Art in the Third Reich 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.”
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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.
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 and the Nazi 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.”
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.
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”. 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.” 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.