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Origins of the Swastika Flag (Third Reich, Germany)


Last modified: 2005-09-10 by santiago dotor
Keywords: third reich | nationalsocialist | nsdap | swastika | hakenkreuz | disc (white) | cross: swastika (black) | order of the new templars | templar | cross: swastika (red) | fleurs-de-lis: 4 (red) |
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[Swastika Flag (Third Reich, Germany)]
by António Martins and Mark Sensen

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Origins of the Swastika Flag

Excerpted from Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler, 1923:

The organization of our monitor troop clarified a very important question. Up till then the movement had no party insignia and no party flag. The absence of such symbols not only had momentary disadvantages, but was intolerable for the future (...) party comrades lacked any outward sign of their common bond (...) [Hitler then writes about how he attended a mass Marxist demonstration:] a sea of red flags, red scarves, and red flowers (...)

I have, in our movement, always upheld the standpoint that it is a true good fortune for the German nation to have lost the old flag (...) from the bottom of our hearts we should thank Fate for having been gracious enough to preserve the most glorious war flag of all time from being used as a bedsheet for the most shameful prostitution. The present-day Reich, which sells itself and its citizens, must never be permitted to fly the black, white and red flag of honour and heroes...

The question of the new flag —that is, its appearance— occupied us intensely in those days. From all sides came suggestions (...) the new flag had to be equally a symbol of our own struggle, since on the other hand it was expected also to be highly effective as a poster (...) an effective insignia can in hundreds of thousands of cases give the first impetus towards interest in a movement. For this reason we had to reject all suggestions of identifying our movement through a white flag with the old state (...) white is not a stirring colour. It is suitable for chaste virgins' clubs, but not for world-changing movements in a revolutionary epoch. [other assessments of various colours also]

I myself always came out for the retention of the old colours, not only because as a soldier they are to me the holiest thing I know (...) nevertheless, I was obliged to reject without exception the numerous designs which poured in (...) which for the most part had drawn the swastika into the old flag.

I myself, meanwhile, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flag with a red background, a white disk, and a black swastika in the middle. After long trials I also found a definite proportion between the size of the flag and the size of the white disk, as well as the shape and thickness of the swastika.

And this remained final.

I have cut out a lot, but this whole passage makes interesting reading. It is pages 492-497 of the Houghton Mifflin edition, translated by Ralph Mannheim, 1971. I haven't seen the passage in Mein Kampf, but William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich says the following:
He [Hitler] says that numerous designs suggested to him by party members invariably included a swastika and that a "dentist from Sternberg" actually delivered a design for a flag that "was not bad at all and quite close to my own."

David Cohen, 12 May 1998

According to John Toland's Adolf Hitler, the flag submitted by the "dentist from Starnberg" was "a swastika against a black-white-red background". He also writes that "Hitler insisted upon a party flag that could compete with the flaming red Communist banner". "We wanted something red enough to out-Herod Herod", recalled Drexler, something to outdo the Reds but "quite different." Anton Drexler was one of the founders and the original leader of the German Workers' Party, which became, after Hitler joined, the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi Party for short.

Devereaux Cannon, 12 May 1998

England 1997 [eng97] deals with the subject in depth and says:

(...) what inspired Hitler to use the swastika as a symbol for the NSDAP was its use by the Thule-Gesellschaft [organization] since there were many connections between them and the DAP (...) from 1919 until the summer of 1921 Hitler used the special Nationalsozialistische library of Dr. Friedich Krohn, a very active member of the Thule-Gesellschaft, (...) Dr. Krohn was also the dentist from Sternberg who was named by Hitler in Mein Kampf as the designer of a flag very similar to one that Hitler designed in 1920 (...) during the summer of 1920, the first party flag was shown at Lake Tegernsee (...) these home-made (...) early flags were not preserved, the Ortsgruppe München flag was generally regarded as the first flag of the Party.
Most of these early relic NSDAP flags, including the flag of the 5th Munich SA Company of the 1923 Putsch, which became the famous Blood Flag in 1925, were eventually lost during the Allied bombings of World War Two. Of the four original NSDAP Deutschland Erwache standards only one still exists today.

Ben K. Weed, 17 November 1996

Origins of the Colours

After the North German League in 1867 (and after 1871, the new German Empire) was formed, the Prussian government's dislike for the black-red-gold flag resulted in the adoption of a new black-white-red tricolor. Affter the German defeat in World War One, the new republic adopted the black-red-gold tricolor earlier used in 1848 — and now again the German flag. As a result, the right wing parties urged the readoption of the black-white-red. The colors of the Nazi flag was thus a form of right wing allegiance and signified opposition to democracy. The original (1867) meaning was apparently a merger of the Prussian black-white and the red and white colors common among German maritime states (allegedly inspired by the medieval Hanseatic League).

Norman Martin, 2 June 2000

Swastika Symbolism

The [above] historical information about the development of the swastika does not explicitly state why a swastika in the first place. Smith 1975 notes that it was a symbol of the Aryan peoples (among many others) in much earlier days, possibly a sun symbol, and he obliquely implied a link between that and Hitler's ideals of an Aryan race.

Rob Raeside, 6 January 2001

The swastika was earlier used as a sign for power, and thus often used on maps to indicate where you could find a power plant or such things. The Swedish company ASEA —now the "A" in the Swedish-Swiss company ABB— used a swastika in its logo until the beginning of the 1930's, when this symbol got a more political meaning. In Swedish, a swastika is called hakkors or hook cross, so at least here it is considered a form of a cross. The hooks are of course formed by the cross arms that are set in angles. Swastikas were used in the air force signs of Finland and of Latvia from their independence following World War One and until the 1940's. The use of swastikas by the Finnish in their war of 1941-1944 against the Soviet Union, had therefore nothing to do with their alliance with Germany at the time.

Elias Granqvist, 7 January 2001

A swastika is a symbol of multiple meanings. It can be found almost all over the world "except to certain areas of Central Africa and Southern Mesopotamia", according to Symbollex, the Norwegian edition of J.C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1978, 1982, 1990. Swastikas have been used in the Indus Valley, in Greece, Cyprus, Iceland, by the Lapps, in Ireland, Scotland, and England. The symbol arrived in Egypt about 2500 years ago.

There seems to be agreement that the swastika is a symbol of the sun. It might have been a symbol of the most influential Arian Gods (Zeus, Jupiter). There are lots of possible explanations: It might be a symbol of the stars revolving around the North Pole, the four seasons, it might be a symbol of a human being (two arms + two legs), also something like the yin and yang symbol (masculine and feminine, movement and rest etc.). Some theories say that it might be a symbol of a maze, lightning, water in motion etc. Among some Asian muslims, the swastika is a symbol for north/south/east/west and the four seasons, for some Chinese it is a "a collection of happy symbols, including thousands of good effects". Today not everyone would agree with this understanding of the symbol.

Helge Jacobsen, 7 January 2001

Left-handed Swastika Legend

One version of the origin of the Nazi flag is given by Francis King, Satan and Swastika: The Occult and the Nazi Party, Mayflower Books, 1976. On p. 117 it is stated that in early 1920 various designs for National Socialist flags were submitted to Hitler:

The one finally adopted (...) was designed by Dr. Friedrich Krohn, a dentist from Sternberg (...). Krohn's design, the swastika on a white disk against a red background, was intended to symbolize the ideology of the movement — in red its social ideal, in white its nationalism, and in the swastika "the struggle for the victory of Aryan man". But Krohn's flag featured a right-handed swastika, traditional symbol of good fortune, spiritual evalution and the triumph of spirit over matter. Hitler insisted on it being replaced by the left-handed swastika, regarded by occultists as the equivalent of a reversed crucifix, an evocation of evil, spiritual devolution and black magic!
King is a well reputed author on the history of modern occult organizations. In this instance, however, he does not give sources. In J.H. Brennan The Occult Reich, Signet, 1974, the same basic story regarding Krohn's participation is related (p. 86); Brennan also quotes from Mein Kampf where Hitler wrote:
A symbol it really is! In red we see the social ideal of the movement, in white the nationalist idea, in the swastika is the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man.

Peter Cawley, s.d.

Although this claim occurs quite regularly, there is in fact very little evidence for it (which probably accounts for the lack of sources). In fact, the swastika, including the so-called left-handed version, is an ancient sun-wheel symbol used by peoples across the world, ranging from the American Indians to the Tibetans. They would hardly be likely to use the left-handed swastika if it was associated with evil. Similarly, the left-handed swastika appeared on the pre-war national symbols of Latvia and Finland, before there was any association with Nazism. The Isle of Man flag is also a variation on this theme. I suspect that the story about the left-handed swastika, like the allegation of Hitler's illegitimacy, was simply Allied wartime propaganda.

Stuart Notholt

Order of the New Templars 1907

[Order of the New Templars 1907 (Germany)] 2:3
by José Manuel Erbez

The first time the swastika was used with an 'Aryan' meaning was on 25 December 1907, when the self-named Order of the New Templars, a secret society founded by Lanz von Liebenfels, hoisted at Werfenstein Castle (Austria) a yellow flag with a swastika and four fleurs-de-lys.

José Manuel Erbez, 21 January 2001