Should the Swastika be reclaimed from its horrific history?

Let’s be brutally honest, this symbol is drenched in the blood of millions and if the conversation about reclaiming such a symbol makes you feel uncomfortable… Good, it should make you uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable too. Yet, in recent months, this topic has surfaced several times and I often wonder if we can reclaim […]

May 23, 2023

Let’s be brutally honest, this symbol is drenched in the blood of millions and if the conversation about reclaiming such a symbol makes you feel uncomfortable…

Good, it should make you uncomfortable.

It makes me uncomfortable too.

Yet, in recent months, this topic has surfaced several times and I often wonder if we can reclaim such a symbol and restore its original meaning. More importantly…

Should we? Is it too far gone? Does it harbour too much pain?

Truthfully, I don’t know the answer. Even several months into this emotional deliberation, I’m no further forward. 

When I look at the Swastika, it makes me feel sick. I cannot hold a gaze with the symbol for more than a few seconds before wanting to grit my teeth together, throw something across the room or burst into tears. 

It deeply offends me on so many levels and floods of images of the horrors it’s witnessed immediately come to mind.  Millions of people have been affected by this symbol, my own family included. 

Like many soldiers and civilians alike, my family was affected by WWII and for so many, that symbol was among the last things they saw. Each flag, armband, pin and uniform patch bore witness to horrors and a kind of suffering that people like me and you could never imagine.

With these emotions involved, it’s no surprise that this conversation often raises some eyebrows and causes a level of outrage that leads people to equal parts infuriated and sickened. 

Yet, time and time again my mind circles back to the question… 

Can an ancient symbol that once stood for peace, tolerance and acceptance ever be readopted after such a horrific history?

Before we start to answer that question, it’s important to observe the history of the Swastika pre-1940’s Germany. 

There’s varying timelines about the first evidence of the Swastika and finding an exact date has proved impossible thus far. Some articles indicate it could be 15,000 years old, while others insist it’s 3,000 years old. Regardless of the exact date, it’s clear from archaeological evidence and varying inscriptions that the symbol has ancient origins. Before the adoption and misappropriation by the third reich (I refuse to capitalise the first letters in their name), the Swastika had an entirely different meaning. 

Even the etymology of the word Swastika indicates its true meaning. It has Sanskrit roots and comes from the prefix su (good) and the suffix asti (to prevail). Quite literally, it means good prevails. This translation varies slightly depending on the source.

So how exactly did a “good prevails” symbol become a poster of hate, horror, pain and genocide?

We can attribute the adaptation of the symbol by the nazi party (another refusal to capitalise the first letters) to an amateur archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann. In 1871 he discovered the ancient city of Troy in Hisarlik on the Aegean coast of Turkey. There, he discovered up to 1,800 variations of the symbol depicted across various surfaces and artefacts.

It’s worth noting here that Heinrich Schliemann was neither nazi nor sympathiser (that was a bit after his time, he died in 1890). He was simply a man obsessed with the Iliad and finding the City of Troy. 


Terracotta balls from Schliemann’s archaeological digs at Troy
Source : Smithsonian Magazine

It’s said that Heinrich Schliemann was unsure of the Swastika’s meaning and asked others to interpret the meaning for him. Those that did, came to the false conclusion that the Swastika was associated with some ancient societies who were deemed “aryan”;  thus the association between the Swastika and the “superiority of the aryan race” was born. 

Anti-semetic parties in Germany had adopted the symbol before the Second World War, both the reichshammerbund and freikorps began using the symbol around the 1920’s where they were painted on helmets and vehicles. 

By the time hitler rose to power in the 1930’s, the symbol had already been adopted and associated with “aryan superiority” and this ideal had generally been accepted into some parts of society. Naturally, under the continued misappropriation of the nazi’s, it spread much further and wider. 

This the perfect example of how any symbol can be misappropriated as a symbol for hate, all with a simple mistranslation and lack of understanding. 

So now we’ve looked at the history of the Swastika, let’s explore another important question.

Why would you even want to reclaim it?

DutchPagans said something very interesting to me and I’ve been sent into a tailspin ever since.

We shouldn’t allow this symbol to die in a bunker in Germany.”

I can’t shake the feeling that he’s got a point, after all, to this day the symbol is still sacred to several cultures. 

In Hinduism, the Swastika when facing right represents the sun deity Surya and represents good luck. When facing left it’s called the Sauwastika and represents the goddess Kalika

In Buddhism, the symbol is called Manji and it represents the footsteps of Buddha and is used to mark the location of Buddhist temples. 

However the symbol is not limited to these religions, the Navajo also use it and they know the symbol as The Whirling Log.

Additionally, I am of the belief that no symbol is evil, bad or harmful. It’s humans that use symbols to perpetuate hate that’s the problem. Remove the history, emotions and horrors from the symbol and all you’ve got is a few lines that form a shape. 

As a great example, if we sent a Swastika into space and someone (or something) from a foreign planet came across it, would they feel the same way that we do about it? No, because they haven’t been educated on the human horrors associated with it.  

In the very same breath, I hesitate and question myself. But, before I digress, let’s move onto the next question. Arguably, the most pertinent one to this post. 

How can we go about reclaiming a symbol from such hatred? Where would we even start?

Before even starting, there are parties that need to be at the centre of this conversation. The most important opinions on this subject should come from the people and communities that were (and continue to be) affected most by The Holocaust and this “aryan superiority” nazi narrative that sadly, still echoes in the warped minds of some extremists today. 

Without the opinions, thoughts and approval of these communities, you could be advocating for the recirculation of a symbol they feel should have died in that German bunker

That’s precisely why I suggest, if you are going to advocate for the reclaiming of this symbol, agreement and conversation needs to start with those most affected by it. 

It’s their opinions that matter most in this discussion and without that insight, there’s not much else I can (or should) add. 

I will leave you with a snippet of my swirling thoughts and the endless list of questions I have surrounding this topic.

Would we be eradicating the suffering of the past by reclaiming the Swastika? 

Would we be contributing to the fear that POC’s face, so long as extremists continue to hide under the banner of this symbol? 

On the other hand, this symbol is still used by certain hate groups to perpetuate their disgusting ideals.

So would reclaiming it erase some of their power? 

Would they be forced to accept that their disgusting idea of an “aryan superiority” did die in that German bunker and that there’s no place for such abhorrence in 2023?

This is a snippet of my constant dilemma, a cycling of thoughts and feelings about the Swastika. 

As I said at the beginning of this article, sadly I don’t have an answer for you, dear reader. 

All I have are many thoughts and a perpetual contemplation for both sides of the argument.  

Now, it’s your turn to share your thoughts.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Is this symbol too “far gone” to reclaim?

Should we even try?

p.s. if anyone is wondering what relevance the featured photo has, Stalag IX-C is the POW camp that my Great Grandfather died in.


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