How did a Sanskrit symbol become the Nazi swastika?

The svastika, a cross with each leg bent at a 90-degree angle, is an important symbol in both ancient and modern religions. It indicates, among other things, good luck, the infinity of creation and the unconquered, revolving sun. So how did it become the symbol of the Nazi party?

Greek pottery featuring swastikas

The transition from auspicious svastika to despised swastika began in the late 19th century following the archaeological investigation of Hisarlik in Turkey by German antiquarian Heinrich Schliemann who believed it to be the site of Troy.

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Finding the svastika on a variety of artefacts, Schliemann recognised a similarity with designs found on sixth-century Germanic pottery, theorising that it represented an important and universal prehistoric religious symbol.

Unfortunately, some academics and nationalists in the newly-unified Germany took this further, suggesting the presence of the svastika across Europe and Asia supported the idea of an ancient Aryan master race.

By the early 1920s, the swastika had been adopted as a symbol of the German Reich.

So wedded to the poisonous ideology of hate, the Nazi swastika is today reviled in the West, although as an auspicious and sacred symbol in the East, the svastika remains popular within Buddhist and Hindu society.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, historian and author Miles Russell

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This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine