Flag Re-Use and Mis-Use in Germany

At the monthly meeting of the Portland Flag Association Alden Jencks gave a talk on how the unfortunate practice of co-opting a good flag and making it into a bad symbol is not only happening in the US, it is happening in Germany as well. Here is a transcript of Mr. Jencks remarks.

When neo-Nazi thugs spill onto the streets of German cities today for a session of groin-kicking and intimidation, they carry their flags with them. But they do not unfurl their beloved Swastika. The Hakenkreuz is today strictly forbidden in Germany; police stand ready to confiscate and arrest. Accordingly, these mini- Goebbels and Görings reach for 18th- and 19th-century royal and imperial flags, which they attempt to redefine and turn into latter-day symbols of hate. The three most popular of these are the Flag of Prussia, the Imperial German Flag, and the Imperial War Ensign.
In their endeavor, those modern brownshirts show a sense of history nearly as benighted as their appalling lack of morality.
No one could argue that the Prussia of Frederick the Great
or the Reich of Wilhelm I were liberal democracies. But these nation-states were typical of their times and showed many positive qualities, all of which were decidedly antithetical to Nazi nihilism.

First as a principality and then as a kingdom, Prussia fostered a tradition of tolerance. Effectively a secular state, Prussia remained aloof from the wars of religion
in the 17th century, while at the same time welcoming despised
Kingdom of Prussia (Landesflagge) 1892–1918.
Anabaptist and Mennonite refugees. Then came the waves
of Huguenots and desperate Jews from the Slavic east. Frederick
the Great echoed England’s Queen Elizabeth when he famously said, “Every man must be free to seek saintliness according to his own façon.”
Immanuel Kant, a lifelong resident of Königsberg, East Prussia, was
a loyal Prussian. His sublime Categorical Imperative is hardly compatible with the neo-Nazi world-view. And to Kant we
may add other great Prussian humanitarians, such as Alexander von Humboldt and Georg Frederick Herder.

During the First World War patriotic Germans rallied to the Schwarz-Weiss-Rot (black, white,
red) as their national flag. But for our purposes, let us concentrate on the symbolism of this flag between the wars and then during World War II.
The Kaiser and his royalist followers staunchly opposed the Nazis, whom they considered to be dangerous upstart guttersnipes.
Yet during Hitler’s twelve years of terror, he had to grudgingly accommodate the old imperial banner.
Millions of Germans had fought and died under this flag—therefore it had always to be accorded a revered presence.
In this situation, as the years went by, the flag’s significance expanded from being simply the sentimental old flag. It grew to become the one, tolerated, “Non-Nazi” flag . . . indeed, the “No-to-the-Nazis” flag.
In December 1939, Captain Hans Wilhelm Langsdorff of the ill-fated battleship Graf Spee famously ordered that his post-suicide coffin be draped in the old flag and that the sailors salute, not with the fascist salute, but rather with the traditional military salute, appro- priate to their captain and to the old flag.
Back in Germany, families of fallen sons could likewise eschew the Hakenkreuz and turn to the old flag during funerals and other solemnities.

German Empire 1871–1918.
Lettow-Vorbeck took up the cause of righting a great injustice from World War I: his beloved African veterans had been ignored through the years and they had never received well-deserved pensions.
In response to von Lettow- Vorbeck’s tireless efforts, the Bundesrepublik finally sent delegations to East Africa to put matters aright. These officials had the responsibility of locating and rewarding the now-aging African veterans. The search delegations used two principal tests to identify authentic claimants. Claimants were to respond smartly and correctly to German commands taken from the old Field Drill Manual and they were to sketch from memory the old battle flag and other flags associated with their units.

And so (and I am here addressing you neo-Nazi thugs, wherever you may be) the very flags you carry— the Prussian Flag, the Imperial German Flag, and the Imperial War Ensign—cry out against the sick depravity of your movement. Here’s hoping that one day soon you will reject your loathsome, fascist ways and become decent, moral human beings!
And then you might want to learn some flag history.
Alden Jencks served as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa 1968–70 and taught for five years at Herzog-Wolfgang-Gymnasium in Zweibrücken, Germany, 1971–76.

A misused a German Flag

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