The image of the German Stahlhelm (steel helmet) with its distinct shape, was an instantly recognizable icon of Nazi imagery and became a common element of military propaganda on both sides. In dramatic stage performances, art and magazine articles the idea was propagated of the dome of the Stahlhelm as a sacred grant from God to the Aryan race – a high forehead line. Preposterous as it is seen today, this sentiment is in countless pieces of art, sculpture, propaganda posters, films, and newspaper articles of the period. In hindsight much of this art looks like caricature; yet, in absence of any other information, it was fully absorbed.
The Stahlhelm imagery in particular, and German propaganda in general, had a magnificently profound effect not only on its direct audience, the duped German people, lead into the Abyss of their moral and physical destruction, but on the enemy, as well. Thus, the famous, iconoclastic allied military commanders and archenemies of the Nazis – Soviet Marshal Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov and American 4-star general George S. Patton – owe their fame and prominence, not in small part, to their personal appearance with resemblance to this stereotypic image of a ruthless warrior, the public image they personally and methodically cultivated.
Interestingly, their military tactics and unbridled ego, frequent ruthlessness towards their own troops, and certain personal attitudes were even more fascist. (Please, spare me the hate-mail from the fan-clubs: I give both men much deserved respect, where due, and was even privileged enough to spend a few minutes with Marshal Zhukov in person on a couple of occasions.) The manly face on the Nazi “STAHLHELM” poster (bearing an uncanny resemblance to the profile of the Soviet Marshal Zhukov, Nazi’s archenemy) is contrasted by a supernatural “light of revelation,” making it bigger than life and giving it a saintly halo (not unlike portraits of some allied commanders, making them look bigger than gods)… except the Stahlhelm’s halo is heavy around the chin, rather than the brain. (In a sense these commanders were bigger than god, as their occasional mistakes lead to death and destruction of hundreds of thousands of soldiers under their command.)
image very popular with the Nazis because of its mystical and symbolic meaning
was that of an Aryan German soldier as Prometheus, bringing the miserable
uncultured people, hunkered down in the darkness, the torch – the light of
gods. The primitive message of bringing light into the darkness was popular in
1941, after Nazis waged war against the Soviet Union, whose ungrateful,
barbaric people turned around and in 1945 torched
art of Nazi Germany is a whole separate discussion, which we can only touch
here in the context of how it was shaping the popular “culture,” the
mass-mind-programming of the German People, particularly its Youth. Perhaps a visit to our Virtual Gallery
to see samples of totalitarian and modern (degenerative) art will be both
entertaining and educational. In the
Perhaps, had the professors in Vienna Academy of Fine Art admitted the young aspiring painter, Adolf Hitler, whose watercolor rural landscapes were not that bad, there wouldn’t have been the 3d Reich, WW-II and millions of lives would have been spared? And no, despite an urban legend or idle guessing none of these professors were Jewish.
Bertolt Brecht, a dissident German playwright, described the role of art quite succinctly:
“Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it,”
– a formula successfully applied by the Nazis, Communists, feminists, fascists, and other radical political movements.
The art in Nazi Germany was not to be a witness to history as it unfolds, but a powerful force, bringing in the future, accelerating the coming of a reality envisioned in the art itself. The art of today was to custom-design the reality of tomorrow. In this regard, it developed in many ways along the same paths as the Soviet art – in style, technique, hidden and apparent messages, even imagery, themes, composition and color palettes. The similarities are staggering, although according to Nazis only an Aryan Race could create culture; Nazism asserted art as the sole raison d’être (reason for existence) of the Nazi regime, which Hitler defined as the “dictatorship of genius.” Fascist aestheticization of politics, its appeal to senses and emotions, instead of rationality and logic was a means and an end at the same time. Nazis quite quickly shaped the new unified “national sense of taste.” Bertolt Brecht countered, “Sometimes it's more important to be human, than to have good taste.” In a thinly veiled allusion to Hitler’s failures as a lover, and ‘a lover of arts’, Brecht wrote, “Even the most blockheaded bureaucrat, provided he loves peace, is a greater lover of the arts than any so-called art-lover who loves the arts of war.”
How ludicrous was Nazi ideology of Aryan Race and its alleged superiority is demonstrated by a 1940’s Soviet poster, expounding on certain important physical characteristics of the “Aryan Race”; it reads: a true Aryan must be “tall,” of “slim athletic built,” and “blond,” using the well-known physiques of “the Shorty” Goebbels, “the Fatso” Goering and black-haired Hitler as “examples.”
Volksgemeinschaft (national unity) was an effort by the German Nazional Socialist Workers’ Party to establish a national community of unified mind, will and culture. “Class struggle” previously proclaimed by Communism was transformed into a national unification and purification that could only be achieved by gaining control of all aspects of cultural and social life, including theatre, literature, the press and above all – children and their activities.
In order to control dissemination of information and substitute effective propaganda in its stead, strict institutional controls were placed on the communications and entertainment industries. Adolf Hitler appointed Dr. Joseph Goebbels to lead the Reich Ministry for Publc Enlightenment and Propaganda and authorized the establishment of the Reich Chamber of Culture. Beginning in September 1933, the Reich Chamber of Culture (composed of the Reich Film Chamber, and separate “Reich Chambers” of Music, Theater, Press, Writing, Fine Arts, and Radio) supervised and regulated all aspects of German culture. Dr. Goebbels’ goal was to create the propagandistic equivalent of the “total work of art” (Gesamtkunstwerk) in which drama, spectacle, film, music, choreography, architecture and special effects combine into an emotionally gripping experience – not unlike a rock concert, Broadway musical, or football game, only on a grander scale, and virtually non-stop. Loudspeakers were installed on the streets, so citizens would never miss the stream of propaganda, and the word of Fürher.
Art critics served as extremely important mediators between the Nazi regime and the public. They communicated to a broad audience the ideological precepts manifest in the contemporaneous artworks, and they played a key role in generating enthusiasm for these “cultural products.” Because art critics acted as important parts of the propaganda machinery, they were closely regulated as a profession. Not only were all critics obliged to be members of the Reich Chamber of Culture, and the specific Reich Chamber for the Visual Arts, but they were, as of November 1936, required to obtain certification from the Propaganda Ministry. At this critical juncture, when the Nazi leaders steered the government onto a radical and aggressive course of rapid military conquests, Goebbels proclaimed the Regulation of the Art Report, whereby only journalists with the rank of editor (Schriftleiter) could engage in art criticism.
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Petropoulos. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi