By Casey Van Ommering
What are your first thoughts looking at this symbol? What does it represent?
If you are at all familiar with history in the 20th century, you recognize the Swastika – the symbol of the Third Reich that Hitler ruled prior to and during World War II.
In 1933, the Nazis rose to power at a time when Germany’s fragile, political system and economy were in disarray. The Third Reich appealed to German voters by promising to right the wrongs Germany experienced after World War I, to make Germany an economic and military power once again. Hitler capitalized on this popular sentiment, solidifying his control through propaganda and indoctrination.
The Nazis soon instituted a rank system of racial classifications, believing that a superior Aryan race existed – essentially ethnic Germans, non-Jewish whites, and northern European whites with blond hair and blue eyes – and any other racial classifications were inferior to this “Aryan race.”
This indoctrination slowly and ultimately led to the Holocaust during World War II, the systematized killing of 6 million European Jews, and the slavery of over 5 million prisoners of war. The Swastika became the symbol of unimaginable war crimes, torture, slavery, gas chambers, and human experimentation.
It has been imprinted on our minds with images of these atrocities, but historically speaking, has the Swastika always resembled this? Is there more to the symbol than its 20th-century interpretation?
To answer this question, let’s travel to parts of the Southwest United States and ask homeowners about their thoughts on the Swastika. Cindy Velazquez, for example, is one of many Texas residents with Swastikas embedded on the outside and inside of her house.
“People drive by, stop in the middle of the road, and take pictures. Like we’re crazy.” However, she claims the Swastika means something completely different to her. “I find it something to be peaceful.”
Why would she define the Swastika as “peaceful?”
She’s not the only one. With a rich history of Native American culture, these Northwest Texas houses feature the historic interpretation of the Swastika as “good fortune.”
In fact, the Swastika has a different interpretation throughout the world – widely represented in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism, Mesopotamia, Eastern Europe, the Armenians, the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Celts, the Koreans, and the Japanese.
The Chinese use the Swastika in their written language, from the word “wan,” meaning: “To increase the luck or good fortune by 10,000.”
The Swastika has even drawn attention to the naval base on Coronado, San Diego. If you look below, you’ll see a formation that surprisingly resembles a Swastika from an aerial view. John Mock, the designer of the barracks in the late 1960s, has received plenty of feedback over the years.
“There’s no symbolic meaning to the design,” he responds when asked about his blueprint. He claims the structure was originally designed to be 4 L-shaped buildings, and it just happened by coincidence to look like a Swastika from above. Still, observants and residents argue there might be a deeper meaning to the structure, that the Swastika shape was intentional.
Despite its infamy, there is a movement amongst experts to inform the public that the symbol does not need to remain shrouded in hate. That it can be redeemed to its historical meaning, a symbol of good faith and fortune.
Although tarnished by the Nazis, some argue the Swastika does not have to remain that definition alone. It seems only time will tell if a word and design so polarized can be transformed into a symbol of hope and good fortune.