Modern history



When Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels established the Reich Music Chamber in November 1933, he pulled off something of a coup by persuading Richard Strauss to act as the Chamber’s President. Well before his appointment, Strauss had won the plaudits of the regime by taking over at short notice a conducting engagement originally assigned to the Jewish conductor Bruno Walter. Strauss disliked Walter, and was persuaded that if he did not step in, the orchestra - the Berlin Philharmonic - would lose vital earnings because the public would stay away. The regime, predictably, exploited the event for its own purposes.190 Not long after, Strauss also stepped in to replace another banned conductor, Fritz Busch, and the anti-fascist Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, who had refused on political grounds to conduct at the Bayreuth Festival.191 Of his loyalty to the new regime, therefore, there could be little doubt. Strauss was at this time nearly seventy years of age. Over the preceding decades he had established an international reputation as Germany’s leading composer, far outdoing all others in eminence and popularity. He was very conscious of his pre-eminence and his historic role. Writing in a lush, late-Romantic style, he was not an admirer of modernist and atonal music; when he was once asked what he thought of the atonal music of the serialist composer Arnold Schoenberg, Strauss said he would have been better off shovelling snow.192

Despite his huge reputation, Strauss was acutely conscious that he ultimately failed to achieve the standing of his great predecessors like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms or Wagner (‘I may not be a first-class composer, ’ he is once said to have remarked with resigned self-deprecation, ‘but I am a first-rate second-class composer’). His father, the illegitimate son of a Bavarian court clerk, had risen through his own musical talents to become a famous horn player, but the knowledge of his origins gave Strauss a sense of social insecurity that he was never quite able to shake off. Born in 1864, the composer had achieved conspicuous social and financial success in the Wilhelmine Reich, and during the Weimar Republic, not surprisingly, he was very much a political conservative. He was recorded by one observer at a private lunch in 1928 - the aesthete Count Harry Kessler - as condemning the Weimar Republic and calling for the establishment of a dictatorship, though Kessler, somewhat charitably, thought the remark may have been made ironically.193 Strauss grasped the chance to become the leader of the musical profession in Germany. He accepted the Presidency of the Reich Music Chamber as his birthright. For many years, he had been campaigning and organizing on behalf of musicians over issues such as copyright, which had become more acute than ever in the age of the radio and the gramophone. Frustrated by the Weimar Republic’s seeming inability to defend the position of the German musical tradition against the flood of popular music, operettas, musicals and jazz on the one hand, and the emergence of atonal and modernist music on the other, Strauss thought that the Third Reich would cut through the delays and confusions of the legislative process and deliver him, and his profession, what they wanted.194

Strauss was an experienced cultural politician, therefore, and expected something from Goebbels in return for his loyalty. The Propaganda Minister duly obliged, creating a central state agency for the protection of music copyright in 1934 and acceding to the Berne Copyright Convention, which extended protection over musical compositions from thirty to fifty years after the composer’s death. But Goebbels was less enamoured of Strauss’s attempts to use the Reich Music Chamber to enforce his own detestation of cheap operettas, jazz and light entertainment music, and Strauss’s appointees to the Chamber were no match for Goebbels’s men in the black arts of bureaucratic in-fighting and political intrigue. Soon the Ministry’s representatives were complaining that the Chamber was not being run properly. Strauss was unable to defend himself because he was often away composing. He did not get on with his Vice-President, the eminent conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. And, crucially, both men were soon at odds with the regime over the employment of Jewish musicians. During his younger years, Strauss had made many derogatory remarks about Jews, and Furtwängler too accepted commonplace right-wing shibboleths about ‘Jewish-Bolshevism’ and Jewish ‘rootlessness’. But, as with many casual rather than fanatical antisemites, this did not prevent either of them from working with Jews if it suited them. 195

In Strauss’s case this meant the librettists Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who died in 1929, and Stefan Zweig, a best-selling author with whom he collaborated happily on a new opera, The Silent Woman (Die schweig-same Frau), in 1933-4. Alfred Rosenberg saw this as an opportunity to undermine Goebbels’s control of the musical establishment, and pointed out that not only was the librettist of The Silent Woman Jewish, but the director of the opera house where the premiere was to be held had a Jewish wife. When Strauss insisted on Zweig’s name being included in the programme, the director, who was held responsible, was forced into retirement. For his part, Zweig, who lived in Austria, had already signed a protest against the regime’s policies, along with the novelist Thomas Mann, one of the Third Reich’s most vociferous critics. He now declared himself unwilling to continue the collaboration with Strauss on the grounds that he could not approve of his work being produced in a Germany that subjected his fellow Jews to such persecution. Attempting to dissuade him, Strauss wrote to Zweig on 17 June 1935 claiming that he had not become President of the Reich Music Chamber because he supported the regime, but ‘simply out of a sense of duty’ and ‘in order to prevent worse misfortunes’. By this time, the Gestapo had Zweig under observation and were opening his mail. They intercepted the letter, copied it and sent it to the Reich Chancellery. Strauss was already under attack from various quarters in the regime not only for his collaboration with Zweig, but also for using a Jewish-owned music house to print his works and commissioning a Jewish musician to make the piano reduction of the opera. Under growing pressure, and disappointed by the composer’s inefficient management of the Reich Music Chamber, Goebbels decided that Strauss finally had to go. The composer was persuaded on 6 July 1935 to hand in his resignation as President of the Reich Music Chamber ‘on account of a deterioration in his health’. Meanwhile, The Silent Woman was withdrawn after the second performance and banned for the duration of the Third Reich.196

Attempting to rescue something from the débâcle of The Silent Woman, Strauss wrote a personal letter to Hitler on 13 July 1935 asking for an audience. The intercepted letter which had led to his dismissal had, he protested, been ‘misinterpreted . . . as if I had . . . little understanding for antisemitism or for the concept of the people’s community’. Hitler did not even bother to reply. Attempts to obtain an interview with Goebbels were also brusquely rejected. Privately, Strauss noted bitterly: ‘But it’s a sad day when an artist of my standing has to ask a little lad of a Minister what he may compose and perform. I too just belong to the nation of “servants and waiters” and I almost envy my racially persecuted fellow Stefan Zweig.’197 This did not stop him from trying to make a comeback. He composed the official hymn for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but it was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee, not by the German government. The commission, and the hymn’s success, did make Goebbels realize that Strauss’s international prestige could be useful to the regime, and he was permitted to travel abroad as a cultural ambassador for Germany and to receive once more the plaudits of the international music-loving public. Goebbels arranged for him to conduct his work at the Reich Music Festival of 1938 in Düsseldorf, and with his blessing Strauss served on prize juries, received awards and birthday congratulations from the regime. The composer continued to launch new operas, including The Day of Peace (Der Friedenstag, 1938), designed to be acceptable to the regime, with libretti written by the safely Aryan Joseph Gregor, whom Strauss regarded as greatly inferior to his previous collaborators. But these were poor compensations for his removal from the centre of power, where other, more up-to-date composers were now finding favour with the regime.198


Who those composers were, however, was by no means clear in 1933. Mere adherence to the Nazi Party in a political sense was only a matter of secondary importance. What really counted was, first of all, the racial affiliation of a given composer, living or dead. Jews, according to Nazi precept, were superficial, imitative, incapable of genuine creativity; worse still, they were subversive, degenerate, destructive of true music in the German tradition. The composer Felix Mendelssohn, for instance, was alleged to have been a successful imitator of genuine German music, not the real thing; Gustav Mahler was the composer of degeneracy and decay; Arnold Schönberg’s atonal music disrupted the idea of a harmonious German racial community with its dissonance. The Propaganda Ministry encouraged the publication of anything that helped to undermine the reputation of such composers with the concert-going public, from pseudo-scholarly tomes such as Richard Eichenauer’s Music and Race, published in 1932, to dictionaries likeMusical Jews A-B-C, which appeared in 1935. Regular articles in the specialist musical press and the cultural sections of the newspapers reinforced the message carried by such books.199 And Nazi musicologists did not rest content with words alone.

In May 1938, inspired by the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition in Munich, Hans Severus Ziegler, manager of the national theatre in Weimar, organized an exhibition of ‘Degenerate Music’ in Düsseldorf as part of the first Reich Music Rally. Assisted by staff from Rosenberg’s office, Ziegler hurriedly gathered a staff of cartoonists, technicians, designers and others and mounted a large exhibition, with sections on Jewish composers and conductors, music critics and teachers, modernist and atonal music and much more besides. ‘What’s been gathered together in the exhibition “Degenerate Music” ’, he thundered at the opening ceremony, ‘constitutes the portrayal of a true witches’ sabbath and the most frivolous spiritual-artistic cultural bolshevism and a portrayal of the triumph of subhumanity, of arrogant Jewish insolence and total spiritual senile dementia.’ The exhibition dealt with the problem of how to show people what such music was actually like by installing six audio-booths where visitors could listen to specially cut gramophone records with extracts from music by Arnold Schönberg, Ernst Kenek and others. One, featuring excerpts from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, was particularly sought after. Long queues formed in front of it, testifying to the music’s enduring popularity amongst a public that had been deprived of the opportunity to hear it for half a decade. Yet there is good reason to believe that many of the other exhibits confirmed the prejudices of a conservative musical public that had never much liked the modernists anyway.200 This action, and the radical intent behind it, were not wholly to the liking of Goebbels, who preferred instead to use the Reich Music Chamber as a means of regulating performances. ‘Dr Ziegler’s exhibition “Degenerate Music”, he noted in his diary, ‘is getting a lot of criticism. I get the objectionable parts removed.’201 The exhibition closed after a mere three weeks.202

Meanwhile, a Reich Music Censorship Office had been established within the Chamber and issued lists of banned composers and works, including those of Irving Berlin, who was Jewish. Not only performances, but also records and broadcasts of anything or anyone on the list were banned. Mendelssohn posed a particular problem because many of his works were very popular. Individual conductors continued on occasion to perform his work - Furtwängler, for example, conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in three movements from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in February 1934 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the composer’s birth - but when this happened, the newspapers simply did not mention it, so the impact was confined to those who attended the concert. In November 1936, when the British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham arrived with the London Philharmonic Orchestra for a guest performance at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, he obtained the permission of the city’s conservative Lord Mayor, Carl Goerdeler, to lay a wreath at the memorial to Mendelssohn, who had done so much for Anglo-German musical relations in the nineteenth century. But when they looked for the memorial the morning after the concert, it was no longer there; the local Party boss, taking advantage of Goerdeler’s absence on holiday, had removed it during the night and had it smashed to pieces. Furious, Goerdeler resigned as mayor shortly after his return and became increasingly hostile to the Nazi regime. As far as Mendelssohn was concerned, this also proved the turning-point. If Mendelssohn’s music was still performed, it was from now on without attribution. By 1938 Mendelssohn’s name had finally been removed from music publishers’ and record company catalogues, and public performances of his music had virtually ceased. No fewer than forty-four different attempts were made between 1933 and 1944 by a whole variety of composers to provide an alternative to Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream; every one of them was inferior, as critics reviewing these performances were frequently forced to confess.203

Well-known works by non-Jewish composers were also subject to disapproval when they involved lyrics by Jewish writers such as Heinrich Heine, whose poem The Lorelei was so widely known that the regime decided to try and convince the general public that it was a folk-song rather than a poem written by a Jew. Problems of a different kind were posed by the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Three of the best-loved, Così fan tutte, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, not only used libretti written by his Jewish collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte but were usually performed in German translations by the Jewish conductor Hermann Levi. By commissioning new translations from a non-Jewish author, Siegfried Anheisser, which were soon in use all over Germany, Rosenberg’s office managed to distract attention from the inescapable fact that the original version had been written by a Jew. Rosenberg’s encouragement of the ‘Aryanization’ of Handel’s oratorios, which included a good deal of Old Testament material, aroused the hostility of Goebbels’s Reich Music Chamber, which banned changes to their texts on 19 September 1934. This did not, however, prevent performances of Handel’s Judas Maccabeus going ahead with the Jewish names and biblical references removed, and the whole oratorio appearing under the title The Commander.204

Non-Jewish composers were likely to incur the wrath of Rosenberg’s office if they were in any way modernist or atonal or had aroused controversy in some way. If they were not German, then whether or not their music was performed was a matter of secondary importance as far as the Reich Music Chamber was concerned. This was why attacks on the music of Igor Stravinsky, one of the major butts of ridicule at the Degenerate Music Exhibition, failed to prevent it from being performed throughout the 1930s. Performances in Germany were encouraged by the composer himself, whose legendary business acumen even extended to obtaining special permission for royalties to be sent to him in Paris, where he had lived since before the First World War. Diplomatic considerations were never far from the mind of the Propaganda Ministry when dealing with foreign composers, so the modernist compositions of Béla Bartók were not banned because he was Hungarian, and Hungary was an ally of Germany. Bartók himself, an ardent anti-fascist, changed his German publishers when they were Aryanized, declared his solidarity with banned composers and protested to the Propaganda Ministry when he discovered that he had not featured in the Degenerate Music Exhibition, but all to no avail; his music continued to be performed in Germany, like that of Stravinsky.205

Where the composer in question was German, or even Austrian (which in the eyes of the Nazis was the same thing), matters stood quite differently. The pupils of Arnold Schönberg were singled out by the regime for their adherence to twelve-note atonality. Anton von Webern’s music was banned from the beginning, while a performance of an orchestral concert suite from Alban Berg’s as yet unfinished opera Lulu under the conductor Erich Kleiber in Berlin in November 1934 created a major uproar, with cries of ‘Hail, Mozart!’ from outraged members of the audience. The leading critic Hans-Heinz Stuckenschmidt, who had given the work a positive review in a Berlin newspaper, was expelled from the German Music Critics’ Association (part of the Reich Chamber of Literature) and denied further employment as a result. The critic had already made enemies through his stubborn insistence on the virtues of composers like Stravinsky. They successfully blocked his subsequent attempts to find work for himself in Germany, and he was forced to leave for Prague. The work’s conductor Erich Kleiber, dismayed at the hostility his performance had aroused, emigrated to Argentina two months later. Berg’s music was not performed again in public under the Third Reich.206 Doubtless the sensational character of Lulu, which included depictions of prostitution and featured Jack the Ripper as a character, also had something to do with the scandal. Another non-Jewish pupil of Schönberg’s, Winfried Zillig, continued to use twelvetone techniques, though in a relatively tonal way, but he escaped censure and continued to get work as a conductor and composer. His works included scenes from peasant life, the depiction of self-sacrificing heroism, and similar themes close to Nazi ideology. Here, as in the work of one or two other composers, the message triumphed over the medium.207

In one notorious case, however, neither the medium nor the message proved acceptable to the authorities, despite the fact that both appeared superficially to be reconcilable with Nazi aesthetics. Paul Hindemith, perhaps Germany’s leading modernist composer under the Weimar Republic, had earned a reputation in the 1920s as an enfant terrible but changed his style to a more accessible neo-Classicism around 1930. This transition was recognized by some influential figures on the Nazi cultural scene in 1933, including Goebbels, who was keen to keep him in Germany as he was widely recognized as the country’s second-most important composer after Strauss. At the beginning of the Third Reich, Hindemith was engaged in writing to his own libretto an opera,Matthias the Painter, which centred on the medieval German artist Matthias Grünewald, a figure much beloved of Nazi art historians. The opera told of the painter’s rebellious struggle to establish himself as a German artist, and its culmination in his acceptance of patronage from a state that finally recognized his talents. A new element of Romanticism in the score testified to its composer’s continuing efforts to render his somewhat academic style more accessible to a wider public. Although he had made no secret of his opposition to fascism before the Nazi seizure of power, Hindemith had evidently decided to stay on and take his chances. He was duly appointed to the governing council of the Composers’ Section of the Reich Music Chamber in November 1933. A three-movement symphony drawn from the music to Matthias the Painter was premiered by Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic on 12 March 1934 and further performances were scheduled, together with a gramophone record. All seemed set for Hindemith’s acceptance as the leading modern composer of the Third Reich.208

But Goebbels had not reckoned with the continuing machinations of his rival on the cultural-political scene, Alfred Rosenberg. Largely inspired by Rosenberg, a series of vitriolic attacks on Hindemith’s past musical style and previous political affiliations appeared in the musical press in the course of 1934, and pressure was put on radio stations and concert agencies to ban performances of his work. In response to this campaign, the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler wrote a stout defence of the composer in a daily newspaper on 25 November. Unfortunately, in doing so, the conductor chose to generalize his attack on the denunciations of Hindemith’s work in the Nazi musical press. ‘Where would we be,’ he asked rhetorically, ‘if political denunciations in the broadest sense were applied to art?’ The affair escalated when Furtwängler’s appearance on the rostrum at a performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in the Berlin State Opera on the day of publication of his article was met by noisy demonstrations of support from the audience, who clearly felt that the conductor was defending artistic freedom against interference from the regime. Both Goebbels and Goring were present in the theatre to witness the demonstration. This put the whole affair onto a new level. Goebbels now closed ranks with Rosenberg in the face of this open opposition to the regime’s cultural policies. On 4 December, Goebbels forced Furtwängler to resign from all his posts in the Berlin State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Reich Music Chamber. From now on, he would have to earn his living as a freelance. In a speech delivered to representatives of the creative arts in the Sports Palace on 6 December, the Propaganda Minister noted that Furtwängler had declared that Hindemith’s days as a musical provocateurwere over. But: ‘ideological derailments cannot be excused by dismissing them as juvenilia’. That Hindemith was ‘of pure Germanic origin’ merely showed ‘how deeply the Jewish-intellectual infection has already eaten into our own racial body’.209

Shocked by the suddenness of his downfall, Furtwängler met Goebbels on 28 February 1935 and told the Minister of his regret at the political implications that some had drawn from his original article. He had in no way intended, he assured the Minister, to criticize the artistic policies of the regime.210 By 27 July 1936 Goebbels was noting a ‘long conversation with Furtwängler in the garden at Wahnfried. He tells me all his concerns’, noted the Propaganda Minister, ‘sensibly and cleverly. He has learned a lot and is completely with us.’211 Already in April 1935 Furtwängler was performing in his new capacity as guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. In his absence, the orchestra’s last remaining Jewish players, whom he had insisted on retaining while he had still been conductor-in-chief, had been fired. Furtwängler did very well in his new position. In 1939 he earned well over 200,000 Reichsmarks from this job and other sources, roughly a hundred times the annual income of the average manual labourer. He still considered leaving Germany, and early in 1936 he was offered the post of chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic. But Goring made it clear that, if he accepted, he would not be allowed back. And Furtwängler’s capitulation to Goebbels the year before had aroused fierce criticism in the United States. He had since then conducted Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at the Nuremberg Party Rally of 1935, where harsh discriminatory laws were promulgated against Germany’s Jewish community. Not only the New York Philharmonic’s Jewish supporters, but also many others, voiced their concern and threatened to boycott the orchestra if he was appointed. If Furtwängler had ever wanted to leave Germany for a top job in the USA, then he had simply left it too late. So he stayed on, to the plaudits of the regime.212

Hindemith himself went on indefinite leave of absence from his teaching position in Berlin, but stayed on in Germany for a while, trying to retrieve the situation by publicly distancing himself from atonal music and swearing an oath of allegiance to Hitler. His efforts on behalf of musical education might also have recommended him to the regime. His work continued to be performed in small concerts on the fringes of national musical life, and he received a commission for a new piece from Göring’s air force. But attacks on him continued in the press, and opera directors and concert organizers were generally too nervous after the débâcle of Matthias the Painter to include his works in their repertoire. Most decisively of all, Hitler himself had never forgotten the notoriety that Hindemith had gained with his opera News of the Day in the 1920s. In 1936, Hitler used a speech at the annual Nuremberg Rally to urge the Party to redouble its efforts to purify the arts. The Propaganda Ministry promptly banned any more performances of Hindemith’s music. The composer’s treatise on harmony was exhibited at the Degenerate Music show in 1938, and Hindemith emigrated to Switzerland, where the first performance of his opera Matthias the Painter took place in May. From there he eventually left for the United States. In the end, what counted most was not his attempt to ingratiate himself artistically with the regime, but the fact that the controversy stirred up by his radical compositions of the 1920s was still remembered by leading Nazis a decade later. The fact that his wife was half-Jewish had not helped his cause. An earlier collaboration with Bertolt Brecht was still held against him, as was his work with a number of Jewish artists over the years. All of this made it easy for Rosenberg and his supporters to use him as a means of trying to loosen Goebbels’s grip on music and the arts. They succeeded in this instance, but on the wider front of cultural politics they met with little success. By 1939 Rosenberg had all but abandoned his interest in the cultural scene, and had turned to foreign policy instead.213


If it was by no means easy for the Nazis to decide what kinds of music they did not like, and what kinds of conductors and composers they did not want, it was even more difficult reaching any kind of consistent policy on what kind of music they did wish to encourage. No real body of genuinely Nazi music emerged under the Third Reich, for all the theorizing of Nazi musicologists.214 Those composers who flourished did so partly because they were not Jewish, partly because they made their style more accessible than it might otherwise have been, and partly because they turned to themes and topics that were acceptable to the regime, such as peasant life or national heroes. But it is impossible to bring the music they actually wrote down to any obvious common denominator. Moreover, few if any of them remained completely immune to the influence of the modernist style the Nazis so abhorred. Werner Egk, for example, wrote in a distinctly Stravinskyan mode, often putting the Bavarian folk tunes he employed into a context of spiky dissonance. Egk’s opera The Magic Fiddle, first performed in 1935, won the plaudits of the regime, however, for its portrayal of the charm and tranquillity of peasant life. Its plot centred on the evil machinations of a villain, Guldensack (Money-bags), who in the context of the Third Reich was very obviously a Jew. The rumblings of a few critics from the Rosenberg camp were quickly subdued, and Egk cemented his triumph by declaring that no piece of German music should be so complicated that it could not be performed at a Nazi Party rally. Egk’s next opera, Peer Gynt, also featured a quasi-Jewish villain, or rather villains, in the form of deformed and degenerate trolls, a somewhat loose interpretation of Ibsen’s original play; Hitler himself, on attending a performance, which included not only Egk’s usual Stravinskyan dissonances but also tango music and even a hint of jazz, was none the less so taken with the performance that he hailed Egk afterwards as a worthy successor to Richard Wagner.215

Stravinsky’s influence was also to be found in the music of Carl Orff, who detested dissonance and had savagely attacked modernist composers such as Hindemith during the Weimar Republic. Orff first won the support of the regime through devising a large-scale project of musical education in the schools, and successfully defended it against obscurantist criticisms from some of Rosenberg’s supporters who disliked its use of unconventional musical instruments. Although the project relied heavily on folk music, however, it was too complex and too ambitious to have much influence in the institutions for which it was designed, such as the Hitler Youth. Orff shot to real prominence with the first performance of his cantata Carmina Burana in June 1937. Based on secular medieval poems, the cantata featured strong, simple rhythms and monodic singing over a strongly percussive accompaniment. Its primitivism, its use of often ribald verses and its preference in many parts for Latin over German, aroused the suspicion of conservative critics from the Rosenberg stable; but Orff had gained influential supporters through his educational activities and Rosenberg’s influence was on the wane. Carmina Burana, powerful and original, yet simple and easy to comprehend, was an immediate success and was performed all over Germany. His further compositions may never quite have matched this, but Orff’s income and reputation were now secure. If any one musical work of distinction composed under the Third Reich fitted the Nazi idea of culture, then Carmina Burana was surely that work: its crude tonality, its brutal, repetitious rhythms, its medieval texts and folksy tunes, its numbing, insistent pulse, its absence of anything to engage the mind, seemed to sweep away all the excrescences of modernity and intellectualism that Nazism so detested and take culture back to the supposed primitive simplicities of the distant, peasant past.216

In the end, however, compositions such as Carmina Burana, for all their popularity, took second place in the musical pantheon to the work of the great composers of previous ages most admired by Hitler. Chief among these was Richard Wagner. Hitler had been a devotee of his operas since his youth in Linz and Vienna before the First World War. They filled his head with mythical pictures of a heroic Germanic past. Wagner was also the author of a notorious pamphlet attacking Jewry in Music. Yet the composer’s influence on Hitler has often been exaggerated. Hitler never referred to Wagner as a source of his own antisemitism, and there is no evidence that he actually read any of Wagner’s writings. He admired the composer’s gritty courage in adversity, but did not acknowledge any indebtedness to his ideas. If Wagner did have an influence on the Nazis, it was less direct, through the antisemitic doctrines of the circle that his widow Cosima gathered after his death, and through the mythical world portrayed in his operas. In this area at least, they inhabited the same cultural space, filled with mythic Germanic nationalism. Hitler’s devotion to Wagner and his music was obvious. Already in the 1920s he had become friendly with Wagner’s English daughter-in-law Winifred and her husband Siegfried Wagner, guardians of the composer’s shrine at the great opera house he had built in Bayreuth. They were staunch supporters of the far right. In the Third Reich they became something very like cultural royalty.217

From 1933 onwards, Hitler attended the Bayreuth festival of Wagner’s music-dramas for a ten-day period every year. He poured money into the opera house, which he had subordinated directly to himself rather than to the Propaganda Ministry. He inaugurated monuments and memorials to Wagner, and tried to ensure packed houses at Wagner performances by instructing his underlings to make block bookings for their men. He even proposed rebuilding the opera house in a more grandiose style, and was only dissuaded by Winifred Wagner’s insistence that the unique acoustics of the existing building, purpose-designed by the composer for performances of his own work, could not be reproduced in a larger space. His interference in productions was frequent, but it was also erratic. Hitler’s personal patronage meant that neither Goebbels nor Rosenberg nor any of the other cultural politicians of the Third Reich could bring Bayreuth under their aegis. Paradoxically, therefore, Winifred Wagner and the managers of the Festival were granted an unusual degree of cultural autonomy. They were not even members of the Reich Theatre Chamber. They used their freedom, however, in a way that was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Third Reich. The annual Bayreuth Festival became a Hitler festival, with Hitler greeting the audience from a balcony, his portrait on the frontispiece of the programme, Nazi propaganda in all the hotel rooms, and the streets and walkways surrounding the theatre bedecked with swastika flags.218

Goebbels and other leading Nazis grumbled about Hitler’s passion for Wagner, which they thought rather eccentric. On Hitler’s insistence the Nuremberg Party Rally opened every year with a gala performance of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. In 1933 Hitler issued a thousand free tickets to Party officials, but when he entered his box he found the theatre almost empty; the Party men had all chosen to go off to drink the evening away in the town’s numerous beer-halls and cafés rather spend five hours listening to classical music. Furious, Hitler sent out patrols to haul them out of their drinking-dens, but even this could not fill the theatre. The next year was no better. Under strict orders to attend, many roughnecked Party officials could be seen dozing off during the interminable performance, waking up only at the end, to render rather half-hearted applause for an opera they had neither appreciated not understood. After this, Hitler gave up and the seats were sold to the public instead.219 Yet despite this lack of interest on the part of almost everyone in the Party leadership except Hitler himself, the influence of Wagner’s music was everywhere in the cultural scene. Journeymen composers churned out vast quantities of sub-Wagnerian sludge to order on any occasion when it was desired. Film, radio, newsreels were saturated with music of this kind. Over-exposure may have been one reason why Wagner actually became less popular with opera houses and the public during the Third Reich. Performances of his work declined from 1,837 in the 1932-3 opera season to 1,327 in 1938-9, while those of Verdi rose from 1,265 to 1,405 in 1937-8 and Puccini from 762 to 1,013 the following year. And while the list of the fifteen most popular operas in 1932-3, headed by Bizet’s Carmen, contained four works by Wagner, in third, fourth, fifth and sixth place respectively, the same list in 1938-9, headed this time by Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, included only one, at number twelve.220 In the orchestral repertoire, the conventional late-Romantic music of the curmudgeonly, conservative and deeply antisemitic Hans Pfitzner replaced that of the second most frequently performed twentieth-century composer after Richard Strauss, the now-banned Gustav Mahler, after 1933. At the same time, performances of foreign composers such as Sibelius, Debussy and Respighi continued alongside growing numbers of such now forgotten luminaries of the Nazi musical pantheon as Paul Graener and Max Trapp. In all of this, there was an obvious series of compromises between the political and racial imperatives of the regime, the continued, basically conservative taste of the musical public and the commercial requirements of keeping concert halls and opera houses afloat.221

Control over classical concerts and operas was relatively easy. But what went on in people’s homes was more difficult to monitor. Musical culture ran very deep in Germany, and there was a long tradition of playing and singing within the family or groups of friends. Doubtless, where there were no sharp-eared neighbours or Block Wardens listening, people still continued to play Mendelssohn’s much-loved Songs without Words on their piano at home despite their condemnation in the Nazi press as ‘prattling chatter’.222Musical clubs, choirs, amateur chamber music groups and all the other small-scale, local institutions of Germany’s rich musical tradition had all been Nazified in 1933, but even so, small groups of people could gather in private to play and listen to whatever chamber music they wanted, provided they were careful enough about whom they invited. Pre-censorship of sheet music by the Reich Chamber of Music only covered new work, after all. Playing Mendelssohn at home was hardly an act of resistance to the regime, and did not in any case constitute an offence against the law.223 Even in public, however, there was at least some latitude. The Reich Music Censorship Office’s list of banned works mainly covered jazz, and even in its second edition, published on 1 September 1939, it contained only fifty-four entries.224

Music is the most abstract of the arts, and therefore the most difficult to monitor and control under a dictatorship. The cultural arbiters of the Third Reich thought they knew what they wanted: ideological conformity in opera and song, tonal simplicity and the absence of dissonance in music where there were no words to betray the writer’s ideological leanings. According to their cultural ideology, the spirit of tonality and simplicity was Aryan, that of atonality and complexity Jewish. Yet firing and banning Jewish musicians and composers had no effect on musical life apart from depriving it of many of its most distinguished and exciting figures. For what, in the end, was tonal music, what was dissonance? Technical definitions got nowhere, since all composers since before the days of Bach and Mozart have made liberal use of dissonance in the technical sense. Of course the extremes of atonality, above all the twelve-tone method developed by Arnold Schönberg and his pupils, were anathema; and tonal Romanticism such as that purveyed by Hans Pfitzner or Richard Strauss was unlikely to raise any objections. But most composers worked in the area between these two extremes. They had to tread a fine line between acceptance and rejection, often dependent on the patronage of powerful figures in the Party, either at national or local level, to ward off criticism from others. In this way, figures like Paul Hindemith or Werner Egk became to some extent pawns in the power-games of Goebbels, Rosenberg and the other Nazi satraps. And where a composer or musician overstepped the mark and entered into the political realm, even Goebbels’s sympathy for modernity could not save him.225

As in other areas of German culture, Goebbels in particular was conscious that music too could provide people with a refuge from the turmoil of everyday life. Just as he encouraged entertainment films and light music on the radio, so too he realized that performances of well-loved classical music could soothe and distract, and help people reconcile themselves to living in the Third Reich. Audiences for their part may, as many people claimed, have found in Furtwängler’s concerts a source of alternative values to those propagated by the Nazis, but if this was indeed the case, then those values remained locked in their private souls, and it was indeed difficult, given music’s abstraction from the real world, to see how it could have been otherwise. Music, in any case, like the other arts, had in Goebbels’s view to be a sphere of relative autonomy for the creative artist. It could be purged and censored, and was, but it also had to be encouraged and supported, and in the main, the musicians had to run their own show; the state certainly was not competent to do it for them. The Propaganda Ministry was keen to nurture musicians through competitions, subsidies and improved arrangements for royalties. In March 1938 a thorough reorganization of salaries and pensions helped bring new musicians into a profession that had suffered financially in the economic depression. So many musicians had left the country, or been purged, or quit the profession, that a shortage was now threatening, exacerbated by the expansion of big organizations like the army, the SS, and the Labour Front, with their growing employment of military bands and orchestras. All of this continued to ensure the vitality of musical life in Germany, and great orchestras continued to perform great music under the baton of great conductors, although the range of music performed, and the number of prominent conductors who directed it, were both smaller than before 1933. Yet many considered that there were no new great composers. Strauss himself took this view. If anything, it even increased his already unshakeable sense of his own importance as the heir of the great tradition of German composers. ‘I am the last mountain of a large mountain range,’ he said: ‘After me come the flatlands.’226


Alfred Rosenberg’s declining influence in the cultural sphere during the mid-1930s could not rescue the most excoriated and most defamed form of music under the Third Reich, namely jazz. Regarded by the Nazis as degenerate, foreign to German musical identity, associated with all kinds of decadence, and produced by racially inferior African-Americans and Jews, jazz, swing and other forms of popular music were stamped on as soon as the Nazis came to power. Foreign jazz musicians left or were expelled, and in 1935 German popular musicians were banned from using the foreign pseudonyms that had been so fashionable under the Weimar Republic. Jazz clubs, tolerated to a degree in the first year or so of the regime, began to be raided more frequently, and by larger numbers of agents from the Gestapo and the Reich Music Chamber, who intimidated the musicians by calling to see the papers that certified their membership of the Chamber, and by confiscating their scores if they were playing music by blacklisted Jewish composers such as Irving Berlin. Tight control over radio broadcasts made sure that light music did not swing too much, and the newspapers announced with a fanfare of publicity that ‘Nigger music’ had been banned from the airwaves altogether. Brownshirts patrolled summer beaches frequented by young people with portable wind-up gramophones and kicked their fragile shellac jazz records to smithereens. Classical composers whose music made use of jazz rhythms, such as the young Karl Amadeus Hartmann, found their music totally proscribed. Unable to make a living in Germany, but unwilling to leave, Hartmann depended for an income entirely on concerts and recordings abroad, where his identification with critics of the Third Reich put him in a situation of considerable potential risk. His wealthy and influential friends and relatives, mostly alienated from the regime, kept him afloat. His music made no compromises with the Third Reich’s demands for simplicity and straightforwardness, and he went out of his way to distance it still further by taking composition lessons with the most extreme of Schönberg’s modernist pupils, Anton von Webern. Hartmann took great care to avoid publicity, and his outward conformity with the regime in matters such as the Hitler salute warded off suspicion. When he dedicated a symphonic poem to his friends, dead and alive, who had been imprisoned in the concentration camp at Dachau, he made sure that the dedication was only visible on the original score, seen only by the conductor, a personal friend, at its first performance in Prague in 1935; it never became known to the Nazis.227

Jazz rhythms in classical music could easily be spotted and damned as inappropriate. But much if not most popular music was neither classical nor jazz, but existed somewhere in between, whether in the form of operettas - much favoured by Hitler himself - or the music of café crooners, palm-court orchestras or dance bands. The kind of popular music that was played in dance-halls, nightclubs, hotel bars and similar venues, above all in Berlin, was far more difficult to control, not least because of the extreme difficulty of drawing a clear line between what was jazz or swing, and what was not. The often wealthy and upper-class young people who patronized many such places were usually able to ward off hostile attention from agents of the Gestapo or the Reich Music Chamber. Imported jazz records could always be purchased discreetly from back-street shops, while even Goebbels was conscious enough of the popularity of jazz and swing to allow some to reach the airwaves in late-night broadcasts. And if it could not be heard on German radio stations, then jazz could always be found on Radio Luxemburg, where, Goebbels feared, listeners might also encounter factual broadcasts of a politically undesirable kind. Goebbels himself was a long-time patron of the variety shows at Berlin’s Scala, where an audience of 3,000 not only gazed at the famous, high-kicking chorus line but also listened to the music of proscribed composers such as the Jewish-American George Gershwin. Goebbels was taken aback when criticisms of this programme appeared in Julius Streicher’s The Stormer in May 1937, and with good reason. The managers had been changing the programme whenever Goebbels’s staff telephoned in advance to say that he would be in the audience, so that it would not contain anything to offend Nazi taste after he arrived. He went ahead and purged the management all the same, enforcing on it a programme his deputy was soon describing as ‘tame’.228

Jazz and swing were suspect to the regime not least because it thought they encouraged sexual licentiousness among the young. It also came under pressure from professional ballroom dancing instructors, who wanted to scotch the threat of swing-dancing, a new fad that had come into fashion in the summer of 1937. The Hitler Youth frowned on swing too, preferring to champion German folk dancing. Local authorities soon began to impose bans on this new fashion. Pouring scorn on such stuffiness, the gilded youth of Hamburg’s wealthy mercantile and professional elite quickly began to flaunt their disdain in public, dressing up in the latest and most elegant British fashion clothes, sporting Union Jacks, carrying copies of The Times under their arms and greeting each other in English with phrases such as ‘Hallo, Old Swing Boy!’ In clubs and bars, and at private parties, they danced to swing music and played jazz records banned by the regime. They did not intend to mount a political protest. But under the Third Reich, everything was political. The young swingers crossed a significant line when, in 1937, they decided to defy the Hitler Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach’s ordinance of 1 December 1936 proclaiming that all young Germans should join his organization. More seriously, the free-and-easy social mixing of Jews, half-Jews and non-Jews in the social scene of the swingers was crassly at odds with the dictates of the regime’s racial policy. What had begun as an act of adolescent cultural wilfulness was rapidly becoming a manifestation of political protest. It would take on more serious dimensions during the war.229

The confusion and irrationality of Nazi policy towards music, where definitions were often arbitrary and acceptance or rejection frequently a matter of whim, can be neatly illustrated by the history of the humble mouth-organ, an instrument in whose world production Germany was absolutely dominant in the 1920s. In the mid-to-late 1920s, German exports of mouth-organs, or harmonicas, accounted for 88 per cent of the world export trade in the instrument as a whole. Within this trade, the Hohner company, in the small Swabian town of Trossingen, had the lion’s share, producing between 20 and 22 million mouth-organs a year in this period, more than half the total. Almost all of these went to the United States. By this time, many markets had been virtually saturated, and the world economic crisis was depressing demand. So the company had to look to boosting its sales within Germany as a substitute. Unfortunately, the conservative classical music establishment took a very dim view of the instrument, considering it vulgar and amateurish. Their representatives succeeded in getting the harmonica banned from Prussian schools in 1931. The Hohner family riposted with an American-style advertising campaign, with pictures of the German heavyweight boxer Max Schmeling blowing away on his harmonica, and combined this with a counter-attack to try and persuade the musical world that their instrument was not subversive. After the Nazi seizure of power, Ernst Hohner, though in no way a convinced National Socialist, joined the Party to try and gain influence, and campaigned for the harmonica on the basis that it was an important part of folk music, played by ordinary, simple folk, and ideal for brownshirts and Hitler Youth parties to play as they sat swapping patriotic reminiscences round the camp fire.230

But this tactic was not successful. For one thing, folk music only took up 2.5 per cent of broadcasting time anyway. Then the Reich Music Chamber, still in many ways dominated by traditionalists, took the view that the harmonica was a modern instrument and not traditionally German at all, and pointed to its use by some jazz groups, surely damning evidence of its unsuitability. The Hitler Youth banned harmonica groups, though it still allowed individuals to play the instrument. A total ban in the long run seemed to be more than likely. But in the end, nobody seemed to know quite how to categorize the instrument, or perhaps even to care very much about it. Hohner and his firm were able to continue in existence, even running a school for mouth-organists in their home-town of Trossingen, in the ultimately vain hope that the harmonica would eventually gain the status of other, more conventional musical instruments. Here too, therefore, regulation, control, and in-fighting within the world of music ended by producing a stalemate. In the end, even the humble mouth-organ defied easy categorization within the world of Nazi ideology.231


Of all modern regimes that of the Third Reich defined itself most clearly by its art and mass culture. Hitler devoted more space in his speeches to these subjects than did any other twentieth-century dictator. 232 Of course, the Nazis borrowed a great deal from the rituals and symbols of Fascist Italy; and the disciplining of individual human bodies into a single, monolithic mass was a characteristic of Stalin’s Russia as much as it was of Franco’s Spain. All these regimes reduced the arts to instruments of propaganda and eliminated any sign of creative dissent, or at least tried to. They cracked down on complex and elitist aspects of modernist cultural productions and attempted to force on artists, writers and musicians a simple style that could communicate itself easily to the masses. Socialist realism in the Soviet Union was in many ways a parallel to what one might call racist and nationalist realism in the Third Reich. As the propaganda campaigns of the early 1930s had shown, well before Hitler came to power, the appeal to the emotions in sight and sound was a potent political weapon, and all political groupings, even the staid Social Democrats, had sought to exploit it, believing that in the age of the masses, the rational, verbal, intellectual appeal of previous ages was no longer enough. Under the Third Reich, the weapon of cultural propaganda was made into an instrument of state power, just as it was in Stalin’s Russia. Artists and writers are by their nature individualistic, and both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany waged an unremitting war on individualism, proclaiming art’s only acceptable function to be the expression of the soul of the masses. Music proved the most difficult of the arts to control in both regimes, with composers such as Prokoviev and Shostakovich continuing to produce works in a very personal idiom despite occasional attempts to discipline them and periodic gestures of compromise on their part towards the cultural dictates of their political masters. In architecture, the style favoured by Troost, Speer and their ilk did little more than repeat the common features of the public building design of the age across Europe and the United States, only on a larger scale. Hitler’s hostility to cultural modernism was extreme and contrasted with the more relaxed attitude of the Italian Fascists, one of whose main ideological sources had been the artistic politics of the Futurists. An Italian Futurist exhibition held in Berlin in 1934 aroused the disapproval of Nazi art commentators, who were bold enough to comment that they did not want to see such ‘art bolshevism’ again, despite the fact that the artists had declared themselves for Fascism. But looking back on the buildings of Speer, the sculptures of Breker, the music of Egk, or the films of Riefenstahl, it is clear that Nazi culture was recognizably part of the culture of its time. It belonged unmistakably to the 1930s; it was not a throwback to some earlier age.233 In all these respects, the Third Reich’s approach to culture and the arts was far from unique.234

And yet there was also something special about it. Of course, it was not surprising, in view of his early life and ambitions, that Hitler took a personal interest in the visual arts. His constantly repeated diatribes against modernism were surely the key factor in swinging policy away from Goebbels’s relatively relaxed point of view and towards the effective suppression of modernism in all its varieties from 1937 onwards. But it would be illegitimate to conclude from this that he personally dictated cultural policy in every other area as well.235 Apart from a passion for Wagner, he had little real interest in or understanding of music, whose essential abstraction in any case resisted easy classification into the acceptable and the unacceptable from the Nazi point of view; even the enthusiasm he developed towards the end of the 1930s for the music of Anton Bruckner was in the end rather half-hearted. Despite his penchant for watching old movies late at night, and his commissioning of Leni Riefenstahl to shoot Triumph of the Will, he did not intervene much in the film business, which was largely left to Goebbels, as were radio and literature. In all these areas, Goebbels had to contend with many rivals, most notably of course Alfred Rosenberg, but despite all the in-fighting, he achieved effective control for his Propaganda Ministry fairly early on in the regime, by the first months of 1935 at the latest. It would be easy to emphasize the complexities and contradictions of cultural life under the Third Reich, and indeed there were always marginal cases with whom the Nazis found it difficult to deal, and other cases where their decisions seemed almost entirely arbitrary and in retrospect might have gone either way. Artists, writers, musicians and others adopted a variety of strategies to deal with Nazi cultural dictatorship, ranging from total compliance through what they conceived of as necessary, minimal compromises in the interest of their art, to inner emigration and even complete silence, which was not always forced by the regime. Normal cultural life was not, despite the fears of many, totally extinguished under the Third Reich. People could still listen to symphonies by Beethoven, view the paintings of the Old Masters in state-funded art galleries, read the literature of the classics, even in some places visit jazz clubs and dance-halls where the latest swing numbers were played. For his part, Goebbels was a subtle enough politician to realize that people needed to escape from their everyday troubles in these ways, and allowed them the latitude to do so.236

For all this, however, the situation of the arts in the Third Reich was still determined by a cultural dictatorship imposed from above. As the Degenerate Art exhibition showed, aesthetic and stylistic considerations were only a relatively minor determining factor in Nazi cultural policy. More important were political and ideological imperatives. Whatever the arts of the past had done, the Nazis wanted to ensure that what was produced in the present did not oppose their fundamental values and wherever possible worked to support them. Antisemitism, the removal of Jews from cultural life, the furthering of militarism and the crushing of pacifism and social criticism were basic tenets of Nazi cultural policy. So too were the improvement of the Aryan race and the suppression of the unfit and the weak, the re-creation of a mythical world of ‘blood-and-soil’ peasant life, the destruction of creativity that was personal and independent and the furthering of an impersonal cultural production that served the collective needs of the nation and the race. Above all, perhaps, Nazi culture glorified power, most obviously in architecture. Racial and political discrimination, implemented from the outset, resulted in the emigration from Germany of the country’s best and most internationally acclaimed writers, painters and musicians. Those who were left were silenced, driven into irrelevance, forced to compromise, or enlisted in the service of the Nazis’ overriding purpose: to make the nation and the country fit and ready for war.237 To this end, the Nazis made an unprecedented effort to bring what they understood as culture to the masses, distributing cheap radios, holding concerts in factories, taking films to remote villages in mobile cinemas, bussing people to view the horrors of the Degenerate Art exhibition and much more besides. Culture in the Third Reich was no longer the privilege of an elite; it was intended to penetrate every area of German society and German life.238

Nazi cultural policy was ultimately of a piece with Nazi policy in other areas, and shared its contradictions. Hitler’s own appreciation and understanding of the arts was fundamentally a political one. Art was in the end to be reduced to little more than a celebration of power and an instrument of propaganda. Ever alive to possible accusations of this kind, Goebbels declared on 17 June 1935:

The National Socialist movement . . . takes the view that politics is actually the greatest and noblest of the arts. For just as the sculptor chisels out of dead stone a form that breathes life, and just as the painter transforms pigment into life, and just as the composer translates dead notes into melodies that will charm Heaven, so the politician and statesman has no other task than to convert an amorphous mass into a living people. Thus art and politics belong together.239

Nazism aestheticized politics; but it also politicized the arts.240 ‘We have often been accused’, said Goebbels, ‘of dragging German art down to the level of a mere matter of propaganda - how is this? Is propaganda something to which one can drag something else down? Isn’t propaganda as we understand it also a kind of art?’ Art and propaganda were one, he went on: and their purpose was to bring about a spiritual mobilization of the entire German people:

National Socialism is not only a political doctrine, it is a total and all-encompassing general perspective on all public matters. So our entire life has to be based on it as a matter of natural assumption. We hope that the day will come when nobody needs to talkabout National Socialism any more, since it has become the air that we breathe! Thus National Socialism cannot be content with mere lip-service - it must be acted upon with hand and heart. People must get used inwardly to this way of behaving, they must make it into their own set of attitudes - only then will it be recognized that a new will to culture has arisen from National Socialism and that this will to culture determines our entire national existence in an organic manner. One day, the spiritual awakening of our own time will emerge from this will to culture.241

Nazi emblems, signs, words and concepts permeated everyday life as part of this campaign. Not only were film, radio, newspapers, magazines, sculptures, painting, literature, poetry, architecture, music and high culture increasingly informed by Nazi ideals, or confined within the boundaries they set, but everyday culture was as well. Between the flag-waving and swastika-bedaubed days of ideological mobilization such as Hitler’s birthday or the anniversary of his appointment as Reich Chancellor, ordinary life was permeated by the principles and precepts of Nazism too. From 1935, as Victor Klemperer noted, the regime encouraged people to use new, pseudo-Germanic names of the months. Ever enthusiastic, Luise Solmitz began using them immediately in her diary, instead of the traditionally Latinate ones: Julmond, Brechmond and so on.242

Advertising and design began to incorporate Nazi symbols and to adopt approved Nazi style.243 Foreign advertising agencies were banned, and the usual mechanisms were set up to ensure that posters and advertisements would be ‘German’ in origin and style. Consumer products were now advertised in a manner that conformed to the regime’s requirements as much as high art did.244 Everyday objects quickly acquired a political veneer. Already in March 1933 the sharp-eyed Victor Klemperer noticed that the toothpaste tube he purchased in the pharmacy was labelled with a swastika.245 Before long, people could buy eggcups, hairpins, pencils or tea services decorated with swastikas, or give their children presents like toy models of stormtroopers, music boxes that played the Horst Wessel Song, or a puzzle that asked them to ‘put the letters together correctly to make the name of a great leader: L-I-T-R-E-H.’246 The tubular steel furniture so beloved of the Bauhaus in the 1920s used up valuable metal badly needed for armaments, so in a convenient marriage of ideology and economics, it now gave way to lacquered wood and a pseudo-natural style - pseudo because it was increasingly delivered by industrial mass production, despite the appearance of being made by hand.247Even a seemingly neutral area such as landscaping and garden design was not immune from this process: formality and foreign plants were out and a natural look based on native German species was in.248 Those who enjoyed collecting cigarette cards could now stick them into an album depicting ‘the struggle for the Third Reich’. Among cards available to smokers were portrayals of Hitler talking to a blonde child (‘Leader’s eyes - Father’s eyes’), Hitler and Technology, Hitler and Hindenburg and of course Hitler and the Workers.249 As a leading Nazi art magazine remarked in 1937: ‘It is everyday things, not great individual works, that give an era its cultural atmosphere.’250

The aestheticization of politics created the illusion that social, economic and national problems were immediately being solved by acts of will. It directed people’s attention away from many of the hard realities of life in a Germany that was still suffering from a severe economic depression in the early-to-mid-1930s, and towards fantasy-worlds and myths, stage-managed enthusiasm for the government and its policies, a feeling of living in a new world much of which, in fact, was illusion. In an advanced industrial culture such as that of Germany in the 1930s, these illusions depended to a degree on the resurrection of pseudo-archaic certainties such as ‘blood and soil’, Classical artistic models, traditional tonal music, and massively solid public buildings; but the means used were the most modern available, from radio and film to novel print techniques and the latest methods of construction. Much of this must have seemed startlingly new to the average person in rural or small-town Germany. Above all, Nazi culture, driven on by the Propaganda Ministry, aimed to crush individual thought and feeling and mould Germans into a single, obedient, disciplined mass, much as they appeared on the screen in Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.251 It implemented this aim only gradually, partly because of initial uncertainty about the direction of cultural policy, partly because of intra-party rivalries; but in the notable radicalization that occurred in 1937-8, the contours of Nazi cultural policy finally became clear to all. By this time, virtually all the organs of opinion-formation in German society had been taken over by Goebbels and his Propaganda Ministry, co-ordinated, purged of real and potential dissenters, Aryanized and brought under ideological, financial and administrative control. ‘Public opinion’ as such had effectively ceased to exist; the opinions that were purveyed on the screen, broadcast over the radio, or printed in newspapers, magazines and books were with few and very partial exceptions the opinions of the regime. Regular reports from the Gestapo and local and regional administrators kept Goebbels, Himmler and the other Nazi leaders informed on the state of opinion of the people and allowed the Propaganda Ministry to run specifically targeted propaganda campaigns in order if necessary to correct it. Nazi propaganda was the essential accompaniment to Nazi terror and intimidation in suppressing open dissent and creating mass support for the regime. In this respect, the Propaganda Ministry was one of the regime’s most obvious successes.252

So deep was the penetration of Nazi propaganda, so all-encompassing its permeation of the German mass media, that it affected the very language Germans wrote and spoke. In his home in Dresden, Victor Klemperer began compiling a dossier of Nazi language -LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii, the language of the Third Reich. Words that in a normal, civilized society had a negative connotation acquired the opposite sense under Nazism, he noted; so that ‘fanatical’, ‘brutal’, ‘ruthless’, ‘uncompromising’, ‘hard’ all became words of praise instead of disapproval. The German language became a language of superlatives, so that everything the regime did became the best and the greatest, its achievements unprecedented, unique, historic and incomparable. Government statistics underwent an inflation that took them far beyond the limits of the plausible. Decisions were always final, changes were always made to last for ever. The language used about Hitler, Klemperer noted, was shot through and through with religious metaphors; people ‘believed in him’, he was the redeemer, the saviour, the instrument of Providence, his spirit lived in and through the German nation, the Third Reich was the eternal and everlasting Kingdom of the German people, and those who had died in its cause were martyrs. Nazi institutions domesticated themselves in the German language through abbreviations and acronyms, until talking about them became an unthinking part of everyday life. Above all, perhaps, Nazism imbued the German language with the metaphors of battle: the battle for jobs, the struggle for existence, the fight for culture. In the hands of the Nazi propaganda apparatus, the German language became strident, aggressive and militaristic. Commonplace matters were described in terms more suited to the battlefield. The language itself began to be mobilized for war.253

If language structures sensibility, and the words available to a society set the limits to what is thinkable, then the Third Reich was well on the way to eliminating even the possibility of thinking about dissent and resistance, let alone acting it out in reality. Yet the minds of most Germans, of course, had been formed well before Hitler came to power, and powerful cultural traditions such as those shared by millions of Catholics, Social Democrats and Communists could not be wiped from the face of Germany overnight. Even amongst the millions who had voted for Hitler in 1932 and 1933, there were many, probably indeed the majority, who did not vote for the full package of Nazi ideology. Many middle-class voters had supported the Nazi Party at the polls not least because in the election campaigns of the early 1930s the Nazis had been deliberately vague about what they proposed to do once they had achieved power. The Nazi vote in 1932 was above all a protest vote, more negative than positive. Powerful, sophisticated and all-pervasive though it was, therefore, Goebbels’s propaganda machine could not persuade people that all their most dearly held values and beliefs had to be abandoned in the brave new world of Hitler’s Third Reich. Moreover, many people soon found the regime’s untiring demands for constant popular acclamation of its policies and leaders wearisome. ‘The huge hyperactivity in the field of cultural politics’, reported the Gestapo in the Potsdam district as early as August 1934, ‘is partly felt to be a burdensome compulsion and for this reason it is either rejected or sabotaged.’ Local cultural initiative had been stifled by the creation of huge mass organizations in the process of ‘co-ordination’. The introduction of the leadership principle everywhere only made things worse. ‘It is schematized, and thus nothing produces success, which is always individual.’254

The mass acclamation which the regime demanded on occasions such as Hitler’s birthday, plebiscites and elections, Mayday and other festivals, was rendered as much out of fear as out of enthusiasm, and people were getting tired of constantly having to go to meetings and demonstrations, the Potsdam district Gestapo office reported two months later in October 1934.255 In radio, cinema, literature and the arts, as we have seen, all that Goebbels’s efforts to make propaganda interesting did was to make people bored, because individual creative initiative was stifled, the variety of cultural life was drastically reduced by censorship, and the monotony of Nazism’s cultural offerings quickly became tedious. Even the Nuremberg Rallies soon lost much of their power to inspire, despite the fact that those who attended were by definition the most fanatical and the most enthusiastic of Hitler’s supporters. As Social Democratic agents in Germany reported to the exiled party headquarters in Prague in 1937, with just a hint of exaggerated optimism:

In the first two or three years one saw the Nazis’ morale at a high point, and the population still paid attention to the Leader’s announcements, which usually provided surprises. When the columns of Party activists marched to the railway stations, one saw in the streets not infrequently groups of women and men, and particularly young people, who cheered on the soldiers of the Party with enthusiasm. All that has gone. Even the greatest demonstration of power becomes boring in the long run. The hackneyed speeches have become familiar to the point of excess. Hitler’s former voters see in the Party no longer a redemptive force but instead the all-oppressing power-apparatus of a ruthless organization that is capable of anything. People let the Party divisions ordered to Nuremberg march past in silence. Here and there one hears a cry of ‘hail!’ from a persistent admirer, but it trails shyly away because nobody echoes it. As far as the population is concerned, this propaganda business is like everything else, just a way of getting money from them, nothing more. Always the same picture: the military, marching columns and groups bearing flags. Sometimes fewer, sometimes more. People cast a glance at them and go on their way.256

Goebbels seemed, therefore largely to have failed in his aim of bringing about a genuine, long-term spiritual mobilization of the German people. What he had mostly achieved, except in a relatively small group of fanatical Nazi activists, was the kind of dull conformity he had seen as so unsatisfactory in 1933.257

Nazi propaganda was most effective at the points where it hit the area of overlap between Nazi ideology and other ideologies. This was greater among some groups and areas than others. In the conservative, nationalist upper classes, the overlap was so considerable that men such as Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, Defence Minister Werner von Blomberg, Justice Minister Franz Gürtner or Finance Minister Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk willingly entered into a coalition with the Nazis in 1933 and stayed there, whatever their reservations, through the following years. Some of them, like Papen, gradually realized that the differences between their own beliefs and those of the Nazis were greater than they had at first thought; others, like Gürtner, gradually came round to a greater degree of conformity under the impact of propaganda and the pressure of events. Amongst middle-class Germans, the regime’s propaganda offensive against ‘Marxism’ and Communism met with widespread support, helped by revulsion at the violent revolutionary rhetoric of the Communist champions of a ‘Soviet Germany’ and at the continuing ideological allegiance paid by the Social Democrats to Marxist theories of the socialist overthrow of existing institutions of capitalist society. Far more widespread was nationalist resentment at the 1919 Peace Settlement, a belief in the need to unite Germany in a rebirth of the spirit of 1914 after the deep and damaging divisions of the Weimar years, and a longing for a strong leader in the tradition of Bismarck. Similarly, antisemitism had become widespread in German culture during the Weimar Republic, though it never had much purchase on the organized working class, belief in the backwardness of Slavs was shared by almost everyone right of the Communists, and the conviction in the racial inferiority of black Africans was virtually universal.

In all these areas, Nazi propaganda was able to build on existing beliefs and values and create a new consensus that may well have encompassed a majority of the German people, though it hardly ever reached universal acceptance in any of the areas it touched upon. Moreover, the Nazi spin on specific events could usually convince people if it appealed to their existing fears and prejudices. On the face of it, for instance, the regime’s explanation of the Reichstag fire in 1933 was not particularly plausible, and was indeed publicly falsified by the subsequent trial. Yet people already infused with fear of the Communists could easily be persuaded that van der Lubbe had been acting as a tool of a revolutionary conspiracy when he burned down the nation’s legislature. Similarly, the murders committed on Hitler’s and Göring’s orders in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ were quite blatantly outside the law; yet the German tradition of treating law as a creation of the state, and the widespread fear of further revolutionary violence of the kind the brownshirts seemed to be preparing, combined to convince most people of the legitimacy of Hitler’s actions. Indeed, the regime succeeded within a remarkably short space of time in elevating Hitler to a status of almost mythical impregnability, deflecting criticism and discontent onto his subordinates and projecting on to him all kinds of unrealistic hopes and desires. Hitler became the Leader who was above party, almost above politics. For the great majority of Germans, including millions in the otherwise recalcitrant Catholic and working-class communities, Hitler was the Leader who could do no wrong.258

Where Nazi propaganda ran up against deeply ingrained attitudes, however, it found it far less easy to make an impact. Correspondingly, it was most successful with people whose opinions were not strongly formed, which meant above all the young. Moreover, whatever propagandists might claim, people had a clear idea of the realities of the economic and social situation on the ground. They did not find it difficult to disbelieve the grandiose claims of the Propaganda Ministry. The proclamation of the abolition of class differences, the creation of a unified national community, or the miraculous recovery of the economy meant little to them if their own situation continued to show few improvements over the dire straits of the early 1930s. Propaganda depended for its effect, in other words, not least on the extent to which it bore at least some relation to the truth, when it came to specific issues like the economy, or Germany’s place in the world. Success bred support for the regime and belief in its purposes, failure created scepticism about its claims and doubts about its policies.259 Yet, the Nazis claimed, time was on their side. The permeation of the thought and actions of all Germans did not depend simply on the power and sophistication of propaganda in the present. In the longer term, remoulding the educational system would create a new generation of young Germans who had known no alternative source of values to Nazism. Yet there was of course one area in which such values did persist, long after Marxism, socialism and all the other political and social creeds had been swept away. That was religion. For reasons of political expediency and caution, the Third Reich had stopped short in 1933 of attacking the Churches and their dependent secular institutions. As it became more self-confident, however, it began to turn its attention to Christianity too, and to seek a means of either converting it to a form more suitable to the new Germany, or, if that did not work, of doing away with it altogether.

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