Storage Room in Niederschönhausen Castle for Confiscated Works of Degenerate Art, including Works by Pablo Picasso and Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1937)
All art that did not correspond to the National Socialist aesthetic was deemed “degenerate.” The category included modern and avant-garde works by the Expressionists, Impressionists, Surrealists, and the Fauves, works by artists of Jewish descent, and socially critical works, such as those by Käthe Kollwitz. By the summer of 1937, the large-scale confiscation of “degenerate” from German public collections was already underway. Confiscated works were held in depots, such as the one pictured below, and then sold abroad, providing the regime with a source of foreign currency. On June 30, 1939, more than 125 were confiscated works were put up for auction at the Hotel National in Lucerne, Switzerland. The photograph below features some of the works that were put up for sale: (on the left) Picasso’s portrait of the Soler family (1903), confiscated from the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne; (on the easel, top), Picasso’s Two Harlequins (1905), confiscated from the Städtische Galerie, Wuppertal; and (in the right foreground) two sculptures by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, taken from collections in Wiesbaden and Lübeck.
Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor on January 30, 1933 put an end to the German republic. With political power moving into the hands of the National Socialists and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels installed as the “patron of German film,” the pressure on Jews in Ufa’s staff increased. In the spring of 1933, unresisting, the company fired its Jewish employees ”due to the national revolution”. Erich Pommer was fired as well and emigrated to Paris in May. Ufa productions such as the patriotic submarine film Morgenrot (Dawn, 1932/33) became a symbol of the “new times” touted by the Nazi regime. In 1933, before open propaganda was increasingly replaced by sheer entertainment with ideological overtones, Goebbels celebrated the Ufa propaganda film Hitlerjunge Quex (Hitler Youth Quex) as a milestone: “The Ufa and all those who worked on this film have done a great service not only to the development of German film, but also to the artistic implementation of National Socialist ideology.” At the same time, however, Ufa also produced extraordinary works of film such as the comedies and melodramas of Reinhold Schünzel and Detlef Sierck, before the two were forced to flee to the USA in 1937/38 to escape racial and political persecution. They, too, were an example of the huge toll taken on German film by the Nazis’ policies of expulsion and destruction. Those who had not already fled in 1933, like Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, and Peter Lorre, emigrated later, or else they were murdered by the Nazis, like Otto Wallburg, Kurt Gerron, and many others.
Against the Un-German Spirit: Book-Burning Ceremony in Berlin (May 10, 1933) The Nazi “coordination” [Gleichschaltung] of German culture and literature began soon after Hitler became chancellor. Art was to be rid of all “un-German” elements and used as an instrument in the ideological and racial awakening of the national community [Volksgemeinschaft]. In May and June of 1933, in the context of its operation “Against the Un-German Spirit,” the National Socialist German Students’ League (NSDStB) organized a nationwide “purification campaign” directed at public and private libraries. “Un-German” writings by a range of authors, such as Karl Marx, Heinrich and Klaus Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Sigmund Freud, Carl von Ossietzky and Kurt Tucholsky were subsequently burned in bonfires in a number of university cities. The largest of these events took place on May 10, 1933, on Berlin’s Opera Square [Opernplatz], where approximately 20,000 books were consigned to the flames. Within the framework of its “purification campaign,” the NSDStB also drew up a long “blacklist” of writers, books, and other sorts of publications and banned them from that point on.
“The reasons Welles didn’t get [the film made] are interesting. When he started writing it, fascism wasn’t such a big story in Hollywood, but by the time he finished it, in 1939, it must have been something of a hot potato. That was probably the main reason it didn’t get made. The more I’ve looked into it, the more I’ve realised how close he is to the stuff in Europe, and not just in the obvious ways of giving all these company men that Marlow meets German names. It’s central to the tale.”
"Degenerate Music": Title Page of the Exhibition Guide (1938) As with the visual arts, the Nazis aimed to demonstrate the difference between good “German“ music and “degenerate“ music by staging major cultural events. To this end, they organized the Reichsmusiktage [Reich Music Days] in 1938. This week-long event included concerts and lectures that presented ideologically and ethnically “pure” music. It was accompanied by the “Degenerate Music” exhibition, which opened on May 24. The Reichsmusikprüfstelle [Reich Music Inspection Office], which was part of the Reich Propaganda Ministry, had drawn up a list of “degenerate” artists and their works for this purpose. The exhibition covered all areas of music, from composition, performance and criticism to musicology and promotion. Examples of “degeneracy” were found in classical music in composers such as Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, or Igor Stravinsky, and in the genres of jazz and swing in general. The visual component of the exhibition consisted of photographs, portraits, paintings, caricatures, and posters intended to illustrate the “subhuman” character of the featured musicians and the inferiority of their works. One such example appeared on the cover of the exhibition guide (below). The image was based on the cover sheet of Ernst Krenek’s opera “Jonny spielt auf” [“Jonny Strikes up the Band”] (1925-26), but replaced the carnation on the African-American saxophonist’s lapel with a Star of David.
The Swastika Rises like the Sun over the Reichstag and the Bismarck Memorial, Postcard (undated) The “awakening” and “strengthening” of Germany was a constant theme in Nazi propaganda. According to the National Socialists, it was only when they seized power that the country finally awoke from the nightmare of the Weimar Republic and embarked on an era of national greatness and strength. As this postcard shows, National Socialist propaganda often made reference to Otto von Bismarck and his legacy. These references frequently placed Hitler in a direct line of great German leaders that started with Frederick II (“the Great”) of Prussia, continued through Bismarck, and ended with the Führer himself.