September 15, 1935 – Germany Gets a New National Flag with a Swastika
On September 15, 1935, one year after Adolf Hitler‘s rise to the position of Führer, the Nazi flag became the national flag of Germany. One reason may have been the “Bremen Incident” in July 1935, where a group of anti-fascist demonstrators in New York City boarded the ocean liner SS Bremen, tore the Nazi Party flag from its staff, and tossed it into the Hudson River. When the German ambassador protested, American officials responded that the German national flag had not been harmed, only a flag with a political party symbol. The new flag was announced at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg, where the second most powerful Nazi, Hermann Göring, told the crowd that the old German flag was the symbol of a another era and was being used by “reactionaries”.
The design of the Nazi flag was introduced by Hitler as the party flag in 1920, a year before he became the political party’s leader: a flag with a red background, a white disk and a black swastika in the middle. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote about the process, saying that it was necessary to use the same colors as the flag of Imperial Germany, because they were:
“…revered colors expressive of our homage to the glorious past and which once brought so much honor to the German nation. The new flag should prove effective as a large poster because in hundreds of thousands of cases a really striking emblem may be the first cause of awakening interest in a movement.”
Nazi propaganda clarified the symbolism of the flag: the red color stood for German society, white for the movement’s nationalist thinking and the swastika for the victory of Aryan people over the Jews. The new flag was Hitler’s own personal design.
From 1933 to 1938, in ceremonies that took place at every Nuremberg Rally, the Nazis “sanctified” their beloved swastika flags by touching them with the “Blutfahne” (blood flag), the swastika flag used by Nazis during the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, when 2000 Nazis marched to the center of Munich and confronted police, resulting in the death of 16 Nazis and four police officers. Hitler was not wounded during the clash, and he escaped and was taken to safety in the countryside. Two days later, he was found, arrested and charged with treason.
His trial was widely publicized and gave Hitler a platform to publicize his nationalist sentiment. He was found guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison, where he dictated Mein Kampf to fellow prisoner Rudolf Hess, soon to become the third most powerful Nazi leader. After serving only nine months, Hitler was released. That was when Hitler realized that his path to power would come from elections rather than force, and changing his tactics, developed his Nazi propaganda.
At the end of WW II, the first law enacted by the Allied Control Council abolished all Nazi symbols. The display of swastika flags is now forbidden in Germany.
Ironically, the swastika is an ancient religious icon for many Eastern cultures, a symbol of divinity and spirituality. In the Western world it was a symbol of good luck until the 1930s, when White Nationalists co-opted the image, using it as a symbol of racial supremacy and intimidation.
In Hinduism, it means prosperity and good luck; in Jainism a swastika is the symbol for spiritual teachers; in Buddhism it symbolizes the footprints of the Buddha. The swastika is also found in traditional Native American art and iconography.
Also, on this day in 1935, The Nuremberg Laws were enacted at a special meeting during the annual Nuremberg Rally. The two laws were the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, forbidding marriages and sexual affairs between Jews and Germans; and the Reich Citizenship Law, which declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be citizens; everyone else were classified as state subjects, without rights.