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In response to last week’s post on the Auschwitz symbol of resistance—the upside-down ‘B’—questions were raised whether it was deliberate or stylistic. Evidence suggests this type of inversion is deliberate. For instance, any flag flown upside-down is considered a sign of distress. THE UNITED STATES FLAG CODE Title 4, Chapter 1§ 8(a) states the following:
The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
For hundreds of years prior to the code, inverted national flags were commonly employed to signal distress. But when a flag is not available, any inverted device or object can serve the same purpose. Of course, certain inversions also symbolize protest or dissent. The inverted ‘B’ covers both distress and protest.
The ‘B’ from Auschwitz I clearly is distinguished from the Dachau and other gate signs, which further suggests a deliberateness by its makers. The International Auschwitz Committee’s sculpture “To B Remembered” (below) opened to the public in 2013 in Berlin and has traveled ever since.
From Auschwitz I.
But inversions can and do have opposite meanings: An upside-down peace sign (the symbol for nuclear disarmament) also known as a crow’s foot, today represents global peace. Yet it is also called the Nero’s Cross. The Roman Nero is said to have ordered the execution of the Apostle Peter on an inverted cross. The upside-down peace symbol actually represented his crucifixion. The Germans considered the inverted sign as a symbol of heroic death, and these images are found on Nazi SS grave markers. Likewise the inverted Nero’s cross also represents the “broken man” and was also a Nazi symbol for death.
Rebellion is double edged. In the U.S., neo-Nazis, KKK and other white supremacist subversive groups fly the American flag upside down as a symbol of their goal of overturning the constitutional democratic system.