Supermarket tabloids are entertaining, if only for how absurd they are. From Elvis and Bigfoot partying it up on Venus to allegations of presidential homosexuality, there isn’t a limit to how absurd tabloid rags can get. That is why I initially dismissed the story of the forest swastikas. I recall seeing the alleged swastika plastered across the front page of a tabloid when I was a kid. While I probably believed it at the time–it was on paper, after all, they couldn’t lie in a paper!–as time went on I grew a lot more skeptical. So when I was sitting down to come up with ideas for the site, I went ahead and wrote it down, fully expecting to find that it was nothing more than a National Enquirer editor’s attempt to grab headlines.
Much to my surprise, it turns out that there is more fact to the story than I expected.
Hate in the forest
The first time anyone noticed a swastika in the forest was in 1992. An intern at a local landscaping company in the Uckermark region of northeastern Germany was reviewing aerial photographs looking for irrigation lines when, much to his shock, he noticed a giant yellow swastika in one of the photos. The symbol of hate was comprised of 140 larch trees, which had been planted in the middle of a forest of pines. The tree’s leaves turn yellow in the fall, making a striking contrast to the surrounding pines. However, the swastika was only visible from a certain height, which explained in part why it had gone unseen for close to sixty years–airliners flew too high to be able to see it, and Communist East Germany banned private aircraft who were more likely to be flying at the correct altitude to see the swastika.
Samples taken from trees in the sinister formation dated it to the late 1930s. No one is exactly certain how they got there. A local farmer claimed he’d planted the stands as a child, while locals claimed that the symbol was installed as a sign to authorities that local villages were loyal to the Nazi regime. Another report said that a local Nazi official had the trees planted to commemorate Hitler’s birthday.
Whatever its origins, the leafy swastika was a reminder of the darkest time in German history, and many wanted it gone. Forestry workers cut down 40 of the trees, hoping that would make the symbol unrecognizable. It was five years before anyone took another look, and they saw a swastika there plain as day. In 2000, workers took to the heath once more, culling 25 strategically chosen trees and destroying the swastika for good.
A swastika planting fad
It turns out that planting swastika groves was something of a fad among Nazi foresters in the 1930 (Nazi foresters? Who knew?) US troops reported a giant swastika formed out of larches on a hillside in the state of Hesse (which is also the state where Frankenstein’s Castle is located). A second forest swastika was found in Hesse in the 1980s, while a swastika comprised of Douglas firs was discovered in a deciduous forest in Wiesbaden.
Bizarrely, a forest swastika was found in a remote part of Kyrgystan as well. No one knows who planted the stand of trees. Some say it was an exiled Nazi forestry service official, while others claim it was the work of German POWs.
Kringiel, Danny. “Horticultural Hate: The Mystery of the Forest Swastikas.” Spiegal.de. July 5, 2013. Spiegal Online. May 25, 2014 http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/mystery-of-nazi-swastikas-in-the-forests-a-909726.html