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From Ancient Symbol to Nazi Icon: Why Did Hitler Choose the Swastika

Everyone in the Western world today knows what a swastika looks like and why it is so despised. Yet, what many don’t realize is that for thousands of years, the swastika used to be a beloved symbol of good luck, fertility, and well-being, especially in India and Eastern Asia.

So, why did Hitler choose an Eastern spiritual symbol to represent his Nazi regime? What occurred in the 20th century for such a beloved symbol to be adopted by arguably the most despicable ideology humanity has come up with to date? Let’s take a look in this article.

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swastika by the Nazi Party and neo-Nazis
By RootOfAllLight – Own work, PD.

It’s not all that surprising that the swastika caught the Nazis’ attention – the symbol was so popular by the start of the 20th century, throughout Europe and the US. This popularity wasn’t just as a religious or spiritual symbol but in the broader pop culture too.

Coca-Cola and Carlsberg used it on their bottles, the US Boy Scouts used it on badges, the Girls’ Club of America had a magazine called Swastika, and family restaurants used it in their logos. So, when the Nazis stole the swastika, they didn’t just steal it from the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain people of South-East Asia, they stole it from everyone around the globe.

Secondly, the Nazis found – or, rather, imagined – a link between 20th-century Germans and the ancient Indian people, the Indo-Aryans. They began calling themselves Aryans – descendants of some imaginary light-skinned divine warrior people from Central Asia, whom they believed to be superior.

But why exactly did the Nazis believe in the seemingly absurd idea that their ancestors were some divine white-skinned God-like people that lived in ancient India and developed the Sanskrit language and the swastika symbol?

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As with any other lie, for millions of people to fall for it, there has to be one or more tiny grains of truth. And, indeed, when we start picking up the pieces of this broken ideology, we can see how they managed to delude themselves in such a way.

Swastika documentary. See it here.

For starters, it is technically true that contemporary Germans share a common ancestor with both the ancient and modern people of India – all people on the planet share such a common ancestor after all. What’s more, the many different peoples of Europe and Asia do share a lot of ethnic and cultural cross-sections as various ancient tribes have been moving from one continent to the other and vice versa for thousands of years. We even call the two continents Euroasia.

To this day there are quite a few countries in Europe such as Hungary and Bulgaria that weren’t just founded by tribes from Central Asia but even bear their original names and have preserved parts of their ancient cultures.

Of course, Germany isn’t one of those countries – at its inception, it was founded by the ancient Germanic people that were descendants of the first Celts that themselves splintered off the ancient Thracians, who did come from Asia. Plus, 20th-century Germany included many other ethnicities also, such as the Slavic, ethnic Roma, Jewish, and many others who all have ties with the East. Ironically, the Nazis despised all those ethnicities but the presence of ethnic ties between Europe and Asia is a fact.

Linguistic Similarities of German and Sanskrit

Another factor that played into the Aryan delusions of the Nazis lay in some linguistic similarities between ancient Sanskrit and contemporary German. Many Nazi scholars spent years looking for such similarities in an attempt to discover some hidden secret history of the German people.

Unfortunately for them, the few similarities between Sanskrit and contemporary German aren’t due to a unique relationship between the ancient Indian people and modern-day Germany but are just random linguistic peculiarities, the likes of which exist between virtually any two languages in the world. Still, these were enough for the Nazis to start seeing things that weren’t there.

All this can feel silly from an ideology that took itself so seriously. It is quite in character for the Nazis, however, as many were known to be heavily invested in occultism. Indeed, the same applies to many modern-day neo-Nazis too – like other forms of fascism, this is an ideology based on the concept of palingenetic ultranationalism, i.e. the rebirth or re-creation of some ancient, ethnic greatness.

India and Skin Tone

There were yet other key connections that led the Nazis to steal the swastika as their own. For example, there is evidence that one of the few ancient races to inhabit the Indian sub-continent was indeed lighter-skinned. The ancient Indo-Aryans with whom the German Nazis tried to identify were a secondary migration into India and had lighter skin before they mixed with the older darker-skinned inhabitants of the sub-continent.

Obviously, the fact that there was one lighter-skinned race among the many that took part in the melting pot that is India has nothing to do with contemporary Germany – the Nazis just wished it did. The modern-day Roma people in Europe have an infinitely greater ethnic connection with the people of India, yet the Nazis despised them as much as they hated Jewish, African, Slavic, and LGBTQ peoples.

The Wide Use of the Swastika in Ancient Times

Hindu Swastika
An example of Hindu Swastika. See it here.

Perhaps the most significant connection the Nazis “found” that made them steal the swastika, however, was the simple fact that it isn’t actually just an Indian religious or spiritual symbol. Swastikas have been found in many other ancient cultures and religions in Asia, Africa, and Europe, many dating over a dozen millennia back.

The ancient Greeks had swastikas, as seen in the famous Greek key pattern, the ancient Celts and Slavic people had variations of the swastika, as seen in many ancient stone and bronze figurines they left behind, the Anglo-Saxons had them, as did the Nordic people. The reason the swastika is famous as a Hindu symbol first and foremost is that most other cultures had died out or adopted new religions and symbols over the years.

The presence of swastikas in other ancient cultures isn’t really surprising. The swastika is a pretty simple and intuitive shape – a cross with its arms bent clockwise at a 90 degrees angle. Being surprised that many cultures invented and used such a symbol would be like being surprised that many cultures imagined the circle.

Yet, the Nazis wanted to believe that they had some secret, mythical, super-human history and destiny so badly that they saw the presence of swastika patterns in countries between Germany and India as “proof” that the Germans were the descendants of the ancient divine white-skinned Indo-Aryans that had come from India to Germany thousands of years ago.

One might almost feel bad for them if they hadn’t committed so many inhumane atrocities during their short reign over Germany and Europe.

Wrapping Up

The reasons behind Adolf Hitler’s choice of the swastika as the symbol of the Nazi regime were multi-faceted. While the swastika had a long history as a symbol of good fortune in various cultures, its adoption by Hitler and the Nazis marked a transformation in its meaning and perception.

The Nazis wanted to associate themselves with a glorious and ancient past, to justify their ideological beliefs in their perceived supremacy. It became an excellent symbol for the Nazis to rally around. Today, the swastika reminds us of the power of symbols, how they change over time, and how they can be used to manipulate and control.

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Yordan Zhelyazkov
Yordan Zhelyazkov

Yordan Zhelyazkov is a published fantasy author and an experienced copywriter. While he has degrees in both Creative Writing and Marketing, much of his research and work are focused on history and mythology. He’s been working in the field for years and has amassed a great deal of knowledge on Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Mesoamerican, Japanese mythology, and others.