Everyone knows that the swastika is a symbol of hatred and cruelty, synonymous with fascism that led to one of the most destructive wars humanity has ever witnessed. But did you know that before the Nazis used it, this symbol had a history dating back almost 12.000 years?
The swastika was an auspicious symbol with positive connotations that represented life, sun, power, strength, and good luck. The oldest swastika dating back 12.000 years was discovered in Mezine, Ukraine, carved on an ivory figurine. Pottery and coins from ancient Troy dating back to 4.000 B.C. reveal that the swastika was a commonly used symbol. It had been used by Hindus and Buddhists in India and other Asian countries, who thought of it as an important symbol of good fortune, prosperity, and eternity. Moreover, artifacts that have been discovered indicate its use by the ancient Druids, the Celts, Nordic tribes as well as Native Americans.
The term swastika is of Sanskrit origin. According to Sanskrit scholar P. R. Sarkar its etymology reveals a deeper meaning: “su” means “good”, “asti” means “to be”, “ik” means “what will continue to exist” and “a” – denotes feminine gender. So, the word swastika means “good existence” while its deeper meaning was defined as “Permanent Victory”. Different cultures used it in different names. It was called “Wan” in China, “Manji” in Japan, “Fylfot” in England, “Hakenkreuz” in Germany and “Tetraskelion” or “Tetragammadion” in ancient Greece.
Depending on how it is drawn, the swastika can have a positive or a negative meaning. There is a difference between the right-facing swastika and the left-facing sauvastika. The swastika was the symbol of life and good health while the sauvastika symbolized misfortune. The double meaning of symbols was common in ancient cultures, e.g. in Hinduism, where the right-hand swastika is a symbol of the God Vishnu and the Sun, while the left-hand sauvastika is a symbol of Kali and Magic.
Due to its ancient Aryan/Indian origins, in the mid-nineteenth century German nationalists began to use the swastika as a representation of a long Germanic/Aryan history. For Hitler, the new flag had to be a symbol of struggle: “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“.
So, on August 7th 1920, at the Salzburg Congress, the red flag with a white circle and black swastika became the official emblem of the Nazi Party, transforming a symbol of life and fortune into one of the most hated symbols in human history.