Changes to the phonetic alphabet introduced by the Nazi Party in 1933 will be removed beginning in 2021, the German Institute for Standardization (Deutsches Institute für Normung) has announced.

The phonetic alphabet introduced in Weimar Germany was intended to prevent spelling mix-ups on the telephone.

The idea was to provide Germans with a standardized way of spelling out loud—for example, saying “D” as in “David,” “N” as in “Nathan,” “J” as in “Jacob,” and “S” as in “Samuel.”

‘A’ is for ‘Anger’

When the Nazis rose to power in 1933, they wanted to purge evidence of Jewish life in Germany by changing the alphabet. They expunged the names listed above and replaced them with “Dora,” “Julius,” and “Siegfried,” respectively. They substituted the name “Nathan” with “North Pole” to reinforce the Nazi ideology of racial supremacy.

Seeking to implant militarism in people’s minds, the Nazis got rid of “Z” as in “Zacharias” and replaced it with “Zeppelin.” They signified the letter “Y” with “Ypres,” to commemorate the site where Germany first used poison gas during World War I.

'A' is for 'anger' - Propaganda in the phonetic alphabet would have had the strongest influence on German schoolchilden, such as these listening to a radio broadcast by Hermann Goering in 1940. / Polish State Archives
'A' is for 'anger' - Propaganda in the phonetic alphabet would have had the strongest influence on German schoolchilden, such as these listening to a radio broadcast by Hermann Goering in 1940. / Polish State Archives

In an additional sinister twist, the Nazis sought to provoke strong and negative emotions in people by changing words associated with German umlauts—for example, “Ä” is for “Änderung” (meaning “change”) became “Ä” for “Ärger” (“anger”). In a similar fashion, the Nazis represented the letter “Ü” with the word “Übel,” meaning “vile.”

These phonetic alphabet changes, which became standardized across the Third Reich, would have wielded the strongest influence on toddlers learning to pronounce letters and schoolchildren learning to spell and read.

A Return to Normalcy

After the war, some of the most obvious Nazi influences on the alphabet were removed in 1950. For example, “Ypres,” with its poison gas connotations, was replaced with “Ypsilon.”

Many Nazi revisions, however, survived. Up until the present, Germans have continued to teach and spell using Third Reich keywords including “North Pole” and “Zeppelin.”

And Jewish names like “Samuel” and “David” have remained buried by “Dora” and “Siegfried.”

Michael Blume, anti-Semitism commissioner for the state of Baden-Württemberg, started a campaign to undo the Nazi changes. “My concern is that the Nazis’ table should not simply be continued,” Blume told German media.

Germany will return to the original version of the phonetic alphabet used in the Weimar Republic beginning in autumn 2021. The German Institute for Standardization is developing a new keyword list to be used in 2022. Reports suggest the new list of spelling keywords will primarily consist of city names.