Why Are These American School Children Doing A Nazi Salute?

Why is there a photo of American school children giving the Hitler salute to the American flag? Were these Nazi sympathizers? Fascists? Antisemitics? Is it a fake photo? Actually, none of the above.

American School Children Saluting the American flag (est. 1940 - WikiCommons)

American School Children Saluting the American flag (est. 1940 - WikiCommons)

Bryant Holt   LinkedIn   |   Twitter

Bryant Holt

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These are just regular school children, but yes, this is a real photo and it was taken right around the time of World War II. Contrary to popular belief, the Nazi's didn't invent their salute. A similar salute existed in many other countries. In the United States, this salute was known as the Bellamy salute long before World War II ever started. 

The Bellamy salute gets its name from Francis J. Bellamy. Bellamy, an American, is famous for writing the Pledge of Allegiance that most schoolchildren still recite to this day. He originally wrote the pledge back in August of 1892, many years before the Nazi salute was adopted by the Nazis. Bellamy had the Pledge of Allegiance published in a very popular children's magazine of the time, Youth's Companion, and like a good cat video, his pledge went viral. By October of 1892, 12 million American school children recited the pledge in remembrance of the discovery of America on Columbus Day.

Like many of us today--when we pose for pictures, Bellamy wasn't sure what to do with his hands as he was reciting the pledge. He decided that the Pledge of Allegiance needed some type of salute to go along with it. Because these were children, he didn't want the salute to feel like a military salute. He originally tried to accompany the pledge with a salute in which the reciter held their arm outright at a 45-degree angle with their palm facing upward. He soon realized that this was even more awkward than not knowing what to do with his hands. So, he decided to settle on another non-military style salute by having the reciters turn their hands downward, instead of upward. Little did Bellamy know that his "non-military" style salute would one day become the most recognized military salute in the world.

Hitler performing the Nazi Salute (WikiCommons)

Hitler performing the Nazi Salute (WikiCommons)

In 1936 the first televised Olympics occurred. They were hosted in Germany... the entire world got a glimpse of Hitler, the Third Reich and of course his infamous salute. The straight arm, palm down salute became synonymous with Hitler and the Nazis.

A photo of  Jesse Owens  standing on the medal podium with others doing the Nazi salute around him (WikiCommons). 

A photo of Jesse Owens standing on the medal podium with others doing the Nazi salute around him (WikiCommons). 

World War II broke out in Europe, but the United States didn't become involved until 1941. The US feared that European newspapers could crop the American flag out of photos where children were doing the Bellamy salute and then use the photos in an attempt to convince Europeans that the US was siding with Germany. By December of 1942, Congress had passed a bill that replaced the Bellamy salute with the right hand over the heart pose. So if you ever come across old photos of children doing the Nazi salute toward the American flag, they probably weren't Hitler youth. They were just doing an antiquated salute that has since been forgotten by history. 

Fun Facts:

The phrase "under God" wasn't added to the pledge until 1954

The US Supreme Court ruled that teachers could not force students to say the pledge all the way back in 1943.

Like reading about the Pledge of Allegiance? Learn about the National Anthem: Kaepernick's Protest and the History Behind The National Anthem


To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance.



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