It’s been almost 70 years since World War II. However, the Nazi party, and their symbols, remains fresh in the minds of many as allegories of pure evil.
Nazis and neo-Nazis are the easiest automatic villains left. If you see a Nazi or someone dressed as a Nazi, then you are trained to automatically assume evil. Interestingly, many things that we now associate with Nazism once had very different meanings. Usually, said meanings were shockingly innocent and peaceful. This list is to examine those things, as well as how Nazi Germany changed their meaning in popular culture to this day.
10. The Writings of Nietzsche
When one thinks of the Nazi movement, inevitably the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche will come up. The truth of the matter is, there was a Nietzsche who supported the superiority of Teutonic races, as well as the Nazi Party. However, that Nietzsche was Elizabeth, and not Friedrich.
Elisabeth was married to Bernhard Forster, a believer in Aryan superiority. Following the mental breakdown of her brother Friedrich, Elisabeth was left as the caretaker of both him and his work. Elisabeth, as the wife of an Aryan racialist is opt to do, enthusiastically supported the Nazi movement. The writings of her brother were edited, twisted, misinterpreted, and then used as validation of her views. When Elisabeth died in 1935, the funeral was attended by Hitler, as well as other prominent members of the Nazi party.
9. The Music of Wagner
There is a lot of debate as to whether or not Richard Wagner, in his waning years, became a follower of the racialist teachings of Arthur de Gobineau. It is not entirely known whether Wagner would have supported the Nazi movement either, as Wagner died in 1883. It is known however, that Hitler was a devoted fan of Wagner’s music and operas from a very early age. During Hitler’s reign in Germany, Wagner was celebrated in Germany, becoming in many ways the official soundtrack of Nazism. Wagner’s music has became so intertwined with Hitler and Nazism, that performing it in Israel is incredibly controversial to this day.
The “goose step” was a marching style was originally developed in the 18th century by the Prussian commander Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Desau. The marching style was not exclusively used by just continental Europeans or Germans though. In the 19th century, the British army also used a variation of the step in military parades.
Studies show that group activities in unison will encourage more loyalty to the group. This may be why fascist leaders promoted marches like the goose step, or rhythmic chanting. The idea was to create a culture that promoted group ideals over your own. Either way, showing a group goose step is now a subtle thumbnail image to display the Nazi army. This hint was even used in the movie The Lion King, when Scar surveyed the hyena troops.
7. The Word Aryan
The days, the word “Aryan” evokes images of white supremacy. Originally though, it was a Sanskrit word associated with the Indian Subcontinent. The Sanskrit definition of the word was “noble” or “civilized.” As a matter of fact, in ancient times, the subcontinent was known as “Aryavarta.”
Of course, not many people would think of that type of definition today. White supremacists including the Nazis, used the word as part of a proposed “religion of the blood.” Thus, “Aryan” became associated with racial purification. To this day, the word Aryan will evoke images of Nazi death camps, and latter day Neo-Nazi white supremacy.
6. The Word Holocaust
These days, the word holocaust has only one real meaning to most people, and it ins’t good. The Holocaust is the common term for the extermination of the Jewish race by Nazis, as part of their “Final Solution.” However, in ancient Greek, holocaust means a “burnt offering” or “to be completely consumed by fire.” Typically, those being sacrificed by fire were placed in a Holocaust Cloak, (shown in wooden figurine form above,) such as the one worn by Andre The Giant in The Princess Bride.
Truthfully, Jews would prefer that the word “shoah” be used for what the Nazis did, “shoah” being the Hebrew word meaning “tragedy.” The thought is that referring to the attempted extermination of an entire race of people, as a burnt offering to a deity, is not a proper way to honor the people that died.
5. A Verse In The German National Anthem
Deutschlandlied or “Das Lied der Deutschen” means “Song of the Germans,” and is the national anthem of Germany. However, the first verse, which is often referred to as the “uber alles” verse, was the one sung during Hitler’s Germany. In order to disassociate themselves from Nazism, modern Germany moved straight to the third verse, disavowing the first entirely (the second verse was comparatively silly filler about wine and women, and was thus easily dismissed as well.)
It is actually illegal to sing the “uber alles” verse in Germany to this day. It is also considered to be an international faux pas to play the verse for victorious German teams in international competitions. So yes; due to Nazi association, an entire verse in the German national anthem is not sung in its own country.
4. Pink Triangles
Before World War II, a pink triangle had no particular connotation. However, in Nazi Germany, pink triangles were used to identify homosexuals (mostly men) in Nazi concentration camps. Numbers vary, but there were likely over 50,000 men put into camps for being homosexual. The men were often experimented upon, and frequently castrated.
In the early 1970’s, the pink triangle became a symbol of gay persecution, as well as gay pride. The symbol was also adopted by AIDS activists in the 1980’s. Today, the pink triangle is an international symbol of gay pride and AIDS awareness. However, it would probably still be unremarkable today, if not first associated with Nazi persecution.
3. The Name Adolf
The name Adolf was actually quite popular, as well as common, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The name is actually a compound derivation from the Old High German word “adal” or “athal,” meaning “noble” or “high,” and the word “wulf” meaning “wolf.” It is actually very close to Rudolf (which means “fame of the wolf.”) Quite the badass name; you’d think all of the other reindeer would have realized that before laughing at their red-nosed peer.
As far as Adolf goes, we can certainly see the appeal of a name that essentially translates to “Noble Wolf.” However, being associated with Hitler has, seemingly forever, demonized the meaning of the name. Even daring to name a child that invites massive international controversy. As a matter of fact, since World War II, only twenty babies have been born in Britain and given the name Adolf.
2. The Toothbrush Mustache
The “toothbrush mustache” is so associated with Hitler and the Nazi Party, that it is hard to even conceive that it might have been known for anything else. However, the style was first popularized by American and British sailors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Reportedly, German women were very much against their men adopting this “American mustache.”
A younger Hitler actually sported a fuller mustache known as the Kaiserbart. Multiple theories have developed as to why Hitler shaved down to the “toothbrush.” He could have been simply mimicking a popular style of the time. However, Alexander Moritz Frey, who served with Hitler as a private, claimed that Hitler was ordered to shave his mustache from the full Kaiserbart to the thin toothbrush. The reasoning was so his gas mask would fit better. Whatever the reason, the toothbrush mustache is now forever associated with Adolf Hitler, simply because he wore it. Sporting the relatively innocent facial hair today is seen as support of Nazi Germany, and a major faux pas. Just ask Michael Jordan.
1. The Swastika
The swastika symbol is literally thousands of years old, and comes from an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “to be well.” The swastika, prior to Nazi Germany, was literally nothing more than a good luck charm, and there were actually several different proposed symbols for the Nazi party that didn’t feature it at all.
It was primarily eastern in origin; however, the symbol adorned hockey teams, was the symbol of the Finnish Air Force until 1945 (while flown against Nazi Germany,) and even adorned Jewish delis in New York at one point. Since World War II, the symbol has obviously become a flashpoint for controversy. In the East, the symbol is still used and revered. In the West, it is often associated with Nazism and Nazi paraphernalia.