The Nazi salute or Hitler salute (German: Hitlergruß – literally Hitler Greeting) is a gesture that was used as a greeting in Nazi Germany. The salute is performed by extending the right arm in the air with a straightened hand. Usually, the person offering the salute would say “Heil Hitler!“ (Hail Hitler!), “Heil, mein Führer!“ (Hail, my leader!), or “Sieg heil!“ (Hail victory!). It was adopted in the 1930s by the Nazi Party to signal obedience to the party’s leader – Adolf Hitler – and to glorify the German nation.The salute was mandatory for civilians but mostly optional for military personnel, who retained the traditional military salute until shortly after the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944.
The salute was performed by extending the right arm to at least eye level, and straightening the hand so that it is parallel to the arm. Usually, an utterance of “Heil Hitler!“, or “Heil!“ accompanied the gesture.
If one saw an acquaintance at a distance, it sufficed to simply raise the right hand. If one encountered a superior, one would also say “Heil Hitler“. If physical disability prevented raising the right arm, it was acceptable to raise the left. The form “Heil, mein Führer!“ was for direct address to Hitler. “Sieg Heil“ was repeated as a chant on public occasions Written communications would be concluded with either mit deutschem Gruß (“with German regards”), or with “Heil Hitler“ In correspondence with high-ranking Nazi officials, letters were usually signed with “Heil Hitler“.
Hitler gave the salute in two ways. When reviewing his troops or crowds he generally used the traditional stiff armed salute. When greeting individuals he used a modified version of the salute, bending his right arm while holding an open hand towards those greeted at shoulder height.
The oral greeting “Heil“ became popular in the pan-German movement around 1900. As a manner of address, Führer was introduced by Georg Ritter von Schönerer, who considered himself leader of the Austrian Germans.
The salute gesture is widely believed to be based on an ancient Roman custom. However, no surviving Roman work of art depicts it, nor does any extant Roman text describe it. Jacques-Louis David’s painting Oath of the Horatii (1784) seems to be the starting point for the gesture that became known as the Roman salute. The gesture and its identification with ancient Rome was advanced in other French neoclassic art.This was further elaborated upon in popular culture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in plays and films that portrayed the salute as an ancient Roman custom. This included the silent film Cabiria (1914), whose screenplay was written by the Italian ultra-nationalist Gabriele d’Annunzio, arguably the forerunner of Benito Mussolini.In 1919, when he led theoccupation of Fiume, d’Annunzio adopted the style of salute depicted in the film as a neo-Imperialist ritual; and it was quickly adopted by the Italian Fascist Party.