Updated: Sep 22
Why Hindus and Jews have no reason to quarrel on a Nazi sign. And why the use of the wrong word for the Nazi symbol is racist.
The Snoldelev Stone is a runestone discovered in Snoldelev, Denmark from around the year 800 and is now part of the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark.
This essay was inspired by two tweets put out by Maya Kadosh, Deputy Chief of Mission, at the Israeli embassy in India. She wrote, “The swastika is an ancient and greatly auspicious symbol of the Hindu tradition. It is inscribed on Hindu temples, ritual altars, entrances, and even account books. A distorted version of this sacred symbol was misappropriated by the Third Reich in Germany, and abused as an emblem under which heinous crimes were perpetrated against humanity, particularly the Jewish people. It’s important that both Jews and Hindus be aware of the sensitivity of the symbol and keep working together to build an inclusive dialogue between the peoples.”
That this symbol had been misused by the Nazis, and its wider history, has been noted in recent years here (BBC) and here (Smithsonian Magazine). But Kadosh still had to issue a clarification after several days of Twitter skirmish between Jewish activists, mainly in America, and their Hindu counterparts which seemed to be taking a particularly acerbic tone. While it is unclear who ignited this controversy, its timing seems particularly inappropriate, and therefore dubious.
Ties between India and Israel have, perhaps, never been stronger, with the leaders of both countries often referring to one another as friends. In the most recent example; if India helped helped Israel with much needed supplies of hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, Israel scientists are now helping their Indian counterparts to help build a rapid Covid-19 testing apparatus.
At a time like this, it is worth asking, who would benefit by creating such a controversy that creates animosity to the extent that it needs diplomatic response to dampen the flames?
It is, even more pertinent, to recall that when Adolf Hitler and his followers first caught attention, there was no sign of the 'swastika' word. This is a point even recent analysis of the problem does not really point out. In 1922, in one of the first pieces that The New York Times wrote about Hitler, it said, “’Der Hitler’ and his ‘Hakenkreuzlers’ the popular topic of talk in Munich and other Bavarian towns.”
Note the word Hakenkreuzlers, meaning those with the sign of the Hakenkreuz, or the hooked cross. Now, the hooked cross had been a staple of European common insignia long before Hitler’s National Socialists surfaced. In the image above, for instance, it is seen on the 9th century Snoldelev Stone in Denmark where it represents the sun. Even earlier, it has been noted around 12,000 years ago on a bone bracelet found at Mizyn in what is modern-day Ukraine. Ancient Greek coins had their own version of the hooked cross.
It is critical to note that in Mein Kampf, his definitive autobiography, Hitler makes no mention of the word swastika. The word he uses in the original German version is – hakenkreuz. It is the English translation/s that changed the word to swastika.
To explain how this works, note the following. In the German original, Hitler wrote the following words, “Dennoch mußte ich die zahllosen Entwürfe, die damals aus den Kreisen der jungen Bewegung einliefen, und die meistens das Hakenkreuz in die alte Fahne hineingezeichnet hatten, ausnahmslos ablehnen”.
The word hakenkruez is clearly seen. Now in the English translation (one of the popular ones by James Murphy) there is no mention of hakenkreuz. Each time, the word has been replaced by the word ‘swastika’.
This kind of distortion is no simple mistake. Even today, on Google translate, the German words above, are translated to English as: “Still, I had to do the countless designs then came in from the circles of the young movement, and most of the time they had drawn the swastika into the old flag, refuse without exception”.
Google Translate image.
And therefore, even organisations like CNN continue to use the word swastika for Nazi flags adorned by extremists in America. No matter that the swastika is one of the holiest symbols in three great world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, and looks very different from what is on the Nazi flag.
The difference between the two symbols is stark.
An Indus Valley swastika seal.
While there is still a lot of inadvertent (and mistaken) use of the word 'swastika' to describe the Nazi symbol, it is surely time that this is discontinued, and declared a hate crime; for its deliberate use is akin to racism. Its use to target Hindus and attempt to insidiously divide Hindus and Jews is deplorable. It is time to call it by the name that the Nazis, indeed Hitler himself, used for their symbol – hakenkreuz.