Burkhard Henke, Davidson College
Charlotte Symphony Education Program
(Res 1024x768; Img 240 width and 1000x816; wma; DVD)
Randolph Middle School
13 March 2004

Art in the Third Reich

1. Introduction: Triumph of the Will (1935)

Triumph of the Will



The opening titles contextualize the film in historical terms (DVD clip):

Triumph des Willens
Das Dokument vom Reichsparteitag 1934
Hergestellt im Auftrage des Führers
Gestaltet von Leni Riefenstahl

On 5 September 1934 [day of the rally]

20 years after the outbreak of the world war [1914]

16 years after the beginning of Germany's suffering [1918-1934! "Stab in the back"]

19 months after the beginning of Germany's rebirth [1933-1934]

Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review his faithful followers [charismatic cult of personality, or Führerprinzip, and community of the people, or Volksgemeinschaft]

* * *
Documentary or Propaganda? The aesthetization of politics and the politization of the aesthetic. Can art be separated from politics?

Leni Riefenstahl

Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia

2. Hitler, Goebbels, and the Practice of National Socialist Ideology

Adolf Hitler (postcard 1933)
Adolf Hitler, Church Entrance in Vienna (45)
Adolf Hitler, Odeonsplatz with the Feldherrnhalle and Theatiner Church in Munich (46)
The artist-statesman: "Art is a sublime mission demanding fanaticism"

* * *
Joseph Goebbels, Head of the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda and the Reich Culture Chamber (since 22 September 1933)

(coordination or synchronization; in reality the elimination or nazification of all social and political institutions—the political parties, state governments, bureaucracies, and trade unions). Carried out in the spring and summer of 1933. In September the central Reich Culture Chamber was formed. It was composed of the Reich Film Chamber, Reich Music Chamber, Reich Theater Chamber, Reich Press Chamber, Reich Writing Chamber, Reich Chamber for Fine Arts, and the Reich Radio Chamber.

* * *
Book Burning (new window): The war on the modern imagination begins!

"Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher
verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen."

(Heinrich Heine, Almansor, 1821. The lines are given to Hassan, a Spanish Muslim, as he witnesses Christians burning the Koran)

Der Stürmer (The Attacker)

* * *

Censorship—institutional examination and prohibition of printed texts. Centralized in Nazi Germany since April 1935. The Reich Writing Chamber then issued its List of Noxious and Unwanted Writings, indexing 3601 single titles and 524 prohibtions of collected works of authors (October 1935). The list was augmented several times over the following years. It was not made public so as to deceive the public and promote self-censorship on the part of publishers and book traders. Dissemination of indexed works was strictly prohibited (but not their private possession).

Censorship or protection?

We abhor the "synchronization of culture" in Nazi Germany and the systematic oppression (not only literary) of critical voices but we approve the removal of writings containing hate speech, racial discrimination, and sexual inequality.

1.) How can we distinguish one censorship from the other?
2.) Read the fire oaths that were proclaimed during the book burning of 1933. Taken out of context, many of these "theses" can be found in national advocacies for censorship even today. What makes them problematic ("dangerous") in the Nazi context?
3.) Who is protected by censorship? Who is discriminated against?
4.) Cultural relativism entails that we give every form of writing equal rights of publication and distribution. What are the reasons and advantages of this approach? What is the problem?
5.) Do you think that the German libraries should completely destroy Hitler's writings? (They have been removed from the public shelves but have been preserved and can be looked at with special permission.)
6.) If we allow censorship, who should have authority to decide which writings should be banned and which should not?
7.) Mindful of Heinrich Heine's famous quote ( “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings”), why are books so important that they are compared with human beings? What is the significance of book "burning"? Why do you think book burning is still practiced?

(Source: http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/academics/courses/is142AC/f03/bookburning.htm)

(Judy Blume on censorship: http://www.judyblume.com/censors.html)

* * *

Goebbels prohibits art criticism in 1936
The "New Direction" in approved motifs:

Georg Günther, Rest During the Harvest (61)
Julius Paul Junghanns, Plowing (61)
Albert Janesch, Water Sports, 1936 (64)



3. The Art of Seduction

“All Germany Listens to the Führer”, VE 301, 1936 (72)
Organized spare time: Strength Through Joy (KdF), Beauty of Labor (SdA)
New Holidays: Harvest Day, Mother's Day, Hitler's Birthday

* * *
“Youth Serves the Führer,” 1936 (79)
“You, Too, Belong to the Führer”, 1936 (79)

* * *
Mass Meetings as Gesamtkunstwerk:

Hitler Youth with Standards, Nuremberg Party Rally 1938 (86)
Brigade of the Reich Labor Service, Nuremberg Party Rally 1937 (87)
Honoring the Dead of the Putsch, Nuremberg Party Rally 1934

Triumph of the Will, Track 14 (SA and SS Review): Emphasis on form, uniformity, conformity; choreography of geometric blocks



4. The Art Exhibitions 1937-1941

5. Painting

6. Sculpture

7. Architecture

The Architect of the Nation

Hitler with the model of Adolf Hitler Square, Weimar (208)
Hitler and Albert Speer looking at architectural plans (209)
Hitler, Speer, and Breker in Paris

The Autobahn: Technology elevated to art (Fritz Todt)

Autobahn Poster
Autobahn Bridge near Rüdersdorf (214)
Fritz Tamms, Rendering of a Bridge; Model of an Autobahn Bridge across the Oder River (218)

Paris 1937 World's Fair

Albert Speer, Pavillion
Albert Speer, Pavillion Eagle
Albert Speer, Pavillion at night
Soviet Pavillion


Paul Ludwig Troost, Führer Building Munich (234)
Troost, House of German Art


Albert Speer, Peristyle of the grandstand, Zeppelin Field, Nuremberg, 1934 (225)
Albert Speer, Entrance to the Zeppelin Field, Nuremberg (243)
Zeppelin Field, 1934, Honoring the Dead of the Putsch
Zeppelin Field, Light Cathedral, Nuremberg
Albert Speer, Model of the German Stadium, Nuremberg (245)


Albert Speer, Chancellery, Model
Chancellery Facade
Chancellery, Mosaic Hall
Chancellery, Mosaic Hall Door
Chancellery, Marble Gallery
Chancellery, Marble Gallery, door to Hitler's study
Chancellery, Court of Honor

Great Square 1
Great Square 2

Adolf Hitler, Drawing for the triumphal arch to be erected over the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1925 (267)

Great Hall through Arch
Great Hall next to Reichstag
Great Hall next to Brandenburg Gate
Great Hall Dome
Great Hall Interior
Great Hall Sculptures
Great Hall with eagle atop

Ernst Sagebiel, Model of the Tempelhof Airport (248)

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

Country Architecture

Vernacular-Style housing developments 1 (279)
Vernacular-Style housing developments 1 (279)
Camp for Hitler youth, Melle (279)
Parlor, Ordensburg, Sonthofen (299)



8. Music



Avant-Garde and Jazz

The Degenerate Music Exhibition 1938

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht (lyrics), Mackie Messer (from The Threepenny Opera, 1928)

Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith

Twelve-Tone: Anton Webern, first movement of his 56 Symphony, Op. 21 (1928)

Atonal: Arnold Schönberg, Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21, "Mondfleck" (Apparently, acc. to Neil Lerner, when the Schönberg family moved the archive from Los Angeles to Vienna in 1999, they officially and posthumously reinstated the Umlaut that Arnold had changed to an "oe" when he emigrated to the US.)
Richard Wagner


Classical Music

Richard Wagner Portrait
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, 1868

Ludwig van Beethoven, The Fifth Symphony, 1808

Wilhelm Furtwängler 1925

Wilhelm Furtwängler
Wilhelm Furtwängler und Adolf Hitler

Herbert Karajan (joined the NSDAP twice in 1933; in Salzburg in April [!] without any hint of necessity, then again in Ulm in May which rather seemed to advance his career)
Horst Wessel



Propaganda and Marching Music

The Horst-Wessel Song, 1927
German National Anthem (instrumental; 1841)
Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Wenn wir marschieren


Popular Film and Dance Music

Lale Andersen, Lili Marleen, 1939
Lale Andersen, Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei, 1942

Zarah Leander

Zarah Leander, Der Wind hat mir ein Lied erzählt (from La Habanera, 1937)
Zarah Leander, Kann denn Liebe Sünde sein? (from The Blue Fox, 1938)

Zarah Leander, Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh'n (from The Great Love, 1941)
Zarah Leander, Davon geht die Welt nicht unter (from The Great Love, 1941)

Zarah Leander

9. Film

Sieg im Westen




Functions of film:

—glorifying (Triumph of the Will, Olympia, Kolberg)

—defaming (The Eternal Jew, Jud Süss)

—entertaining and escapist (La Habanera, Feuerzangenbowle)


10. Mephisto, or the Dilemma of the Artist in the Third Reich




Heinz Rühmann
Gustaf Gründgens as Mephisto
Hermann Göring

Klaus Mann, Mephisto (1936), opening sentence:

"I hear over eight hundred workers in one West German industrial center were recently tried, and condemned--all of them--to long sentences, at the same trial."

DVD clip, Track 15: "The Renewal of German Culture"

Those who left     Those who stayed

Literature, Architecture, the Visual Arts
Fritz Lang
Elisabeth Bergner
Lilian Harvey
Asta Nielsen
Ernst Deutsch
Curt Goetz
Peter Lorre
Ernst Lubitsch
Alexander Moissi
Max Ophüls
Erich Pommer
Otto Preminger
Robert Siodmak
Conrad Veidt
Billy Wilder
Adolf Wohlbrück
  Leni Riefenstahl
Fritz Hippler
Veit Harlan
Luis Trenker

Heinz Rühmann
Johannes Heesters
Luise Ullrich
Viktor de Kowa
Willy Birgel
Brigitte Horney
Heinrich George
Emil Jannings
Theo Lingen
Hans Moser
Popular Music
Marlene Dietrich
Friedrich Hollaender
Fritzi Massary
  Nico Dostal
Paul Link
Franz Lehar

Zarah Leander
Evelyn Künneke
Marika Röck
Hans Albers
Composers and Conductors
Paul Hindemith
Arnold Schönberg
Alban Berg
Ernst Krenek
Kurt Weill

  Wilhelm Furtwängler
Richard Strauss
Herbert Karajan

Carl Orff
Hans Pfitzner
Werner Egk
Erwin Piscator
Max Reinhardt
Fritz Kortner
  Gustaf Gründgens

11. The End


* * *

The false dawn of a new art:

no revolution in the arts, Hitler had merely turned back the clocks
no creative impulse, no permitted expression of conflict with life
no development (those with ideas left)
art became self-glorifying, served a purely ideological purpose
dehumanizing in its grandeur; a perversion and abuse of the ethos of art

* * *

Discussion: What is art? The functions of art






Works Consulted and Further Reading

  • Adam, Peter. Art of the Third Reich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1992.
  • Barron, Stephanie. Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany.
    Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991.
  • Mann, Klaus. Mephisto. 1936. Trans. Robin Smyth. New York: Random House, 1977
    (Szabó, István, dir. Mephisto. 1982).
  • Spielvogel, Jackson L. Hitler and Nazi Germany. A History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988.