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SS Flags and Nazi SymbolismSS Flags and Nazi Symbolism

ss flags—signs of unit affiliation, or a crest of sorts—are among the most recognizable symbols to have emerged from the Nazi era. They have long been viewed as emblems of a racist cult. But a new study suggests that, within one context, a swastika flag doesn’t necessarily denote adherence to white supremacy.

During World War II, many such flags wound up in museum collections—Citino estimates that the National World War II Memorial has 25 to 30 signed, captured Nazi flags on display—while others stayed with their families. In the course of his career teaching college courses on WWII, Citino says he’d get several inquiries each semester from students seeking to donate their own ancestor’s flag.

Unveiling the SS Flags: History, Symbolism, and Controversy

In 1930, with the formation of the military SS (the SS-Verfugungstruppe), Himmler made some changes to the uniform. The main bodyguard unit, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, no longer wore a swastika armband. The cuffband system was expanded to include a color-coded design on the lower left cuff that showed regiment, battalion, and company affiliation. Leaders below the rank of Sturmbann also wore collar tab insignia, with black-and-white or silver twisted cord for Sturm and Sturmbann leaders; solid silver for Gau-, Ober-, and Gruppenfuhrer ranks; and two oak leaves with a pip for Reichsfuhrer rank.

The SS skull insignia was changed, too, from an ancient jawless Danziger design to the more modern, naturalistic sig-runes Waffen-SS logo approved in February 1934. Himmler tightened up SS membership requirements, with a strong focus on proof of Aryan ancestry. He also created a new junior rank of SS-Anwarter, an unpaid position for prospective SS men that he wanted to be a stepping stone to becoming a SS-Mann.