The Three Arrows

The Three Arrows is the symbol of the Social Democratic Party of Germany during its resistance to Nazism in the 1930s. It reflected the party’s opposition to totalitarianism in all forms, namely reactionary conservatism (represented by monarchism), fascism, and communism.

Below is an official election poster from the 1932 parliamentary election urging voters to choose the SDP. Its slogan, “Against Papen, Hitler, Thälmann”, would prove prescient: Papen was an aristocratic nationalist who helped bring Hitler to power, and became an ally and official of the Nazi regime; Thälmann was committed Stalinist and head of the German Communist Party, which since 1928 was largely controlled and funded by the Soviet Union.

Of course, we all know how this election ultimately turned out: Though the Nazi Party lost 34 seats, it nonetheless remained a major force in government, eventually seizing power just months later. (By the time the next elections took place in March 1933, there was already widespread repression and vote-rigging).

But even after the Nazis consolidated power and began openly terrorizing their opponents, the SDP and its allies did not give up. The party joined with liberals, unionists, and other anti-fascist and anti-communist groups to form the Iron Front, a militant organization that brought the fight to the increasingly violent paramilitary groups of the Nazi and Communist parties. The Three Arrows remained a symbol of this movement and was often worn as an armband; it typically accompanied the slogan, “neither Stalin’s slaves nor Hitler’s henchmen”.

For its part, the SDP was the only party to vote against the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave Hitler the dictatorial powers that allowed the Nazis to secure control over the country. The party was thereafter banned, and along with communists and other leftists, saw many of its members imprisoned or killed. After the war, it was reestablished in West Germany, but forced to merge with the ruling Communist Party of East Germany. It remains one of Germany’s major parties.

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