"Divine destiny has given the German people everything in the person of one man. Not only does he possess strong and ingenious statesmanship, not only is he ingenious as a soldier, not only is he the first worker and the first economist among his people but, and this is perhaps his greatest strength, he is an artist. He came from art, he devoted himself to art, especially the art of architecture, this powerful creator of great buildings. And now he has also become the Reich's builder."
--Hakenkreuzbanner (The Swastika Flag), June 10, 1938
Art was considered to be one of the most important elements to strengthening the Third Reich and purifying the nation. Political aims and artistic expression became one. The task of art in the Third Reich was to shape the population's attitudes by carrying political messages with stereotyped concepts and art forms.
True art as defined by Hitler was linked with the country life, with health, and with the Aryan race. "We shall discover and encourage the artists who are able to impress upon the State of the German people the cultural stamp of the Germanic race . . . in their origin and in the picture which they present they are the expressions of the soul and the ideals of the community." (Hitler, Party Day speech, 1935; in Adam, 1992)
Modern art had no place in the Third Reich.
Instead, the role of the artists was to either portray the German world as peaceful, or as drawn into a struggle for survival to defend it. Thus, art was to become one more weapon in the Nazi regime's arsenal. Hitler was a master manipulator, and understood the value of propaganda and artistic fervor. He also understood how to control people by threatening their job, family and existence. Artists who did not fall in with the party ideal risked their life. The artists glorified the German citizens, soldiers, and Hitler's ideals. The painters used their art to depict Hitler as the healing element that would cure the country's ills. They also painted the common "Volk" (folk) in everyday settings. The art of this racially pure country was to overcome differences in class and mold all of the people into one ideal. When not painting pastoral scenes or glorifying the war, the artists would turn their paint brushes against the Jew, depicting him as inhuman and inferior. Examples of artwork approved by the Third Reich can be found on the following Websites.
Examples of Nationalsocialist Realism from the Virtual Museum of Political Art.
Ernst Vollbehr, Reichsparteitag in Nürnberg (NSDAP party convention in Nuremberg), 1933.
Examples of Nazi art including four sculptures by Arno Breker (The Guard, The Warrior Departs, The Party and The Army, Preparedness), Adolph Wissel's Farm Family from Kahlenberg, Hubert Lanzinger's The Flag Bearer, Albert Janesh 's Water Sports, and Ernst Liebermann's By the Water.
Architecture was Hitler's favorite art form. He viewed himself as the "master builder of the Third Reich." Among the surviving examples of Nazi architecture is the Olympic stadium complex in Berlin.
The Olympic games had been scheduled before Hitler came to power in 1933. He saw this event as a unique opportunity to play host to the world and to show Germany as a force to be reckoned with. He wanted Germany to be portrayed in the best possible light and removed all antisemitic slogans that had defaced the walls of public buildings. The stadium was built as a huge assembly place for hundreds of thousands of people to celebrate Nazi rituals. The art that accompanied this colossal building was no less magnificent.
Photographs of the stadium built for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
More information on the Olympic Stadium.
This short biography of Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, includes a page of photographs of Speer and a few of his projects.
Read an English translation of Albert Speer's The Fürhrer's Buildings.
Photographs of sculptures on the grounds of the 1936 Berlin Olympics site.
Josef Thorak was one of two official artists for the Third Reich. He was given a huge studio near Munich in 1938. It was here that he worked on his large pieces, some as tall as sixty-five feet. His horses were destined to be placed at the Nuremberg Stadium. Other sculptures include his huge Monument to Work, and The Judgment of Paris. But Hitler was a fickle fan, and his regard for Thorak faded. Breker became the more favored artist.
Biography and samples of Thorak's work.
Arno Breker learned to sculpt in the studio of his father, a stonemason and sculptor. He studied at the Dusseldorf Academy, then went to Rome, where he worked on the restoration of Michelangelo's Rondanini Pieta. It was there he met Goebbels for the first time. He was nominated as official state sculptor on Hitler's birthday in 1937. Hitler considered Breker's The Army and The Party as the most beautiful work ever made in Germany.
For a more detailed biography of Breker.
George Kolbe was fifty-six when Hitler came to power, an established artist in his own right. Although at the beginning he was attacked as sympathetic to the Jews because he had done monuments to the Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, his work was of such quality that he was forgiven this transgression. Kolbe would never become an official artist of the Third Reich; his art was too private, and not on a large enough scale to suit Hitler's taste.
Hitler understood the power of propaganda. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote two chapters on propaganda, stating that is must be aimed at people's emotions rather than their intellect. Posters of Hitler filled Nazi Germany, depicting him as a kind, gentle leader who possessed immense strength and a passion for art and culture.
Propaganda was also used to denigrate and defame the Jews. Julius Streicher's newspaper, Der Stürmer, featured crude caricatures defaming the Jewish people. Even children's textbooks were enlisted in the Nazi campaign of hatred.
Four examples of Nazi antisemitic propaganda.
Political cartoons from Der Stürmer.
A reproduction of the antisemitic children's book, Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom).
Political cartoons from Brennessel, a Nazi humor magazine.
German political cartoons from late 1939 on the theme that an innocent Germany has been forced into war.
Nazi political posters.
View a large collection of German propaganda posters.
Film making was also pressed into the service of the Nazi propaganda machine. Hitler's favorite director, Leni Riefenstahl, produced The Triumph of the Will glorifying the 1934 Nazi party congress at Nuremberg. No expense or effort was spared in the production of this film; holes were dug into the ground to allow for the best camera angles and Party officials were kept waiting for hours as the firming progressed. Another Riefenstahl film, Olympia, glorified the Aryan racial type in the context of the Olympics. The film reinforced the Aryan/ Olympic myth by superimposing German athletes over classical Hellenistic sculpture.
Nazi filmmakers also turned their cameras on their victims, methodically reducing the popular perception of Jews to that of vermin, fit only for extermination. The Nazi propaganda film, Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew), followed maps showing the migrations of Jews with scenes of teaming rats. The film's narration drives home the association:[The Jews] followed the culture-bearing and creative waves of German colonization of the East, until finally they found a gigantic new untapped reservoir of space in Poland and Eastern Europe . . . they spread from Eastern Europe like an irresistible tide, flooding the towns and nations. . . . Wherever rats appear they bring ruin, by destroying mankind's goods and foodstuffs. They are cunning, cowardly, and cruel, and are found mostly in large packs. Among the animals, they represent the rudiment of an insidious and underground destruction--just like the Jews among human beings.
Eighty-three still images from the Nazi propaganda film, Der ewige Jude.
Article on Nazi antisemitic films from the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
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