Swastika – how symbols change their meaning.. (part 2)

The decorative Hindu swastika

The swastika was adopted as a symbol of National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP or the Nazi Party) in 1920, and in the 1930s, after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, it became a commonly used symbol of Nazi Germany. It was during the Second World War when in many cultures worldwide the connoted meaning of swastika changed. From the universal genuine sign it suddenly became a racist ‘Aryan’ emblem, a symbol of the Nazis and their atrocities. “The Nazi movement has become such a strong sign that many of the cultural signs to which it linked itself were retooled to be entirely identified with that movement. This re-purposing affected the swastika” (Assaf, p. 8-9).

In 1950s French philosopher Roland Barthes broadened semiology by the term ‘myth’ which he described as “a peculiar system, in that it is constructed from a semiological chain which existed before it: it is a second-order semiological system. That which is a sign in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in the second” (Barthes, p. 114). As the sign becomes associated with a concept, it becomes a signifier and produces a second sign, which is detached from the original meaning. So following this method: the swastika (sign) is a crooked cross (signifier) and in pre-Nazi times symbolizes ‘luck’ (signified); when Hitler decided to use it as a symbol of Nazi Germany (sign) swastika (signifier) became the symbol of hate, racism, evil etc. (signified)

This postcard, copyright 1907 by E. Phillips, a U.S. card publisher, speaks for the universally high regard in which the swastika was held as a good luck token before use by the Nazis corrupted its meaning.

In 1925 Coca-Cola made a lucky watch fob in the shape of a swastika


Barthes, R. (2000) Mythologies, London: Vintage.

Assaf, K. The Dilution of Culture and the Law of Trademarks: idea-vol49-no1-assaf.pdf

Ward Sr., M. Hitler as a Sign: A Consideration of Semiotics and the Holocaust: SemioticsandtheHolocaust.pdf

Yronwode, C. The Swastika: http://www.luckymojo.com/swastika.html


2 responses to “Swastika – how symbols change their meaning.. (part 2)

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