PAINTING: “Mai-Feier im Berliner Lustgarten”
“Mai-Feier im Berliner Lustgarten” (May Holiday in the Berlin Pleasure Garden). A traditional harvest celebration depicted in the German (Nazi) art pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. The “maypole” is topped with Nazi flags. While the craft guilds and trade workers march they were being watched by boys in Hitler Youth uniforms. People cheered by rendering the “Nazi arm salute.” By Rudolf Hengstenberg.

Creating A Demigod

Nazi Art, Adolf Hitler, and the Cult of Personality

Continued from PAGE 1

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.

PAINTING: “Die Schmiede Grossdeutschland” (The Forge of Greater Germany)
Under an arch inscribed with “Die Schmiede Grossdeutschland” (The Forge of Greater Germany), workers toil at a blacksmith forge to arm the personification of German womanhood for battle. A swastika keystone tops the archway. The shield is emblazoned with the German Imperial eagle with a swastika in the center. That part was damaged by an unknown Allied soldier. The hem of the woman’s cape’s is covered in swastikas.
Painting of Hitler on a matchbook cover.
This painting was reproduced on everything from matchbooks to postcards and distributed throughout Germany. A fearless Adolf Hitler, in the forefront of massed party members, is mantled by sunlight from the heavens. The dove descending on him connects him religiously to the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist. The caption reads “Es lebe Deutchland” (Germany Lives!). (The artist is K. Stauber).

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.

Painting of Hitler
All paintings of Adolf Hitler depict him standing to denote strength. “An artist who wants to render the Führer must be more than an artist. The entire German people and German eternity will stand silently in front of this work, filled with emotions to gain strength from it today and for all times” (Peter Adam).
Photograph of Hitler
In this 1933 photograph of Hitler he wears his World War I Iron Cross First Class and wound badge (the equivalent of the U.S. Silver Star and a Purple Heart) on his Nazi Party uniform.

Works of art and literature that did not fit into the Nazi ideology were labeled “degenerate.” Much of the so-called degenerate artwork and books were destroyed. In some cases, they were burned publicly to show political strength. However, a lot ended up in the private art collections and libraries of Nazi Party elite, like Hermann Göring, Reichsmarschall (second only to Hitler) and Commander of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).

Throughout the life of the Third Reich the Nazi regime used art as propaganda. Artists labored under strict regulatory standards, and many worked directly for the Propaganda Ministry. The majority of the Nazi effort was internal. It focused on the German people to reinforce the Hitler myth (image) and promote the Nazi ideology. The Propaganda Ministry mass produced motivational posters and post cards until the German surrender on 8 May 1945.

Bust of Hitler
A bust of Hitler in the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Fort Bragg, NC, was shot full of holes by an unknown Allied soldier.
This painting depicts a ceremony honoring the Nazi dead from the Beer Hall Putsch.
This painting depicts a ceremony honoring the Nazi dead from the Beer Hall Putsch.

During the 1945 Potsdam Conference the Allies agreed that all reminders of the Nazi regime, including artwork, would be removed from public view to hasten the denazification process in Germany.20 In the American zone, artwork with Nazi symbols and military motifs were confiscated. This included state-owned and Nazi Party art that portrayed the leaders or symbolized Nazi ideology or doctrine. Between 1945 and 1950, the U.S. Army collected some 8,000 pieces of Nazi art and shipped them to the U.S. Army Center for Military History, for safekeeping in the Army Art Collection. Some of the art in that collection is temporarily displayed in U.S. Army military museums and offices around the country, including the Pentagon and in the major Army Command headquarters buildings. However, the majority is in storage. In late 1950 about 2,000 pieces of art were determined by the Department of the Army to be non-military and returned to the West German government. Over the next forty years more artwork was returned. Approximately 450 pieces of Nazi art remain in the U.S. Army Art Collection. Under German law, private individuals cannot own Nazi symbols, memorabilia, and art. However, state-supported museums and educational institutions in Germany may display Nazi items for educational purposes.21

20 Renee Klish, Curator, Army Art Collection, the Center for Military History, interview by Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Jones, Jr., 16 January 2008, Washington DC, digital recording, USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC; Earl F. Ziemke, The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany 1944-1946 (Washington DC: Center for Military History, 1990), 270.

21 Klish interview; Stratton Mammon, “Memoir of the Ranking Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Officer in the ETO in World War II,” Military Affairs, April 1988, 61.

The standard question is: “Why not destroy the artwork created to promote one of the most despicable regimes in history?” The Nazi art collection at the U.S. Army Center for Military History enables the viewers to gain the German perspective of World War II.22 Worldwide, dictators have used and continue to use, the Nazi model to promote cults of personality, using art as a propaganda tool. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba, Kim Jong-il in North Korea, and Mao in China continue to be portrayed as national heroes.

22 Klish interview.

The author wishes to thank Ms. Renee Klish, Curator, the U.S. Army Center for Military History Art Collection for her assistance in researching this article and Master Sergeant (Ret.) Carlos Jaramillo, Jr. for this insignia.