that time. They had no relation to the Nazi swastika. It was only after 1945 that Gerald LK Smith, who had founded the right-wing anti-Semitic America First Party in 1944 , moved to that place.

From 1905 to 1916 played in Nova Scotia (Canada) an ice hockey team under the name Windsor Swastikas . Swastika Laundry, founded in Dublin in 1912, had the Swastika painted on their vehicles. To distinguish it from the Nazi swastika, it added the founding date in 1939. Heinrich Böll described a near collision with a van painted in this way in 1957. From 1913 to 1916 a "Girl's Club" in the USA published the magazine The Swastika , which dealt with everyday issues for women. Poker chips were printed with swastics. A children's book about a little monkey introduced the swastika as his talisman . A classical ensemble of musicians was called the Swastika Quartet . In 1929 there was a swastika hotel in Raton, New Mexico . The University of New Mexico published a yearbook called The Swastika through 1939 .

During World War I , the British National War Savings Committee issued a medal and stamps with the swastika emblem in exchange for private war bonds. A US company issued coins in 1917, some of which bore the swastika over the bald eagle (the national symbol of the USA) and the words "Good luck". Some pilots had their planes painted with a swastika as a symbol of good luck, according to Fritz Beckhardt , a German Jew. In 1924 Felix A. Theilhaber showed a photograph of it to commemorate the exemplary commitment of Jewish patriots to Germany before the National Socialists claimed the swastika for themselves and interpreted it as anti-Semitic. American pilots who were fighting for the French Foreign Legion at the time also flew with the swastika. A postcard of the 45th US Infantry Division from 1920 carried the swastika with the slogan: May this emblem protect you well from every bullet, every shell (“May this emblem protect you well from every bullet and every grenade”). In 1927, Charles Lindbergh had the inside of the propeller nose of his aircraft painted with a left-hand swastika and signed by all the helpers for his upcoming Atlantic flight. In 1938 he was invited by the Nazi regime and accepted swastika medals from Hermann Göring as a gift.

The Boy Scouts' Thank You Badge had been wearing a swastika since 1911, and their Medal of Merit since 1922. The founder Robert Baden-Powell explained this in 1921 with the universal spread of the lucky symbol that he knew from India. But he also showed sympathy for Adolf Hitler and from 1933 tried to cooperate with the Hitler Youth . In 1935, however, the British Boy Scout Association gave up the swastika emblem to differentiate itself from the NSDAP.

In North America there are the localities of Swastika (Ontario) and Swastika (New York), Swastika Lake in Wyoming and Swastika Mountain in Oregon. Katharine Burdekin wrote the science fiction Swastika Night in 1937 .

From 1940 after the beginning of the Second World War , the Native Americans refrained from traditional swastika decorations in protest against the Nazi regime. The 45th Infantry Division replaced the swastika on the epaulets of their uniforms with another symbol. Until 1942, however, waymarks and the former Indian trading post Peach Springs on Route 66 remained decorated with swastikas.

State independence symbol

Since around 1890, some military associations, orders and states have used the swastika as a symbol of national and anti-monarchist independence efforts, and since 1918 also within the framework of fascist currents.

The provisional government under Alexander Fyodorowitsch Kerensky , which came to power in Russia through the February Revolution in 1917 , printed a swastika as a symbol of independence on its banknotes. In the Republic of Poland , the Podhale riflemen of some mountain troops used badges with a swastika from 1918 to 1939. From 1920 to 1928, the independent Republic of Latvia bestowed the Bear Slayer Order , a right-angled swastika, as the highest national honor . This has appeared in Latvian ornamentation and folklore since Roman times and is interpreted there as a cross of fire. A vertical blue swastika was the national emblem of the Finnish Air Force from 1918 to 1945 . The occasion was provided by the Swedish explorer Eric von Rosen , who gave the Finns an airplane decorated with a blue swastika as a present in 1918. The chain of orders ( Collane ) of the Finnish White Rose contained nine swastiks from 1919 to 1963, which were supposed to symbolize the struggle for independence against Russia.

The Finnish Order of the Cross of Freedom still contains the swastika, as does the flag of the Finnish President . From 1925 to 2010, the autonomous republic of Guna Yala in Panama ran a national flag with a left-angled swastika in the center. The author is suspected to be the American Richard Marsh, who was influenced by European folk and racist literature and wanted to subject Panama to a puppet regime of the USA. Others interpret this swastika as a symbol for the octopus who created the world in the mythology of the Kuna .

Anti-Semitic and Racist Use

German Gymnastics Cross, 1844

Gymnast movement

1844 invented followers of "Turn father" Friedrich Ludwig Jahn , the Turner Cross that the motto " religious fresh, fancy free " abbreviates with four cross-shaped letter F. In 1880 the German Gymnastics Association (DT) decided on a federal banner, the reverse of which arranged the four Fs in the form of a swastika, but without interpreting them in a folk way. In 1888 the DT excluded Austrian associations which, contrary to the statutes, excluded Jews. Then in 1889 they formed a "German Gymnastics Association", from which today's DTB emerged . At that time he cultivated “ Germanness ” and only recorded “Aryans”. Many German gymnastics clubs joined him. There, the "gymnast swastika" with four F's angled to the right and rounded in a circle became common. In 1919 the DTB made it its emblem.

In 1920 the German Gymnastics Association, which also included Czech and Austrian clubs, took over this emblem. In 1923 he welcomed Hitler and the NSDAP. Some gymnasts said in the club's internal journal that the gymnast's cross was not a swastika. Most, on the other hand, emphasized that it was a swastika, not in a party-political sense, but as a folk "symbol of Aryan purity and German resurgence". Because of this German national tradition, the gymnastics club made a “ clean separation ” from other sports associations in 1924 . At the 15th Turnerfest in July 1933, the DTB invited Hitler as the main speaker and described himself as a pioneer of the “ Third Reich ”. The title of the club's journal bore the gymnast's cross and swastika side by side; in a propaganda film about the gymnastics festival, the two merged into one.

Esotericism, occultism, life reform

Esotericism , spiritualism and occultism found their way into Europe and the USA from around 1880 . These currents overlapped in Germany and Austria with the Völkisch movement. They are interpreted as a reaction to industrialization , urbanization and capitalism .

Emblem of the Theosophical Society since 1891

In 1875 the Russian exile Helena Petrovna Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in the USA . In the first volume of her main work The Secret Doctrine (1888), she designed a speculative cosmology that was linked to Hinduism and Buddhism. The second volume described the development of mankind as a sequence of " root races " and asserted a present and future dominance of the "Aryans". She assigned esoteric symbols to each stage of the cyclically presented evolution, including the swastika. In 1891 she integrated this into the emblem of her society along with the Antonius Cross and Star of David . The doctor Franz Hartmann spread theosophy in Europe from 1885. From 1892 to 1900 he published the magazine "Lothusblüten", which was the first German-language publication to have the swastika on the title page. Blavatsky's theosophy is considered a powerful impetus in modern racism .

Buddhism also found supporters in Germany at that time. Karl Seidenstücker , who strictly distinguished himself from theosophy, popularized him with a number of magazines. The monthly magazine Der Buddhist wore a right and left angled swastika from 1905 onwards. After the NSDAP had made the right-angled swastika the party symbol, the title page only bore a left-angled swastika.

The swastika, understood as a sun symbol and symbol of the Aryans, also became popular around 1900 in the German life reform and youth movement and nudism . In 1907 a theosophically oriented lodge "Swastika" was formed among many groups of nudists in Berlin.

Even Alfred Schuler was influenced by Theosophy. From 1900 he raised the swastika to the symbol of his thinking, with the help of which the vital life, striving for higher things, was to be renewed. The Christian cross is a castrated swastika that no longer turns and has therefore brought the old life to a standstill. The anti-Semitic poem Epilogus: Jahwe-Moloch with the lines: “Marder Juda sneaked into the heart of life. [...] Murder the father before he eats your child, your soul, and unleash the big balls, the hundred-spoked wheel of fire. "What was meant was the swastika, which is here for the first time as a tool in a murder of Judaism (the father stands for its god JHWH ) appeared.

The poet Stefan George adopted the swastika from Schuler as a symbol of eros and coitus , initially as a decoration for love poems. From 1916 the George Circle made the swastika the signet of its leaves for art for special works published by it. Before George's last work ( Das Neue Reich , 1927) was published, Georg Bondi Verlag emphasized that the signet had nothing to do with politics and the Nazi swastika.

Volkish movement

The Völkische movement , which emerged around 1880, initially preferred the Mjölnir as a badge, according to the magazine Der Hammer (1902–1940). After Germanic artefacts with swastika engravings had been found, the Pan-Germans in particular propagated the "swastika" as their symbol, according to the völkisch magazine Heimdall . In the poem "Sonnenwende" published there from 1899 it was said: "Let the rune sparkle, swastika shine in the dark ..."

At that time the influence of ariosophy , a racist variant of theosophy, grew in the national movement . In 1907 Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels hoisted a flag with a red swastika on the Werfenstein Castle in Austria, which he had acquired, symbolizing the ascent "to the ancient heights of pure-blooded German heroism". This was the first time the swastika was used publicly as an anti-Semitic symbol.

Guido von List , following Ludwig Wilser and others, saw the swastika as a "Germanic rune" and secret sign "Urarian wisdom", thus as a character for the sun in an original language that the Aryans as the alleged race of cultural founders would have owned. His work The Secret of the Runes (1908) was influenced by Blavatsky's "Secret Doctrine". In it he added a younger Scandinavian runic alphabet with two runes he had invented, which were similar to the swastika. So this should complete the runic writing.

Wilhelm Schwaner had published the magazine Der Volkserzieher since 1897 , the title page of which bore a swastika for the first time in 1907. In the same year he founded the Bund deutscher Volkserzieher , which chose a swastika as its badge. In 1912 he founded the neo-pagan Germanic Faith Community (GGG) with the painter Ludwig Fahrenkrog , which also emphasized the swastika (here in gold on blue). In 1913 Schwaner's book Unterm Hakenkreuz, Federal Book of People's Educators, was published . For him (as for all such ethnic groups) it was a sign of salvation for the “Aryan race”. In this way, Pan-Germanism was supposed to replace Christianity and its symbols.

Many ethnic organizations followed these models even before the First World War, including the anti-Semitic and ariosophical Germanic Order and the German Nationalist Party (DVP). Since 1914 it tried unsuccessfully to collect all ethnic and anti-Semitic currents. In 1917 she made a swastika the title emblem of her party organ Deutschvölkische Blätter . The Wandervogel also made a swastika his badge in 1917 and declared it as an “old German rune”, “a sign of aspiration, constant development, becoming” and a commitment to the “conscious German will”, which according to the motto “from the dark into the light” strut.

Swastikas appeared more often in national novels from 1910 onwards. So let Hermann Lons , the chapter ends its bestseller The last Hansbur (1910) because of the "popular interpretations" and "purely emotionally by the immediate graphical impression" decorate with different swastikas. Hermann Burte stylized his novel hero Wiltfeber (1912) with a conscious analogy to the Eternal Jew as a homeless blonde wanderer. In the novel, on his return to his home village, he draws a swastika in the sand, whereupon a long-time resident remarks: “Do you believe in that? Ha, if that came back to life! ” Ernst Wiechert had his novel Der Totenwolf (1924) published after the failed Hitler putsch with a black, white and red dust jacket and the swastika stylized as a sun wheel. In doing so, he rejected an envelope draft without a swastika from his publisher.

For anti-Semitic Russian monarchists, the swastika symbolized their opposition to the Russian October Revolution of 1917, which they attributed to an alleged world Jewry . To combat this radically, they regarded as the legacy of the last Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks . She had her bedroom decorated with a swastika as a symbol of good luck and blessing. The anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was found in her estate .

Kapp putschists with swastikas on their helmets on March 13, 1920 in Berlin

In October 1918 a "German People's Council" under the leadership of the "völkisch" writer Heinrich Pudor went public, who called for pogroms against Jews with the swastika as a symbol . In the November Revolution, the swastika, along with black, white and red, became the main hallmark of opponents of the revolution, including some Freikorps and the ethnic-racist Thule Society . It appeared as graffito on walls and on streets, as a watch pendant or beer tails , badges or brooches , on newspapers, magazines and brochures, on armored cars or trucks. Many schools had to issue a ban on wearing to prevent fights. The Ehrhardt Marine Brigade wore it on their steel helmets during the Kapp Putsch in March 1920, thus expressing their will to eliminate the Weimar Republic that had emerged from the November Revolution. For many members of the Freikorps, the swastika was part of their "Landsknecht fashion", which demonstrated their bellicose demeanor.

National Socialism

Adolf Hitler is said to have seen the swastika for the first time as an altar boy in 1895/1896 in the coat of arms of the abbot of the Lambach monastery school. He probably also knew its anti-Semitic interpretation from the Ostara magazine published by Liebenfels .

Friedrich Krohn , a member of the Teutonic Order and the Thule Society, suggested to the newly founded DAP in May 1919 a black swastika angled to the left in a white circle on a red background as a party symbol (is the swastika suitable as a symbol of the National Socialist Party?) . According to Buddhist interpretation, it is a talisman for good luck and health. The alignment to the left followed the Theosophists and the Teutonic Order. In the right-angled swastika, which Guido von List and the Thule Society preferred, Krohn saw a symbol of doom and death.

In the autumn of 1919, when he had become the most important speaker of the DAP, Hitler regretted that "the party comrades lacked any external sign of their togetherness [...] that had the character of a symbol of the movement and as such could be opposed to the International ." To make Nazi propaganda as effective as possible, he was looking for a “symbol with a great poster-like effect”, which should also address and involve the Völkisch movement, the German nationalists and parts of the Christians. The swastika seemed suitable because it was established as a national-Germanic and anti-Semitic symbol and did not have to be reinvented. At Hitler's request, Krohn replaced his design with a straight-armed swastika angled to the right. There is no evidence that the change in direction should turn a sign of life into a sign of death. After the DAP had renamed itself the NSDAP, this form appeared for the first time as a flag on May 20, 1920 at the founding meeting of the Starnberg NSDAP group. The old Austrian National Socialists adopted it in the early summer of 1920. At their meeting in Salzburg on August 7, 1920, the NSDAP also adopted this swastika shape as its party flag.

The Austrian Ottokar Kernstock (1848–1928) composed the swastika song in 1923 for a flag consecration of the Fürstenfeld local group of the German National Socialist Workers' Party (DNSAP). After protests from the Christian Social Party and the Roman Catholic Church , he declared that “every good German” had to agree with the original “ideal goals” of the National Socialists. Kernstock's song, like Kleo Pleyer's song, Wir sind das Heer vom Swastika, was often sung at mass NSDAP events and was one of the five most important party songs.

Hitler's draft cover for the first edition of his program publication Mein Kampf (1925) carried a waving swastika flag as the center of a shining sun above the originally planned title The Germanic Revolution . This connection should symbolize the “victory of light” (the “Aryan worldview”) over the powers of darkness, especially Judaism. In the script, Hitler explained the meaning of the party flag:

"In red we see the social thought of the movement, in white the nationalistic, in the swastika the mission of the fight for the victory of the Aryan people and [...] the creative work, which itself was eternally anti-Semitic and will be anti-Semitic."

Some historians also explain the success of the NSDAP in the “symbolic journalistic civil war” of the early 1930s from the recognition value and the rapid reproducibility of the swastika.

In 1930 Hitler commented on the relationship between the cross and the swastika in order to reconcile his racism and nationalism with Christian tradition:

“And when so many people say to me: How can you carry your pagan sign forward in this fight, when the Christian cross alone is called to wage this fight? Then I say: This sign is not directed against the Christian cross, on the contrary, it is the political effect of what Christianity actually wants and must want. Because finally you can not fight the z. B. the center or the Bavarian People's Party, call the fight of the Christian cross! [...] Certainly our Christian cross should be the noblest symbol of the struggle against the Jewish-Marxist-Bolshevik spirit. [...] But then parties that make pacts with Marxism, with atheism, even with Bolshevism in its refined form, should not claim the cross of Christ as their party symbol. "

- Institute for Contemporary History - Hitler IV, 1, p. 33

Hitler viewed the German cult as old-fashioned and rejected it as a founding myth of the Nazis because of the lack of cultural achievements. He saw the Indian swastika as a by-gone feature of "high-ranking Aryan immigrants" who had mixed with the "dark black indigenous people" and were therefore enslaved by the British. For him, only white northern Europeans were creative and only as long as they remained “thoroughbred”. The Indian origins of the swastika no longer played a role for him or other leading National Socialists. For them, “Aryans” only meant “Teutons” as an exclusive alternative to “Jews”.

Alfred Rosenberg , Robert Ley and Heinrich Himmler, on the other hand, saw the swastika as an archaic symbol of salvation in Germanic-Aryan early history. In order to pass this pseudo-scientifically as the root of the desired " Third Reich ", Rosenberg wrote in his work The Myth of the 20th Century (1930):

“If this symbol is unrolled, it is a symbol of old and new myth: some look, think of popular honor, of living space , of national freedom and social justice, of racial purity and life-renewing fertility. More and more it is shrouded by memories of that time, when it preceded the Nordic wanderers and warriors to Italy, Greece as a symbol of salvation […] The symbol of organic Germanic truth is already undisputed today the black swastika.

In folk tradition, he derived the swastika from the sun wheel, which he also understood as a cosmic principle (bucket wheel), and linked it with the Manichaeism (good-bad dualism) of Persian Zoroastrianism and post-Christian gnosis .

In 1932 the SPD and the Iron Front tried to counter the Nazi swastika propaganda with their own symbols: Their newspapers and posters showed three arrows pointing at or piercing the swastika from above. The idea came from Sergei Tschachotin .

To reassure his German national bourgeois supporters, Hitler had always emphasized that the red swastika flag not only symbolized the anti-Semitic " national socialism ", but also contained the old Reich colors black, white and red . According to the coalition of NSDAP and DNVP after the Reichstag election in 1933 (March 12), black-white-red and swastika flags were declared side by side as national flags : the swastika flag as the general state flag and black-white-red as the Reich war flag .

On May 19, 1933, the Nazi regime passed the “ Law for the Protection of National Symbols ”. It was supposed to save them from “ kitsch ”, limit their purely commercial use and bind the Germans more closely to the Nazi ideology. For this purpose, the newspapers had to print lists of permitted and prohibited swastika representations. Swastikas were permitted on flagpoles, as Christmas tree tops, on New Year's postcards, on Hitler portraits and as valuable ornaments. They were forbidden on boxes of chocolates and cigarettes, soccer balls, sausages and as cheap jewelry that was produced in bulk. In doing so, the regime attempted to distinguish between uses that reinforce symbols and those that defile symbols. At the same time, the swastika was mass-produced in a variety of forms. It appeared, among other things, as a pennant, bracelet, pendant, paperweight, record cover, on trophies, cutlery, trading cards, as a kit for children, embroidered pillows, mantelpiece, wall and wallpaper samples or decals. So it was present everywhere in everyday life.

Since the Reichsflaggengesetz of September 15, 1935, the swastika flag was the only national and commercial flag . The intertwining, no longer the juxtaposition of the three colors, should symbolize the transformation and completion of the old empire into a new whole. During the Second World War , Hitler said in his “table talks” that he had abolished the old Reich colors because they only stood for the “ Bismarck Reich ”; his aim was to create a new symbol for the new "Germanic Empire of the German Nation".

The propaganda film "Triumph des Willens" by Leni Riefenstahl stages the swastika with gigantic shots and fades as the center of a fascist aesthetic. It stands for the NSDAP, the National Socialist movement, the German people, Hitler, the " seizure of power " and the " Gleichschaltung" . It not only conveys this, but also contains its immediate presence, for example in that marching masses are faded into its black bars.

In addition to the National Socialists, parts of the German Christians (DC) also used swastikas in their symbols. After they had taken over the leadership of some Protestant regional churches in 1933, some of them dominated parishes installed swastikas on their church towers, including at least nine in Thuringia alone. The " German Faith Movement ", which was founded in 1933 and wanted to develop ethnic forms of cult as a contrast and alternative to Christianity, had a rounded swastika as a symbol, similar to that of the Thule Society. As a result of the church struggle, however, the Nazi regime distanced itself in 1937 from the Thuringian DC, who were striving for a national church, and forbade them to use crosses and swastikas, i.e. their emblems, at the same time. By order of the Gestapo , they had to hang swastika flags from church towers, as these violated the law on the protection of national symbols.

In the 1990s, a swastika-shaped tree planting of unknown origin was discovered in aerial photographs in Brandenburg and made unrecognizable after international criticism.

Right-wing extremism since 1945

In right-wing extremism , especially in neo-Nazism , the swastika remained a unifying sign of identity and recognition. In order to avoid criminal liability, it is sometimes graphically changed on flags by neo-Nazis or replaced by signs with a similar meaning: for example with the Celtic cross , Odal rune, Black Sun, variants of the Siegrune , Wolfsangel , Triskele or Mjölnir.

Some nationalist Hindus had viewed the NSDAP swastika from 1920 as a symbol of a common Aryan race and welcomed Hitler as a possible ally against British colonialism . Subsequently, the Indian by choice, Savitri Devi , portrayed Hitler as the avatar of the god Vishnu and thus believed in his rebirth. After 1945 she found many supporters in European neo-Nazism. Right esotericism linked all kinds of empirically unfounded conspiracy theories to the swastika , such as those of a Nazi secret society in Tibet. In this esotericism, National Socialism is interpreted as an occult-esoteric movement in order to continue völkisch-racist concepts. With reference to such alliances, Victor Trimondi sees the swastika as a sign of racist elements in Hinduism and Buddhism itself. The Belgian Indologist Koenraad Elst rejects this thesis as a misinterpretation.

Since 2010 there has been a violent Mongolian neo-Nazi group Tsagaan Chas (“White Swastika”), whose members continue to wear the Nazi swastika. Some Russian right-wing extremists use a double ("Slavic") swastika with eight hooks, called a Kolovrat. Around 1995 a Russian neo-Nazi band gave itself this name. Konstantin Nikitenko founded a paramilitary group of the same name in 1997, which forms the armed arm of the umbrella organization, Russian National Unity .

Other uses

Public room

In the post-war period, swastikas from the Nazi era were largely removed from public spaces. However, medals and symbols from the Nazi era were often used without a swastika, as permitted by the 1957 law on titles, medals and decorations . From the 1960s onwards, this was seen by many as a clear indication of a lack of coming to terms with the past .

Some swastikas were preserved longer. The swastika forest planted near Zernikow in 1938 was forgotten after 1945. The shape was recognizable from the air by the different needle color in autumn and spring and was only rediscovered in aerial photographs in 1992. According to international press reports, some rows of trees were felled in 1995 and 2000 and the symbol was thus made illegible. Swastika- shaped trees were also planted at Asterode , Jesberg , Wiesbaden , Thuringia, North Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin and Kyrgyzstan .

In the USA, Jewish civil rights activist Avrahaum Segol came across a US Navy military building near San Diego in 2007 and in 2008 the Wesley Acres Retirement Home in Decatur , Alabama , whose floor plans looked like swastikas from a bird's eye view. He suspected it was a hidden honor of German scientists who had developed German weapons during the Nazi era and then participated in the NASA missile program. The porters emphasized that the shape was not intentional Nazi propaganda and promised to convert the building.

Some private tombs from the Nazi era still bear swastikas that can only be removed with the consent of the owner.

According to experts, there were at least a dozen church bells from the Nazi era in Germany in 2017 with swastikas and Nazi dedications. The most famous case is the "Hitler Bell" in the Jakobskirche in Herxheim am Berg . In the course of reporting on the Herxheimer Glocke, the municipality of Rilchingen-Hanweiler decided to remove its swastika bell, possibly later to give it to a museum and to temporarily cover the swastikas on it. There was also a bell with a swastika in the Kreuzkirche there in Schweringen , Lower Saxony . In Wolfpassing , Austria , there had already been discussions in 2013 about a bell with a swastika and a National Socialist inscription in Wolfpassing Castle .

During construction work on a Hamburg sports field in November 2017, an excavator driver came across a huge swastika measuring four by four meters, which until then had been hidden under the sward at a depth of 40 centimeters. The excavator had dug a pit for a foundation of a planned clubhouse on the square in the Billstedt district when it came across the swastika. It was then destroyed with the help of an excavator.

The pensioner Irmela Mensah-Schramm has been removing, painting over or changing swastika graffiti all over Germany since 1980 and repeatedly accepted criminal convictions. She documented her work in an exhibition in September 2017.

There are also swastics without National Socialist origins in public spaces in Germany. So who kept Eimsbütteler TV two "Turner swastikas" at an old sports hall because they were attached, according to an expert commission before 1910th Since 2010 a plaque commemorates the racist and anti-Semitic meaning of these symbols. A swastika floor mosaic in the Botanical Institute of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich also dates from the pre-Nazi era.

In May 2020, Jewish activists tried to have swastikas removed from several grave stones of German soldiers in American cemeteries. The soldiers died as prisoners of war in the USA during World War II. The responsible veterans administration rejected the request.

Caricature and art

Berlin Wall, Mühlenstrasse on Oct. 2, 1990

Since the 1920s, anti-fascists have used the swastika in political caricatures as a metaphor to criticize National Socialism. In 1923, Willi Münzenberg drew a drunk Viking with a swastika flag and the line of text "The moral renewal of the German people". John Heartfield's photomontage "The old motto in the 'New Reich': Blood and Iron " showed four bloody axes as a bundle of rods in the shape of a swastika. In this way he exposed the abstract Nazi symbol as a concrete means of deadly violence in the tradition of Otto von Bismarck's wars and Italian fascism . Boris Artzybasheff used the swastika for many of his surrealistic caricatures, for example as a grotesquely distorted, oversized face of Hitler, surrounded by many high-ranking Nazi leaders and scenic details in the shape of a swastika. With this alienation he exposed the illusion of the fascist myth of the national community .

In cartoons in the Arab media on the Middle East conflict , the swastika has often appeared together with the Star of David since 1967 in order to attract more public attention to criticism of Israel . This combination of symbols is classified as an anti-Semitic stereotype that equates Holocaust perpetrators with Holocaust survivors.

In 1970 Rainer Hachfeld drew arms and legs with the likeness of CSU politician Franz Josef Strauss in a swastika shape in a white circle on a red background. He quoted a statement by Strauss at the CSU federal party congress that year that he wanted to form a “rallying movement to save the fatherland”. Strauss sued the caricature and obtained its ban. However, the expert Ernst Maria Lang had stated that Hachfeld did not want to show Strauss as a Nazi danger, but rather the uncontrollable danger into which Strauss himself could get through his emotionalizing rhetoric.

The "iron man" is a figure carved out of metal with a swastika on his chest, which Ernst Schäfer brought back to Germany from Tibet in 1938. It was rediscovered in 2012 and metallurgically analyzed at the University of Stuttgart . The material was identified as a fragment of the Chinga meteorite found in 1913, around 15,000 years old . The figure was initially dated to around 1100 and interpreted as a Buddhist deity, but is now classified as made between 1915 and 1938.

The German artist KP Brehmer created the work “German Values” in 1967, which enlarges and satirizes stamps from the Nazi era with a swastika, Hitler's head and the phrase “Germany awake”. It was part of an exhibition that the gallery owner René Block organized under the title “Hommage to Lidice ” in West Berlin and Prague in 1968 to commemorate the Lidice massacre in 1942 and to support a planned memorial for it. The object art "The Bench" by Edward Kienholz (1974) lined up eight German radio receivers manufactured from 1938 to 1970, some of which had swastics that were hidden in the case of later models or removed from the outside. He described the work as a symbolic biography of a German man who experienced and accepted National Socialism, then hid it and suppressed it.

The Israeli artist Moshe Gershuni has been integrating Nazi swastikas into his paintings since 1981. His work "Victory" from 1985 is structurally structured by two swastikas. On them there are praise quotes from the Jewish liturgy , the key words of which "glory, eternity, power, fame" were also central to Nazi rhetoric. The picture also includes the Star of David and question mark. It is interpreted as a provocative act that questions the front between victims and perpetrators, God and devil, good and bad.

Art Spiegelman drew the swastika flag in his award-winning comic Mouse - The Story of a Survivor (1980–1985; as a book 1989–1991) in contrast to the stylized figures as a real, oversized object that illustrates the dominance and totalitarian claims of the National Socialists on public space and at first sight it triggers an indescribable horror in the Jews stylized as mice , a premonition of the holocaust that is ahead of them . In a further sequence of images the swastika forms the omnipresent background against which violent scenes of the increasing persecution of the Jews take place. In this way, the author shows how racism affected the everyday life of its victims. The swastika documents the driving force in the history of this racism and invites readers to empathize with its meaning for the victims. Under this flag the victims are defined as Jews and the perpetrators as German Nazis and contrasted as separate groups so that their individuality is suppressed. The swastika symbolizes the means of the charismatic leader in a racist society to impose the desired identity on both persecuted and persecuted.


Man with swastika tattoo, Moscow, September 5, 2013

Some soccer hooligans , Hells Angels , skinheads and punks who do not see themselves as neo-Nazis consciously use the swastika next to other symbols to provoke and shock others. In Great Britain, punks initially wore the swastika as an armband to tear it out of its context ( bricolage ), to show radical nonconformism , to break with all social expectations, to provoke rejection and to stylize themselves as an object of hatred. The historical reasons for this social rejection were excluded. Because right-wing extremists from the British National Front then saw the punks as sympathizers, the swastika lost its shock effect for them and was given up again.

The Russian opera singer Yevgeny Nikitin had a swastika tattoo as a teenage heavy metal drummer . After the management of the Bayreuth Festival asked him in 2012, he canceled his participation. Other directors criticized the survey as lying: Richard Wagner's heirs had shown no remorse for their proximity to National Socialism.

Similar to the followers of Rael, but without religious intentions, followers of the Canadian author ManWomen (pseudonym) wanted to enlighten on the first anniversary of his death on November 13, 2013 about the original meaning of the Indian swastika and "claim back" its innocence. Under the motto “Learn to love the swastika”, over 120 tattooists around the world offered free swastika tattoos. The offer was particularly popular in Denmark, where the swastika is allowed to be worn. On the other hand, the action met with protests from activists against racism and representatives of Judaism: The swastika was irrevocably corrupted by its history and today represents fascism. You can't just “wash it clean” of it. The action is "cheap" and gives rise to fears for the future.


The Unicode contains one Chinese-Japanese-Korean ( CJK ) and one Tibetan character each for the right-hand and left-hand swastika as well as two Tibetan characters for the swastika with dots:

character Code point
U + 5350 (CJK)
U + 534D (CJK)
U + 0FD5 (right)
U + 0FD6 (left)
U + 0FD7 (right + points)
U + 0FD8 (li + dots)

After protests against the inclusion of Unicode swastics in the Bookshelf Symbol 7 symbol font in the Microsoft Office program, Microsoft removed the swastics as well as a Star of David in 2003. This in turn triggered protests that put Hindus and Buddhists at a disadvantage and restricted freedom of expression through authoritarian interventions.

Additional information


Archeology and ethnology

  • Dennis J. Aigner: The Swastika Symbol in Navajo Textiles. DAI Press, 2009, ISBN 0-9701898-3-4 .
  • Egbert Richter-Ushanas: The Sacred Marriage and the Swastika on Indus Seals and Tablets. A study on the foundations of human culture. Richter, Bremen 2005, ISBN 3-924942-42-0 .
  • Thomas Wilson: Swastika. The Earliest Known Symbol and Its Migrations. With Observations on the Migration of Certain Industries in Prehistoric Times. In: Report of the United States National Museum 1894, ISSN  0273-0243 , pp. 757-1011. Reprint: Kessinger, 1999, ISBN 0-7661-0818-X ( full text online )

Ideological-political use

Contemporary historical context

  • Focke-Museum Bremen (Hrsg.): Graben for Germania: Archeology under the swastika. Theiss , Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-8062-2673-7 .
  • Achim Leube, Morten Hegewisch: Prehistory and National Socialism: Central and Eastern European Prehistory and Early History Research in the Years 1933-1945. Synchron, Heidelberg 2002, ISBN 3-935025-08-4 .
  • Rolf Wilhelm Brednich: Germanic symbols and their supposed continuity. A balance sheet. In: Rolf Wilhelm Brednich, Heinz Schmitt: Symbols: On the meaning of symbols in culture. 30th German Folklore Congress in Karlsruhe from September 25 to 29, 1995. Waxmann , Münster / New York / Munich / Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-89325-550-8 , pp. 80–91.

Web links

Commons : Swastikas  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Swastika  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: swastika  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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  211. Example: Dietrich Bronder: Before Hitler came: A historical study. 2nd edition, Geneva 1975, pp. 248-251; on this Isrun Engelhardt: Nazis of Tibet: A Twentieth Century Myth
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  220. Der Spiegel, July 3, 2013: Planted Nazi symbols: The swastika in the forest
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  227. Oliver Fritsch (Die Zeit, November 16, 2010): The Nazi past of the ETV: The gymnast's hook crosses get stuck
  228. swastika on the floor? SZ, December 8, 2008
  229. "US Veterans won't strike swastikas from graves of German POWs" Times of Israel, May 13, 2020
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  243. Hamburger Abendblatt, July 23, 2012: Conductor Thielemann: "A swastika never works"
  244. Charlotte Meredith (Huffington Post, Nov. 8, 2013): Learn To Love The Swastika? Tattoo Parlor Aim To 'Take Back' Symbol From The Nazis In New Scheme ; Cnaan Liphshiz (Telegraph, November 13, 2013): Global effort to 'reclaim' the swastika, one free tattoo at a time
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