The Hitler Salute: On the Mean­ing of a Gesture

Tilman Allert
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By – January 13, 2012

All nation­al ges­tures have mean­ing. Some are insult­ing, some are com­pli­men­ta­ry. There are places in the world where a hand ges­ture lit­er­al­ly com­mu­ni­cates an entire para­graph of ideas and emotions. 

The Hitler Salute is a trans­la­tion from the Ger­man Der Deutsche Gruß, bet­ter trans­lat­ed as the Ger­man salute.” The ques­tion becomes, how much of the salute was for Ger­many and how much was for Hitler? 

The Hitler salute was by no means orig­i­nal. Like many of the oth­er trap­pings of Hitler and Nazi Ger­many, it was bor­rowed from a great soci­ety and giv­en a spe­cial twist. Clear­ly, Hitler made the salute his own. He required that it be used as pub­lic greet­ing and salu­ta­tion accom­pa­nied with the words Heil Hitler,” which means Hail, Hitler.” In Hitler’s mind, the par­al­lel between the salute prof­fered him and the salute demand­ed by the great con­quer­ing Cae­sar was clear, direct, and incontrovertible. 

In Hitler’s Ger­many the notion of the salute was a gal­va­niz­ing social ele­ment. It was used in mas­sive ral­lies where the mas­ter of cer­e­monies would shout Sieg” (mean­ing Vic­to­ry”) and the tens of thou­sands in atten­dance would respond with Heil.”

This short lit­tle gem of 100 pages will fur­ther the reader’s under­stand­ing of an essen­tial yet sel­dom dis­cussed tool that helped Hitler suc­ceed in moti­vat­ing the mass­es of Ger­many to per­pe­trate their heinous crimes.

Mic­ah D. Halpern is a colum­nist and a social and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. He is the author of What You Need To Know About: Ter­ror, and main­tains The Mic­ah Report at www​.mic​ah​halpern​.com.

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