Is It Really Illegal to Display the Swastika Symbol in Germany?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The answer to this question largely depends on the intended use of the swastika symbol. As a matter of public law, the post-war German law codes prohibit the display of a swastika in any form or fashion, even if used satirically or as part of an anti-Nazi political statement. This law is generally applied to the specific five-by-five grid swastika design used during the Nazi era, however. Several religious organizations have petitioned the German government for permission to display other forms of the symbol.

Adolph Hitler chose a swastika as a talisman of the Nazi Party.
Adolph Hitler chose a swastika as a talisman of the Nazi Party.

Historically, the swastika symbol denotes general peace and world harmony, not the violence and genocide associated with the Nazi movement. The word swastika is derived from a Sanskrit word that describes any form of good luck charm. Several other German political and social organizations had already incorporated swastikas into their banners or flags before the rise of the National Socialist or Nazi party. While Adolph Hitler was in prison for a failed coup attempt, he conceived the idea of a National Socialist Party flag bearing a large black swastika in the center.

The Nazi Party used a swastika as its symbol.
The Nazi Party used a swastika as its symbol.

Hitler's choice of the swastika was partially based on his strong belief in the Aryan or master race theory. The original Aryans lived in India and were considered to be among the first Caucasian or white invaders of the Eastern world. Hitler believed that the swastika would remind the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan descendants in Europe of their rightful place as superiors. The complete annihilation of the inferior Jewish race would guarantee purity in the future bloodlines of a world dominated by Socialist ideals.

The Nazis forced millions of Jewish people and others into extermination camps.
The Nazis forced millions of Jewish people and others into extermination camps.

After the fall of the Nazi regime, many Germans felt their new government should take steps to distance itself from that tragic and costly time in German history. Along with banning the publication or ownership of Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf, the West German government made any display or use of the Nazi swastika illegal. This law continues to be tested today, with various neo-Nazi organizations routinely displaying the outlawed Nazi flag during demonstrations. Even consumer products such as t-shirts and bumper stickers can be confiscated if they contain any depiction of a swastika.

Depending on how it is used, the swastika symbol of the Nazis is sometimes illegal to display in Germany.
Depending on how it is used, the swastika symbol of the Nazis is sometimes illegal to display in Germany.

Some Germans equate the display of the swastika to the display of the Confederate flag in the United States. Both symbols represent dark periods in each country's history, but the government's attempt to outlaw their display could be construed as whitewashing – an effort to downplay the significance of the event itself. While most modern Germans bristle at the thought of the Holocaust or Hitler's reign of terror, some believe the display of the swastika symbol should not be completely outlawed. Oftentimes, the acknowledgement of a symbol of evil can be the key to diminishing its significance.

Many German political and social organizations had already incorporated swastikas into their flags before the rise of the Nazi party.
Many German political and social organizations had already incorporated swastikas into their flags before the rise of the Nazi party.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


It's an old Hindu symbol and its time that people educate themselves. If tomorrow someone blows up something in the name of the cross, will you ban the cross too?


Look, I happen to be both a Hindu (Indo-Aryan dude), and a Nazi (Heil Hitler). I think that while I acknowledge the fact that the Holocaust was terrible (I am not that kind of Nazi, the Fuhrer was crazy for that), I think that the party itself, if you remove the Holocaust, was brilliant. The swastika is a symbol of my ancestry and my political views, and to ban it is to say that it represents the Holocaust, but it does not. The swastika not only represents hope, but it represents the Nazi party, not the Holocaust.


It is not illegal to own or buy "Mein Kampf" in Germany. It is illegal to print and sell it, however, simply because the state of Bavaria owns the copyright to the book, and for obvious reasons they're not letting go of it.

The copyright will be void in 2015, by which time there was supposed to be an annotated version on the market to basically "demystify" it, but due to objections by holocaust survivors, that plan has been shelved.


@anon343516, Post 18: Try saying it's just a symbol to any survivor. If you had lived through it, then you would want it banned also. It's illegal for a reason!


Surely the people who read here are not stupid, right? Why isn't it illegal to display a Hexagram? Don't you think a Hexagram is "evil"? It sure is.

What ethnic state uses a Hexagram as a national symbol? Who owns the banks? What group? Who has essentially seized control of Western governments? What tribe? Who has lobbied for laws making it illegal to ask simple questions? What tribe?


Aryans are not white Europeans. Just thought I’d let you people know. The word Caucasian never meant white; it meant bone structure, because south Asians are Caucasian, but not white or European white.

It wasn't until the year 1785 a German philosopher named Christopher Meiner changed the definition to exclusively mean white, which is wrong because south Asians were excluded and yet they are the first Caucasians -- the brown Caucasians -- and are not white Europeans. Whites should be called Europeans. It’s funny how whites call Chinese people Asians when Asia has other non-white ethnicities besides Chinese. There are Koreans, east Indians, aboriginal Africans, Vietnamese, etc.


There were no white invaders who invaded India. The Max Mueller and Nixon theory got debunked a long time ago. Max Mueller died in the year 1899, fabricating the Aryan invasion theory and got debunked as there is no proof.

Also, the Rig Veda is the oldest history of Sanskrit and mentions nothing of Europe whatsoever. Aryan culture has been in Indian Hindus way before Max Mueller was even born. Quit stealing Hindu culture. It is not a trend for Europeans. The swastika (svastika) originated in India and Hindus are not European or white. There is no such thing as Eurasia or Indo European. That is a white man’s speculation of theories as again, there is no proof of any shared linguistics with Asia and Europe.


"Bombshell" by Ludwig Leidig is a new historical biography released in 2013 and features a fractured swastika flag on the cover. Surely that's OK in Germany today!


The sad truth is that Germany today is too hypersensitive about something that most folks were not even a part of today. Symbols mean nothing unless we give meaning to them. The swastika means nothing, but everyone now has set into their mind that it's a Nazi symbol and it's evil. No, it's just a symbol, like that symbol next to the street. You know, it has eight sides - it's red and white. Holy crap! It's a communist! No, it's a stop sign. It's all about giving it meaning.

Stop giving these items more meaning than they deserve, for Christ's sake. They are inanimate objects, not living things. Germany: get over it. Stop banning these things. It's so annoying to see everything removed when you know it was there. It was part of our history. Just because we lost does not give us the right to erase the history associated with it. Stop the insanity and put your efforts into something more worthwhile, like the fact that you are inviting more and more auslanders, who are becoming a huge burden on the economy, but you think we still need more foreigners to fill the jobs but the Germans in Germany are still looking for jobs. Go figure.


The claim below that Churchill/England intentionally starved Bengalis during World War II by removing all grains from the region is unsubstantiated. The reasons for the famine are multiple: natural disasters (typhoons, flooding), poor records (between the British and the local governments, numbers were often inflated, decreased, or completely made up), and the occupation of Burma by the Japanese. The region never provided enough grains to support itself and consistently imported from other countries, primarily Burma. This combination of factors left the government unprepared to deal with the famine, but Britain/Churchill did not engage in genocide and certainly did not intentionally decrease grain supplies. Also, there was a world war going on, in case you didn't know. That kind of thing can impact civilians. Just check out the pre and post population of the USSR.


Please analyze Hitler with an open mind. He was not the first who committed genocide. Winston Churchill was responsible for 5 million deaths of Bengalis due to a man made famine in the 1940s. Churchill joked about people who died due to hunger. During World War II, he ordered all grains and food to be taken from Bengal so it would not fall into Japanese hands. I love Hitler. He supported dark coloured Indians in their freedom struggle.


Swastikas are not displayed on World War II German aircraft in museums in Germany.

By removing them it is trying to change history. They were on these 'planes. That's a fact. This form of ban harkens back to the novel 'Big Brother.'


I think it should be possible to display a swastika by a hindu or an indian living in germany because it is their welfare symbol. Don't you agree?


Whenever you ban something, it only gets stronger..


I went to the Pickering War Weekend with my 14 year old daughter. She is studying World War II and we could not afford an expensive replica uniform for her to wear. A rail station was being occupied by Germans. She bought this symbol to put on the arm of a green shirt. She was verbally attacked by a lady with a German husband saying "Do you know how offensive this is?" I explained I had two autistic sons and was no nazi but you couldn't airbrush this out of history, that .it was being worn in the context of a re-enactment.

It just annoys me that people see this symbol as 100 percent evil. I am no sympathiser, but anti-semitism, an age of high unemployment and Hitler offered the people hope-- if grossly warped. Nothing is black and white.


Correction to the above statement by anon 85066 "Hitler's grandfather was a Jew." That is a falsehood popularised by opponents.


Yes it is extremely illegal to do that in Germany (modern Deutschland). so much to the point where there is even be prison time in some cases. Very much like someone has posted before It is illegal even in video games.

The TOS Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force", "Saving private Ryan", "To Be Or Not To Be" with Mel Brooks. They don't want see it, they don't hear anything about it, or anything associated about. That's what some people don't realize about the German public: a lot Germans were opposed to hitler and the world war he started. My brother-in-law's grandparents were among many people in Germany who saw what was going on, knew it was getting bad, and got out of there before it was too late.

Adolf Hitler murdered his way into power, banned the chancellorship and lied to deutschlanders, saying that he "would bring peace to the world." He brought them into a war they didn't want. In fact, a lot of people with the German army and even a few people with the Nazi party didn't even know about his mass homicidal shenanigans until it was too late.

If one recalls history, most of the horrible things that occurred in concentration camps happened towards the end of the war and the allied forces along with the rest of the world didn't find out until just after it happened.


A swastika in a game leads "automatically" to its banning. The swastikas are always replaced with the iron cross or some other legal symbol. Of course, too much blood will also lead to the banning of the game (unless its color is changed to green!) but that's another story.

If you showed your swastika on your boots so someone could see, chances are they call the police and the police will confiscate them.


Wisegirl: Do you have any links or written documentation that says for a 100 percent certainty that you can use swastikas for "historical" context in Germany?


So, if i buy a pair of boots that have the Swastika on the soles (underneath and out of sight) could i be in trouble if i had them, or wore them, in Germany?


Jeez, if Hitler was a good guy and used his persuasive skills to help the world then his place would be like a scale-down version of heaven. Hitler's grandfather was a Jew.


As a coin collector, I have seen a couple of times in Germany, that Third Reich coins (1933-45) have their swastikas covered by small stickers or blurred out on photos. Some publications say, that these coins are only depicted for "illustrative reasons" (one must suppose that it means the nazi symbols are not used as political statements).

So yes, it seems, that some Germans are careful about showing such symbols, even when it is done in connection with collector's items.


What if using a swastika in a game related to world war II? is it legal to do that?


Displaying a swastika if used satirically or as part of an anti-Nazi political statement is not against the law.

A decision by the Bundesgerichtshof declares displaying Nazi symbols, including the swastika, as legal, if it is obvious that they are used to distance oneself from Nationalsocialism.

Likewise, using a swastika in a historical or satirical context is completely legal (two examples: the German movies 'Downfall' - a historical movie about Hitler's last days in the bunker - and 'Mein Führer - Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler' - a satirical movie, were Hitler is played by a German comedian.)

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