`Sire, Grant Us Freedom of Thought' ; `Art Has Become Very Spontaneous and Sincere under the Supervision of National Socialism'

Article excerpt

In Nazi Germany, the safest form of protest was to tell a joke. FKM Hillenbrand's new book documents the survival of humour under Hitler Hitler, once extolled as the "greatest artist", regarded himself as the final court of appeal in all artistic matters. In that capacity he inaugurated the "Haus der deutschen Kunst" ("House of German Art") in Munich in 1937; he "expressly forbade any painter to use colours different from those perceived in nature by the normal eye".

Hitler's past as a failed art student, whose attempts with the brush remained restricted to some sketches and to the painting of postcards, moved a German emigre to comment: "A postcard-painter hardly gleans the scope of art, nor what it means."

Some wit once suggested that a suitable inscription for the main entrance of the "House of German Art" might be "Paintbrush, awake!" because it ought to please the Fuhrer's artistic sensibility, and at the same time remind him of the Nazi battle-cry, "Germany, awake!"

Professor Adolf Ziegler, one of Hitler's proteges, was made Prasident der Reichskammer der Bildenden Kunste ("Reich Chamber of Fine Art"). He contributed to the "House of German Art" his own over- life-size nudes, painted with every anatomical detail, though rather lifeless. The models were said to have been former fashion models, and the paintings were much to Hitler's taste, earning Ziegler the titles "Reich Chastity Guardian" and "Reich Master of Pubic Hair".

When in 1938 Francois-Poncet, the French Ambassador, took some friends to this exhibition, he is said to have pointed at the four huge nudes (symbols of the four elements) and remarked, "These, gentlemen, are the five senses," whereupon one of his guestshad said, "But these are only four of them here." "Quite so," replied Francois-Poncet, "Taste is missing!" ... If one agrees with the view that "Nazism was the tainted progeny of German Romanticism" one can appreciate both the importance of music and its manifold uses in Nazi Germany - for marching, radio announcements, wartime Sondermeldungen [special victory announcements by radio] and all the way down to orchestras in the extermination camps. Martial music in particular became a large part of the daily musical fare in the Third Reich. It was constantly transmitted by loudspeaker radio and was thus inescapable. This was already the case during the years preceding the war, and people got heartily sick of it. "At long last, a good old German military march again!" would be one sarcastic comment.

Nazi symbolism even extended to dance as an art form, as it explained in this pseudo-mystic definition: "In the dance we relive the great primeval laws of nature. The male partner's thrust and blow tends towards the soldierly ... the female's instinctive

vibration of a circular character is connected with the swastika, the rune of life, with its circular motion."

It is understandable that adepts of this transcendental Nazi revelation in the dance considered modern dance forms - like swing - as unacceptable "Negroid excrescences"; hence the saxophone was "purged" and the use of percussion instruments was much reduced.

As for the theatre, the economic depression in the early 1930s had already led to hardships for actors and the advent of the Third Reich exacerbated these to an even greater extent than was the case with other art forms. After 1933 about half the leadingactors and actresses, and most directors, emigrated. …