Video:The History of the Swastikawith Jennifer Rosenberg
The swastika is now most closely associated with Nazi Germany, but throughout history, it's actually had a number of meanings. Here's a tutorial on the history of the swastika.See Transcript
Transcript:The History of the Swastika
The Long History of the SwastikaThe swastika is an extremely powerful symbol. The Nazis used it to murder millions of people, but for centuries it had positive meanings. The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years. Artifacts, such as pottery and coins from ancient Troy, show that the swastika was a commonly used symbol as far back as 1000 BCE. During the following thousand years, the image of the swastika was used by many cultures around the world, including in China, Japan, India, and southern Europe. By the Middle Ages, the swastika was a well known symbol but was called by many different names: In China – wan; in England – fylfot; in Germany – hakenkreuz; in Greece - tetraskelion and gammadion; and in India – swastika. The Native Americans also have long used the symbol of the swastika.
Meaning of the SwastikaThe word "swastika" comes from the Sanskrit "svastika" - "su," meaning "good;" "asti," meaning "to be;" and "ka," as a suffix. Until the Nazis used this symbol, the swastika was used by many cultures throughout the past 3,000 years to represent life, sun, power, strength, and good luck. Even in the early twentieth century, the swastika was still a symbol with positive connotations. For instance, the swastika was a common decoration that often adorned postcards, coins, and buildings. During World War I, the swastika could even be found on the shoulder patches of the American 45th Division and on the Finnish Air Force until after World War II.
Modern History of the Swastika in GermanyIn the beginning of the twentieth century, the swastika was a common symbol of German nationalism and could be found in a multitude of places, such as the emblem for the Wandervogel, a German youth movement; on Joerg Lanz von Liebenfels' anti-Semitic periodical, Ostara; on various Freikorps units; and as an emblem of the Thule Society. In 1920, Adolf Hitler decided that the Nazi Party needed its own insignia and flag. For Hitler, the new flag had to be "a symbol of our own struggle," as well as "highly effective as a poster." In Mein Kampf, Hitler described the Nazis' new flag: "In red, we see the social idea of the movement; in white, the nationalistic idea; in the swastika, the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic." Because of the Nazis' flag, the swastika soon became a symbol of hate, anti-Semitism, violence, death, and murder.
Swastika in the Present DayWhat does the swastika mean now? These conflicting meanings are causing problems in today's society. For Buddhists and Hindus, the swastika is a very religious symbol that is commonly used, whereas, for some, it is a symbol of Nazis – of hatred, of death and destruction. But, some cultures in the past had differentiated between the clockwise swastika and the counter-clockwise sauvastika. In these cultures, the swastika symbolized health and life, while the sauvastika took on a mystical meaning of bad-luck or misfortune.
Thanks for watching! To learn more, visit About.com.
About videos are made available on an "as is" basis, subject to the User Agreement.