Creating A Demigod
Nazi Art, Adolf Hitler, and the Cult of Personality
The Reich Culture Chamber issued licenses to the press, radio, arts, film, literature, and music. All aspects of culture were regulated by the Nazi “stamp of approval.” Artists were investigated to ensure racial purity and adherence to Nazi ideals. They faced three choices: follow the Nazi licensing procedures; choose another profession; or flee the country. Party members could pursue art as a vocation, but only according to the rules of the Reich Culture Chamber.
Very quickly Nazism became an integral part of everything German. “Gleichschaltung,” literally meaning “synchronization” or “coordination” was how the Nazi regime systematically established total control over Germans as individuals and how they coordinated all facets of societal life. The span of control covered the gamut from daily living to the economy to the arts.16
16 Gleichschaltung literally means the “synchronization” or “coordination” (or “bringing into line”). This is the term by which the Nazi regime systematically established a totalitarian control system over the individual, and tight coordination over all aspects of society, ranging from everyday life to the economy, and to art. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 196-7; Clark, Art and Propaganda in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997), 61.
… in their origin and in the picture which they present, they are the expressions of the soul and the ideals of the community.”
To expand control of Germany, Hitler and Goebbels used art as a propaganda tool. Artistic expression and political goals were combined. As an artist Hitler defined true art as being linked to the country, life, health, and the Aryan race. In a 1935 party speech, Hitler declared, “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 … in their origin and in the picture which they present, they are the expressions of the soul and the ideals of the community.”17
17 Adam, Art of the Third Reich, 15-16. Hitler, Party Day speech, 1935.
Hitler and Goebbels knew the importance of image. The Führer (leader) had to be personified as a god-like figure. This was integral to Nazi propaganda. As the party grew in popularity, the “cult of personality” depicting Hitler as Germany’s leader grew exponentially.18 A vigorous national program of artwork featured Hitler as the leader and extolled the mystical strength of the Nazi Party. Painters portrayed him as the healer who would cure all of Germany’s problems.
18 John Keegan, The Second World War (New York: Viking Penguin, 1989), 33, 35; R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History, second revised edition (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), 1034.
Photographs of Hitler had to receive his personal approval before public release. Art was even more closely scrutinized. The Nazi art magazine, Die Kunst im Dritten Reich (Art in the Third Reich) was printed on the best paper to ensure high quality reproductions.19 Hitler’s portrait was usually the cover or the frontis piece of these magazines. Art contests were held throughout Germany. Paintings of the Führer were prominent winners. Since artists had to be licensed by the Propaganda Ministry, what better way for an artist to demonstrate solidarity or “good faith” with the party than to paint a portrait of Hitler? While most of the artwork was hung in public galleries, Hitler and Goebbels wanted to spread Nazi art to all levels of society. The German leader was the center piece of Nazi Party themes that became small portraits, busts, posters, postcards, even matchbook covers. These were all meant to inspire the German people and to glorify Hitler as the leader of the country and party.
19 Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda. The Art of Persuasion: World War II (Leicester, United Kingdom: Magna Books, 1993), 25.