Banned Art in Nazi Germany
“Entartete Kunst” or Degenerate Art
When the National Socialist Party (Nazi) assumed the government of Germany on January 31, 1933, the aims of the National Socialist Society for German Culture were at once instituted. That organization, already in existence since 1927, viewed all art by Jews as “degenerate”.
Therefore, all German museums were forced to surrender any painting or sculpture by Jewish artists or by artists labeled “Jews” by the Nazi party. Included was the work of Philipp Veit, who was the grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Veit had been converted to Catholicism by his parents, a move very common in 18th century Germany and usually made for convenience and not conviction.
In 1937, the German government organized an art exhibit of “degenerate art”, which was first shown in Munich (München) and was then shown in numerous other German and Austrian cities. The show was surrounded by insulting remarks about the artists and their creations and seeking to inform visitors that all these pictures by Jews were horrible.
Instead of bringing on the revulsion intended, the art show became a “blockbuster” event, as over three million visitors came to see the works of the Jewish artists exhibited there.
The truth is, of course, that the artists displayed in the “entartete Kunst” show were masters of 20th century art. No effort at ridicule or insult could change that. Included in that “degenerate art” show was Marc Chagall. Chagall, of course, painted Biblical scenes with Jewish themes. Also included was Max Ernst, an early surrealist as well as the inventor of the frottage method of painting, which uses a pencil rubbing of of an object to create an image.
Wassily Kadinsky, one of the founders of abstract art, was also included in the Nazi show, particularly because the Nazi ideology could not tolerate “abstract” art at all. Therefore the art of Ludwig Kirchner was banned in Germany altogether. Kirchner’s work was shown at the “degenerate” art show. In 1938 Kirchner committed suicide. Emile Nolde, an associate of Kirchner, survived the Nazi era in Germany. All of his works were confiscated by the Nazi party. Today there is a Nolde museum in Seebüll near Neukirchen in Germany. There German schoolchildren are taught about Nolde’s art. Somehow, the Germans don’t remember that Nolde was a Jew.
One of the few women included in the “degenerate art” collection was Käthe Kollwitz, who had painted, drawn and sculpted numerous scenes of German social conditions. Despite her Judaism, she was admired by the German people, so that numerous parks and streets had been named after her. She was the first woman ever to be elected to the Prussian Academy of Art in Berlin. As soon as the Nazi party became the boss her work was removed from all museums and she was expelled form the academy as a “Saujude” or Jew swine. Today, her painting and sculpture are displayed in Berlin and other German cities particularly because her work denounced war and injustice.
There were of course numerous other artists who either fled Germany or were murdered.
Even as Jewish art was denounced as “degenerate”, artists were told to paint “German” art. This consisted of showing Hitler in heroic poses, while showing Jews with huge noses and fat bellies as inhuman and “racially” inferior. Favorite Nazi themes were pictures glorifying war or showing German farmers and labor who all appeared “tall, blond and blue eyed.” Pastoral scenes were also allowed by the dictators. In short, artists were turned into Nazi propagandists. Artists refusing to “cooperate” were not allowed to exhibit and were threatened with death.
Hitler appointed a Nazi sculptor, Josef Thorak, as one of the “official” artists of the “Dritte Reich” (Third Empire). He sculpted huge horses, one of which was 65 feet tall and was shown at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Hitler also appointed Arno Breker as an “official” sculptor. Breker sculpted “The Army” and “The Party”, which Hitler thought the most beautiful sculptures he had ever seen. Of course, Hitler was a painter himself. In his youth he had painted picture postcards and sold them door to door in München, where he was living in a Jewish sponsored “flophouse”.
The Nazi government also used films to push their propaganda, so that film makers were induced to make anti-Jewish films such as “Jud Süss”, which is a horrific diatribe against Jews in general. The same is true of “Der Ewige Jude” or “The Eternal Jew.”
The Nazi director Leni Riefenstahl made “Triumph of the Will”, which glorified Hitler and his Nazi gang, and then she produced “Olympia” to commemorate the Berlin Olympics of 1936.
Today, much of the art by Jewish artists which the German Nazis stole from Jewish homes and museums has still not been returned to the descendants of the rightful owners. Much of it is located in museums all over Europe. Some of it has been returned to the heirs of the original owners. In Prague, once occupied by the Germans, there is a large collection of Jewish art which the Czech government intends to keep.
If you can find some of this “degenerate” art, you will discover it to be truly great. Unfortunately, we here in Buffalo have no art left in our museum. It was all sold so that the money could be spent on buying amateurish imitations of art by “artists” without talent.
So go to New York or Amsterdam in the Netherlands, or see the great Huntington museum in Los Angeles.
The word “museum” comes from the Greek and originally referred to any place of learning. It is also related to the belief that “muses” or gods controlled music, art, poetry, etc.
Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Fraud (2007).