The Nazi Salute

SaluteThe simplest (but still very powerful) Nazi ritual was the Nazi salute – the (in)famous “Heil Hitler”. During Nazi rallies another version of the salute – “Sieg Heil!” (Hail victory!) was repeated as a mantra. Actually, “Heil Hitler” was a very powerful mantra as well.

By definition, mantra is a sound, a group of sounds, a word or a phrase that has significant psychological, emotional and/or spiritual power. Power to achieve certain very tangible results that is.

Nazis made “Heil Hitler” a mandatory greeting for civilians (and Nazi party members, of course); however, for Wehrmacht personnel it was optional (until after the July 20th coup) because by law Wehrmacht personnel could not belong to a political party (even to the Nazi party). Written communications also must have been concluded with “Heil Hitler”.

The objective of this requirement was plain and simple – instill in every German citizen unconditional and unquestionable loyalty and obedience to The Führer – Adolf Hitler. Which actually was not a very patriotic thing to do – “Heil Deutschland!” would have been far more proper (and thus a far more patriotic) mantra.

The oral greeting “Heil” became popular in the pan-German movement around the turn of XX century. The first political party leader to have introduced “Führer” as a manner of address, was Georg Ritter von Schönerer – one of Hitler’s political heroes and role models.

The salute gesture is widely believed to be based on an ancient Roman custom. However, no surviving Roman work of art depicts it, nor does any existing Roman text describe it (so it was probably invented sometime during Renaissance or even later – during Enlightenment period).

In fact, Jacques-Louis David’s painting “Oath of the Horatii” (completed in 1784) seems to be the starting point for the gesture that later became known as the Roman salute.

The first politician to adopt this gesture was Italian ultra-nationalist politician Gabriele d’Annunzio, arguably the forerunner of Benito Mussolini, who first used this salute in 1919 when he led the occupation of Fiume. Salute was quickly adopted by the Italian Fascist Party and then by Hitler and his NSDAP.


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