Reviewed by Gary Stark (Department of History, Grand Valley State University)
Published on H-German (July, 2006)
Kultur, Nazi Style
Many standard accounts of the National Socialists' "coordination," control and manipulation of German artistic life and the media after 1933 are available. Art, Culture, and Media under the Third Reich is not one of them. Rather, this stimulating interdisciplinary collection of twelve independent, disparate, yet related essays treats specific areas of cultural life (from music and film to interior and landscape design) before and during the Third Reich that explore "the underlying beliefs of the Nazi racist state as they were developed and propagated in various fields of artistic activity" (p. xvi). Grappling with the paradox that Nazis practiced unparalleled barbarism, yet considered themselves highly cultured and representative of the highest accomplishments of civilization, editor Richard Etlin, the author of several books on modern architecture and cemeteries, and his contributors (fourteen historians, literary scholars, musicologists, art historians, architects and designers from Germany, the United States and Canada) explore "how the Nazis envisioned culture ... how they defined themselves through culture, and ... how the outside world reacted to that vision" (p. xvi).
Collectively, the individual case studies in this volume explore several broad themes sometimes overlooked in more conventional accounts of cultural life in the Third Reich: the eclectic nature of Nazi cultural theory and practice (which drew heavily on traditions of the völkisch Right but also incorporated elements from the progressive or modernist Left); how supporters of National Socialism reconciled their peculiar vision of "culture" and of German cultural greatness with values, practices and purposes most others found brutal, uncivilized and barbarous; the regime's sophisticated use of cultural policy to shape both its internal and external image; challenges to the Nazis' cultural vision from Italian fascism on the one hand and anti-Nazi German cultural exiles on the other; and how Germans at home and adversaries abroad accommodated or "appeased" the regime's cultural policies by deferring to or muting their criticism of many Nazi cultural initiatives.
Several essays and an ambitious introduction by the editor examine the historical development of the Nazis' Weltanschauung, especially their dehumanization of Jews and Slavs. Etlin's opening essay, "The Perverse Logic of Nazi Thought," seeks to plumb the process by which Nazi and other völkisch theorists concluded that true culture requires the eradication of corrupting Jewish influences and Jewish blood. He finds in the German scientific and academic communities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century a widespread tendency to employ a biological racism that invariably "divided the human race according to the dichotomy of the pure and impure, the life-enhancing and the life-polluting" (p. 22). In what I found to be a confusing digression Etlin explains this statement by expatiating grandly on the "primal and primordial aspects of the human psyche," the "power of the daemonic," "myth," "mythos" and "archetype." Furthermore, he explores "biological base-metaphors" such as "blood," "rootedness" and "vitalism." Working one's way through these sweeping, abstract concepts feels at times like wrestling with marshmallows. What Etlin's introduction does particularly well, however, is to make clear that at the center of the Nazi worldview lay an obsession with suspected sources of cultural and biological pollution. Creating and preserving German culture required purging society of these assumed sources of contamination, first through symbolic and ritualistic acts such as book burnings, but eventually through "actual Vernichtung--literally, reducing into nothing--of all people and peoples deemed responsible for cultural and biological pollution"(p. 14). For Hitler and his most ardent followers, Etlin concludes, "[t]here was no separation ... between the need for Nazi military conquests, the enslavement or elimination of other peoples, and the creation of culture, for culture was integral to the evolutionary process which set the forces of order against chaos, of strength against decay, in constant and eternal opposition" (p. 21).
Etlin's scrutiny of the Nazi racist Weltanschauung parallels and confirms what Roger Griffin recently identified as the "mythic core" of generic fascism: a "palingenetic ultra-nationalism," by which Griffin means a recurrent obsession with the need for a national rebirth that begins with a "vision of the (perceived) crisis of the nation as betokening the birth-pangs of a new order" that celebrates the alleged virtues and greatness of an organically conceived (that is, racial) nation or culture, and that culminates in "the image of the national-racial community, once purged and rejuvenated, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of a ... decadent culture." As Etlin's and most of the essays in the collection make clear, in the Third Reich all other values, including Judeo-Christian principles, Western humanism and Enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity had to be subordinated or sacrificed to this struggle to "purify" German culture of the forces of degeneration. It was by means of this perverse logic that Nazis and other Germans were able to dehumanize and even exterminate Jews, Slavs and other "non-Aryan" people, yet continue to see themselves as a cultured and civilized people.
Like Etlin, architecture professor and Auschwitz expert Robert Jan van Pelt is interested in the mental mechanisms by which many Germans persuaded themselves that for the sake of true culture, the extermination of Jews and Slavs was permissible, even necessary. His essay, "Bearers of Culture, Harbingers of Destruction: The Mythos of the Germans in the East," examines the mythology developed by German thinkers from Fichte and Treitschke to Lagarde and Weber about Germany's historical civilizing mission to the East. This widely held belief, reflected in popular novels in the 1920s and symbolized for many Germans by the castle of the Teutonic knights at Marienburg (which stood at the very border with the new Polish state), held that throughout history Germans had been bearers of culture (Kulturträger) located at the edge of civilization, whose task it was to bring culture to the "waste" in the East. Such a mythology, laced with Manichean distinctions between the forces of light and good versus darkness and evil, made it easy for Nazis to convince themselves after 1941 that the war against the Soviet Union was a crusade to protect European civilization against Asian barbarism and that a merciless annihilation of the Slavic enemy was justified in the name of culture.
Among the many ways Germany sought to "civilize" the East after invading Poland was to transform the very landscape from Slavic to Germanic principles. Etlin emphasizes the "obsessive microcosmic thought" (p. xvii) of National Socialist racial ideology: racist assumptions permeated the smallest corners of nearly all cultural pursuits to create an ideologically correct or pure "German" position on everything from building materials, interior design and artificial illumination to sculpture, dress, musical notes and landscape design. So, for example, Blut und Boden ideology insisted on the close relationship between nature and the German Volk and preached the crucial role of landscape in forming and preserving national culture. As landscape architects Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn and Gert Groning show in their essay "The National Socialist Garden and Landscape Ideal: Bodenständigkeit (Rootedness in the Soil)," such thinking (like that of Germany's "eastern mission") long predated the Nazis. By the turn of the century, völkisch ideology already permeated the field of landscape architecture and design; after 1933 it became the official, established school and dominated the field. Wolschke-Bulmahn and Groning provide clear evidence that beginning in 1939, several leading architectural planners and landscape designers were deeply implicated in SS efforts to expel Poles from their land so that the landscape could be transformed along "Germanic" lines that would be better suited and appropriate for the "soul" of the new German settlers. As in so many other areas of Nazi cultural thought, longstanding theories about landscape and environmental "protection" were enlisted not only to justify the physical reshaping of conquered eastern territories, but also the conquest itself and the forced "resettlement" and even physical extermination of the native populations. Despite their deep complicity in the expulsions and genocide in the East, after 1945 many of the same landscape designers and theorists allied loosely to Himmler's efforts to "strengthen Germandom" in the East remained extremely influential in their field.
In the fields of music and architecture as well (two cultural pursuits particularly dear to Hitler), Nazism expropriated, adapted and applied pre-1933 cultural theories about purging and rejuvenating the German Volksgemeinschaft, although with less deadly consequences than in the conquered East. Musicologist Albrecht Duemling's "The Target of Racial Purity: The 'Degenerate Music' Exhibition in Düsseldorf, 1938" looks at the great cultural and spiritual power attributed to music in Nazi ideology and traces theories about the relation of music and "Germanness" from Wagner through the Weimar era. Before 1933, conservative music theorists such as Hans Ziegler and völkisch organizations like the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur denounced the degenerate "cultural bolshevism" of modernist music and called for the purification of German music from Jewish and alien influences. These efforts culminated in the "Entartete Musik" exhibit, a counterpart to the previous year's "Degenerate Art" exhibit. Duemling's research reveals that the exhibit was not well received and alienated many musical moderates in Germany. (Peter Raabe, president of the Reichsmusikkammer, resigned in protest, but his withdrawal never became public knowledge.) Nevertheless, it had a powerful and long-lasting impact on musical affairs, for it triggered the emigration of many musical modernists, who thereafter played no role in Germany's musical life, but enlivened music in many other nations.
Another dramatic Nazi cultural initiative that drew heavily on earlier thinking in Germany was the stunning Lichtdom (or "Cathedral of Lights") Albert Speer created at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. Although originally intended as a way to mask the un-military, undisciplined Schlamperei of middle-aged Party functionaries marching onto the field, these 130 searchlights ringing the field all pointed upward, creating a powerful sense of community that effectively erased the division between participants and spectators. In fact, as architect Kathleen James-Chakraboty shows in "The Drama of Illumination: Visions of Community from Wilhelmine to Nazi Germany" the use of artificial illumination to foster community and cultural regeneration originated not with the Nazis or on the nationalist right, but rather with prewar avant-garde Expressionists. Artificial light was first used in experimental theater design at the turn of the century in an attempt to produce an emotional effect analogous to music. After the war, Bruno Taut and other avant-garde architects developed lighting theory further and sought to invest it with social and political meaning. Hoping to use this "antimaterialist" building material to unite a mass public by creating a magical space where individuals could merge into a democratic community and experience a spiritual awakening, Hans Poelzig and Max Reinhardt relied heavily on artificial illumination in the design of Berlin's Grosse Schauspielhaus in 1919. In 1934, seeking ways to enhance Nazi spectacle, Speer adopted (or rather, co-opted) these expressionist experiments with lighting to produce a spectacular (and cheap) propaganda effect at Nuremberg. "For three decades," James-Chakraboty concludes, "Germany employed light to shape spaces that [their designers] hoped would transcend the country's ... polarization. Some of these efforts were benign, wrapping the romance of technological progress around an evening's entertainment at the theater or cinema. Others were frankly coercive, using militarism on an unprecedentedly sublime scale to annihilate any sense of the individual" (p. 198).
Architecture and mammoth building projects representing true "German" values, such as the Nuremberg Party Rally grounds where the Lichtdom premiered or the German Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exposition Internationale (see below), played a central role in implementing National Socialist ideology and cultural vision. Nazi architectural projects were, as Robert R. Taylor has observed, "The Word in Stone." Art historian Paul Jaskot undertakes a fascinating "political history of architecture" in "Heinrich Himmler and the Nuremberg Party Rally Grounds: The Interest of the SS in the German Building Industry," which reveals the hidden relationship between the regime's monumental architecture and the use of forced labor in the SS-controlled concentration camps. According to Jaskot, after 1938, SS leadership was "determined to make the concentration camps indispensable to the state not only through their use as punitive institutions but also through their functional relation to the German monumental building economy"(p. 234). To this end they developed an economic program and profitable ventures utilizing forced labor in the camps they controlled to further the regime's political suppression and its high-profile monumental architectural projects, especially the Congress Hall and German Stadium at Nuremberg. From 1938 until 1942 (when it shifted its forced labor to armament production) the SS used prisoners and POWs in its camps to quarry granite and make bricks used in construction at Nuremberg. (Brick and stone rather than iron and steel were used for Nazi monumental buildings because the former was considered more "Aryan," but also because the latter was in short supply and needed for armament production.) This highly lucrative undertaking enabled the SS to dominate an important segment of the building industry and is a key reason for the dramatic growth of the camps' inmate population after 1938. The regime's architectural policy and monumental building projects were made possible by the SS's supply of cheap building materials. As demand for granite and bricks rose, the SS increased production by imprisoning more inmates and working them to death or near death as part of their "punishment," which in turn enabled an SS-run company (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH) to dominate various aspects of the German building industry. At least until 1942, organization and administration of the camps were shaped significantly by the regime's building projects, and the resulting income enabled the SS to expand its influence over other areas of German life. The SS, Jaskot shows, benefited enormously from the party's and state's architectural policy, integration of monumental architectural projects into the German economy and the move towards an oligarchic economy.
Cinema was another branch of culture that, because of its popular appeal, served as a favored vehicle for Nazi ideology and propaganda. In his brief contribution, "The Impact of Anti-Semitic Film Propaganda on German Audiences: Jew Süß (1940) and The Wandering Jew" (1940), historian David Culbert (covering much the same ground as David Welch did over twenty years ago) compares the making and audience reception of the two most antisemitic propaganda films of the Third Reich. Both films were experiments in mass persuasion and are often assumed (most recently by Daniel Goldhagen) to have helped prepare Germans for the Final Solution. Using standard secondary but no new primary sources, Culbert demonstrates that Jew Süß was quite popular in Germany and even in German-occupied countries because it was an entertaining, escapist film with good acting, an exciting plot and healthy doses of sex and violence. Audiences reacted quite negatively, however, to the documentary The Wandering Jew. The latter was a pet project of Goebbels, who was deeply involved in its making and marketing. Despite extensive audience testing, re-editing and its release in two versions (one with extremely gory visual content, another less explicit one "suitable for women and children"), The Wandering Jew was a commercial flop. While over 20 million Germans paid to see Jew Süß, the commercial distribution of The Wandering Jew probably attracted less than one million paying customers. Culbert, however, is interested in how effective these two films were in creating or intensifying antisemitic prejudices of German viewers in the early phase of the Final Solution. Although Welch regarded these two films (and a third, Die Rothschilds, which Culbert barely mentions) as "efforts to prepare the German public for the full-scale extermination," and concludes "[w]ithout question Jud Süß contributed to the radical anti-Semitism already prevalent in Germany and facilitated the way for the evacuation of the Jews," Culbert concludes that neither film persuaded audiences to support a policy of annihilation. At best (he argues), Jew Süß may have intensified generally held antisemitic attitudes and The Wandering Jew could merely reinforce the attitudes of those who had already been persuaded; but no film, even these two, could turn German viewers into Goldhagen's "willing executioners" ready to participate in the Final Solution. This may well be true, and we would do well to heed Culbert's warning about assuming an antisemitic film creates antisemitic attitudes and behavior. Unfortunately, beyond pointing out the cinematic shortcomings of The Wandering Jew and citing one 1930s media study that questioned the ability of any film to change a viewer's attitudes, Culbert can marshal no evidence to support his assertion that these two films not only did not but could not change viewers' attitudes about the Final Solution (whereas Welch found at least one piece of testimony supporting his position on Jew Süß). Whatever we know about the intent and genesis of such Nazi propaganda, its psychological effect or behavioral impact always remains elusive.
A parallel study of propaganda films by Germanist Mary-Elizabeth O'Brien focusing on civilians at the home front during the war ("The Celluloid War: Packaging the war for Sale in Nazi Home-Front films") also explores the popular appeal (or lack thereof) of various Nazi cinematic techniques. After 1939, the Nazis made surprisingly few films specifically about the war. Of these, O'Brien analyses three "home front" films designed to manipulate popular opinion about the war and propagate the myth of an organic national community united against the enemy. These films provided audiences with leisure and entertainment while delivering an ideological message about the bonds between the civilian populace and the frontline soldiers. Using sophisticated content analysis, O'Brien carefully demonstrates how each film used images, symbols, music and certain scenes to persuade the audience that war "brings people together, transforms the ordinary into the spectacular, intensifies feelings, and helps strengthen the individual" (p. 176). Wunschkonzert (1940), made during the early, optimistic phase of war, illustrated how the powerful medium of radio--and interest in a particularly popular musical entertainment program--united soldiers and the home front. Its cheery, upbeat tone and confidence in victory sought to win the public over to the war effort. However, as victory eluded the Third Reich and Germans began to experience first-hand the destruction wrought by strategic bombing of their cities, the ideological message of the home-front film changed: Die große Liebe (1942), a sentimental love story about people coping with the stresses of the war, depicts the war as theater, as a spectacle in which both soldiers and civilians are required to participate and are assigned demanding roles. Finally, toward the bitter end of the war when defeat seemed inevitable, Die Degenhardts (1944) presented audiences with a grim tale about a family facing defeat and death but reconciled to its fate. The two earlier films enjoyed wide popularity and commercial success, O'Brien posits, because they celebrated the positive and helped divert and insulate spectators from the more upsetting aspects of the war; the last received disappointing reviews and was a commercial failure because it could not insulate people from the grim realities of total war, because "[t]he story ... was not the self-definition and national narrative the German home front wanted to buy as their world collapsed" (p. 176).
While one can study the relative popularity or unpopularity of Nazi propaganda films, as Culbert and O'Brien have done, it is difficult to do more than speculate about how audiences received the "message" the propagandists were trying to sell. If the commercial failure of The Wandering Jew or Die Degenhardts meant Germans rejected or "didn't buy" the ideological premises behind them, then did the commercial success of the other films (like Jew Süß) imply that audiences agreed with or "bought into" their propagandistic intent? Or did it mean perhaps the films were more entertaining and well-made, or that the content better reflected the audience's (existing) attitudes and mood? Did these propaganda films somehow shape and influence popular attitudes, or only reflect these? Culbert and O'Brien provide excellent close analyses of the intent and structure of Nazi propaganda films; both authors also attempt to move beyond that to analyze audience reception of the films as well, which requires asking different questions and consulting different sources. Understanding why a film (or any other cultural product) had a positive or negative reception and assessing the work's actual impact on audience attitudes, values and behavior is most difficult of all, and is frequently little more than speculative. In this regard O'Brien is more cautious than Culbert, who conjectures but does not convince.
This collection of essays is particularly welcome because it examines not only issues of domestic culture under the Nazis and the responses of German audiences, but also what might be called the regime's "foreign cultural policy"--how it sought to portray and promote German culture abroad, and how "Nazi culture" was received by foreign audiences. In what I found to be one of the strongest contributions, "Italian Fascists and National Socialists: The Dynamics of an Uneasy Relationship," Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a specialist in Italian history, presents a fascinating account of the shifting domestic and international cultural policies of Italian fascism and National Socialism between 1933 and 1943 and considers how these reflected the changing relations between Italy and Germany. During the Weimar era, while some Italian fascists envied the experimental spirit and technological progress in Germany, others proclaimed the superiority of Italian culture and were confident that under fascist leadership, Italy would emerge again as Europe's cultural leader. After the Nazis assumed power in 1933, the Italian and German regimes initially viewed each other as rivals and competitors; to assert its cultural primacy, for example, Italy was quick to denounce the Nazis' intolerance of modernist culture and in 1933-34 organized two major international modernist conferences and festivals. Yet each regimes began to learn from the other how to combine bureaucratic techniques of repression and promotion to control and manipulate culture. (The Reichskulturkammer, for example, was modeled on the Italian system of syndicates for intellectuals and artists developed between 1925 and 1930, which Goebbels observed on a 1933 trip to Italy.) While continuing to compete for the cultural leadership of European fascism, Italy and Germany began cooperating in several areas, each borrowing various ideas, policies and structures from the other and adapting these to their own national setting. The two drew closer with the Rome-Berlin pact of 1936, which prepared the way for the signing of a comprehensive Italian-German Cultural Accord in November 1938. A flurry of cultural exchanges (students, artists, scientists, journalists and so on) soon followed. These exchanges gave both regimes access to new markets and audiences as well as the opportunity to promote their cultural vision for the new Europe. The more Italy fell under Germany's influence after 1938, and especially as it became militarily dependent on the Third Reich after 1940, the more it asserted the autonomy (though no longer the superiority) of Italian culture. (Films and film policy occupied one key battleground where Italian fascism tried desperately to compete with Germany for economic and cultural domination of Europe.) Although by the end of Mussolini's rule Italians came to see themselves as subordinates and victims rather than allies and co-conspirators of the Third Reich, Ben-Ghiat's account of the competitive rivalry, amiable cooperation and mutual imitation of these two regimes shows that both sought to mobilize culture in order to "purify" European civilization of its decadent elements and reshape it along radically new fascist lines.
Architecture and monumental buildings were as central to the Third Reich's foreign propaganda efforts as they were to its domestic cultural policy. The careful propagandistic design and decorative symbolism of the German pavilion that Speer built for the 1937 Paris Exposition, for example, is analyzed by Karen A. Fiss in her essay "In Hitler's Salon: The German Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exposition Internationale." Constructed directly opposite the Soviet pavilion, which was also laden with propagandistic symbolism, Speer's pavilion was intended to counter the forward thrust of the former and to dominate it in height. (The 63-meter-high German building stood as a solid cubic mass checking the onslaught of two colossal bronze figures on the 57-meter Soviet pavilion holding a hammer and a sickle and striding triumphantly toward the German pavilion.) Fiss, a specialist in visual culture and design, has discovered that Speer was able to achieve his architectural oneupsmanship because he managed to obtain an advance copy of the Soviets' building plans. Because the French government was eager to have Germany participate in the exposition, it also granted Germany special privileges and exemptions regarding the construction of the pavilion (including, perhaps, access to the Soviet plans). The interior of the pavilion, displaying a variety of German products, was also designed as a propagandistic statement. Applying Ernst Bloch's theories about the visual and ideological properties of the "parlor" or "salon" (which was to offer the willing participant a respite from the political and economic anxieties of contemporary European life), Fiss analyzes in detail the "reactionary aesthetic" of the pavilion's interior, where regressive elements were visually paired with modernizing technology. The entire German pavilion, she concludes, was a "propagandistic success" because it offered spectators "an illusory retreat, not only from the political to the aesthetic, but also from the modern to the preindustrial.... Within the pavilion, visitors were invited to believe both in the dream of international peace and in the possibility of restoring a fragmented society to its precapitalist, communal roots" (p. 335). Whether the visitors did, in fact, believe this, is not addressed. How did foreigners visiting the German pavilion respond to it? Was it as propagandistically successful from the spectator's viewpoint as from it was from that of its designers? Such questions are beyond the scope of Fiss's study, but they are legitimate nevertheless.
Although National Socialism sought to monopolize--and certainly dominated--how German culture was portrayed and perceived abroad during the 1930s, the Nazi vision of German culture always had to compete with the anti-Nazi German exiles who offered a very different alternative. The latter had great difficulty being heard, especially during the years of Western "appeasement" toward the Third Reich. Art historian Keith Holz's "The Exiled Artists from Nazi Germany and their Art" provides a stimulating overview of artists and art professionals who became refugees and/or exiles after 1933, inquiring into their situation both as exiles and as artists. Most headed to the major art centers of Paris, Prague or London, where they confronted problems of survival and adjustment (different in each nation) just like other exiles, sought new outlets and audiences for their work, formed a variety of arts organizations (such as the Kollektive deutscher Künstler and the Freie Künstlerbund in Paris, Prague's Oskar-Kokoschka-Bund, or the Freie deutsche Kulturbund in London), engaged in a wide range of political activities (not always leftist) and practiced a great diversity of styles and artistic techniques. Holz emphasizes that for several years after 1933, when France and Britain still sought to maintain peaceful relations with Nazi Germany, the governments of these "host" nations (and some native art institutions) were suspicious of or even hostile toward the outspokenly anti-Nazi German refugee artists. The organizers of a major British 1937 exhibition of modern German art, for example, excluded anti-Nazi art and sought to eliminate anti-Nazi interpretations from the promotional literature. When a group of exiled German artists in France tried to organize a 1938 exhibition critical of Nazi art policies, it was censored by the French government. Only after the Nazis' infamous "Degenerate Art" exhibit of 1937 (and the West's abandonment of appeasement) did the public embrace the exiled artists as victims and become enamored with the modernists among them. Holz's brief, systematic look at Germany's artistic exodus after 1933 makes clear how diverse this group was and explores the ways in which their exile experience was both similar to and different from that of other exiles at the time, as well as considering how difficult it is to generalize about their impact and heritage.
The experience of one particular German exile group in the United States is examined more closely in Karen Koehler's essay "The Bauhaus 1919-1928: Gropius in Exile and the Museum of Modern Art, N.Y. 1938." In late 1938, the New York Museum of Modern Art staged (with the cooperation of Gropius and his Bauhaus associate Herbert Bayer) an exhibition, "The Bauhaus Years, 1919-1928." Because isolationist, anti-communist and anti-foreign sentiments were particularly strong in the United States at this time, Gropius and the museum chose to present an exceedingly tame, incomplete and depoliticized image of the Bauhaus. By neutralizing the organization's left-leaning social and political history and refraining from any anti-Nazi statements, the MoMA exhibit presented a distorted view of the Bauhaus--almost as if it were being seen through the eyes of its Nazi detractors. Moreover, the method by which specific Bauhaus artifacts were exhibited decontextualized them, "turn[ing] what were intended to be socially embedded products of artistic labor into art-world objects [and] den[ying] the syntactical substance of their initial historical and economic situations" (p. 303). This self-imposed censorship, Koehler argues, was symptomatic of the exile experience of the Bauhaus (and of many exiled artists elsewhere, Holz might add). It also had an unfortunate lasting effect on the Bauhaus legacy, for decisions made in 1938 continued to influence, in a negative way, thinking and scholarship about the Bauhaus for many years thereafter.
The consequences of artistic accommodation to Nazism are also the subject of Jonathan Petropolous' brief but outstanding essay, "From Seduction to Denial: Arno Brecker's Engagement with National Socialism." Although many German architects and artists went into exile, a great many others of course remained in Germany, yielded to the Nazi vision of culture and collaborated with it. Arno Brecker, the most celebrated sculptor of the Third Reich, was an idealist who saw Nazi patronage as his best opportunity to achieve his artistic goals. Although Petropolous makes clear that Brecker had other options, he quickly succumbed to the temptations of the new regime and was easily co-opted by it. Although he convinced himself he was apolitical and was exerting a moderating influence on the regime, in fact the many commissioned sculptures he executed for the Nazis were used for politicized and propagandistic purposes and his work evolved into the "artistic embodiment of the National Socialist ideology" (p. 212). Brecker's behavior, Petropolous charges, extended beyond complicit to criminal: he glorified Hitler and aggressive warfare, used his high position in the cultural bureaucracy to intimidate critics and played a minor role in the looting of artworks in occupied Europe. Like so many other artists, "Brecker believed that his pact with the Nazis ... came in pursuit of a higher ideal: the creation of great and lasting art" (p. 223). After 1945, Brecker never understood, recognized or admitted the true nature of the Third Reich and his involvement with it, and certainly never took responsibility for his actions, much less sought forgiveness. Indeed, he believed himself a victim of the Third Reich. In the FRG, he became a darling of the Right, continued to receive lucrative commissions and sometimes served as an apologist for Nazi policies.
The many essays in Art, Culture, and Media Under the Third Reich show that the Faustian bargain Brecker struck with National Socialism could be found, in one form or another, also among many German musicians, building and landscape architects, actors and filmmakers, interior designers, Italian fascists and even some German cultural exiles. Etlin and his contributors remind us that the groundwork for this pattern was laid well before 1933, and that its legacy extended well past 1945. This useful collection also reveals that while we can--and do--know much about the genesis, intent and structure of the Third Reich's highly propagandistic cultural products (buildings, films, sculptures, paintings, musical compositions, exhibitions and so on), we know less but need to know more about how Germans (and foreigners) "received" and responded to these works. We know still less about how these cultural products affected individuals emotionally, psychologically and behaviorally.
This eclectic collection of case studies may not contribute as much to the polemical debate about the "uniqueness of the Nazi era" or to the "origins of the Holocaust" as Etlin suggests (p. xxi), and the theoretical flights by Etlin and Fiss may not be as accessible to the general reader as he hopes. Nevertheless the work represents an important contribution to our knowledge about Nazi culture, and several of the essays--especially those by Petropolous, Jaskot, Beh-Ghiat and Holz--stand out as brief, accessible and insightful studies from which any student of the Third Reich will profit.
. Roger Griffin, ed., Fascism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 3, 4, 7; also idem, The Nature of Fascism (London: Routledge, 1993).
. Robert R. Taylor, The Word in Stone: The Role of Architecture in the National Socialist Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974).
. David Welch, Propaganda and the German Cinema 1933-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 280-306.
. Ibid., pp. 283, 291; see also p. 301.
. Ibid., p. 291, n. 121.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Gary Stark. Review of Etlin, Richard A., ed., Art, Culture, and Media under the Third Reich.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.