One of the bloodiest chapters in Modern-day history was the domination of Germany under the Third Reich. Hitler and the Nazi leaders brainwashed the common people of Germany with their propaganda tools and art was a weapon of extreme propaganda. From the ancient ages, art has always been a free expression. But unfortunately from 1927 t0 1933, Germany’s art was in danger. The National Socialist Society for German Culture was formed in the year 1927. The organization’s main work was “to stop the corruption of art”. Mostly all the great works of modern art were branded as either “Jewish” or “Degenerate”. The free expressions of artists were forcefully stopped from doing so.
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party was called the Nazi Party and Hitler was the last and the most renowned leader of the party. The Nazis stressed the failures of the ideologies like communism, liberalism democracy, etc. According to any dictionary, the term “propaganda” means the “calculated and coordinated attempt to influence the opinion of the public through media”. The negative meaning of the term “propaganda” as it is viewed in today’s World happened mainly because of the pervasive use of the word by the Nazis.
The Reason behind using Propaganda
The Nazis wanted a generation of German people who will blindly follow their ideology. And the German youth was their main target. In his book “Mein Kamph”, Hitler said about propaganda, “All propaganda has to be popular and has to adapt its spiritual level to the perception of the least intelligent of those towards whom it intends to direct itself (Goethals 671)” [Fig1]
Hitler devoted two chapters of his book Mein Kamph (1925-26) which itself was a propagandist tool. He claimed that he learned the power of propaganda when he fought in World War I. He strongly believed that propaganda must address the mass and only it can be successful. In many ways, one can tell a simple thing, the only thing and this is propaganda. Völkischer Beobachter was the daily newspaper of the Nazi Party and a propagandist vehicle. In 1926, Joseph Goebbels’s Der Angriff another newspaper joined with it to make it works more strong.
To be very precise the basic rule of Nazi Propaganda was to create external enemies. Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels was the German propaganda minister from 1933 to 1945. Goebbels used propaganda techniques effectively. His sole concern was to prepare the common German people for World War II. He also tried to brainwash them for the annihilation of populations who are not Germans living in Germany, most importantly the Jews. It can be easily said that he is one of the principal architects of The Holocaust. He said that Germany’s national minorities (the Polish, the Jews, and the French) were trying to destroy Germany. He also said the killing of Jews was nothing but an action to save Germany. According to Hitler, during the time Germany was suffering, “the Jew has not grown poorer: he gradually gets bloated, and, if you don’t believe me, I would ask you to go to one of our health-resorts; there you will find two sorts of visitors: the German who goes there, perhaps for the first time for a long while, to breathe a little fresh air and to recover his health, and the Jew who goes there to lose his fat” (Hitler 2).
Art for Propaganda
In Völkischer Beobachter they discussed the weakness and faults of the parliament ruling system, the evil doings of the Jewish people against Germany, the humiliation of Germany by the Versailles Treaty, and other issues. Several mediums of Nazi propagandist attitude were used as posters, films, books, comics, radio programs but the most efficient of them were the use of art and artist for the issue. Hans Schweitzer was an artist who was recruited by Goebbels. “This propaganda was designed to accompany and justify intensified anti-Jewish measures. As the Propaganda Ministry’s foremost Jewish expert, Hinkel inevitably became involved in the formulation of these measures. In 1938, Hinkel had emerged as an intermediary between the Propaganda Ministry and the SS-SD. The Propaganda Ministry had been confronted by the threat of the SS-SD’s aggressive campaign to monopolize authority over Jewish policy” (Steinweis 124).
Now we will discuss the role of art and artists used for German Propaganda:
‘In its founding document, the 25-point program of 1920, the party had called for the “legal prosecution of all those tendencies in art and literature which corrupt our national life” (Steinweis 21). The Nazis considered art as one of the most important factors to strengthen the nation. To be very clear in the reign of Hitler political purpose and artistic aim become the same. Hitler said in Party Day speech in 1935, “We shall discover and encourage the artists who are able to impress upon the State of the German people the cultural stamp of the Germanic race” (Zimmerman 99)
Modern art had no existence there. The artists had to portray German life as peaceful and satisfying, and they had to glorify German citizens, soldiers, and above all Hitler himself. The picture shows Hitler as a knight in shining armor. This shows a happy German family. One can state that the German art of the Nazi reign was created only to deliver a message of racial intolerance with the glorification of the Nazi cause. Some art historians have argued that they have discovered a tendency that can hardly be misconstrued for any ideological or political speculation. They prefer to call this “Völkisch”.
Most of the artists who were enlisted in the Entarte Kunst exhibit were considered to be degenerate. Other than the names mentioned here were artists like Franz Marc, Emile Nolde, Julius (Julo) Levin, etc were suffered the wraths of the Government for not participating in the propaganda process. Some artists like Richard Klein, Mjölnir (a pseudonym taken by some artists) were really popular among Nazis for their works. They were a huge help for propaganda. The poster art was meant for both Germany and Nazi-occupied territories. The posters showed that German people are happy. Bright colors, muscular men working, jolly soldiers, happy kids, etc were recurrent themes of the posters. All these posters were nothing but assuring that the people of Germany have a golden future in the rule of the Third Reich. A huge number of posters showing Hitler were created to show the greatness of Hitler. Some posters of Hitler even had Hitler’s speech. The posters mainly targeted German youth to be blind followers of Nazi ideals. Other relevant themes of posters were Jew-bashing or how the Jew community was depriving innocent German people, or save essential commodities, or being careful about the enemies of the State. The most successful thing about the posters was that the common people of Germany did not have any clue about any military movement or anything happening in the war, but these posters made them think that they are a very important part of the war, and it increased the patriotic zeal in the common people in Germany.
Historically, the early 20th century was a changing period for visual arts. Many new art innovations like surrealism, cubism, etc were coming to the fore. And by the stroke of fate, Germany was one of the leading centers of art and culture. It was the birthplace of expressionism in painting. Sculptures have also had this feature. Germany was buzzing with artists. But the Nazis viewed these art forms in the bad eye. They were determined to use the art forms as propaganda tools. A very well-known example can be made in this case. The Nazi art did not approve of Otto Dix’s War Cripples (1920). This will always be a world-famous picture, kept in a museum in Modern-day Germany. The picture showed four crippled veterans of World War I. The Nazis believed that their art has to show that the Germans are really very happy, they are working hard and everything is alright in Germany. This picture did not show that so was banned in Nazi Germany. Hitler believed that Ancient Greek and Roman arts were not “contaminated” by Jewish culture, and wanted to develop an art like those Classical art forms. He himself took the “noble duty” of deciding that who is acting and thinking like Jews, and wanted to remove the last traces of the Jewish culture as the popular belief among the Nazis was that the Jewish people were destroying Germany from inside. The Avant-garde artists existing inside Nazi ruled Germany were termed as the “enemies of the state”. Many of them escaped from Germany. Max Beckmann, who was associated with new objectivity fled to Amsterdam. Max Ernst, who was one of the pioneers of Surrealism, immigrated to America. The great German expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner committed suicide in Switzerland. Paul Klee spends his later years in exile in Switzerland.
Similarly, it can be easily said that poster art was a very effective and successful propaganda tool for the Germans, maybe the mainstay of German propaganda. As in any other country, production was the most important aspect to the Germans. This poster says “you are the front”. This is a piece of art. It signifies the high importance of production as well as labor in war-torn Germany. Posters which signify the importance of war were very frequent in Germany. During the time of war posters that focus on the union of soldiers and laborers as Germany went more into war were visible. These posters urged the people to “do their part”. These posters showed strong muscular men working to raise the adrenalin level of the onlookers and to make them confident about their chances in the ongoing war. One may term this as “labor propaganda”.
This poster is called “paper drive”. There was a certain kind of posters that urged German people to conserve materials during the period of war. This poster focuses on the conservation of paper, also many other day-to-day materials like water, electricity, and all. There was a great ideology behind these posters. The Government urged the common public who are not directly involved with war to save their day-to-day amenities, which would ultimately help the German soldiers on the war front. This is known as the “do your parts” type of poster.
It is an example of the “spies are listening” kind of poster. They signified that spies were everywhere in Germany and they were listening to everything about the ongoing war. If the information got leaked that would ultimately bring ill-fate to Germany in war. These types of posters were not of much importance to the Nazis. The common people knew virtually nothing about the situation in war. But these made people believe that they were the most important part of the war, and made them patriotic. In most of the cases, the people worked harder, and it also helped the Nazis plan for the conservation of national wealth. Actually, it made the public felt insecure in their homeland, and as always fear is the best weapon to control people. Nazi propaganda think tanks used this to maximum effect during World War II. This poster reads as “One People, One Reich, One Fuehrer”, which is one of the most effective propaganda tactics. Basically, Nazis successfully made the Fuehrer the God of Germany. He made the people believe that the war they were fighting is a kind of crusade. Fuehrer worship helped Nazis immensely. It instilled nationalistic pride in the minds of the common population of Germany. Posters showing Hitler being adored, especially by the German youth were seen in plenty. Posters like this were immensely important as they glorified Hitler as a symbol of all the good things in Germany. This installed pride to be a German in the mind of the commoners. Hitler’s posters with captions like” Long Live Germany”, was very common. Some posters had the caption “Give me four years time” was something to remind that they had to unquestionably support Hitler to make them a good future and only in four years time he can be made it happen if the people support him. This poster depicts an innocent German citizen paying a Jewish man while the Jewish man sprays lies onto the German. This is taken from a booklet called Die Brennessel. It is a humor booklet published and circulated by the Nazis. This is an example of classic wartime propaganda. Examples like this are really numerous in Germany. It is solely used to demean any caste or political party except the Nazis and the Germans.
It can be safely said that propaganda in Nazi-dominated Germany was taken into a never-seen-before level by the rulers of the Third Reich. In common sense propaganda is nothing but successful persuasion; only by successful propaganda, one can make another one believe his side of the story. Goebbels has said, “The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it” (Trueman 1). We can also mention another quote in this case, “The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it” (Trueman 1) After the discussion it can be clearly said that no worthy work of art that can be placed in the long line of immortal arts produced by men were created in the time of Third Reich. People were made to believe the lie. Petropoulos states, “The silent transition from falsehood to self-deception is useful: anyone who lies in good faith is better off, he recites his part better, is more easily believed by the judge, the historian, the reader, his wife and his children (Petropoulos 275). This was the order of the Nazi reign. Everything was made only for the glorification of the Nazi cause and Hitler, and to achieve this they even dishonored other people like the Jews. The artists were mere players in the hands of the big bosses so they never had the creative independence and this resulted in one of the bloodiest chapters of human history.
Another medium of propaganda
Cinema was a new technology in the 20th century and Germans used it for propaganda as well. The main policy of Nazi films was to promote “escapism”. Thus the common people were happy with the films and were in good mood during watching those features. Reichsfilmarchiv is the name of achieve of German film operational from 1933 to 1945. We can give some examples of propaganda films of the time. Der Choral von Leuthen showed the victory of Friedrich the Great at Leuthen. Flüchtlinge is a film that depicted the condition of Germans residing in China. Hitler Youth Quex is a dramatic propaganda film showing the Hitler Youth which was a paramilitary organization. S.A.-Mann Brand is a dramatic film about the exploits of Stormtroopers, the assault section of the German army. Is the poster for the film called “The Eternal Jew”. This picture simply dehumanized the Jewish population of the World. The Nazi leaders carefully planned racial discrimination to enhance nationalistic pride.
The very first book that comes to mind as a Nazi propaganda tool is Hitler’s Mein Kamph which is said to be heavily inspired by The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895) by Gustave Le Bon. Here he argued in favor of propaganda and its effective use to control public behavior in the favor of a cause. Other books such as Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes by Hans F. K. Günther and Rasse und Seele by Dr. Ludwig Ferdinand Clauss are examples of propaganda books. Vica comic book series published in Germany during World War II as a propaganda tool as it showed the Allied Forces as the Villain and had an immense effect on the comics loving children’s minds. However, the most effective was art and the use of artists for propaganda.
The Nazi domination has not only provided the most violent holocaust, the propagandist policy in art, silencing the real development of Art and culture, and above all “brain-washing” the common citizens of Germany with this propaganda were great “sin”. After the fall of Hitler and the destruction of the Nazis, these things stopped and were historically preserved by later historians to remember us about one of the darkest eras of Humankind.
Goethals, George R. Encyclopedia of Leadership, Volume 1. NY: SAGE, 2004.
Hitler, Adolph. Hitler Speaks in Munich. 1922. Humanitas International. 2003. Web.
Petropoulos, Jonathan. The Faustian bargain: the art world in Nazi Germany. London: Oxford University Press US, 2000.
Steinweis, Alan E. Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts. NY: UNC Press, 1996.
Trueman, Chris. Propaganda in Nazi Germany. Historylearningsite. 2007. historylearningsite.co.uk. Web.
Zimmerman, Michael E. Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity: technology, politics, and art. NY: Indiana University Press, 1990.