Todays object is a Nazi Party flag, featuring a prominent swastika, captured during the Second World War and donated to the museum in 1964.
Though now, in the western world, associated with the Nazi party the swastika has a long, and noble, history as a symbol associated with good fortune. The word is from the Sanskrit tongue, the sacred language of Hinduism, and means ‘lucky object.’ Objects with swastika symbols on them have a surprisingly long history. The earliest use of the symbol dates to around 12,000 years ago, and was found on a carved tusk in the Palaeolithic settlement at Mezine in the Ukraine, though there is some dispute as to whether this is an actual swastika, or a stylised bird in flight. Pottery objects with swastika decorations have been found on pottery objects in Bulgaria dated to around 8,000 years old, and on Ilkley Moor, in Yorkshire, there is a stone carved with a swastika, dated to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.
The use of the symbol appears to have been near worldwide as objects using it have been found as far apart as Britain and Japan, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caucasus Mountains. Equally it is associated with many of the world’s religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Taoist. In Thailand a commonly used term for hello ‘sawaddi’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘swasti’ meaning luck, fortune, good.
Outside of religious uses swastikas were a common good luck totem, and as such can be seen displayed on early aviator’s photographs, in particular Matilda Moissant, the second woman to hold a pilot’s license in the United States, and one time world altitude record holder. Also swastikas were often seen as part of the decoration on wedding dresses, especially in the Edwardian era. In Denmark the swastika was used as a logo by the Carlberg Group from the late 19th century to the early 1930s when it was discontinued. A visit to their headquarters building will show the visitor a pair of large concrete elephants at the entrance, each with prominent swastikas still displayed. In America the symbol was used by various Native American tribes, including the Hopi and Navajo. The Kuna People of Panama use the symbol in their national flag, and there is the town of Swastika in Ontario, Canada. A popular female hockey team in British Columbia were known as the Fernie Swasitikas, after the prominent use of the symbol on their team jerseys.
It is with the Nazi party though that the swastika is predominantly known in the west. The Swastika was formally adopted by the Nazi party in 1920, and was used as the flag, badge and armband of the party. Hitler, in creating the flag for the Nazi party wished to incorporate not only the swastika, which at that time was believed to represent the early Aryan invaders of India, the first white settlement, according to that theology. As such the symbol represented the rise of the Aryan peoples, and their struggle for ultimate victory. In conjunction with the swastika, three colours were used, red, black and white. These were the colours of the flag of the old German Empire, and according to Hitler in his book Mein Kampf red represented the social idea of the Nazi movement, white the nationalistic idea and the black swastika, Aryanism.
Because of its use by the Nazi party, after the Second World War there were attempts across Europe to ban the symbol. In Germany it is one of a number of symbols that are banned, and any found using it face stiff penalties. The symbol is also banned in Austria, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Brazil. In 2001 the European Union attempted to pass legislation to ban the use of the symbol, but the various countries were unable to come to agreement. The same legislation was again attempted in 2005 and 2007, but was both times defeated. In 2007 this came about partly because of a protest by Hindu’s arguing that the symbol had been used by them as a token of good fortune for at least 5,000 years before the Nazi Party was created.