The Nazification of the Cultural Heritage of Humankind. 1

Example of the Monumental Scale of Totalitarian Sculpture – Soviet Stalingrad War Memorial 6

Hitler’s Many “Artistic” Talents. 7

The Nazification of the Cultural Heritage of Humankind

Fascism in general and Nazism in particular were in essence a quasi-religious cult, combining politics, religion, and myths of the glorious past with gigantic, carefully choreographed, massive political rallies, parades… and art exhibitions. The pop culture made frequent references to the distant past, thus suggesting rebirth of a golden age and classicism, but also – continuity from the ancient traditions of the pagan Germanic tribes.

 

Nazi-approved fine art was not to be too overtly propagandistic. Its higher purpose was to create ideals for eternity. Nazis called for heroic and romantic art, which reflected the ideal rather than the realistic.[1] Exceedingly political paintings were rare, because the fine art was to be on a higher plane of consciousness.  Nevertheless, certain themes, common in propaganda, were the common topics of art, which was to become an insidious form of clandestine propaganda. The old glory of Hellenic Greece and Rome, “revival” of the classical art and culture, suggested continuity with the past, conveyed  legitimacy and a sense of manifest destiny in “saving” the European culture from the “degenerative art” and “bolshevism.” Medieval art served a model for the cult of the warrior, the Nordic conqueror, and the orderly social hierarchies of feudalism – a model for the paramilitary dictatorial structure of the 3d Reich.  The pseudo-classicism of the form was to guise the propagandistic messages of the content.

Thus, in Ivo Salinger’s rather absurdly political painting Judgement of Paris (1939), the painter depicts Paris as a Hitler Youth in uniform – dark brown shorts and brown shirt – choosing between three robust specimens of Aryan womanhood, the whole painting rendered in a military-drab-brownish color palette. The Nazi “science” of racial purity and the corresponding etalon of physical beauty were typically exploited to use the body as a tool of the state propaganda.  (Little did the viewer know that his or her body and sole already belonged to the state.) The painting is a take on the mythological story of judgment of Paris, the poor sap whom Aphrodite (Greek goddess of love) bribes to chose her over other goddesses – Hera and Athena – as “the fairest of them all” by promising him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy; the mythological story was immortalized by countless artists and poets  through generations in the last 3,000 years. As Paris’ choice lead to the Trojan wars, the theme of war is also subliminally, but File:El juicio de Paris.jpgprominently present in Salinger’s “Judgement of Paris.” It is instructional to compare the Nazi-inspired illustration of the myth with a classical, exemplified by the painting of Enrique Simonet (Spain) finished in 1904, or with “The Love of Helen and Paris” by Jacques-Louis David (oil on canvas, 1788, Louvre, Paris) (a love that soon faded, when Helen realized that pretty Paris is not a man of courage and strong character, as say, another evil genius Napoleon Bonaparte, Jacques-Louis David’s contemporary.)

 

The essence of Nazism as a civic religion, in which the key role is played by cultural forms, all of them rigorously applied towards achieving political goals, its emphases on the distinctive stereotyping, mysticism and distinctly “fascist aesthetics” were the typical attributes of the “culture” which Nazis nourished.

 

The Weimar Republic Germany (1918-1933) had become a major center of avant-garde art. It was the birthplace of Expressionism in painting, sculpture, and cinema, and the atonal musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg, and the music of Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill, rather influenced by jazz. Robert Wiene's flick The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang's Metropolis brought expressionism to cinematograph. The Nazis viewed the culture of the Weimar period with utter disgust, as they did Weimar republic’s economic and political achievements and the treaty of Versailles. It appears that everything associated with Weimar Republic, the child of Germany’s defeat in WW-I, was “degenerate.” Nazis wanted a strong Germany, which would break the abominable chains of the treaty of Versailles and rise to world domination. In Hitler/Goebbels’ vision, German culture must reflect this dominance and serve as propaganda to achieve the same.

 

Here’s a brief excerpt from a Monday, Sep. 23, 1935 article in the Time Magazine titled “GERMANY: Little Man, Big Doings”:

 

<< Even for the most humble little German who wanders in a daze through modern art galleries, the Realmleader [Hitler] had a heartening, thunderous word. "We are determined not to allow cubists, futurists and others of the sort to participate in the new cultural life of Germany!" roared the man who once wanted to be an artist and ended a house painter. “Dadaists, futurists and impressionists forget that the task of Art is not to promote degeneracy but to fight degeneracy. Those who affect the primitive style are either swindlers or maniacs!”

 

Artistically unlearned but psychologically profound, this made millions of Germans nod approvingly, and nobody could deny that Herr Hitler last week laid the cornerstone of a Party Convention Hall which will take some ten years to build, will hold 60,000 Nazis, and, according to them, will stand for 1,000 years. The Little Man may not know much about Art but he knows what most Germans like.>>

 

Compare this to what German magazines typically printed:

 

<<Divine destiny has given the German Folk 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 Folk, but, and this is perhaps his greatest strength, he is an artist. He came from art, he devoted himself to art, especially to the art of architecture, this powerful creator of great buildings, and now he has also become the Reich's builder.>> [Die Begabung des Einzelnen -- Fundament für alle, Hakenkreuzbanner (Swastika Flag) June 10th, 1938.]

 

The fine art, sculpture, architecture and engineering of Nazi Germany significantly influenced these areas of human endeavor elsewhere in the world. To form a better understanding of totalitarian visual arts, the reader is invited to visit our Virtual Gallery of Nazi, Italian Fascist, and Soviet art, sculpture and architecture. Much as it is tempting to comment on the individual pieces of art, I mostly refrain from it: it would be a major undertaking in its own right for the author who must reckon with the inexorable rushing of time, which – alas – seems to accelerate manifold as we age. Yet, you will see clearly the emphasis on the propagandistic aspect of art, thematic similarities, grandiosity of certain architectural-sculptural projects undertaken by the totalitarian states, and the mega-talent of the artists entrusted with such grand undertakings.

 

Example of the Monumental Scale of Totalitarian Sculpture – Soviet Stalingrad War Memorial

More on Nazi architecture later, but just to get an idea of the monumental scale of totalitarian architecture, see for example the photos of the Soviet memorial complex at Mamayev Kurgan (Mamay Hill) in Stalingrad (today—Volgograd, Russia), commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad in which at least 850,000 German soldiers, 750,000 Soviet soldiers and over 45,000 Russian civilians died, fighting under most grueling conditions of severe winter cold and lack of food and shelter, as the modern industrial city of Stalingrad was leveled by continuous bombing and artillery barrages. The total amount of human casualties suffered by both sides is estimated to have been between 1,250,000 and 1,800,000[2] -- a heavy price regular people paid for letting monsters become leaders of their countries. And that was just one out of thousands of the WW-II battles. In fighting for Mamayev Kurgan, the hill was retaken and lost again dozens of times every day, tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides killed, whole regiments wiped out within hours of attacks and counter-attack.  As “the man of iron will”, Soviet Lieutenant General Vasiliy Chuikov noted, more Germans died trying to capture a single building, the so called Pavlov's House, than died capturing Paris. According to British historian Anthony Beevor, after each wave of German assault against the building, the Soviets had to run out and kick down the piles of German corpses in order for the machine and anti-tank gunners in the building to have clear firing lines across the square…[3] 

 

Hitler’s Many “Artistic” Talents

But film, painting, architecture and sculpture were not all of the talents of the evil genius of the Furher of the “thousand year Reich.” Hitler was also a great connoisseur of music: “To understand Nazism you have to understand Wagner,” said Hitler on quite a few occasions. The 1942 secret profile on Hitler (now in the public domain) compiled by OSS (U.S. Office of Strategic Services) in 1930’s and 40’s, described Hitler’s favorite subjects for private conversations: “When Hitler begins speaking about Wagner and the opera, no one dares interrupt him. He will often sermonize on this topic until his audience falls asleep.” In Wagner's Teutonic world, its chief God Woltan ruled; it was populated by semi-gods and semi-mortals, biding their time by cheating, killing and raping each other’s families, fighting for dominance and power, not at all unlike Hitler's Germany. In his political spectacle, Hitler played the role of the chief God, the source of power for the rest of Nazi Paladins (semi-gods like Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Canaris, Ribbentrop and Speer ), all of them engaged in intrigue and in-fighting for domination, power, authority, honors, and favors of the Fuhrer.

 

Wagner’s 1850’s racism, extreme for its time in its vehemence, along with his glorification of the bloody Teutonic mythology, made him Hitler’s favorite composer.[4]  Wagner’s anti-Semitism was so bizarre that Russian composer Piotr Tchaikovsky felt obliged to defend Felix Mendelsohn and his contribution to the world’s music against Wagner’s anti-Semitic attacks, as he did, for example in a newspaper article “Concerning the 3rd Russian Musical Society symphony concert in Moscow on 17/29 November 1872, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein and featuring Wagner's Faust Overture and Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony No. 3 in A minor.” Alex Ross in his book “The Rest is Noise,” describes Wagner’s personal appearance as follows: “Tchaikovsky, not a Wagner fan, was captivated by the sight of the diminutive, almost dwarfish composer [Wagner] riding in a carriage directly behind the German Kaiser, not the servant but the equal of the rulers of the world.” –Hmm. Another quote from Alex Ross sheds more light on the cultural influence of Wagner:

 

<<By 1906, twenty-three years after his death, Wagner had become a cultural colossus, his influence felt not only in music but in literature, theater, and painting. Sophisticated youths memorized his librettos as American college students of a later age would recite Bob Dylan. Anti-Semites and ultranationalists considered Wagner their private prophet, but he gave impetus to almost every major political and aesthetic movement of the age…>>

 

No wonder Hitler chose Wagner as his “cultural ambassador” in music. A typical Wagner’s piece, “Ride of the Valkyries” is featured in the 1979 American film epic “Apocalypse Now” (about Vietnam war) in the scene culminating in the helicopter aerial attack drowning the earth in napalm explosions.

 

The influence of the fascist culture, its aesthetics, the impact of its propaganda, ideology and mythology on the rest of the world cannot be overestimated (and must not be underestimated); it was enormous then, and remains enormous now.  From the image of the modern career woman, to that of an ideal mother, we see the strains of the fascist body-worship in today’s cult of physical fitness, and the idolization of physical health and ‘beauty’ in many forms of popular culture, from the “reality TV,” to idolization of celebrities and their petty lives, to the political theater of the Congressional hearings, with their freak-parades of iconic figure-heads, spewing PC verbiage, which ranges from grand-standing nonsense to outright dangerous demagoguery of hatemongering. While there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with physical culture, it must not come at the expense of what is traditionally termed human culture, which Nazis buried, and Americans ‘acquire’ by watching Jerry Springer’s freak-TV shows.

Today, many history lessons have been conveniently forgotten (and never learned in the first place) and distortions in coverage of the current and past events by the U.S. propaganda and text-books are as crude as those for which the Soviets and the Nazis have rightly been condemned.

 

The only notable difference is that in the US, the political indoctrination comes from two presumably opposing camps in the form of overwhelming consumerism from both the political right and from the left; political correctness, amounting to censorship by the ultra-liberals on the left and the primitive indoctrination of the free-marketers on the right, by the shameless thieves on the left, and the eight-grade economic “sophists” on the right. The ideologues of Fascism, the ideologues of contemporary communism, and ideologues of Feminism make the “culture” their weapon of mass destruction ever since a friend of Benito Mussolini’s, Italian communist Antonio Gramsci worked into a science the use of culture as a political weapon far more powerful than cannons, bombs and swords.

 

 


All rights reserved ● Copyright ©  2011, Eric Ross, Ph.D.

 



[1] Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, p355-6 ISBN 0-393-02030-4

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_battles_by_casualties

[3] See Beevor, Anthony “Stalingrad and Researching the Experience of War” pp. 154-168 from Russia War, Peace and Diplomacy edited by Ljubica and Mark Erickson, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004. Also, by Beevor “Stalingrad”, Penguin Books Ltd 1998, ISBN 9780141032405.

[4] The Columbia encyclopedia of modern drama, Volume 2 By Gabrielle H. Cody, Evert Sprinchorn. P.1434