Degenerate art in Germany
Purges of political undesirables and prohibitions on hiring them enabled representatives of the “new” art to move into teaching positions and the official art bureaucracy, as well as to exhibit their works in public galleries.
In its early stages, the process of change was primarily a negative one designed to eradicate the opposition.
Because of this it is difficult to know what was more important to the new regime, its spectacularly mounted art purge or the development of National Socialist art. The leading policymakers for what was proclaimed to be a “new” and “folkish”* art had only the vaguest notions about the formal and thematic characteristics of this new art. This lack of clarity forced them, as noted, to resort to the practical expedient of a competition to assemble paintings for the 1937 exhibit. By contrast, however, they had a quite exact idea of what constituted the “degenerate art” that was to be eliminated. Even though no attempt had been made to define the enemy in any terms that could possibly be called scientific, there was still remarkable agreement among the censors as to the nature and extent of what was to be eliminated.
The constantly recurring labels of “degenerate,” “Jewish,” and “culturally Bolshevist” do not identify qualities that are evident in the paintings or that can be read into them. They denote nothing more than a political position. But because they imply some kind of commitment, they could be used as means of orientation in the vast range of forms taken by art. If we disregard the controversy over Expressionism and some conflicts involving the painters of the Neue Sachlich- keit (New Objectivity), there were hardly any differences of opinion on what was still acceptable and what was no longer acceptable.
This consensus on what was objectionable is all the more striking when we consider how diverse the prohibited art styles and programs were. They were so much at odds with each other that the possibility of some of them making common cause with National Socialism was not that remote. As an example we could cite the Expressionist Emil Nolde, who was a convinced National Socialist and old Party member, but whose work was prohibited nonetheless. Also, it would seem understandable if the government had been primarily interested in combating socially and politically committed artists, such as Kiithe Kollwitz, Otto Dix, and George Grosz, to name only a few prominent examples, or Communist artists belonging to the ASSO (Assoziation Revohitionarer Bildender Kiinstler Deutschlands—Association of Revolutionary German Artists). In the case of this latter group, the attribute “Bolshevist” could possibly have been justified as characterizing their political convictions. But instead of eliminating only political opponents in the art sector, the National Socialists rejected and attacked just about everything that had existed on the art scene before 1933, whether it was abstract or representational, whether it was innocuously beautiful like the work of August Macke, or, like that of Beckmann, informed by social criticism.
If we consider which artists thought of themselves as modern, we realize with what a sure hand German fascism struck down the entire range of modern art without even having attempted to define it. All the National Socialists needed to do was to look at the various studies on modern Art and to note who was mentioned and considered important and who was either excluded or given only passing notice.
This study excludes not only forerunners of modern art who were acceptable even to the cultural policymakers of National Socialism, but also Impressionists. The first chapter, which introduces the “Beginning” of modern art, treats Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, Henri Rousseau, Andre Derain. Amadeo Modigliani, and Roger dp. 1я Ргеяпяуе. What follows is not “art of the twentieth century” in its entirety, as the title would lead us to expect, but only those aspects of it that the author conceives of as modern: Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, etc. Those are the headings of the later chapters. In German art, for instance, no mention is made of Lovis Corinth, Hans Thoma, Max Klinger, Franz Stuck, Max Slevogt, and many other major artists who were still producing important work well into the twentieth century.
We have documentation indicating that Einstein’s book was regarded by the National Socialists practically as a self-definition of their opponents and that It was used for clarifying the line between friend and foe in the field of the visual arts. Troost, the architect of the House of German Art and Hitler’s most trusted adviser in art matters until his death in 1934, apparently used Einstein’s book in explaining the Marxist element in modern art to Hitler and Goebbels.
The first concrete measures against modern “Bolshevist,” “Marxist,” “Jewish,” and “degenerate art” had been taken even before the National Socialist assumption of power. Elections for the Thuringian Landtag (provincial diet) in December 1929 resulted in a coalition government between the conservative parties and the NSDAP. The NSDAP representative to the Reichstag, Dr. Wilhelm Frick, former director of the political police in Munich, was appointed head of the Innen- und Volksbildungsmmisterium (Ministry for the Interior and Education). He was the first National Socialist to head up a ministry.
Frick’s policy of replacing most of the key officials under his jurisdiction soon gave him a position of power that he intended to use to make his ministry a “bulwark” of the new cultural policy. Frick’s policy is of interest here because it represents a model, on a geographically limited scale, for the National Socialist “cultural revolution.” The following are a few examples of his cultural policy: Walter Gropius’s world-famous Weimar Bauhaus was transformed into the Vereinigte Kumtlehranstalten (United Institutes for Art Instruction) under the direction of Paul Schultze-Naumburg, a traditionalist of racist, nationalistic (Alt-Vdlkisch) convictions and, up to that time, one of the leading cultural ideologists of National Socialism. Gropius’s Bauhaus, forced to move to Dessau, then to Berlin, had been a seminal center of international architecture and of modern design. Now, under Schultze-Naumburg, its halls were dominated by crafts, local art, and Germanic ornamentation. In the reorganization of the school, all twenty-nine of the faculty, including its most famous members, were dismissed. The workshops were consolidated into a school for crafts and applied arts and put under the direction of a Weimar bookbinder. The central idea of the Bauhaus, which had been to achieve a total integration of art and industry, was now’ replaced by the long obsolete ideal of the medieval artisan’s guild.
A decree issued on May 4, 1930, titled “Against Negro Culture—For Our German Heritage,” provided legitimation for a frontal attack on “Bolshevist” art. Films by Eisenstein and Brecht and Pabst’s film of The Threepenny Opera were banned; Piscator’s Berlin theater company was denied entrance into Thuringia; and music by Hindemith and Stravinsky was struck from concert programs. One of the first major acts of barbarism against culture occurred in October 1930 with the destruction of Oskar Schlemmer’s frescoes in the stairwell of the Bauhaus, a building designed by Henri van der Velde. A few days after this demonstration, seventy works of modern art were removed from the galleries of the Schlossmuseum in Weimar.
The explanation given for this particular action was that Weimar, the city of Goethe, Schiller, Herder, and other writers of Germany’s Classical period, was the place to which great numbers of pilgrims, German and foreign, came “to catch a glimpse of the past life of the German soul and spirit.” The rest of Germany reacted more with irony and scorn than with outright protest. The crimes in Thuringia were interpreted as acts of provincial philistinism, and the seriousness of their implications was not recognized. No one realized that these were not the acts of one isolated National Socialist who had gone berserk, but that Hitler was aware of the actions of his first public official and fully supported them.
Because of his numerous illegal excesses, Wilhelm Frick lost his position as minister in April 1931. By then the public had already received a sampling of what could be expected from the NSDAP in the area of education and culture if this party were to come to power, a possibility that the growing number of NSDAP voters throughout Germany made more and more likely. Frick’s cultural policies, however, proved to be anything but a liability to the NSDAP, for in the next iAmdtag elections in Thuringia, held on July 31, 1932, the National Socialists won an absolute majority.
The NSDAP had shown that in the field of cultural policy a party could stir up emotions to the point of open aggression without discrediting itself politically. It could even win parliamentary majorities this way. Battles over culture had proved to be effective means for influencing the masses and inciting quasi-plebiscitary movements. At the same time, it was essential, of course, to silence the opposition. After this largely successful dress rehearsal on the provincial level, the NSDAP was prepared for a grand opening on the national level in 1933.
Frick, who became Reich Minister of the Interior at that time, appointed so-called art commissioners whose task it was to implement the cultural views of the government in art institutions and in the offices and ministries dealing with culture. But since no- clear program existed, they let their activities be guided by the ideas prevalent in the different National Socialist leagues and associations that were gathered together in the semiofficial Kampfbund fur Deutsche Kultur (Combat League for German Culture), a centralized organization for proponents of folkish culture, and in the Fiihrerrat der Vereinigten Deutschen Kunstund Kulturverbande (Fiihrer’s Council of United German Art and Cultural Associations). This council, formed in 1930 as an umbrella organization for cultural associations of a folkish, nationalistic bent, and totaling a quarter of a million members, was responsible for bringing together in an effective focus the varied and confused ideas represented in the broad spectrum of the organizations under it.
The Fiihrer’s Council made use of two channels: the publication Deutsche BUdkunst (German Pictorial Art) and, more important, the agency Deutsche Kunstkorrespondenz (German Art Correspondence), a kind of press- and public- relations agency that supplied, free of charge, about a hundred newspapers with National Socialist materials on cultural topics. In March 1933, the FUhrer’s Council, through this press agency, now called Deutscher Kun&tbericht (German Art Report), published a five-point manifesto titled “What German Artists Expect from the New Government.” This pamphlet, which displays an unprecedented degree of open aggression, was crucial in setting the tone for future policy and will therefore be quoted here in some detail. We should keep in mind that this is not an official document but expresses purely private opinions which, however, in the course of the next few years provided the guidelines for National Socialist cultural policy. This pamphlet represents an attempt, and a successful one, on the part of certain art circles to make their particular interests, which they labeled “National Socialist,” the basis for general policy.
It is obvious that those “scores of artists loyal to the German tradition,” artists who opportunistically identified themselves in this way and did in fact exist in droves, were clamoring for the position and influence the now maligned artists had enjoyed up to this time. For this reason, the folkish artists resorted to radical statements of this kind and offered their services in defining an as yet vague National Socialist cultural policy. We will see later how tactically clever the government was in its response to offers of this kind.
The first to respond to this appeal and become a self- appointed guardian of culture and judge of art was the painter Hans Biihler, whom the new National Socialist government in Baden had just appointed as academy director in Karlsruhe. Biihler was one of Hans Thoma’s poorer students. He imitated the weak symbolic work of his teacher’s later phase, not the vital realism, inspired by Courbet, that characterized Thoma’s early work. Biihler was the first to organize “exhibits of infamous art” that paved the way for political measures and were designed to involve the people in the cultural struggle. The title “Government Art from 1918 to 1933” was meant to discredit the Weimar Republic by associating it with largely misunderstood modern art and, conversely, to discredit the art of that period by associating it with the often desperate social conditions in the Republic.
The exhibit included among the “government artists from 1918 to 1933” not only a large number of living Expressionists but also older artists, some of whom were long dead. The list included Max Liebermann (1847-1935), Lovis Corinth (1858-1925), Max Slevogt (186&-1932), Hans von Магёез (1837-1887), and the Norwegian Edvard Munch. This exhibit was soon followed by one in Stuttgart titled “The Spirit of November: Art in the Service of Social Decay.” (In November 1918 the German Kaiser was dethroned and the Weimar Republic proclaimed.) Included in it were works by Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, and Marc Chagall, a French Jew born in Russia. This movement to discredit modern art struck an early and successful blow in Mannheim. The National Socialists began by dismissing Gustav F. Hartlaub, the director of the Mannheim museum. Hartlaub was a highly respected director who was well known for his progressive policies as a collector and exhibitor of art and had an international reputation as a student of children’s drawings. After his dismissal, the National Socialists showed a collection of modern art drawn primarily from the holdings of the Mannheim museum. With this disorganized exhibit of unframed paintings, the sponsors hoped to create a negative impression. This collection was also offered as a traveling exhibit in places where—for whatever reasons—modern art had not as yet been discredited in this way. In Munich, Nuremberg, Chemnitz, and Dresden local protagonists of “German” art were given free rein to attack the art that was at odds with their philosophy. Legal principles and property rights that were never abolished even by the National Socialist regime were totally ignored. The folkish and National Socialist press reported these actions widely and favorably, praising them as “purifications” of German culture.
We here see once again how artists and cultural officials, assisted by the Combat League, were the initiators of such actions. They were, for the most part, persons who were now taking revenge on their competitors for their own previous lack of success. German fascism made frequent use of this particular tactic. In its leadership positions and administration, as well as in its “purges,” it did not employ functionaries unfamiliar with the particular profession or field in question, but instead achieved its purposes by capitaliяing on the resentment that some members of a profession felt toward their more successful colleagues. Already- existing conflicts within professional groups and associations were exploited and their resolution left to members of those groups who thought they could improve their own position in the administrative hierarchy by supporting government policy.
Thus, in the visual arts, the mistaken idea could arise that artists themselves were at odds as to what were true and false ideals and that the “true” ideals could and would emerge victorious.
Berlin was spared these art purges at first, probably bp cause, as the national capital, it was more exposed to international attention and criticism. For a while, artists who had been banned in other cities could still exhibit in Berlin. But during this time, the campaign against “undesirable” art—organized primarily by private interests but with the tacit approval of official circles—swept through the country with growing force. It reached its first peak in the summer of 1933 and was unopposed even then because democratic and leftist elements had already been eliminated everywhere. Public opinion had been so manipulated that there was general outrage over the fact that a Dadaist collage had once been considered art, and the mobilization of feelings against the Weimar Republic was so intense that it blinded people to what was actually happening politically.
The campaign against literature, which culminated in ritual book burnings in May of the same year, had stirred up similarly intense feelings. In the climate thus created, any excess could be justified as a “purification” and win plebiscitary approval. The battle cry in those days was “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” But it was careers that were destroyed, then increasing numbers of human lives. Finally, the level of mass murder was reached.
The nnmhpr of permanent diemiecftla, uaually termed “leaves of absence,” increased steadily, particularly among leading representatives of the German art world. The first victims were the museum directors Hartlaub, Sauerlandt, Schreiber-Wiegand, and Justi; the Chief Art Administrator for the Reich (Reichskunstwart) Redslob; numerous mid- dle-echelon officials; the academy professors Willi Bau- meister, Karl Hofer, Heinrich Campendonk, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, Kiithe Kollwitz, Otto Dix; and the entire Bauhaus faculty. A number of artists and scholars were imprisoned in hurriedly constructed concentration camps that many would never leave again. The great majority emigrated. Credible estimates put the number of emigrants from the cultural sector at several thousand. This exodus shifted the cultural centers for German art and literature from Germany to other parts of the world. The most important places of refuge were London, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Stockholm, Vienna, Zurich, and Palestine. Then, after the outbreak of war and the occupation of some of these locations, increasing numbers of emigrants settled in North, Central, and South America.
At the end of the eventful “art summer” of 193$, which even a publication reflecting the views of “artists loyal to the German tradition” described as bearing a greater resemblance to a battlefield than to a field green with new growth,28 a decision was reached at the highest level to create formal supervisory agencies for art. While the actions of Rosenberg’s Combat League and of the Fiihrer’s Council could still be palmed off as spontaneous popular reactions against “smut and trash/’ the subsequent plans of the NSDAP for extending its power did not call for even the illusion of spontaneous popular backing. Now, after the first consolidation, the NSDAP was intent on creating a supervisory agency that would not get out of hand but could be deployed to accomplish specific missions.
What emerged from these considerations, in which the Minister for Propaganda, the Kulturbund (Cultural League), and the German Workers’ Front vied for domination, was the formation of an organization that would govern everyone working in the field of culture. This was the Reich Chamber of Culture. Joseph Goebbels, the Reichs minister fur V olksaufkldrung und Propaganda (Reich Minister for Popular Education and Propaganda), emerged from this internal power struggle as the sole, self-appointed creator and the legally appointed president of this chamber. He thus won an important interdepartmental victory over Alfred Rosenberg and Rosenberg’s Combat League for German Culture.
At a ceremony held on November 15, 1933, in the Kroll opera house in Berlin and attended by Hitler, Goebbels introduced this new organization to the public: In his speech, he proclaimed the “concept of corporate professional groups” to be “the great sociological concept of the twentieth century.”
When the first order establishing chambers went into effect, what had formerly been professional associations became statutory corporations. The Reichskartell der bildenden Kiinste (Reich Cartel of the Visual Arts) became the Reichskammer der bildenden. Kiinste (Reich Chamber of the Visual Arts). The Reichskartell der deutschen Musikerschaft e.V. (Reich Cartel of German Musicians) became the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Chamber of Music). The Reichstheaterkarnmer (Reich Chamber of Theater) retained its name. The Reichsverband der deutschen Schriftsteller e.V. (Reich Association of German Writers) became the Reichsschriftumskammer (Reich Chamber of Literature). The Nationalsozialistische Rundfunkkammer e.V. (National Socialist Chamber of Radio Broadcasting) became the Reichsrundfunkkammer (Reich Chamber of Radio Broadcasting). The Reiehsarbeitsgemeinsctiaft der deutschen Presse (Reich Society for the German Press) became the Reichspressekammer (Reich Chamber of the Press). A new Reichsfibnkammer (Reich Chamber for Film) was formed.
In contrast to most previous associations representing professional or other interest groups, these Chambers made membership obligatory for anyone working in their particular fields. The members, who were all members by decree, did not have the right to govern themselves or their own affairs but were governed instead. They were not able to elect their own officials or to make their own decisions. The constitution of the Chambers provided that whoever was Reich Minister for Popular Education and Propaganda would also be the president of the Reich Chamber of Culture, the umbrella organization for the individual Chambers. As president he would appoint his deputies and administrative heads (§11). He also appointed a president for each individual Chamber as well as that Chamber’s presiding council (§13). In addition, he was to draw up by-laws for the Reich Chamber of Culture and approve the by-laws of the individual Chambers (§19). He was empowered to annul decisions made by the individual Chambers and make final rulings himself (§22).
By virtue of this “Fuhrer principle,” which had now been extended to the cultural sector, a central office could decide who would be accepted, rejected, or expelled. A negative decision could be made if there were “indications that the person in question lacks the reliability or suitability necessary for the exercise of his profession” (§10). The government thus had a ready instrument for the exclusion of all those who were politically or philosophically “unreliable” or “unsuitable.” Such exclusion amounted in every case to a permanent disbarment from the profession. The Chambers could also set “conditions governing the conduct, the opening, and the closing of establishments operating in the field of their jurisdiction and prescribe regulations affecting crucial issues within this field, especially those relevant to the nature and form of contracts between groups under their supervision” (§25). “Metmurea based on $25” provided for “denial of claims for compensation in cases of expropriation” (§26).
On the authority of these regulations, the National Socialists would later plunder art stores and galleries, expropriating “degenerate art” without any compensation. These regulations meant also that in the field of cultural activity, contractual freedom, a freedom guaranteed under civil law, was annulled. Also, the presidents of the individual Chambers could impose fines on disobedient members as well as on nonmembers who “although not members, engaged in any activity falling under the jurisdiction of a particular Chamber” (§28). Paragraph 29, which obliged the judiciary to give legal assistance to the executive branch of the state, was perhaps the most outrageous of all: “The courts and administrative authorities will provide legal and administrative support to the Reich Chamber of Culture and the individual Chambers.”
This paramilitary chain of command was binding for “anyone involved in the creation, the reproduction, the intellectual or technical processing, the dissemination, the preservation, the sale, or the promotion of the sale of cultural products” (§4). A cultural product is defined as “1. any artistic creation or performance that is made available to the public, 2. any other intellectual product that is transmitted to the public by means of print, film, or radio” (§5).
In the visual arts, these regulations made membership in the Chamber obligatory for anyone engaged in the professions or activities falling under any of the following five subdivisions of the Chamber: Dept. Ill—Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Interior Decoration; Dept. IV —Painting, Graphic Arts, Sculpture; Dept. V—Illustration, Design; Dept VI—Art Promotion, Artists’ Associations, Craft Associations; Dept. VII—Art Publishing, Art Sales, Art Auctioning. A number of other professions and activities, not actually named and peripheral to and insignificant for the art world, were included under these five headings. Wood turners, stonecutters, potters, and art metal workers, for example, came under the subheading of sculpture. Gilders, painters of porcelain and china, and painters of building interiors came under painting. Cabinet makers were classified under architecture. Basket weavers, wicker- workers, leatherworkers, bookbinders, hand weavers, knitters, and Iacemakers were classified as designers.
In 1938, the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts had about 42,000 members. The active members included about 13,750 architects, 520 landscape architects, 500 interior decorators, 3,200 sculptors, 10,500 painters and graphic artists, 3,500 illustrators, 1,000 designers and textile designers, 230 copyists, 1,500 art and antique dealers, and 360 dealers in prints. At the Chamber’s convention on February 12, 1937, the president stated that its organizational work was now complete.
Das Recht der Reichskulturkammer (The Law of the Reich Chamber of Culture), published in annual instalments, regulated every conceivable detail down to the fees charged by textile designers and the opening times for an antique dealers’ fair. In addition, the Chamber kept records of such private matters as membership in Masonic lodges and in Rotary Clubs. These records extended far back beyond 1933. One of the Chamber’s major tasks was establishing proof of Aryan descent, a prerequisite for membership.
The Chambers were highly effective instruments of control and intimidation, and at the same time they destroyed, both in fact and in the consciousness of their members, any trace and memory of union organizational methods and
bargaining power. Like the pseudounion of the Reich Worker’s’ Front, they included both those working independently and those working for others, both employers and employees. Consequently, they prevented the promotion of specific interests, though of course the entrepreneurs and employers retained leadership in the Chambers just as they did in their businesses. Goebbels had this to say about the principle on which the Chambers were founded: “The state is gradually evolving from a constitutional state . . . into a state based on a working community. … To fulfill its tasks, the Reich Ministry for Popular Education and Propaganda therefore needs associations of ‘the press,’ ‘radio broadcasting,’ ‘literature,’ ‘theater,’ ‘film,’ ‘music,’ and ‘visual arts,’ not associations of management and labor, which emphasize the collective economic interests of these two groups but gloss over the essential differences between professional groups.”
Both the artist and the postcard salesman become public officials. Their work becomes a kind of “public service,” even though no wage or salary is paid for it. Now as before, the individual had to earn his own living. The only social benefit for artists was an old-age pension introduced by Goebbels and called “Artists’ Reward.” It provided one more incentive for good behavior. “Organization along professional lines a central tenet of conservative and especially of religious social theory—provided the basis for a political order totally subordinated to functional efficiency.
In 1934, during the early organizational phase of the Chamber of Culture, some serious differences arose when a few “revolutionary” National Socialist cultural officials clashed with the Cultural League over the League’s ruthless procedures. The controversy centered on whether certain branches of modern art, specifically the Expressionists and artists like Nolde and Barlach, w’ere representative of contemporary Germany’s “indigenous Nordic” art.
Goebbels seems initially to have sympathized with these proponents of the Gothic in German art. This group even published its own magazine, titled Kunst der Nation (Art of the Nation). Rosenberg, however, saw it as his particular mission to preserve the folkish ideology in its purest form. His prot£g£s were arch-Germans like Hendrich, Stassen, Fidus, Fahrenkrog and other bombastic enthusiasts of race and blood. This conflict over future “art in the Third Reich” that had arisen within the National Socialist movement could only be resolved by a decision at the highest level. Art was already so much a part of the political struggle that it could not now be relieved of the responsibility heaped upon it, nor could differing points of view, much less antagonistic
ones, be tolerated in it.
Hitler intervened in the dispute, which had led to a deep division between Rosenberg and Goebbels. In his speech at the Party convention in Nuremberg in 1934, Hitler spelled out what the standards of the future would be. In the late summer of 1934, the last great crisis threatening the consolidation of National Socialism was overcome by staging the purges associated with the so-called Rohm putsch. After the assumption of power in 1933, the call for a second revolution had been voiced with increasing urgency, particularly in the ranks of the SA. This second revolution would do away with the bourgeois social structure, which had survived the National Socialist takeover intact. Hitler’s “people’s army” was clamoring for the promised social revolution, which Hitler, having formed an alliance with the haute bourgeoisie, now refused to consider. He was thus caught between the demands of his original constituency and the conservative position of the top military commanders, whom he needed for the realization of his military objectives. Faced with this dilemma, Hitler moved against his old party comrades in the SA who had now become a liability. On June 30 and July 1, 1934, hundreds of SA leaders, including Rohm himself, who was the chief of the SA and Hitler’s personal friend, along with other undesirables, were murdered in a carefully planned massacre. The official story was that a putsch planned by Rohm had been crushed before it could materialize. What Hitler meant to do and actually accomplished was to make the mass movement that brought National Socialism to power harmless. The originally planned SA state now’ became the SS state.
After the death of Reich President Hindenburg, whose office Hitler had been able to usurp, Hitler had reached the height of formal power. The army swore allegiance to the “Reich Chancellor and Fuhrer,” and Hitler now saw himself in a position to proclaim the end of the revolution. At the Party convention of 1934 he announced: “There will not be another revolution in Germany in the next thousand years.
Hitler’s promise, made on this same occasion, to settle the dispute in the art world, has to be seen in this context. In his speech, Hitler mentioned “two dangers” that National Socialism had to overcome at this point.
That statement, which reflected Rosenberg’s views, was aimed at the friends of Expressionism as well as Goebbels.
But then Hitler spelled out in detail the other danger that confronted National Socialism: “Second, however, the National Socialist state has to guard against the sudden appearance of those retrograde types who think they can make an ‘old-fashioned German art/ concocted from their own romantic visions of the National Socialist revolution, into a binding legacy for the future Hitler did not mention any names, but everyone knew he was referring to the arch-Germans and the proponents of a traditional nationalist (alt-volkisch) philosophy. He went on to describe them in these terms: They never were National Socialists. Either they inhabited the ivory towers of a Germanic dream world that even Jews thought ridiculous, or they marched along dutifully in the crusading ranks of a bourgeois renaissance.. . . After our victory . . . they hastened to descend from the exalted ranks of their bourgeois parties … to offer their services as political thinkers and strategists to a National Socialist movement that had been mobilized, as they thought, by nothing more than the beating of drums. But they were unable to comprehend the vastness of the change the German people had undergone in the meantime. So they are now offering us railroad stations in the Renaissance style, street signs and typewriters with genuine Gothic letters. lyrics adapted from Walther von der Vogelweide, fashions modeled on Gretchen and Faust, paintings a la Trumpeter of Sackingen, and two-handed swords and crossbows as weapons.
The last point probably was the decisive one in a system that was economically and politically geared to an arms build-up and to war and that therefore had to maintain perfectly functioning methods of domination. It was obvious that neither of the two philosophies of art competing for the government’s favor was of any use in turning art policy into a tool of social engineering. Neither the Expressionists nor the enthusiasts of folkish art had enough mass support to justify declaring either one of them the official art of the state. On the contrary, the plebiscitary movement against modern art had just proved that it was the rejection of this art, not support for it, that had been able to mobilize the masses. Support for the other side was probably of no greater socio-cultural significance. The political views of the artists involved were of no consequence in this issue. Even if all the Expressionists had been old Party members like Emil Nolde, they would still have suffered the same rejection as artists, but they probably would have been spared political persecution. Conversely, a rigorously National Socialist attitude did not guarantee the folkish artists the official recognition they hoped for either. Even well-known old “fighters” and ideologists like Paul Schultze-Naumburg, however significant their contributions to the cause, wrere not rewarded for their years of service to the movement. They simply disappeared from view’. The new men were technocrats.
Once the consolidation phase was completed, all considerations of special interests could be put aside because all opposition had been destroyed. Cultural policy could now be taken out of the hands of relatively independent spokesmen for the cause who were not responsible to the official hierarchy. The regime could now act through administrative and official channels, and it did so.
One of the administrative instruments it devised to end any further discussion of artistic issues, discussion that Hitler had already effectively cut off, was the infamous “Decree concerning Art Criticism” issued on November 11, 1936.
Regardless of his de jure status as a working individual, the critic now became a de facto public functionary. This decree forbade art as a means of public discussion and communication; art was made instead into an aid to contemplation, empathy, and spiritual edification. The decree not only affected the reception of art but also had a continuing influence on its production. If it was the art editor’s task only “to appreciate” and not “to evaluate,” then the artworks he examined from this point of view had to be free of problematic elements that might provoke criticism and debate. We saw earlier in our discussion of how selections were made for the Munich exhibits that National Socialism wanted art to be unproblematic and “finished.” The decree of November 27, 1936, was another means of achieving this end.
The closing of the modern section of the Berlin National- galerie, like the prohibition of art criticism, was accomplished quietly through administrative channels. This part of the museum, which housed the best collection of modern art in Germany, was closed a few weeks after the last spectators and participants at the Olympic Games of 1936 left Berlin, Then came the final attack on modern art, this time in full view of the public, which, like the war crimes, the concentration camps, and the murder of the Jews, still comes to people’s minds the world over when they think of German fascism. To the extent that the art confiscations of 1936-37 were carried on publicly, they seemed to be a repetition of the preparations for the “exhibits of infamous art” staged in 1933-34. At that time, to all appearances at any rate, the regime had sought and received the spontaneous judgment of a mobilized public as justification for its actions. The situation was totally different in 1936-37 when the Reich Chamber of Culture initiated, directed, and executed the attack on German museums, collections, and galleries.
Ziegler, who had been unknown until 1933 but then gained a reputation in the Third Reich as a painter of nudes (he was dubbed the “master of German pubic hair”), succeeded the architect Honig as president of the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts at the end of 1936. He appointed a commission to help him in his duties. The commission was made up of the following: Count Klaus Baudissin, an SS officer who, on his own authority as director of the Folkwang Museum in Essen, had already cleared that museum of its modern holdings; Hans Schweitzer, who had assumed the Old German name of “Mjolnir” (the hammer) and who held the title “Commissioner for Artistic Creation”; Wolfgang Willrich, a racist illustrator and pamphleteer; and Franz Hofmann, a former art critic for the Volkischer Beobachter. Armed with Hitler’s authorization, this committee of five ignorant fanatics visited every major German museum and confiscated from the storerooms practically all the modern art in Germany.
Since no records were kept of these plunders and since many collection inventories were destroyed in the war, the extent of the damages could not be determined in detail until after the war. The following figures reflect the losses from the most important museums and include the plunders of 1933-34 as well as those of Ziegler’s commission. These figures are not broken down into individual genres: Berlin, Nationalgalerie—505 works; Kupferstichkabinett of the Nationalgalerie—647; Bielefeld, Stadtische Kunsthalle— 127; Bremen, Kunsthalle—165; Breslau, Schlesisches Museum—560; Chemnitz, Kunsthiitte—275; Dresden, Kupferstichkabinett—365; Dresden, Staatliche Gemaldegalerie— 150; Dresden, Stadtmuseum—381; Diisseldorf, Kunstsamm- lungen der Stadt—900; Erfurt, Museen der Stadt—591; Essen, Folkwang Museum—1,273; Frankfurt, Stadtische Galerie and StSdelsches Kunstinstitut—496; Hamburg, Kunsthalle—983; Hanover, Landesmuseum—270; Jena, Kunstverein and Stadtmuseum—273; Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle—145; Kiel, Kunsthalle—152; Koln, Wallraf- Richartz-Museum—341; Konigsberg (Prussia), Stadtische Kunstsammlung—206; Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Kunste—245; Liibeck, Museum Behnhaus—210; Mannheim, Kunsthalle—584; Munich, Bayrische Staatsgemalde-Samm- lung—125; Munich, Graphische Sammlungen—145; Saar- briicken, Staatliches Museum—272; Stettin, Stadtisches Museum—307; Stuttgart, Staatliche Galerie—382; Ulm, Stadtmuseum—162; Weimar, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen —381; Wiesbaden, Landesmuseum—231; Wuppertal, Stadtische Bildergalerie—403. The total number of confiscated works is estimated at 15,997.
If we break the number of confiscated works down by artists—and only the best known names will be listed—we come up with the following figures:37 Ernst Barlach 381; Max Beckmann 509; Heinrich Campendonk 87; Lovis Corinth 295; Otto Dix 260; Lyonel Feininger 378; George Uoinnllc WclirwabotHg Guide to the exhibit “Degenerate Art,” p. 17 (Works by G. Rouault, M. Pechstein, E.-L. Kirchner).
Grosz 285; Erich Heckel 729; Karl Hofer 313; Ernst- Ludwig Kirchner 639; Paul Klee 102; Oskar Kokoschka •117; Kathe Kollwitz 31; Alfred Kubin 68; Wilhelm Lehmbruck 116; Franz Marc 130; Gerhard Marcks 86; Paula Modersohn-Becker 70; Otto Muller 357; Emil Nolde 1,052; Max Pechstein 326; Christian Rohlfs 418; and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff 688. The campaign against “degenerate art” took in work by 1,400 artists in all.
Works by 112 of these artists were selected to show the public—as Ziegler said in his speech opening the exhibit— what “monstrosities” the “”madness, insolence, incompetence, and degeneracy” of modern art had produced. As we have already mentioned, these paintings and sculptures were shown in contrast to works displayed in the Great German Art Exhibition in Munich in 1937.
Paul Ortwin Rave, who was present at the exhibit of “degenerate art,” later described it as follows: “The exhibit was housed in a few halls located in the old gallery building of the Ilofgarten arcades and usually used by the Archaeological Institute for its collection of plaster casts. The works that Ziegler’s commission had selected and confiscated in the preceding weeks were crowded together here in the long, narrow rooms that were made even more claustrophobic by partitions. The mode of display was deliberately detrimental to the works, and the lighting was terrible. …
The final section of the guide to the exhibit compared a number of works of modern art with superficially similar products done by the mentally ill. The guide attributed higher artistic value to the pathological works. In this context, the guide quoted a passage of unparalleled cynicism Guide to the exhibit “Degenerate Art,” p. 32 Works by W. Baumeister, J. Molzahn, M. Ernst.
The sterilization and euthanasia programs later enacted by the state were announced here for the first time in a cultural context. This speech also leaves no doubt that a final reckoning was in store for the denounced artists and their work. Any decision announced by the chief of state with such vehemence was bound to win public approval, and Rave was no doubt correct when he summed up the motives of the large crowds that attended the exhibit of “degenerate art” “Droves of people came to see this exhibit day after day. There is no point in trying to tell ourselves that some few of them perhaps came to say goodbye to works of art they loved. It is clear that the propagandists purpose of dealing a death blow to the genuine art of the present had essentially been accomplished.”41 The plan of enlisting the masses against modern art and for National Socialist policies had been realized.
The illegal plunderings that far overreached Goebbels’s order to “secure” works of modern art continued well into
1938 and were finally legally sanctioned on May 31 of that year.
While some of the confiscated and “appropriated” works continued to be displayed throughout the Reich in a traveling exhibit, a Commission for the Utilization of Confiscated Works of Degenerate Art was formed. In cooperation with corrupt and, in this case, purely Aryan art dealers who sensed a chance for profit, the commission picked out works that would be of international interest and sold the most important ones abroad. Hermann Goring appropriated some of the most beautiful and valuable paintings, particularly works by French Impressionists, to decorate his private Germanic-style residence, Karinhall.
From the works selected for sale on the international market, a collection of 125 picturas was auctioned on June 30,1939, by the Swiss art dealer Fischer in Lucerne. There were 15 pictures by Corinth, 3 by Liebermann, 8 each by Marc, Hofer, and Kokoschka, 7 each by Barlach and Nolde, and 4 by Lehmbruck, as well as important works by the non-German painters Braque, Derain, Chagall, Pascin, Modigliani, Ensor, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Picasso. Opportunities of this kind are extremely rare, and the offerings made at the Lucerne auction caused considerable stir in the international art world. The Picassos went to Brussels. Other works were acquired by museums in other countries. After the outbreak of war, the 36 remaining works were sold for the ridiculously low total price of 2,900 Swiss francs.
That was, for the time being, the end of modern art in Germany. After the liberation from National Socialist rule, museums and cultural officials attempted to recover the exiled works of “degenerate art” in their effort to provide some documentation for the art history of the twentieth century. But since the “degenerate art law” of May 31, 1938, had not been annulled in the three Western zones of occupation and the new owners of the works in question still had a valid claim to title, only a fraction of the lost works could be bought back at great expense and effort. In time, gaps were filled, as far as possible, with new acquisitions. The situation was different in the Soviet zone. There, whatever expropriated art was still accessible was reconfiscated and returned to its original owners. Up to this point we have concentrated on the phenomenology of “art in the Third Reich” and of “degenerate art.”