Art in the Third Reich

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House of German Art (Haus der Deutschen Kunst), from the English Garden, Munich, by Paul Ludwig Troost, a renowned architect and designer who had also worked on the Cecilienhof.

Art in the Third Reich [1]refers to the many cultural arenas in Germany in the period 1933 - 1945 which could be classified as the Arts. It has been stated that "the Nazis exposed more Germans to culture than any previous regime."[2]

Since the collapse of the Third Reich a great deal, possibly most, of the cultural and artistic works of this period remain unknown to the average person. What the victorious World War II Allies and the subsequent liberal-left governments of Germany regarded as “controversial” remains hidden away and is accessible only to scholars for research purposes. “A whole chapter of Germany’s cultural history was pushed under the carpet” until 1988, when, in Frankfurt, the subject of the official art under the National Socialist regime was finally debated in public by German art historians for the very first time.[3]

Art and what it meant

Pride in the nation's artistic achievements predates the National Socialists. An example of this, emulating the ancients, is the Temple of Walhalla, near Regensburg, Bavaria, built by architect Leo von Klenze 1830-42. This gigantic stone and marble classical neo-Greek Parthenon is packed solid with statues, busts and memorials to all the greatest Germans, notably those connected with the Arts and Literature. School-children continue to be taken there on day trips. The Nazis argued that being proud of your nation had to be revived after 1918.

There were many facets of art in National Socialist Germany, where the State sought the development of a traditionalist German style linked to nature, the family and the homeland; and the suppression of modern, notably what they termed "degenerate", art associated by the Reich with large cities, internationalism, and decadence. Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, film and all the other art disciplines were expected to reflect the greatness of European, and particularly German, civilisation and culture. Live events could also be an art: the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, and the associated Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen[4] and the National Socialist Party rallies at Nuremberg being examples.

"The modern state has taken on itself a cultural mission. It also insists on ruling over the arts. This means a commitment for the painter, sculptor, poet, and musician. Their work must serve the people,” declared the writer Ludwig Eberlein. Hitler added to that: "Art has at all times been the expression of an ideological and religious experience and at the same time the expression of a political will."

Hitler always stressed Antiquity as the real precursor of German art:

"The struggle that rages today involves very great aims: a culture fights for its existence, which combines millenniums and embraces Hellenism and Germanity together."[5]

These references to an antiquarian cultural renewal were not unique to Germany. In Scotland in the nineteenth century Sir Walter Scott had encouraged the study and artwork of national history and folk-lore, and led the revival of wearing kilts along with a proliferation of the design and manufacture of new tartans. Artists were encouraged to glorify Scottish subjects, and James Eckford Lauder's huge painting of James Watt contemplating steam power[6] is a fine example. In England the pre-World War era saw a rebirth of myths and legends[7] notably Arthurian which extended to artists polished in their particular field.[8][9] At the same time the National Socialists were urging a resurgence of culture, people like John Cowper Powys were producing books in England such as The Meaning of Culture.

There were quite a few German art magazines which propagated the new German cultural ideology. Kunst und Volk (Art and the People) revelled in articles about mediaeval Germany and old sagas, linking them with subjects of the Teutonic peoples. Besides reproductions of new paintings, there were illustrations of the beloved precursors Durer and Riemenschneider. But the most important arts magazine of this era was Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, (Art in the Third Reich) which was founded in 1937. The first editor was Alfred Rosenberg. His collaborators were Walter Horn, Werner Rittich and Robert Scholz. The magazine reached a circulation of 50,000, very considerable for that time.[10]

The famous conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler was forced to undergo the humiliation of a Soviet-American inspired 'denazification'[11] process despite the fact that he was not a National Socialist.

What should artists have done?

Fritz Klimsch at work in his studio.
Gustinus Ambrosi (d.1970)
Josef Thorak at work in his studio.
Josef Thorak: "Familie" at the German Pavilion, 1937 Paris World Fair.
A Sept 1944 "legendary wartime performance" remastered and available today.
Helge Rosvaenge, tenor.
Marcel Wittrisch, tenor.
Erna Berger.
Erna Sack.
Peter Anders, tenor.
Maria Cebotari.
The huge UFA film studios at Neubabelsberg (Potsdam), the largest in Europe.
The 1943 film "Munchhausen", still available today.
Marika Rokk.
Otto Gebuhr, Veit Harlan (clapping) Kristina Söderbaum and Goebbels at the premier of "The Great King", 1942.
Kristina Söderbaum.
Ilse Werner.

Despite the usual post-1945 liberal-left lies about and condemnations of the Third Reich's cultural policies opposing 'modernists' and 'progressives', only a minority 'suffered' as a result, while "many artists thrived".[12] Indeed Petropoulos argues that it was the degrees of modernism which counted, and that some modernists managed to accommodate themselves in the new Reich. In 1947 the Allies' denazification court in Munich stated "as National Socialist barbarism took over in 1933, it is deeply disappointing that the intellectual elite, instead of opposing, one by one collaborated with National Socialism and placed their talents and names at their disposal."[13]

It is however, difficult to accept that any intelligent person really believes that a national, whatever their craft, would voluntarily resign their positions and professions and leave their homes, friends and homeland just because of a new democratically elected government.


It is a myth the Jews were the 'cream' of the German art world when they made up less than one percent of the population.[14] Certainly by 1933, 50.4% of all theatre directors were Jews, but "there was a widespread feeling that they blocked the approaches to these positions, monopolising them for themselves."[15] What is true is that the arts lost some four per cent of their fraternity[16] when the Jews were prohibited from working in these posts and emigrated.[17][18] Obviously this left 96% of the artists in situ. It is also untrue that "swing" music was banned[19] (although negro music was) and, for instance, many musical films were made almost to the end of the war which featured such music. In addition, some "jazz" was encouraged, and on February 14, 1938 the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra recorded Eduard Kunneke’s Tanzerische Suite, a concerto in five movements for jazz band and large orchestra.[20]

Another left-wing propaganda myth is that only German music could be performed. This is shown to be untrue when one examines the colossal output of recordings made in Germany in this period. Tchaikovsky continued to be performed through the war, particularly in Vienna[21] as did for instance, French and Belgian (i.e: Franck) composers. In one film made in 1942 and released the following year, the famous tenor Peter Anders gives a complete rendition of an aria from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin in a theatre, to great applause,[22] at a time when the German armies were actually retreating in Russia.

It was said that Germany was the only country to make massive spectacles out of everything. One example was the State Funeral for President Paul von Hindenburg in 1934 at the massive Tannenberg War memorial in East Prussia, although this had been in the planning stages before 1933. However the French had built a similar gigantic memorial building at Verdun where they had held innumerable mass ceremonies.


Walter Horn stated: "The years of search and probing that marked the first years in power have been brushed aside. Strong, proud characters have taken over. The storm of Spiritual revolution has won the day. Grandeur of form, which is an appropriate icon for our era, bestows on sculpture a new audacious language. The giant sculptures have become a symbol of the creative politics of the State, together with our monuments of architecture, they proclaim the events of our time for generations to come. Painting still fights for an equal place next to sculpture and architecture. It represents the experiences of the soul and thus creates the equilibrium between individual and community, the harmony between daily happenings and festive ones, between clear political willpower and romantic longing; the giant sculpture created for the buildings of party and State – like those by Thorak and Breker – on the other hand, grew out of a different feeling: their ground is the manly character of National Socialism, the forces of Order, Courage, and Heroic Struggle."[23] In 1938 Thorak’s studio was said to be "the largest in the world."[24]

For the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, the Germans devised a large sculptural programme, which included not only sculptures by the leading artists on the exterior of the German Pavilion, but also two exhibition halls holding their work. Breker, the leading German sculptor, was asked in 1938 to organise an exhibition of German sculpture in Warsaw. It included 130 works by 37 sculptors. At the first 'Great German Art Exhibition' 200 new sculptures were shown and Klimsch’s "The Galatea" was a sensation. As time wore on, the numbers grew: 440 works by 237 sculptors were exhibited in 1940.[25]

Some sculptors

  • Karl Albiker.
  • Gustinus Ambrosi (Austrian).
  • Arno Breker.
  • Adolf von Hildebrand.
  • Fritz Kilmsch.
  • Fritz Koelle.
  • Georg Kolbe.
  • Ernst Kunst.
  • Willy Meller.
  • Richard Scheibe.
  • Rober Stieler.
  • Kurt Schmid-Ehmen.
  • Paul Schultze-Naumburg.
  • Josef Thorak.
  • Josef Wackerle.
  • Arnold Waldschmidt.
  • Adolf Wamper.
  • Otto Winkler.


Germany's pre-eminence in all things musical continued in the Third Reich. Atonal music, epitomised by the Second Viennese School, was suppressed and whilst a handful of Jewish musicians and conductors went into exile they were quickly replaced by brilliant natives. An example of this brilliance is the violinist George Kulenkampff whose 1943 recording with Furtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic of Sibelius's Violin Concerto is still regarded today as an "outstanding interpretation" of this work.[26] Some argue that the German musical scene reached a peak of excellence between 1933-45.

Undoubtedly the heavy subsidies from the State assisted in this. Furtwangler, for example, signed a five-year contract with the Berlin State Opera in January 1934 for the then extravagant sum of 36,000 Reichsmarks per year.[27] In 1938 Hitler approved an 'initial' list of 773 names of artists in all fields whose income taxes were to be cut by as much as 40 per cent.[28] A string of first class conductors took to the podiums, many of them names still well-known today. Amongst the notable composers in this period was Max von Schillings, Richard Strauss, Paul Lincke, Alois Melichar, Werner Egk, Eduard Kunneke, Hans Pfitzner, Gottfried von Einem, Theo Mackeben, Nico Dostal, and Franz Grothe, to name but a few.

This was also a period of intense and prolific recordings in all areas of music in Germany. All conductors and orchestras were expected to produce recordings for the national and international market. "German excellence is to be admired everywhere" remarked Goebbels. In addition to their technical expertise, the recording studios were transformed by the invention by IG Farben's subsiduary, BASF, of magnetic tape in 1935. While the rest of the world continued recording on archaic acetate, notorious for its poor qualities and deterioration, Germany leapfrogged into the modern age overnight. Companies such as Telefunken and Odeon were quick to install this latest technology. Today recordings from this period are still held in the highest regard, and when the 21st century CD-label Archipel started retailing the wartime recordings, digitally remastered, they marketed them as "legendary performances".

In the theatres too, the figures for the number of musician's contracted rose during the Third Reich[29]:

  • 1932-33 Season: 1859 singers, 2955 in choruses, 4889 in orchestras.
  • 1937-38 Season: 2143 singers, 3238 in choruses, 5577 in orchestras.

Some conductors

  • Peter Raabe who succeeded Richard Strauss as Director of the State Music Chamber.
  • Karl Bohm (Principal conductor of Dresden Opera from 1934 & the Vienna State Opera from 1943).
  • Karl Elmendorff (Principal Conductor of the Berlin State Opera, then Dresden.)
  • Wilhelm Furtwangler (Berlin State Opera & Philharmonic; and also the Vienna Philharmonic from 1940).
  • Robert Heger (Philharmonic and other orchestras in Vienna, Nuremberg, Munich. In London he was a guest conductor 1925-35 at London's Royal Opera House, giving the first UK performance of Richard Strauss's opera Capriccio. During the war he was busy conducting several German opera house orchestras. From 1945-48 he conducted the German Opera in Berlin).
  • Hans Knappertsbusch ("Arch-conservative and nationalistic". Berlin Philharmonic, and permanent guest conductor at Vienna State Opera.[30] "The most important interpreter of Bruckner of his time.")
  • Herbert von Karajan (Had his debut with the Berlin State Opera orchestra in 1938 and was appointed Staatskapellmeister the following year. Conducted in Paris in 1941).
  • Clemens Krauss. (Principal conductor at the Berlin State Opera from Jan 1935 to 1937 when moved to Munich. Hitler considered him one of the greatest of German opera conductors.[31])
  • Rudolf Moralt (Mainly at the Vienna State Opera).
  • Hans Pfitzner ("Arch-conservative, anti-Modernist". Also a prolific composer and member of the governing council and Senator of the Reich Music Chamber.[32])
  • Artur Rother (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra).
  • Max von Schillings (also a composer, President of the Prussian Academy of the Arts in 1932; from March 1933 until his unexpected death in July that year, artistic director of the Berlin State Opera.)
  • Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (Numerous opera houses including Breslau & Berlin.)
  • Hanns Steinkopf (Berlin State Opera & Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra).
  • Heinz Tietjen (Artistic director of the Bayreuth festival from 1931 to 1944).
  • Eugen Jochum (From 1934 Musical Director of the Hamburg State Opera and the Hamburg Philharmonic).

Notable singers

  • Peter Anders (Tenor).
  • Erna Berger (Soprano).
  • Maria Cebotari (Soprano).
  • Willi Domgraf-Fassbender (Baritone).
  • Herbert Ernst Groh (Tenor).
  • Ludwig Hofman (Bass).
  • Hans Hotter (Baritone).
  • Alexander Kipnis (Bass).
  • Margarete Klose (Mezzo).
  • Hilde Konetzni (Mezzo).
  • Lotte Lehmann (Soprano).
  • Tiana Lemnitz (Soprano).
  • Max Lorenz (Tenor).
  • Lauritz Melchior (Tenor).
  • Maria Muller (Soprano).
  • Jaro Prohaska (Baritone).
  • Maria Reining (Soprano).
  • Hans Reinmar (Tenor).
  • Helge Rosvaenge (Tenor).
  • Erna Sack (Kolutura soprano).
  • Heinrich Schlusnus (Tenor).
  • Elizabeth Swarzkopf (Soprano).
  • Franz Volker (Tenor).
  • Elizabeth Waldenau (Mezzo).
  • Marcel Wittrisch (Tenor)


The German film industry was possibly the most advanced in the world when the Third Reich came into being. At Babelsburg outside Berlin the UFA company had the largest sound stage in the world. From the late 1920s many actors & actresses, and others with special cinematographic expertise, had left the German and Viennese film studios for the bright lights and far higher salaries in Hollywood. From 1933 this accelerated for Jews and those out of sympathy with the new government. Undaunted, the industry found more than able replacements.

The first person to understand fully the value of the cinema and film generally was the German Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, Dr. Joseph Goebbels. During the period in question the film companies worked overtime churning out over 1000 films[33], some poor, many exceptionally good, such as the docu-film of the 1936 Olympic Games, Olympia (4 hours long), the 1940 documentary Michaelangelo: The Life of a Titan; the two biographical masterpieces: Friedrich Schiller - The Triumph of Genius (1940) and The Great King (1942 - Frederick The Great); Munchhausen (1943), The Great Sacrifice (1944), Kolberg (1945), and the many excellent musicals starring Martha Eggerth and Marika Rokk[34]. In 1940 cinema attendances for the year reached 850,000,000.[35] Opera stars also appeared in films, including sopranos Maria Cebotari and Erna Sack (Nanon). In 1940 the first film with Agfa-colour opened in the cinemas to much acclaim. Notable directors of this period include Leni Riefenstahl, Hans Deppe, Willi Forst, Veit Harlan, Rolf Hansen, Herbert Maisch, G.W. Pabst, Karl Ritter, Hans Schweikart, Hans Steinhoff, Curt Oertel, Gustav Ucicky. On March 25, 1943, a huge celebration took place in the UFA-Palast am Zoo Theatre to celebrate 25 years of UFA.[36]

The newsreels (Wochenschau) too reached new heights under Goebbels. No other country produced wartime newsreels of the quality of Germany, reaching a weekly audience of 30 million people.[37]

Some stars and some films

  • Hans Albers (a famous actor in many films).
  • Lida Baarova (favourtie of Dr.Goebbels).
  • Ewald Balser (as Rembrandt (1942))
  • Siegfried Breuer (popular actor).
  • Horst Caspar (played Gneisenau in Kolberg).
  • Lili Dagova (in Friedrich Schiller).
  • Gustav Diessl (in many films).
  • Willi Fritsch (very popular star in many films).
  • Otto Gebuhr (The Great King (1942)).
  • Heinrich George (notable character actor).
  • Lilian Harvey (very popular actress).
  • Brigitte Horney (very popular actress).
  • Emil Jannings (in Ohm Kruger).
  • Hilde Krahl (in The Stationmaster (1940))
  • Werner Krauss (in Jew Suss (1940)).
  • Marianne von Simpson (in Munchhausen).
  • Leo Slezak (in many films).
  • Kristina Soderbaum (very popular actress: appeared in many films).
  • Ingeborg Theek (in Mazurka (1935)).
  • Olga Tschechowa (favourite of Hitler's; in Red Orchids (1938))
  • Gustav Waldau (played Casanova in old age).
  • Ilse Werner (popular and beautiful actress. Princess of the East in Munchhausen).
  • Paula Wessely (in Maskerade, and End of an Affair).
  • Zara Leander (hugely popular star)[38]


Werner March: Olympic Stadium & Reichssportfeld, Berlin.
Werner March.

Throughout the inter-war period architecture in Germany was an exciting medium. The modernists, the Bauhaus Movement, et al, were thriving, but by 1933 the National Socialists were making it clear that they instead wanted a return to traditionalist forms of architecture in every sphere. Probably the best known architect of this period was the young Albert Speer, but this was doubtless because of his association with Hitler. There were other 'official' architects, notably Paul Troost, who died before his time. A very great many new buildings went up in the pre-World War II period of the Third Reich, and again possibly the best-known of these was Speer's New Chancellery in Berlin. There can be no doubt that it was a magnificent work of art and a tragedy that the Soviets destroyed it when it was only partially damaged during the war. Other magnificent feats of architecture abound, and some of these can be seen in Professor Troost's book, Buildings of the New State. Many of these buildings are still extant, notably the Berlin Air Ministry which miraculously survived the war, was used by the STASI during the DDR, and has now been fully restored.

Some leading architects of this period and buildings they designed or built

  • Eduard Bamer: The Jugendherberge, Faakersee.
  • Hermann Bartels: Redesign and reconstruction of Schloss Wewelsburg
  • Paul Baumgarten: The Landes Theatre, Saarbrucken.
  • Peter Behrens: The famous AEG factory, Berlin.
  • Wilhelm Beringer: Reichsbahn Empfangsgebaude, Saarbrucken.
  • German Bestelmeyer: Luftkreiskommando HQ, Munich.
  • Oswald Bieber: Kaserne der SS-Standarte Deutschland. House of the German Right. The Rest House, Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
  • Bruno Biehler: Heeresbauverwaltung (Karle Erdmannsforffer): Gebirgsjagerkaserne.
  • Herman Billing: The Reichspost HQ, Karlsruhe.
  • R. Binder: The Lufttechnische Akademie.
  • Robert Braun: The Adolf Hitler School Potsdam.Lufttechnische Akademie.
  • Woldemar Brinkmann: The New Opera House, Munich.
  • Theo Dierksmeir: Haus des Deutschen Fremdenverkehrs, Berlin.
  • George Dorner: The Jugendherberge, Regensberg.
  • Hanns Dustmann: The Hermann Goring Home for the Hitler Youth, Melle. The Adolf Hitler School Potsdam.
  • Karl Johann Fischer: NSDAP Ministry HQ.
  • Horst Flemming: NSDAP Kreishous, Weimar.
  • Karl Fruh: many housing designs.
  • Fritz Gablonsky: The Land Ministry, Munich.
  • Leonhard Gall: Design for a new Chancellery.
  • Hermann Giesler: NS Ordensburg, Sonthofen in Allgau Alps. NSDAP High School. Adolf Hitler Platz & Party Forum buildings, Weimar, (still extant).
  • A. Gunzenhauser: The Lufttechnische Akademie.
  • Ernst Haiger: The New Odeon, Munich.
  • E. Hertzig: Reichsfuhrerinnenschule des BDM, Brunswick.
  • Paul Hofer: NSDAP Ministry HQ.
  • Clemens Klotz: NS Ordensburg, Vogelsang & Crossinsee.
  • Wilhelm KreisL Adolf Hitler Platz, Dresden.
  • Johannes & Walter Kruger: Reichsehrenmal, Tannenberg,
  • T. Lechner: Kaserne der SS-Standarte Deutschland.
  • Friedrich Lipp: The Landes Theatre, Dessau.
  • Alfred Maiborn: Mutterheim der NSV.
  • Hans Malwitz: The Technical High School, Berlin.
  • Werner March: The Olympic Stadium & Reichssportfeld, Berlin (still in use). High School for Leibesubungen. The Dietrich Eckhart Buhn.
  • K. Mossner: Kaserne der SS-Standarte Deutschland.
  • G.A. Munzer: The Josf Goebbels Jugendherberge in Dusseldorf.
  • R. Reichle: New sections of the Propaganda Ministry, Berlin (still in use).
  • Hans Reissinger: Haus de Deutschen Erziehung, Bayreuth.
  • Gustav Reutter: Heeresbaauverwaaltung (Ferdinand Castle): Pionierkaserne. Leshall des Verkehrsamtes, Murnau.
  • Werry Roth: The Landes Theatre, Dessau.
  • Hugo Rottcher: Haus des Deutschen Fremdenverkehrs, Berlin.
  • Franz Ruff: a Great Congress Hall. The French Guesthouse of the NSDAP.
  • Ludwig Ruff: a Great Congress Hall.
  • Ernst Sagebiel: Air Ministry, Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, (still in use as the Finance Ministry). New Airport Buildings for Berlin, and Munich, and Platzgestaltung vor dem Flughafen, Templehof, Berlin.
  • Albert Speer: New Reich Chancellery, Berlin, Luitpold Arena & Zeppelinfield plus the New German Stadium, and Mars Field, Nuremberg, new city designs for Berlin and Linz.
  • Kurt Schmid-Ehmen: The Hoheitsadler at the Luitpold Arena, Nuremberg. The Mahnmal an der Felherrnhall, Munich.
  • Paul Schmitz: The New School, Mittenwald.
  • Kurt Schonfeld: Wehrkreisdienstgebaude, Kassel.
  • Karl Schonig: Jugendherberge Husum.
  • Heinrich SchreiberL The New Laboratory, Frankfurt.
  • Julius Schulte-Frolinde: The NS Schulungsburg-, Erwitte. The Adolph Hitler School, Hesselberg. The Schulungsburg Sassnitz de Deutschen Arbeitsfront.
  • Franz Stadler: The Festval Hall, Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
  • Nikolas J. van Taak: The Francis Xavier Schwarz Jugendherberge, Titisee.
  • Josef Thorak (1889-1952) whose studio in Baldham, near Munich, was designed by Albert Speer in 1939.
  • Kurt H. Tischer: Dienstgebaude de Reichsleitung des Arbeitsdienstes. Kaserne der SS-Standarte Deutschland.
  • Paul Ludwig Troost: The House of German Art, the Fuhrerbau, & Ehrentempels, in Munich.
  • Carl Vessar: The Balder von Schirach Jugendherberge, Urfeld.
  • Ernst Wendel: Wehrkreisdienstgebaude, Kassel.
  • Hans Wenz: The Jugendherberge, Regensberg.
  • W. Weygandt: New sections of the Propaganda Ministry, Berlin (still in use).
  • Hans Wiser: The Jugendherberge, Faakersee.
  • Georg Zimmerman: Adolf Hitler Jugendherberge, Berchtesgaden.


The National Socialists were determined that art and paintings in particular should not be elitist but something which ordinary people could connect with, understand, admire and enjoy. Professor Hans Adolf Buhler stated[39]: "The summit in Germany's artistic life has always been reached in periods during which the deep longing of the people found its artistic expression. In the early period, in the songs of heroes and gods; in the Middle Ages, in the building of our cathedrals; and then in the music and the poetry.

The German spirit rose like a giant flame once more during the last one hundredn and fifty years in all fields, to be almost completely extinguished at the turn of this century.......Sine then the officially reconised art has become a matter of playing with empty forms or representing a distorted world populated by miscarriages and crétins. The art propogated by academies and museums existed arrogantly above the heads of the lay people, who did not understand it. It was for a select few - the art intellectual and the art market. Art had no value, only a price. It was no longer the friendly goddess healing and blessing. It was only a whore."

The Government began a purging process by removing dissenting elements in acadamies and art institutes. Otto Klein wrote: "Never again will museums be places for the virus of decadence."[40] The venerable Prussian Academy in Berlin, the most important and distinguished art institute in Germany, was one of Dr. Joseph Goebbels main targets: the Jewish painter, Max Liebermann, resigned as President of the academy. The Tagliche Rundschau responded on May 11, 1933:

"Liebermann's idea about the isolated artist, alienated from the people, has lost it validity today and in the future."

By the end of that year the academy had been cleansed of the avant-garde. But was this peculiar to Nazis? It would seem not.

In 1906, the Kaiser Wilhelm II, a patron of the arts (notably Menzel), and known for his traditionalist outlook, forbade the National Gallery in Berlin to buy modern art, accusing the director of failing in his patriotic duties. A gift to the museum of three van Gogh paintings led to a ban on all impressionist and post-impressionist work. Also, Vienna had a history of militant anti-modernism. One need only look at the protests against the composer Schoenberg, Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo Bettauer (the latter murdered in 1925).[41] So the fight over modern art, which had lasted for thirty years, was finally won by the State. In September 1936 at Nuremberg Hitler announced a rigorous cleansing of the arts and the following year said: "the cliques of dilettantes and art forgers will be liquidated.".[42]

A celebration of healthy Germanic art began. In April 1933 a travelling exhibition of German Art was organised in Brunswick. Other such exhibitions followed. In 1934 Rosenberg held an exhibition in Berlin of two hundred traditional paintings and sculptures. In Munich there was a "Blood and Soil" exhibition ("Art must not be isolated from blood and soil" wrote the art historian Kurt Karl Eberlein). Another show, "German Land - German Man" traveled around country. Berlin followed with a similar show, "German Peasant - German Land".

Between 1933 and 1937, the 'Neue Pinakothek' in Munich regularly exhibited "art worthy of the new State". This activity culminated in two exhibitions that made history: "Degenerate Art" ("works are being shown here that make one literally sick" - Goebbels), and the first "Great German Art Exhibition" in Munich in July 1937. The latter took place in the new House of German Art. A staggering 16,000 works were submitted for the exhibition and of these over 600[43] went on show. These Great German Art Exhibitions continued each summer into the war years. In 1941 the exhibits rose to 1,400.[44]

In 1934 a special Visual Arts Section of the 'Strength Through Joy' movement was founded. Its aim was to build a "bridge between artist and worker." In their first year they organised no less than 120 art exhibitions in factories. In 1937 there were 743 Work Exhibitions. Hitler stated: "As the Reich grows, so grows its art.....the whole fakery of a fashionable, decadent or diseased and untruthful art has been brushed aside. A proper standard has been reached."[45]

In general, National Socialist paintings were based on traditional genre painting. They were in total contrast to work by the Modernists, who had 'broken free' from this art form. Their conservatism echoed the Nazi's yearning for a wholesome world, and their contemplative character gave a feeling of depth and soulfulness. It was an art which did not ask any questions. The art of the Third Reich was not a mirror of the world, but a guideline to behaviour and attitudes.In 1943, museum director Adolf Feulner said:

"The longing for calm, realism, earthiness has permeated the arts. The essence of this change is the turning away from pessimistic negation and abstraction and the return to a simple world and to humanity.....Not only must artists solve artistic problems, the must also solve the problems of life....The form must be universally understood and clear. Content must speak to all. The artistic content is at the service of the philosophical education of the people. Art has to become again, as in the past, a life force, representing the ideals of the people. It must form anew the symbol of the people."[46]

One famous painting of the war years was "The Return" (of an exhausted soldier) by Hans Adolf Bühler.

Propaganda as Art

The National Socialists were masters of propaganda through art and exhibitions. Their propaganda art-work pre-dated the foundation of the Third Reich and there are many examples from the 1920s onwards. Their graphic arts are still regarded today as exceptional (despite the often negative message). Examples are to be found in their anti-Jewish graphic art-work in the posters for the great political exhibition "The Eternal Jew" in Vienna in August 1938, and for the posters for the 1940 film, Jew Süss.

1945 Looting

The best known looting of Germany of literally everything in sight, was by the Soviets. However when the Americans arrived in 1945, they too discovered immense hoards of paintings, sculptures, even rugs and antique furniture. Most of the so-called official German art was shipped to the United States, where it was locked away by the Department of Defense. It was agreed by a US Committee of art historians and government officials, that no work that depicts a swastika or any other Nazi insignia should be returned to Germany. However, in 1950 1,659 works were returned to Germany, and in 1986 a further 6,255. [47] It was not just the Soviets who looted Germany.


See also

Further reading

Caution should be exercised if consulting the first three books below as they are not always sympathetic to the German Government of the time and can be tedious in the usual way.

  • Adam, Peter, The Arts of the Third Reich, 1st edition, London, 1992, ISBN 0-500-23638-0 . The author made an award-winning BBC documentary with the same title.
  • Petropoulos, Jonathan, Artists under Hitler, Yale University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-300-19747-1
  • Spotts, Frederick, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, London, 2002, ISBN 0-09-179394-7
  • Donath, Matthias, Architecture in Berlin 1933-1945, Berlin, 2005 (1st English edition 2006).ISBN 978-3-936872-93-4
  • Cowdery, R & C, The New German Reichschancellery in Berlin 1938-1945, USA, 2003, ISBN 0-910667-28-4
  • Ott, Frederick W., The Great German Films, Citadel Press, N.J., 1986, ISBN 0-8065-0961-9
  • Speer, Albert, Architecture 1932 - 1942, edited by Leon Krier, Brussels, 1985. ISBN 2-87143-006-3
  • Rhodes, Anthony, Propaganda - The Art of Persuasion, London, 1976, ISBN 0-207-95719-3
  • Pinder, Wilhelm, Deutscher Barock - Die Grossen Baumeister de 18 Jahrhunderts, Leipzig, 1943.
  • Troost, Professor Gerdy, Das Bauen im Neuen Reich (The Buildings in the New State), Bayreuth, 1938.
  • Kalbus, Dr.Oskar, Vom Werden Deutscher filmkunst, vol.1, "Der Stumme film", Germany, 1935.
  • Kalbus, Dr.Oskar, Vom Werden Deutscher filmkunst, vol.2, "Der Tonfilm", Germany, 1935.
  • Walsh, Mike, Ransacking The Reich - The Allied Plunder of Hitler's Germany. n/d but circa 2015. ISBN 978-1-982012-58-8


  1. This page’s title is adapted from the 1992 book by Peter Adam.
  2. Petropoulos, Jonathan, Artists under Hitler, Yale University Press, 2014, p.215, ISBN 978-0-300-19747-1
  3. Adam, 1992, p.7.
  4. Richter, Walter, Die Olympischen Spiele 1936, Hamburg, 1936.
  5. Adam, 1992, p.9.
  6. In the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.
  7. Ebbutt, M.I., M.A., Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race with fifty nine full page illustrations by notable artists. London, 1916.
  8. Giroud, Mark, The Return to Camelot - Chivalry and the English Gentleman, UK, 1981, ISBN 0-300-02739-7
  9. Mancoff, D.N., The Return of King Arthur: The Legend through Victorian Eyes, London, 1995, ISBN 1-85793-785-6
  10. Adam, 1992, p.115.
  11. The term denazification was first coined as a legal term in 1943 in the Pentagon. See: Taylor, Frederick, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany, Bloomsbury Press, London, 2011, p.253-4. ISBN 978-1-60819-503-9
  12. Petropoulos, 2014, p.177.
  13. Petropoulos, 2014, p.307.
  14. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1938 Year Book, London, 1938, p.354.
  15. Medlicott, Professor W.N., Dakin, Professor Douglas, Bennett, Gillian, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, Second Series, vol.xvii, HMSO London, 1979, p.175. Report from British Embassy in Berlin to London.
  16. Petropoulos, 2014, p.100: In June 1933 a professional census recorded that just 2.04% of musicians in Germany were Jewish.
  17. Petropoulos, 2014, p.5:"Most Jewish modernists recognised that it would be impossible to make a career in Germany and therefore emigrated.......Others gradually came to the realisation that they would never be accepted and many departed in the mid-to-late-1930s."
  18. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1938 Year Book, London, 1938, p.354. Between the 1933 Census and the end of 1937 about 110,000 Jews left Germany plus there was a natural decrease of about 25,000, leaving 365,000 in Germany at the end of 1937.
  19. Petropoulos, 2014, p.200, citing music historian P.Potter.
  20. Remastered and available today on CD under the Dutton (UK) brand, catalogue number CDBP 9787.
  21. Spotts, 2002, pps:34 & 275.
  23. Adam, 1992, p.175.
  24. Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, issue no.51, 1938.
  25. Adam, 1992, p.175-7.
  26. Archipel ARPCD 0014 critic's assessment.
  27. Petropoulos, 2014, p.308.
  28. Petropoulos, 2014, p.80.
  29. Petropoulos,2014, p.214.
  30. Petropoulos, 2014, pps:241 & 296.
  31. Petropoulos, 2014, p.296.
  32. Petropoulos, 2014, p.304.
  35. Ott, 1986, p.181.
  36. Ott, 1986, p.186.
  37. Ott, 1986, p.181.
  39. Das Bild, "Zum Geleit", Germany, 1934, p.1.
  40. Klein, Otto, "Das Deutsche Volksmuseum" in Deutsches Volkstum, 1934, p.17.
  41. Petropoulos, 20014, p.182.
  42. Adam, 1992, pps:66 & 69.
  43. Petropoulos, 2014, p.180, says 900.
  44. Adam, 1992, pps: 66, 69, 94, 116.
  45. Adam, 1992, p.92.
  46. Adam, 1992, p.110.
  47. Adam, 1992, p.7-8.