The forest swastika was a patch of larch trees covering 3,600 m2 (4,300 sq yd) area of pine forest near Zernikow, Uckermark district, Brandenburg, in northeastern Germany, carefully arranged to look like a swastika.
It is unclear how the trees came to be planted and arranged in such a fashion. A theory is that a zealous forester convinced local Hitler Youth members to plant the trees in commemoration of Adolf Hitler's birthday. One source maintains it was planted by a warden, either out of support for the Nazi regime, or due to an order from state officials.
For a few weeks every year in the autumn and in the spring, the colour of the larch leaves would change, contrasting with the deep green of the pine forest. The short duration of the effect combined with the fact that the image could only be discerned from the air and the relative scarcity of privately owned airplanes in the area meant that the swastika went largely unnoticed after the fall of the Nazi Party. During the subsequent Communist period, Soviet authorities reportedly knew of its existence but made no effort to remove it. However, in 1992, the reunified German government ordered aerial surveys of all state-owned land. The photographs were examined by forestry students, who immediately noticed the design.
The Brandenburg state authorities, concerned about damage to the region's image and the possibility that the area would become a pilgrimage site for Nazi supporters, attempted to destroy the design by removing 43 of the 100 larch trees in 1995. However, the figure remained discernible with the remaining 57 trees as well as some trees which had regrown, and in 2000 German tabloids published further aerial photographs showing the prominence of the swastika. By this time, ownership of around half the land on which the trees sat had been sold into private hands, but permission was gained to fell a further 25 trees on the government-owned area on December 1, 2000, and the image was largely obscured.
In September 2006 The New York Times reported on another forest swastika in Eki Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, positioned at on the edge of the Tian Shan Mountains. The mirror-image fir tree swastika is about 600 feet (200 m) across. Myths and legends abound about how and when the swastika came to be planted in Soviet territory.
- Cleaver, Hannah (November 30, 2000). "Berlin forest swastika to go but its image may remain". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved March 9, 2006.
- Askin, Jennifer (4 December 2000). "Germany Destroys Forest Swastika". ABC news. Retrieved 2009-09-19.
- "German forest loses swastika" BBC News,December 4, 2000, retrieved March 9, 2006
- C. J. Chivers (September 16, 2006). "Secrets and lies shroud origins of giant swastika". The New York Times . Retrieved April 9, 2009.
- "Swastika made of living trees cut down in German forest"[dead link] CNN, December 4, 2000, retrieved March 9, 2006
- "Berlin forest swastika to go but its image may remain"[dead link] from the Daily Telegraph
- (German) "Der Hakenkreuz-Wald bei Zernikow kam unter die Säge", Berliner Zeitung from December 5, 2000. Accessed through Internet Archive.
- (German) "Das Kreuz im Wald", Die Zeit, August 12, 2004. URL last accessed March 14, 2006.