While commonly associated with Nazi Germany, the
swastika symbol is more than 3,000 years old. The term
"Swastika" was originally the name for a hooked cross in
Sanskrit, and swastikas have been found on artifacts, such as coins
and pottery, from the ancient city of Troy.
Not only are swastikas associated with ancient
Troy, the symbols are found in many other cultures, such as Chinese,
Japanese, Indian and southern European. By the Middle Ages, the
swastika was a well-known symbol and had many different names,
depending on the country. In some cultures, such as in ancient China,
the symbol is turned counterclockwise (sauvastika).
Throughout its history, the swastika represented
life, sun, power, strength and good luck. In the early 20th century, it was still considered a positive symbol. During World War
I, it was found on shoulder patches of members of the American 45th Division and the Finnish air force. Only after the Nazi period did
its connotation change.
German nationalists chose to use the swastika in
the mid-19th century because it was associated with the Aryan race
and Germanic history. At the end of the 19th century,
German nationalists used the symbol on periodicals and for the
official emblem of the German Gymnasts League. By the 20th century, it was a common symbol used in Germany to represent German
nationalism and pride, for example, as the emblem for the Wandervogel,
a German youth group. Swastikas also were used, however, in anti-Semitic periodicals.
The swastika officially became the emblem for the
Nazi Party on August, 7, 1920, at the Salzburg Congress. Describing
the new flag in Mein Kampf, Hitler said the swastika
symbolized the victory of the Aryan man.
Today the symbol is most commonly associated with
Nazi Germany, the Holocaust,
neo-Nazis and other hate groups.