The Nazi party adored art.
To be more specific, art that was approved by the Fuhrer himself. Any art that was deemed “undesirable” would be destroyed or taken by the Nazis to be displayed in a degenerate art museum.
Themes that were considered perfect German values would be praised and those that were created by Jews or displayed themes that clashed with these values would be rejected.
While in Berlin, I saw examples of the art that was allowed by the Nazi party and art that was rejected entirely. The German History Museum had an extensive WWII exhibit that featured a portion about art censorship and theft. In this portion, I saw the most iconic example of German endorsed art. This painting, titled “Kahlenberger Bauernfamilie (“Farm Family From Kahlenberg) and painted by Adolf Wissel, represented the ideal Aryan family. Hitler purchased this painting at the Great German Art Exhibition in 1939 because he believed in the message that the work portrayed. Alongside this iconic work were other “acceptable” works for reference and also photographs of Hitler inspecting artwork.
Another example of Nazi endorsed artwork was a photograph that I saw at the Topography of Terror Museum (located in the exact place where S.S. Headquarters were during the Second World War). This photo shows two Aryan lovebirds who are cuddling on the sand while surrounded by swastika flags. The work is titled “German Vacation Fun with Swastikas” (ca. 1939). The photograph is beautiful and shows young love yet represents the propaganda that was being circulated in Germany at the beginning of the war.
To juxtapose the Nazi support of acceptable art, I also visited the temporary Bauhaus Museum exhibit. The Bauhaus School of Art, located in Berlin, was creating designs in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s that were revolutionary and shocking for the art world. As Germany entered the war, the students at Bauhaus felt the pressure of being labeled a “degenerate artist”. While touring the museum, I came across several examples of female students who ultimately ended up in concentration camps for their art. Choosing to not comply with German standards or fundamentally being the wrong race lead to many artists losing their lives. The possibility of new inspiration and creativity was killed along with them.
Thankfully, these artists’ stories are finally being told. While reading about both the acceptable and degenerate art in these exhibits, I felt like there was a sort of justice for those who had been lost. Those who collaborated with the Nazis were listed by name. Those who lost the battle were remembered. It seems to me that the creation art during the Second World War was created on borrowed time and we are lucky to learn about the artists’ struggles in the modern day.