Military history



During the Second World War, as before it, Nazi propaganda could seem all-pervasive and inescapable, corralling a supine nation into unthinking adulation of Hitler, unconditional enthusiasm for Nazi ideology, and unquestioning support for the military conquest and racial supremacy that were the primary aims of the German war effort. This at least was the impression that Goebbels liked to give. Yet it was a false one.94 To begin with, propaganda was far from all-pervasive. Even Goebbels realized that it had to have its limits. Entertainment and relaxation also had a role to play. ‘It’s important for the war to keep our people in a good mood,’ he noted in his diary on 26 February 1942. ‘We failed to do that during the [First] World War, and we had to pay for it with a terrible catastrophe. This example must under no circumstances be repeated.’95 In taking this view, Goebbels was among other things learning from experience, as popular distaste for the over-politicized media and a constant diet of speeches and exhortations had already led to widespread indifference to Nazi propaganda before the war.96 By 1939, therefore, the Nazi Propaganda Minister knew very well that his initial ambition to achieve a total spiritual and emotional mobilization of the German people could not be fulfilled. The purpose of Nazi propaganda during the war was thus more modest: it was to keep people fighting and make sure they conformed, even if only outwardly, to the demands the regime made on them.97

As Propaganda Minister, Goebbels had huge power over the arts, culture and the media, but he did not have it all his own way. He had a major rival in Otto Dietrich, whom Hitler had appointed head of the Reich Press Office of the Nazi Party in 1931. In 1938 Hitler also made him President of the Reich Press Chamber. Unlike Goebbels, Dietrich worked in Hitler’s office and was therefore in a position to receive the Leader’s direct orders virtually on a daily basis. It was one of Dietrich’s tasks to give Hitler a digest of the international news media every morning. From 1938 onwards Dietrich and his staff also gave daily noontime press conferences at which they issued directives to the editors of the German papers. In order to try to circumvent Dietrich’s growing influence, Goebbels timed his own daily Minister’s Conference for 11 a.m. This only made matters worse. In 1940 Dietrich began to outflank Goebbels by issuing ‘Daily Slogans of the Reich Press Chief’ from Hitler’s headquarters. Relations between the two men deteriorated still further. On one occasion, as they sat round Hitler’s lunch table, Dietrich said: ‘My Leader, this morning, while I was taking a bath, I thought of a good idea.’ Quick as a flash, Goebbels interrupted him: ‘Mr Dietrich, you should take more baths.’98

A particularly serious clash occurred in October 1941, when Hitler sent Dietrich to Berlin to announce to an international press conference that the Soviet Union had been defeated. Although this reflected a widespread perception in the higher echelons of the Nazi leadership at the time, Goebbels was furious: such over-optimistic declarations were in his view hostages to fortune.99 He was right, as it turned out. By 23 August 1942 the tension between Goebbels and Dietrich was so acute that Hitler himself felt it necessary to order all press directives, including Goebbels’s, to be channelled through Dietrich’s office, ruling that Dietrich’s noontide press conferences were the only ones that legitimately represented the Leader’s opinions. Not long afterwards, Dietrich succeeded in getting one of his men appointed Deputy Reich Press Chief with an office in the Propaganda Ministry. Goebbels complained to Bormann, whose power was now considerable. This dangerous move prompted a threat to resign from Dietrich, turned down brusquely by Hitler. It was only towards the end of the war that Goebbels finally gained the upper hand, winning the power of veto over Dietrich’s daily press directives in June 1944 and finally persuading Hitler to sack the press chief on 30 March 1945, much too late to make any difference.100 By this time, the Propaganda Minister had also successfully sidelined other rivals as well. These ranged from the press division of Ribbentrop’s Foreign Office to the ‘propaganda companies’ formed by the armed forces. The management of propaganda had always been riven by rivalries, but in the last two years of the war, Goebbels finally did achieve almost total control over it.101

While these quarrels were going on in the background, the Propaganda Ministry pumped out enormous amounts of material in every medium of communication as part of its effort to boost morale. An official Propaganda Ministry report noted that in the year beginning September 1939 it had produced nine slide shows that had been seen by 4.3 million people in evening entertainments organized by regional Party offices. Themes covered included ‘Germany’s Racial Policies’ and ‘World Pirate England’. In the first sixteen months of the war, the Party organized some 200,000 political meetings, mainly for morale-boosting purposes. Picture posters for pasting on walls were printed in huge numbers (a million for ‘Down with Germany’s Enemies’, for example); text-posters appeared in editions of up to half a million. The Ministry issued 32.5 million copies of the Nazi Party ‘Word of the Week’, and produced no fewer than 65 million leaflets on a wide variety of subjects. Not to be forgotten either, 700,000 photographs of Hitler had been distributed by the end of 1940. Journalists, Otto Dietrich told representatives of the press on 3 September 1939, were no longer just reporters but also ‘soldiers of the German people’.102 By 1944 the Nazi Party controlled almost the entirety of the German press. Here was a medium that was far more propaganda than entertainment. The need to ration paper supplies led the Reich Press Chamber to close down 500 newspapers in May 1941 and a further 950 two years later (including the formerly respectable Frankfurt Newspaper). Yet people were avid for news during the war, and the circulation of the major papers increased substantially as their number fell. The total circulation of daily papers rose from 20.5 to 26.5 million between 1939 and 1944. The flagship daily of the Party, the Racial Observer, was selling 1,192,500 copies by 1941; and it was joined by significant new weeklies, above all The Reich, founded by Goebbels in 1940 and printing 1.5 million copies of each edition three years later. The growing size and importance of the SS were reflected in the fact that its own weekly, The Black Corps, founded in 1935, was the second-biggest-selling weekly by this time with a circulation of 750,000 copies. Yet people did not just read the press for information or to hear the latest news of the Party or the SS. They also read it for entertainment and relaxation, and so sales of illustrated magazines and weeklies rose from 11.9 to 20.8 million between 1939 and 1944.103

The regime placed considerable emphasis on literature as a spur to patriotic commitment, reviving and marketing appropriate classics like Schiller’s William Tell with a new enthusiasm. 45,000 front-line libraries supplied reading matter to the troops in their idle moments, if they had any. Germans donated no fewer than 43 million books to stock them. 25,000 public libraries at home catered for the reading needs of civilians. What, then, did people read during the war? William L. Shirer reported in October 1939 that the best-selling novels in Germany at this time were Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and A. J. Cronin’s The Citadel. The Swedish explorer Sven Hedin’s Fifty Years of Germany was attracting readers who sought reassurance that Germany was not wholly despised in the non-fascist world.104 This situation obviously could not last. The war offered the Reich Chamber of Literature considerably increased opportunities to exercise control over writers and publishers. Censorship was tightened up in 1940, and the need to ration paper supplies provided an excuse for requiring publishers to give advance notice of new books and their authors for approval after this time. All books and periodicals from enemy states were banned, except for purely scientific ones, and those by authors who had died before 1904 (provided they were not Jewish). Living German authors still interested in publishing in the Third Reich faced an uncertain future unless they produced books with titles like We Fly Against England, the top item in the borrowing statistics of Hamburg libraries in 1940-41. William L. Shirer reported that anti-Soviet books were still selling well in 1939-40, despite the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and detective stories were also very popular. Historical war-books were much sought after, including The Total War, a celebrated tract on the First World War by the now safely dead Erich Ludendorff, and propaganda accounts of England and Poland were also selling well. The biggest seller of all was still Hitler’s My Struggle, which had provided its author with the royalties from no fewer than 6 million copies by 1940.105

Escapist literature of various kinds became more important than ever after the war began. Goebbels encouraged the publication of erotic literature and soft pornography, especially for the troops, while humorous fiction and collections of jokes also sold well. The Wild West novels of Karl May - widely known to be Hitler’s own favourite author - enjoyed a revival, prompting in some military readers the reflection that they had taught them a lot about how to fight Soviet partisans behind the Eastern Front. In this situation, literary writers increasingly took refuge in ‘inner emigration’, either lapsing into silence or producing historical romances. Werner Bergengruen, whose work before 1939 had been taken by the reading public as a veiled criticism of the Nazi regime, sold 60,000 copies of his 1940 novel Heaven as It Is on Earth before it was banned the following year. Deprived of the opportunity to reach his public in the conventional way, he wrote poems anonymously and had them distributed privately and, in effect, illegally. The Realm of Demons, by Frank Thiess, was also banned after its first edition had sold out in 1941. His next novel, The Neapolitan Legend, published the following year, met with more toleration because of its less obvious applicability to the present. The problem with these works of ‘inner emigration’ was that their message for the present could only be discovered by the most assiduous reading between the lines, often indeed reading into them things that the reader wanted to see rather than the author wanted to be understood. After the war was over, Thiess was to claim in an angry exchange with the exiled Thomas Mann that only writers who had stayed in Germany to oppose the regime could lay claim to be the spiritual founders of postwar democracy. But their works, like that of other tolerated writers, had as much effect in distracting readers from the realities of wartime life in the Third Reich as they did in expressing a widely held desire to acquire an inner distance from it.106


Of all the mass media used by the Propaganda Ministry, it was, perhaps surprisingly, the theatre to which it devoted the most money, steering towards it more than 26 per cent of the subsidies it issued to the arts, in comparison, for example, to under 12 per cent for the cinema. In the early part of the war, there were no fewer than 240 theatres in Germany run by the state or regional, local or municipal authorities, with a total of 222,000 seats, together with another 120 or so privately funded theatres of one kind or another. In 1940 some 40 million tickets were sold; roughly a quarter of the tickets were block bookings for groups of soldiers or munitions workers. Demand was high, buoyed up by the closure of many other sources of amusement and relaxation.107 Although private and individual tourism continued to a degree during the war, the Labour Front’s ‘Strength Through Joy’ programme was drastically curtailed, its foreign and domestic tourism operations cut back, its ships and transport facilities converted for use by troops and its funding of entertainment directed towards catering for members of the armed forces.108 Theatre became an important substitute.

The Security Service of the SS noted early in 1942 that ‘during the war, very many theatres can report visitors in numbers that have scarcely been experienced before. In the big cities it is hardly possible any more to obtain theatre tickets through regular box-office sales.’109 Goebbels declared at the beginning of the war that the repertoire must now avoid ‘exaggeration and stylelessness that go against the seriousness of the times and the national feeling of the people’.110 However, he was aware that most theatre-goers, especially new ones, were in search above all of entertainment. Theatre directors were told that pessimistic or depressing plays were not to be put on. There was also a ban on performances of plays by authors belonging to enemy states (though occasional exceptions were made for Shakespeare). Chekhov was allowed before 22 June 1941, but not thereafter. Theatre directors did their best to get round such regulations. They mounted new productions of German classics, including tragedies, and thereby created, so many of them later claimed, a theatrical oasis in the Nazi cultural desert. None of this could disguise the fact that the ban on many foreign authors impoverished the repertoire. Responding to public demand for comedies and light entertainment further depressed the standard of what the German stage offered in these years. And of course, as in other areas of culture in wartime Germany, what was found in the theatre was above all escape from reality.111 From 1943 onwards escape in this form became progressively more difficult, as one theatre after another was destroyed by bombing, not infrequently leading to the actors and stagehands being drafted into the armed forces or munitions work. In August 1944, when, in his new capacity as Reich Plenipotentiary for the Total War Effort, Goebbels ordered the closure of all theatres, music halls and cabarets, he was doing little more than making a virtue of necessity.112

As with the theatre, cinema increased dramatically in popularity in the early part of the war.113 In 1942 over a billion tickets were sold, more than five times more than in 1933. Every German went to the movies on average some thirteen to fourteen times a year. Young people’s attendance was particularly high - in 1943 a sample survey reported that over 70 per cent of ten-to-seventeen-year-olds went to the cinema at least once a month, and 22 per cent at least once a week. Cinema-goers were catered for not only by more than 7,000 picture-houses but also large numbers of mobile cinemas that toured country areas and also found their way to the battle-front to entertain the troops. Every year from 1939 to 1944, German studios produced some sixty to seventy new films, shown in every country in Europe where German troops were stationed.114 The studios were state-owned, centrally organized from 1942, and equipped to use the most modern techniques. In the cinema, each programme had by order of the Propaganda Ministry to contain an educational ‘cultural film’, dealing with natural history, showing German ‘cultural work’ in Poland, or, from 1943, giving instructions on air-raid protection.115

Audiences were said to have found these rather boring. What they really wanted to see was the latest newsreel. From 7 September 1940 all existing newsreels were merged into one, entitled from November 1940 onwards the ‘German Weekly Review’ (Deutsche Wochenschau), which formed a compulsory part of every movie programme. The producers were able to show a forty-minute newsreel within two weeks of the film being taken by cameramen and journalists ‘embedded’ in regiments serving at the front. This gave newsreels an immediacy and an authenticity that made them very popular. Up to 3,000 copies were made of each issue, and each issue was seen by some 20 million people in Germany alone. The newsreels satisfied public demand for first-hand information about the progress of the war, and many people went to the cinema mainly to see them rather than the feature film. Skilful use of music, a focus on images rather than words and careful editing gave them a powerful and to some degree aesthetic appeal. Of course, soldiers always appeared in a heroic light, fighting off demonic enemies hell-bent on Germany’s destruction, the descriptions of the strategic situation were generally vague and always optimistic, and blood and guts, dead bodies and anything likely to produce horror or revulsion were banished from the screen. Hitler’s personal request to the Propaganda Ministry on 10 July 1942 for shots of Russian atrocities to be included in the newsreel (‘He specifically asks that such atrocities should include genitals being cut off and the placing of hand-grenades in the trousers of prisoners’) 116 does not seem to have been followed, perhaps fortunately for cinema audiences. Nevertheless, the viewers were drawn into the action almost as virtual participants, often breaking out into spontaneous applause and shouts of ‘Hail!’ during the reports of victories in the first two years of the war.117

Goebbels buttressed the informative and propaganda impact of the newsreel with a series of major feature films aimed at popularizing key elements of Nazi ideology. In 1941 he commissioned four anti-Bolshevik films, including GPU, premièred on 14 August the following year. Its title was already out of date: the Russian political police by this time was known by the initials NKVD. Predictably, the emphasis in the film was on the machinations of the supposed Jewish conspiracy behind the murderous activities of the Soviet police. Goebbels attempted to win over audiences by having a love-story put at the centre of the drama, but the film was not a success: its portrayal of the Russians as sadistic torturers was simply too cliché-ridden and too crude, and after it was released Goebbels put a stop to further anti-Soviet feature films. Just as mixed were the fortunes met by the films he commissioned that were directed against the British, whom he wanted shown as controlled by Jews and ruled by plutocrats. In 1940 The Rothschilds’ Shares in Waterloo pilloried the imaginary financial manipulations of a Jewish bank during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (which it showed, of course, as being won by the Prussians, under General Blücher). The film was a failure with the public, since it was not clear whether it was intended to be anti-British or antisemitic, and it was withdrawn in 1940 and re-edited. Other films, like My Life for IrelandCarl Peters and Uncle Kruger, all released in 1941, attacked the British colonial record. Uncle Kruger was particularly impressive. A film about the Boer War, it was well acted (it starred Emil Jannings) and had high production values. However, a good many of the figures in the film were crude caricatures - Queen Victoria was shown as addicted to medicinal whisky, Cecil Rhodes as decadent, waited on by slaves and obsessed with gold, the monocled Austen Chamberlain as hypocritical and effete, General Kitchener as ruthless and inhumane, and the young Winston Churchill, a concentration camp commandant, as a sadistic murderer who feeds his bulldog on beef steaks and shoots starving inmates if they complain about their lack of food. Uncle Kruger, the Boer leader, was depicted as an honest, simple national hero who leads successful resistance against overwhelming odds - a lesson Goebbels considered made it worth ordering the film to be re-released in 1944.118 Critics of the original showing were indeed in a minority, and those who felt that some scenes were ‘not historically genuine’ were outnumbered by those who saw it as ‘a kind of historical document’. The more knowledgeable amongst the audience wondered, however, whether it was wise to portray the ‘Boer people’ in such a heroic light. ‘The character of this hybrid people is ambiguous and cannot be presented as an ideal image of the Germanic race if only in view of the colonial tasks that will face Great Germany after the final victory.’119

Almost as soon as the war began, Goebbels ordered the preparation of two major antisemitic films: Jew Süss and The Eternal Jew, both designed to win the support of the German public for the Nazi leadership’s stepping up of anti-Jewish measures as soon as the war began, particularly in Poland. Jew Süss, directed by Veit Harlan and released on 24 September 1940, was a historical film based on a novel of the same name by the (now exiled) Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger. While Feuchtwanger had wanted to highlight the role of the Jew as scapegoat, Harlan turned the character of Suss, an eighteenth-century moneylender hanged for his alleged crimes, into a villain who not only extorted money from honest Germans but also abducted and raped a beautiful young German girl. Harlan contrasted the civilized-looking, socially integrated character of Suss not only with fair-haired Germans but also with all the other Jewish characters in the film, who were depicted as ugly and dirty. Süss’s hanging at the end of the film conveyed the clearest possible message as to the fate the Jews merited in the present. The much-praised performances of the principal actors were so powerful that one of them actually got Goebbels to announce in public that he was not Jewish because many cinema-goers were convinced that he was. Himmler was so enthusiastic about the film that he ordered all SS men to watch it, and it was also specially shown to non-Jewish audiences in Eastern Europe in the vicinity of concentration and extermination camps, and in Germany in towns where a new deportation was scheduled.120

The Eternal Jew, directed by Fritz Hippler under Goebbels’s personal supervision, was a feature-length documentary that also purported to show how Jews really were. Pictures of Jews on the streets of Polish towns were intercut with film sequences of ‘rats, which,’ the synopsis said, ‘are the parasites and bacillus-carriers among animals, just as the Jews occupy the same position among mankind’. Film of kosher butchering, taken in Poland shortly after the invasion of 1939, was edited to suggest the brutality of the Jews, while mock-up sets of Jewish homes showed dirt, neglect and infestation with vermin. Just like rats, Jews had migrated across the world, and everywhere, the film claimed, citing a whole series of invented statistics, the Jews committed crimes, spread revolution and subversion, and undermined cultural values and standards. So radical was the film’s antisemitism that the Propaganda Ministry had doubts about showing it to the public, and certainly it was most successful among Party activists; the general public was less impressed. Many were reported to have walked out half-way through the screening, and others were recorded as thinking it ‘boring’. Most people preferred the subtler and dramatically more interesting images portrayed in a drama such as Jew Süss, which was so powerful in its effect on audiences that people spontaneously sprang to their feet during performances, especially in the rape scene, and shouted curses at the screen. In Berlin, there were shouts from the audience of ‘Get the last Jews out of Germany!’121

What the success of Jew Süss and the comparative failure of The Eternal Jew showed was that Germans did not want mere propaganda. With the coming of war, people needed distraction from their daily cares more than ever. William L. Shirer recorded in October 1939 that ‘in the movie world the big hit at the moment is Clark Gable in Adventure in China, as it’s called here. It’s packing them in for the fourth week at the Marble House. A German film,’ he added, ‘is lucky if it holds out a week.’122 Shirer was exaggerating: not all German films were failures. Goebbels was well aware of the popularity of films like Request Concert and The Great Love, each of which attracted more than 20 million cinema-goers. Both had an implicit ideological content, depicting couples separated by war and conquering their own personal desires in the service of the wider community, and coming together once more at the end. At the same time as showing episodes of military action, they bracketed out the more violent and destructive aspects of war, presenting to the audience a sanitized version of conflict that it was meant to find reassuring.123 The huge success of these films persuaded Goebbels to order that four out of five films made should be ‘good entertainment films, secure in their quality’. And indeed, no fewer than forty-one out of the seventy-four movies made in Germany in 1943 were comedies. 124 By this time, people were flocking to see lavishly costumed operettas, revues, detective films and melodramas. At the very same time as Goebbels was delivering his ‘total war’ speech to the Party faithful in the Sports Palace, ordinary Germans were settling down in Berlin’s cinemas to watch Two Happy PeopleBe Fond of Me and The Big Number. The next year, escapism reached new heights with The White Dream, a review on ice featuring a song that advised people: ‘Buy a colourful balloon / Take it firmly in your hand / See it flying off with you / to a foreign fairyland.’125

By 1943, neither the proliferation of entertainment movies nor the hectoring tones of the voice-over in the weekly newsreel could disguise the fact that the war was going badly. As the Security Service of the SS reported on 4 March 1943, it was clear that ‘people are no longer going to the cinema just for the sake of the newsreel and don’t want any more to take on all the unpleasant secondary burdens that a visit to the movies often brings with it, such as queuing for tickets’.126 The more the propaganda began to lose touch with reality, the more the newsreels’ repetitious insistence on the inevitability of final victory met with scepticism among audiences. In mid-1943 Goebbels tried to offset this disenchantment by commissioning a colour film from Veit Harlan on the siege of the German town of Kolberg, on the Baltic, by Napoleon’s armies in 1806. After the shattering military defeats of Jena and Austerlitz, the garrison had decided to surrender the town, but the mayor had rallied the citizens to a last-ditch defence. Many Nazi propaganda themes of the second half of the war came together here: the Party’s distrust of the army, the populist appeal to ordinary Germans to rally round the flag, the belief in sacrifice, the stoicism of the people in the face of death and destruction. ‘Death is entwined with victory,’ as the mayor says at one point. ‘The greatest achievements are always borne in pain.’ ‘From the ashes and rubble,’ another character says, anticipating defeat and implicitly exhorting audiences to go down fighting, ‘a new people will rise like a phoenix, a new Reich.’

Many of the speeches in the film were written not by Harlan but by Goebbels himself. He allocated it a budget of 8.5 million Reichsmarks, twice the normal production costs for a feature film. In a graphic illustration of the priority he attached to propaganda, Goebbels requisitioned 4,000 sailors and 187,000 soldiers from the army to play the battle scenes, at a time when they were badly needed at the front. The incident it portrayed was sufficiently obscure for most people not to know that Kolberg had in fact been taken by Napoleon: the screenplay had the French Emperor withdrawing in dismay, confounded by the unyielding resistance of the citizens. But it was all too late. The film was not ready until 30 January 1945, when it was shown in Berlin on the anniversary of Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor twelve years previously. By this time many cinemas had been destroyed - 237 of them by August 1943 already. In Hanover, only twelve out of thirty-one cinemas were still working. The breakdown of railway communications meant that the possibility of getting copies of Kolberg out to the rest of the country had more or less disappeared. Hardly anybody saw it. The town of Kolberg itself was taken by the Red Army less than two months after the première. ‘I will ensure,’ wrote Goebbels in his diary, ‘that the evacuation of Kolberg is not mentioned in the Combined Armed Forces Supreme Command’s report.’127


It was Joseph Goebbels’s ambition to bring the Nazi message into the home of everyone in Germany, and for this purpose no institution was better suited than the radio.128 In August 1939 the Reich Propaganda Ministry took over all radio stations in Germany, and from July 1942 the Reich Radio Society (the main broadcaster) was directly run by the Ministry. Broadcasts were used, as in other belligerent countries, to give practical advice to listeners on how to eke out their food rations, how to economize in their lifestyle, and generally how to cope with wartime conditions. Front-line reports conveyed a positive picture of the heroism of the troops, while in the later stages of the war, broadcasts began to urge listeners to carry on fighting regardless of bad news from the front. Radio suffered from the call-up of staff to the armed forces, however, and whole programmes and even frequencies were turned over to propaganda directed in foreign languages to audiences abroad. As before, Goebbels insisted that propaganda was far from being the only or even the principal function of German radio. In 1944, for instance, out of 190 hours of broadcasts a week, 71 were devoted to popular music, 55 to general entertainment, and 24 to classical music, leaving 32 hours a week for political broadcasts, 5 hours for a mixture of words and music, and 3 hours a week for ‘culture’. Some listeners took the view that popular music should not be broadcast in such difficult times, and, in the countryside in particular, the ‘modern offerings’ of crooners and dance-music were widely frowned on. But the broadcasters insisted (with some justification) that such programmes were popular with the troops and with Germans performing Labour Service, so they were retained. The Security Service of the SS reported that programmes with a mixture of humour and popular music were especially successful. The broadcasters took care to cater for regional tastes, and Bavarian listeners were said to welcome the broadcast of local songs such as ‘the steam-noodle song of the Tegernsee musicians’.129

Some songs, however, transcended regional boundaries and were a hit with troops and civilians alike. Sentimental numbers like Zarah Leander’s ‘I know one day a miracle will come’ comforted people in hard times and implicitly promised a better future. As we have seen, the troops at Stalingrad huddled around their radios to listen to the popular chanteuse Lale Andersen singing ‘It’ll all soon be over / It’ll end one day’. Like other, similar numbers, this was directed at strengthening the emotional bonds between couples and families separated by the war. Andersen’s 1939 hit song ‘Lili Marleen’ cast a nostalgic glow over its listeners as it described a soldier saying goodbye to his girl-friend underneath a street-lamp outside his barracks. Would they ever meet again? Would she find someone else? Would he survive the war? And if he did not, who would then be standing with Lili underneath the lamppost? The song encapsulated the personal anxieties as well as the lingering hopes of men far away from their loved ones. Further piquancy was added by the fact that, while the words were those of a man, they were sung by an attractive woman. Yet Goebbels disliked its pessimistic and nostalgic tone. At the end of September 1942 he had Andersen arrested for undermining the troops’ morale. Her correspondence with friends in Switzerland, including exiled German Jews, was intercepted, and her refusal to accede to Goebbels’s request to pay a visit for publicity purposes to the Warsaw ghetto was held against her. Goebbels had her banned from making any further public appearances. Eventually, from the middle of 1943 onwards, she was allowed to sing again in public, provided she did not put ‘Lili Marleen’ on the programme. At her first concert after the ban was lifted, the audience yelled for her to sing the song, and when it became clear that she was not going to, they sang it themselves. In August 1944 it was finally banned altogether. Long before this, British and American troops had started listening to the song as it was broadcast from the powerful German forces’ radio transmitter in Belgrade. The Allied military authorities had it translated into English. ‘My Lili of the Lamplight’ was sung by Marlene Dietrich, Vera Lynn and (in French) Edith Piaf, and towards the end of the war the British forces radio broadcast the German version across the enemy lines to the German troops to try to depress them, thus perhaps inadvertently confirming Goebbels’s belief that it was damaging to morale.130

By this time, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Germans to hear not only ‘Lili Marleen’ but anything at all on the radio. The cheap ‘People’s Receivers’ often broke down, and batteries and spare parts were hard to get. A thriving black market in them soon developed. Bombing raids interrupted electricity supplies in the towns, sometimes for days on end. And as the war began to go badly for Germany, listeners grew increasingly distrustful of German radio’s reports on it.131 As early as January 1942 the Security Service of the SS bemoaned the fact that people were indifferent to political broadcasts. Yet people were also worried about the lack of detailed reports of the progress of the war on the Eastern Front and in Africa. They felt they did not know what was going on. ‘An open statement on these questions, which move and oppress everyone, would get rid of the present feeling of uncertainty.’132 In the search for reliable information, German listeners turned to foreign radio stations, above all the BBC. The popular People’s Receivers, sold cheaply before the war, could only receive short-wave broadcasts, and this made it difficult to listen to foreign stations. However, they accounted for under 40 per cent of radios in Germany in 1943. Most people with a radio could receive the German-language service of the BBC without too much difficulty, and even the People’s Receivers could sometimes succeed in tuning in. By August 1944 the BBC reckoned that up to 15 million Germans were listening in to it on a daily basis.133

Germans listened to the BBC and other foreign stations at considerable risk to themselves. The moment the war broke out, tuning in to foreign stations was made a criminal offence punishable by death. It was all too easy, in apartment blocks poorly insulated for sound, for listeners to face denunciation to the authorities by fanatical or ill-intentioned neighbours who overhead the sonorous tones of BBC newsreaders coming through the walls. Some 4,000 people were arrested and prosecuted for ‘radio crime’ in the first year of the law’s operation, and the first execution of an offender came in 1941.134 A typical case was that of a Krefeld worker who was sentenced to a year in prison in December 1943 for listening to the BBC and passing on what he heard to his workmates. Like most people punished for this offence, he had formerly been active in left-wing politics. Ordinary offenders were seldom punished very harshly, and prosecutions and sentences from 1941 onwards were relatively uncommon. In 1943, for instance, only eleven death sentences were passed in the whole of the Greater German Reich for ‘radio crime’, or 0.2 per cent of the total.135 Nevertheless, people went to extraordinary lengths to avoid being heard listening to the BBC, locking themselves in the toilet or covering themselves, and the radio, with a blanket, or sending other family members out of the room. Not long after the war began William L. Shirer noted, with a pinch of exaggeration: ‘Many long prison sentences being meted out to Germans who listen to foreign radio stations, and yet many continue to listen to them,’ including a family with whom he had recently spent an afternoon. ‘They were a little apprehensive when they turned on the six p.m. BBC news,’ he recorded. The porter was ‘the official Nazi spy for the apartment house’, and there were others too. ‘They played the radio so low that I could hardly catch the news,’ Shirer wrote, ‘and one of the daughters kept watch by the front door.’136

No such precautions were needed in Britain or other countries when it came to listening to the propaganda broadcasts emanating from Germany. Goebbels ensured that increased resources were assigned to English-language broadcasts, and employed British and American pro-Germans, often with fascist beliefs, to make them: the most notorious of these was William Joyce, whose plummy accent earned him the nickname of ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ from his British listeners. These propaganda broadcasters found an audience not least because their style was more intimate and relaxed than that of the stiffly formal BBC; but overall their effect on morale was minimal, and as time went on, people began to tire of Joyce’s continual sarcasm and contempt. The most surprising of these broadcasts, perhaps, were put on by Goebbels in defiance of all the Nazis’ cherished beliefs about the racial degeneracy of jazz music, when a German swing band, led by the crooner Karl (‘Charlie’) Schwedler, went on to the air with popular British and American songs, adapting the words into parodies of the original for propaganda purposes. A favourite theme was the unreliability of the BBC (‘talking the wishful talk’, as a parody of the ‘Lambeth Walk’ put it).137

Jazz and swing were not just used by the regime for its own purposes, they became expressions of opposition to it as well. In Hamburg, the well-off ‘Swing Youth’ of the prewar years were not deterred from holding dances and parties by the mere outbreak of a war. Early in 1940 the Gestapo discovered 500 of them swinging away in a dance-hall in an Altona hotel to the sound of English music, even with English lyrics. The next time this happened, the police were prepared. On 2 March 1940 forty Gestapo agents raided another dance, in the Curio-Haus in the city’s university quarter, locked the doors and fingerprinted 408 participants, all but seventeen of them under the age of twenty-one. Further public dances had to be cancelled, but the gilded youth of Hamburg continued their partying in private. Until December 1941 they gathered in the Waterloo cinema near the Dammtor railway station to watch American films, with the young Axel Springer, a future newspaper publisher, acting as projectionist. As the police became more intrusive, the Swing Youth retreated to the plush suburban villas of their parents, where they celebrated in the cellars in what the Gestapo described disapprovingly as an ‘erotic ambience’. In June 1942 a summer party in one such villa included a cabaret with impersonations of Hitler and Goebbels. The Hitler Youth, who feared the Swing Youth as rivals to their own popularity, such as it was, sent spies to the party, and the cabarettist was arrested.

The arrogance and insouciance of the Swingers, their provocative dress, such as Hannelore Evers’s grey suit, man’s waistcoat and open jacket with shoulder-pads (‘an absolute knock-out,’ as one veteran of the Swing Youth recalled later), or Kurt-Rudolf Hoffmann’s habit of wearing the American flag on his lapel, combined with their open admiration of British style, were eventually reported to Himmler and Heydrich, who on 26 January 1942 ordered them to be arrested, beaten and put to work. Their parents were to be interrogated and sent to a concentration camp if it was found that they had encouraged the ‘Anglophiliac tendencies’ of their offspring. Within a few weeks, up to seventy Swingers had been arrested and sent to camps including Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen. There they were classified as political prisoners, though many denied they had acted out of political conviction. ‘We were long on hair and short on brains,’ one later confessed, and as for their habit of booing at the newsreel when they went to the cinema, one of them said they did it because ‘we were going to tell these dumb bastards that we were different, that’s all’. Yet the disregard for the regime’s racism that led a number of the Swing boys to carry on sexual relationships with Jewish girls, the hatred of the war some of them showed in their letters (intercepted by the Gestapo) and their open contempt for the Nazi leaders and the Hitler Youth, gave the Gestapo some reason to regard them as political. Many of the younger Swing boys were conscripted into the army after serving their time in a camp for juveniles, but at least three of them, according to their own later accounts, managed to avoid ever shooting at the enemy, and two of them crossed the lines and gave themselves up.138


As the popularity of musical films and radio broadcasts suggests, musical life was initially relatively unaffected by the war.139 Escapist operas were popular on the stage as well as on the cinema screen: the most notable written during these years was Richard Strauss’s Capriccio (1942). Hitler himself had recently acquired a passion for the music of Anton Bruckner, whose manuscripts he planned to collect in the magnificent library at the vast Austrian monastery of St Florian, where Bruckner had played the organ and where his body was buried. The monastery was located near Hitler’s favourite town, Linz. Hitler had the monks summarily expelled ready for the building’s conversion to its new function. He paid for the restoration of the organ out of his personal funds and also subsidized the publication of the Haas edition of Bruckner’s collected works. He bought a number of additional items for the library, and had a Bruckner study centre set up at the monastery, also supporting it from his own coffers; it was intended in the long run to be the nucleus of a major music conservatory. Hitler prompted the foundation of a Bruckner Symphony Orchestra, which began playing concerts in the autumn of 1943. His design for a bell-tower in Linz that would play a theme from Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the Romantic, was, however, never realized.140

Despite all this, there was ultimately, in Hitler’s view, still no substitute for Wagner. In 1940, on his way back from his brief visit to Paris, he called in at Bayreuth to attend a performance of Twilight of the Gods. It was to be his last. Immersed in the conduct of the war, and increasingly reluctant to appear in public, he went to no more live musical performances after this. Yet he never lost his belief in the power of music. In the same year he established a ‘War Festival’ at Bayreuth, to which he invited - or forced the attendance of - specially chosen guests, 142,000 of them in all during the five years of the Festival. ‘The war,’ he reminisced in January 1942, ‘gave me the opportunity to fulfil a desire dear to Wagner’s heart: that men chosen amongst the people - workers and soldiers - should be able to attend his Festival free of charge.’141 By 1943, Twilight of the Gods no longer seemed appropriate, in view of the rapidly deteriorating military situation, and, after consulting with Winifred Wagner, Hitler had it replaced by The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at the remaining two Festivals. In his own quarters, he had stopped listening to Wagner altogether after Stalingrad, and sought escape in The Merry Widow, his favourite operetta, by Franz Lehár, conveniently disregarding the fact that the librettist was Jewish, as indeed was Léhar’s own wife.142

Bayreuth and its festivals always occupied something of an anomalous place in the Third Reich, not least because they were in practice run by the Wagner family in direct consultation with Hitler, whereas other aspects of German musical life all fell under the aegis of the Reich Chamber of Music and therefore Joseph Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry. In 1940 the Ministry claimed that there were 181 permanent orchestras at work in the Reich, employing a total of 8,918 musicians.143 They had to adapt themselves to wartime conditions, playing in munitions factories and appearing at charity events for the troops. Political considerations continued to trump the regime’s general hostility to musical modernism; the fact that Hungary was an ally of Germany, for instance, allowed the Munich Philharmonic under its conductor Osvald Kabasta to play Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste in concert in 1942, although the composer himself had never wanted his music to be performed in Nazi Germany (he had by this time gone into exile in the USA). But political considerations also entailed - or offered an opportunity to orchestras to set out on - tours of occupied countries, spreading German culture and proselytizing for German music. The repertoire was heavily German, with the music of Richard Strauss and Hans Pfitzner taking pride of place amongst living composers. Conductors such as Eugen Jochum, Hans Knappertsbusch and younger men like Herbert von Karajan and Karl Böhm ensured that standards were maintained until the destruction of concert halls and opera houses and the drafting of players and administrators into the armed forces began to take their toll from 1943 onwards. Böhm did his career no harm by giving the Nazi salute from the podium at the start of his concerts, while Karajan, a member of the Nazi Party since 1933, benefited from the fact that he was considered politically more reliable than the senior figure he began to rival for concert-goers’ affections during the war, Wilhelm Furtwängler.144

Hitler remained, however, a fan of Furtwängler (‘the only conductor whose gestures do not appear ridiculous,’ he said in 1942, ‘is Furt wängler’).145 Such approval further cemented Furtwängler’s commitment to the Third Reich: indeed, on 13 January 1944 Goebbels wrote in his diary: ‘To my pleasure I find that with Furtwängler the worse things go for us, the more he supports our regime.’146 During the war, Furtwängler became a kind of court conductor to the Nazi elite. He took an orchestra to Norway a week before the German invasion in 1940, an event described by the German Embassy in Oslo, which knew that German forces were about to launch an attack on the country, as ‘very suited to awaken and animate sympathy for German art and for Germany’. In 1942 he conducted a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for Hitler’s birthday. All of this he did voluntarily. His conservative nationalism kept him in the Reich until January 1945, when he encountered Albert Speer in a concert interval. ‘You look so very tired, maestro,’ said Speer with a knowing look: perhaps, he suggested, it would be a good idea to stay in Switzerland after a forthcoming concert and not come back. Furtwängler took the hint and did not return.147

Many people who went to his concerts, or more generally listened to music on the radio, were, as Furtwängler pointed out after the war, thereby enabled to take refuge for a while in a world of higher spiritual values than those purveyed by the Nazis. Yet music’s significance could vary enormously according to who was playing it or listening to it. ‘When I hear Beethoven,’ wrote one journalist in a radio magazine in 1942, for example, ‘I become brave.’148 A woman who attended the War Festival in Bayreuth in 1943 reported that the performance had given her ‘fresh courage and strength for the work to come’.149 Local townspeople in Bayreuth, by contrast, found the opulence of the Festival abhorrent. Seeing a group of War Festival guests drinking cognac, a group of soldiers agreed: ‘There you see it again: we’re always the stupid ones.’150 The spectacle was particularly annoying for people who had been bombed out of their homes. ‘These shits,’ said one of them, observing the guests at the theatre restaurant, ‘gobble and glug themselves up to the brim here, while those of us who’ve lost everything don’t get a single drop of wine to drink.’151 Even outside Bayreuth, people were reported to be complaining about the resources devoted to the Festival at a time when everybody was being exhorted to live frugally: the hard-pressed rail service was forced to transport 30,000 people to Bayreuth, many of them given leave from their jobs in munitions factories for the best part of a week.152 For those who attended, however, the Festival seemed a gift from Hitler of almost incredible generosity. Their expressions of gratitude were recorded at suitable length in the Security Service report. Yet for most of them, it was only a brief, if welcome, break. Music in the abstract has very little to do with life; and in listening to it, opera- and concert-goers were taking the very route of escapism that Goebbels had laid down for them. As one of the munitions workers who attended the Bayreuth Festival in 1943 confessed: ‘After the curtain went down, we were unable to find the way back to reality for ourselves at all quickly.’153 Many others must have felt the same.

The Third Reich’s record of producing new music of its own was far from convincing. Richard Strauss was undoubtedly the best-known German composer during the Third Reich, but the Nazis took particular exception to the fact that his son had married a woman whom they classified as Jewish. In 1938, when Austria, where he and his family were domiciled, was incorporated into the Reich, stormtroopers specifically targeted his Jewish daughter-in-law Alice in the pogrom of 9- 10 November 1938, harassing her mercilessly and raiding her house. Strauss’s protests and his good relations with Baldur von Schirach, the Regional Leader of Vienna, a personal friend of the Strauss family through his upbringing as the son of a theatre director in Weimar, bore some fruit, but the composer was unable to prevent Alice’s grandmother from being deported to Theresienstadt. Strauss drove up in his limousine to the camp gates, where he grandly announced: ‘I am the composer Richard Strauss.’ Sceptical guards turned him away. The grandmother died, along with twenty-five other Jewish relatives of Strauss’s daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, at Goebbels’s prompting, the Gestapo raided Alice’s home and took her off to interrogation with her husband, whom they put under pressure to divorce her. He stood firm. Repeated letters from the composer to Himmler and others failed to achieve clarity about the inheritance that he wished to pass on to his half-Jewish grandsons. Strauss was still the most frequently performed living opera composer in Germany in 1942, but he lived under straitened circumstances, he was no longer - unlike some other prominent musicians - privileged by the regime, and he had to contend with the constant threat to the life of his daughter-in-law and his grandsons.154

The true nature of the composer’s relationship with the regime was brutally revealed at a meeting of leading composers with Goebbels on 28 February 1941, at which Strauss attempted to persuade the Propaganda Minister to rescind a recent decision to reduce copyright payments to serious composers in favour of rewarding the writers of more frequently performed light music like that of Hitler’s favourite Franz Lehár, whose work Strauss dismissed out of hand, with something like their full income. Goebbels had an incriminating sentence from Strauss’s letter to his librettist Stefan Zweig of 17 June 1933, criticizing the regime, read out loud, then shouted at Strauss: ‘Be quiet, and take note that you have no idea of who you are and who I am! Lehár has the masses, you don’t! Stop babbling about the significance of serious music! This will not revalue your stock! Tomorrow’s culture is different from that of yesterday! You, Herr Strauss, are of yesterday!’155 In 1943, Strauss got into further trouble because he refused to accommodate evacuees in his home. When he refused again the following year, Goebbels tried to have his operas banned. He was overruled by Hitler. But the composer’s eightieth birthday in June was studiously ignored by the regime and the Party. He had become something of an unperson.

The second most popular German composer in the concert-halls, Hans Pfitzner, fared little better. Curmudegonly and self-pitying, he complained in March 1942 that the regime was behaving as if he did not exist, ‘and it’s not a good sign for this Germany that important positions are filled by men of decidedly inferior character and intelligence and nobody looks to me for them even once.’156 He found sympathy not in Germany but in occupied Poland, where Regional Leader Greiser awarded him the Wartheland Prize, worth 20,000 Reichsmarks, and General Governor Frank invited Pfitzner to conduct a special concert of his own and other music in Cracow in May 1942. Invited again the following year, he was so pleased that he wrote a special six-minute ‘Cracow Greeting’ for the occasion. Pfitzner survived the war, dying in an old people’s home in Salzburg in 1949, at the age of eighty.157 More successful by far was Werner Egk, who had won Hitler’s approval during the 1930s for work that echoed Nazi ideological themes, even if it was written in a distinctly modern style. His opera Peer Gynt was played in numerous German opera houses in 1939-40, in Prague in 1941 and at the Paris Opera in 1943. By this time Egk was heading the composers’ division of the Reich Music Chamber and earning 40,000 Reichsmarks a year. A new stage work, Columbus, could clearly be understood as drawing a parallel between the European conquest of America and the creation of the German empire in the east. In February 1943 he wrote in the Racial Observer that he was confident that Germany would win the war, achieving after it was over a ‘marriage between idealistic politics and realistic art’.158 By contrast the stock of Carl Orff, whose Carmina Burana had been a sensational success on its first performance in 1937, went down during the war. His opera The Wise Woman, first performed in February 1943, was received with much less enthusiasm. Was it for such culture, asked a critic after the work opened in Graz in March 1944, that German soldiers were sacrificing themselves at the front? At the second performance the local Nazis turned up and greeted the piece with a chorus of whistling. But Orff’s later claims that the opera was a bold act of resistance to Nazi tyranny lacked all plausibility: the libretto’s denunciation of tyranny and injustice was put in the mouth not of heroic figures but of a chorus of villains and good-for-nothings, and was clearly intended to be understood ironically. 159

In the end, little music of any value was composed in Germany during the war years. The most powerful compositions came from an entirely different source: the Jewish composers imprisoned in Theresienstadt. Besides Viktor Ullmann and Kurt Gerron, many other inmates wrote and performed music in a variety of genres during the brief years of the camp’s existence. Some of the most moving of these compositions were by Ilse Weber, who wrote both music and lyrics and sang them, accompanying herself on a guitar, as she did her night rounds in the children’s ward of the camp hospital, carrying out her duties as a nurse. Born in 1903, Weber had worked as a writer and radio producer in Prague before her deportation in 1942. Her husband and younger son were in the camp with her; they had succeeded in getting their older son to safety in Sweden. The popular songs of Zarah Leander and Lale Andersen spoke of the time when friends, relatives, partners and lovers would see one another again: Weber’s songs harboured no such illusions:

Farewell, my friend, we have come to the end

Of the journey we took together.

They’ve found me a place on the Poland express,

And now I must leave you for ever.

You were loyal and true, you helped me get through,

You stood by my side in all weather.

Just feeling you near would quiet every fear,

We bore all our burdens together.

Farewell, it’s the end; I’ll miss you, my friend,

And the hours we spent together.

I gave you my heart; stay strong when we part,

For this time our farewell’s for ever .160

The warm simplicity of her settings was never more moving than in her lullaby ‘Viegala’, which she reportedly sang to children from the camp, including her son Tommy, as she accompanied them voluntarily into the gas chamber at Auschwitz on 6 October 1944: ‘Viegala, viegala, vill: now is the world so still! No sound disturbs the lovely peace: my little child, now go to sleep.’161


Theresienstadt and other camps and ghettos did not, it was thought, present suitable subjects for the German painters and sculptors who were at work during the wartime years. Heroic war was what Goebbels and the Reich Chamber of Culture wanted artists to depict.162 The fourth Great German Art Exhibition, opened by the Propaganda Minister in 1940, devoted a number of rooms to war art, and battle scenes now took pride of place amongst the 1,397 works by 751 artists displayed in the show. War, as one commentator noted, ‘is a great challenger. German visual arts have met the challenge.’163 Opening the 1942 exhibition, Hitler reminded his listeners that ‘German artists too have been called upon to serve the homeland and the front.’164 Those who visited the exhibitions mounted during the war years, or saw newsreel reports on them in the cinema, could admire pictures such as The Flame-Throwers by Rudolf Liepus, Sniper Aiming a Rifle by Gisbert Palmié, or Lookout on a U-boat by Rudolf Hausknecht. Forty-five official war artists were appointed by a committee under Luitpold Adam, who had already served as a war artist in 1914-18; by 1944 there were eighty artists on his staff. The artists were attached to units of the armed forces, they were paid a salary, and their paintings and drawings became the property of the government. Special touring exhibitions of their work were sent round Germany to demonstrate the undiminished creativity of German culture in time of war. The artists themselves, indeed, were regarded as soldiers: ‘Only a soldier-like character,’ as one commentator remarked in 1942, ‘filled with intense feelings, is able to transmit the experience of war in artistic form.’165

War artists employed a variety of techniques, and some of them painted landscape scenes that were a world away from the realities of war. Franz Junghans’s Sunset on the Duna River (1942), for example, was almost abstract in its use of colours merging into one another over the flat and featureless landscape. Olaf Jordan’s Two Russian Prisoners of the Germans portrayed its subjects with some sympathy and compassion, while Wolfgang Willrich’s sketch of a Bavarian villager serving on the Eastern Front showed more of the peasant than the soldier in his rough, humorous features. But the great majority of the war artists’ paintings depicted optimistic scenes of heroic soldiers gazing defiantly at the enemy, manning their machine-gun posts, or leading the troops onwards with gestures that implicitly included the spectator, and thus the whole German people, in their invitation to join the assault. The paintings of one of the most popular war artists, Elk Eber, whose work was endlessly reproduced in propaganda magazines, ‘had’, as an obituary in the Racial Observer noted in 1941, ‘basically only one theme: the soldierly, heroic masculinity of our time’.166 Eber’s The Dispatch Courier was a particular favourite, often shown on postcards: it showed a steel-helmeted soldier, his rifle slung horizontally across his back, rushing heroically out of a foxhole, determination mingled with enjoyment of his role stamped on his features. Whatever they depicted, however, the war artists made sure to avoid displaying the horrors of battle. There were no wounded, no dead bodies, no soldiers with missing limbs, there was no blood, no suffering, indeed almost no real violence at all in their works. The contrast to the gut-wrenching pictures painted by anti-war German artists in 1914-18 was noted with approval. The new work was eminently suitable for use in schools, it was agreed. ‘Show the pupils the pictures of soldiers painted by Erler or Spiegel,’ remarked one commentator, ‘compare them with the vulgar and horrid works by Dix or Grosz. Every pupil will recognise immediately what decadent art is . . . The strength of the real artist is in his blood, which leads him to heroism.’167

The leading German artist of the war years, however, was not a painter but a sculptor. Arno Breker had already created a number of monumental, aggressive and militaristic figures before the war.168 His European reputation was considerable. In 1941 Hitler persuaded a group of French artists, including André Derain, Kees van Dongen and Maurice Vlaminck, to visit him in his studio. One of their number, the director of the École des Beaux-Arts, wrote on his return in glowing terms of the way in which ‘a great country honours its artists and their work, its intellectual culture and the dignity of human existence’.169 Breker seemed the ideal subject for a major retrospective, which was held in April 1942 not in Berlin but in occupied Paris. Jean Cocteau wrote a fulsome introduction to the catalogue, praising him as a worthy successor to Michelangelo.170 Knowing his high standing with Hitler, prominent Nazis vied with each other for his friendship, and he was on good terms not only with Hermann Goring and Joseph Goebbels but also with Heinrich Himmler, who discussed with him commissions to adorn various premises of the SS with his work. In April 1941 Breker was appointed Vice-President of the Reich Chamber for the Visual Arts. He played a key role in Speer’s plans for the reconstruction of Berlin, and Speer set him up with what was virtually a factory to produce his sculptures, bas-reliefs and other three-dimensional objects, subsidizing it with vast sums of money. Hitler told his companions at dinner one night that Breker deserved an income of a million Reichsmarks a year, and Martin Bormann gave him a tax-free honorarium of 250,000 Reichsmarks in April 1942. Hitler and Speer paid for the refurbishment of his castle near the river Oder, where Breker advertised his privileged status by displaying his collection of paintings by Léger, Picasso and other artists officially regarded as ‘degenerate’ on the walls. The German ambassador in Paris put the confiscated house of the Jewish cosmetics manufacturer Helena Rubinstein at his disposal, and Breker spent a good deal of his substantial income on buying up works by Rodin and other artists as well as quantities of fine wines, books and perfume.171

Breker was far from being alone in his avid pursuit of paintings, sculptures and other cultural objects in the occupied countries. Indeed, he was heavily outclassed in this respect by Hitler and Goring. Both were wealthy men by the time the war broke out.172 Hermann Goring owned ten houses, castles and hunting lodges, all provided and maintained at the taxpayer’s expense. In all these locations, and particularly in his vast and ever-expanding principal hunting lodge at Carinhall, named after his first wife, Goring wanted to display artworks, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and much else besides, to emphasize his status as the Reich’s second man. Goring spent large sums of money on acquiring cultural objects of all kinds, using whatever means he could.173 By contrast, Hitler himself made a point of avoiding ostentatious displays of personal wealth, preferring instead to accumulate an art collection for public use. Hitler had long planned to turn his home town of Linz, in Austria, into the cultural capital of the new Reich, even drawing sketches for the new public buildings and museums he hoped to construct there. Linz would become the German Florence, with a comprehensive collection above all of Germanic art housed in a range of purpose-built galleries and museums. Berlin, too, had to have art museums suitable for its new status as the coming capital of the world. On 26 June 1939 Hitler engaged the services of an art historian, Hans Posse, a museum director in Dresden, to amass the collection he needed for this purpose. Posse was provided with almost limitless funds, and by the middle of the war he was acquiring art objects from all over German-occupied Europe, amassing an almost incredible total of more than 8,000 by 1945. Armed with full powers from Hitler, he was able to outbid or outmanoeuvre other agents, such as Kajetan Mühlmann, who were working for Goring, or for other major German museums, or indeed for themselves. By December 1944, Posse and the man who succeeded him shortly after Posse’s death from cancer in December 1942, Hermann Voss, director of the Wiesbaden Museum, had spent a total of 70 million Reichsmarks on buying for the Linz collection. Not surprisingly, dealers used by Hitler and Posse, such as Karl Haberstock, made considerable profits out of their business.174

This spending spree did not take place in normal art market conditions. Many countries for example had rules and regulations controlling the export of art treasures, but during the war Hitler was easily able to ignore them or brush them aside. Moreover, the high prices offered in many cases for the old German Masters he wanted for the Linz Museum were not quite what they seemed, at least not from 1940 onwards, since the Germans fixed exchange rates with the French franc and other currencies in occupied countries at rates that were extraordinarily favourable to the German Reichsmark. But in many cases it was not necessary to spend any money at all. Artworks had already been confiscated from German-Jewish collectors in large quantities, especially after the pogrom of 9-10 November 1938, allegedly for ‘safe-keeping’; they were registered and subsequently appropriated by the German state. A precedent had been set in March 1938 with the invasion of Austria. Here as in other occupied countries, Jewish emigrants had to leave their assets behind if they emigrated, to be taken over by the Reich. After the conquest of France in 1940 the property of citizens who had fled the country also fell to the German Reich; the same applied eventually to all Jews deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps in the east from every occupied country in Europe, offering widespread opportunities for plunder.175

Looting extended far beyond the expropriation of the Jews when the Nazis invaded countries inhabited by people they regarded as subhuman, uncultured Slavs. Already during the invasion of Poland, German troops ransacked country houses and palaces for cultural objects of all kinds. Soon, however, the despoliation of Poland’s cultural heritage was put on an organized basis. Kajetan Mühlmann, who had previously carried out similar duties in Vienna, was put in charge of the process. By the end of November 1940 the registration was complete, and Posse arrived to select prime specimens for the Leader. He was followed in due course by art museum directors from Germany, anxious for their share in the spoils. Quarrels broke out, as Hermann Goring tried to obtain pictures for himself while Hans Frank objected to the removal of prize loot from his headquarters. Perhaps this was not such a bad idea, however, since Frank had no idea of how to display or preserve Old Masters, and was once reprimanded by Mühlmann for hanging a painting by Leonardo da Vinci above a radiator. Private collections were ransacked as well as state museums, and the vast collection amassed by the Czartoryski family, including a Rembrandt and a Raphael, was systematically despoiled.176 Meanwhile Hans Frank was busy decorating his headquarters with looted artworks, and shipping trophies back to his home in Bavaria. When American troops arrived there in 1945, they found a Rembrandt, a Leonardo, a fourteenth-century Madonna from Cracow, and looted vestments and chalices from Polish churches.177

This process of looting and expropriation was repeated on an even larger scale when Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. As in Poland, ethnic cleansing was accompanied by cultural cleansing. Special units were attached to the incoming SS forces, armed with lists of ‘Germanic’ art for confiscation and shipping back to the Reich. Among the most famous of these items was the celebrated amber room given to Peter the Great by King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia and subsequently augmented by further gifts from his successor. The Soviets had taken away all the furniture and movable items but left the amber panelling in place, and the room, installed in the Catherine Palace in the town of Pushkin, was dismantled and returned to Königsberg in East Prussia, where it was put on display until being packed away for protection against air raids. The Soviets of course had removed many cultural treasures out of reach of the invading armies, there were no great private collections left in the Soviet Union, since all had been confiscated by the Communist state, and the Germans never managed to conquer Moscow or St Petersburg; but much still remained to be looted; 279 paintings were carried off from Kharkov alone, for example, and Himmler requisitioned considerable quantities of artworks to decorate and furnish the SS’s headquarters at Wewelsburg. Individuals could often pick up treasures at bargain rates: one SS officer sent Himmler a collection of antique jewellery he had bought from the widow of a Soviet archaeologist, starving in war-torn Kiev, for 8 kilograms of millet.178

The greatest art treasures, however, were to be found in the conquered countries of Western Europe. On 5 July 1940 Hitler commissioned a subsection of Alfred Rosenberg’s Foreign Policy Office of the Nazi Party, the Task Staff of Reich Leader Rosenberg, to collect artworks from Jewish owners and confiscate anti-German material along with any documents that might be valuable for Reich. Based initially in Paris, and backed by the authority of Hitler himself, Rosenberg’s unit quickly took the lead in the rush to acquire cultural objects for the Linz Museum and other collections. On 1 March 1941 it relocated to Berlin, from where it sent out emissaries to supervise the spoliation of museums and libraries in the east in the wake of Operation Barbarossa. By the time Rosenberg’s staff arrived in Holland in September 1940, however, Kajetan Mühlmann was already there, as was Hermann Göring’s art curator, Walter Andreas Hofer. Hitler authorized Hans Posse to go to Holland on 13 June 1940, and Hermann Goring travelled to Amsterdam in person. A frenzy of competitive buying ensued, and large quantities of actual or alleged German artworks made their way from Dutch collectors, dealers and museums to repositories in the Reich. Mühlmann’s team tracked down collections taken to Holland by German-Jewish owners fleeing persecution in the 1930s, and confiscated them. A 1669 self-portrait by Rembrandt was among a number of works sent back to Germany on the grounds that they had been illegally exported: no compensation was given to Jewish owners of such works. In addition, the artworks of Jews who had fled the country to take refuge in England were confiscated, and crates of artworks about to be shipped abroad were opened and the contents removed and confiscated.179

Even richer pickings were to be had in France. On 30 June 1940 Hitler ordered that art objects owned by the French state were to be put under German guard. Ambassador Abetz prepared to seize artworks in large quantities, telling the military that Hitler or Ribbentrop would decide what was to be taken to Germany. The latter category included works looted by Napoleon from the Rhineland, already listed in a 300-page document drawn up by German art historians touring French museums and libraries in the 1930s posing as academic researchers. But the army command had employed its own art historian, the Francophile Count Franz Wolff-Metternich, who persuaded the military authorities to withhold co-operation on the grounds that the 1907 Hague Convention forbade looting. Enlisting the support of army Commander-in-Chief Brauchitsch, he frustrated all Abetz’s attempts to sequester artworks in the ownership of the French state. With Jewish dealers and collectors, whose possessions Hitler had also ordered to be confiscated, matters stood very differently. The property of fifteen major Jewish dealers was seized, along with that of Jewish owners such as the Rothschilds, which was stored in the Jeu de Paumes, a small gallery used by the Louvre for temporary exhibitions. Rosenberg’s Task Staff arrived to administer the collection, and soon Hermann Goring too descended upon the museum, spending two days there selecting twenty-seven works by Rembrandt, van Dyck and others for his private collection. He prudently agreed, however, that Hitler was to have first choice of items from the Jeu de Paumes. Rosenberg and the German museums could have most of the rest. Everything had to be paid for and the profits made over to a fund for French war orphans. While Hans Posse, inspecting the list of works piled up at the museum, had fifty-three artworks taken off to Germany for eventual inclusion in the Linz Museum, Goring chose over 600 paintings, pieces of furniture and other items, which he had valued at very low prices if they were to go on display at Carinhall, or high prices if he intended to sell them. Goring peremptorily brushed aside Wolff-Metternich’s objections, and the army formally absolved itself of any further responsibility for the artworks.180

By the end of the war, Hitler’s own collection included 75 Lenbachs, 58 Stucks, 58 Kaulbachs, 52 Menzels and 44 Spitzwegs. Besides nineteenth-century German and Austrian painters, he also had 15 Rembrandts, 23 Breughels, 2 Vermeers, 15 Canalettos and paintings by Titian, Leonardo, Botticelli, Holbein, Cranach, Rubens and many others. Their rarity alone had prevented Hitler from purchasing works by Bosch, Grunewald and Dürer. He frequently referred to the works he had obtained, but he hardly ever saw them; they were all put into storage.181 So obsessed was he with the idea of the Linz Museum that he was to issue instructions for its foundation in his will. ‘I never bought the paintings that are in the collections that I built up over the years for my own benefit,’ he declared, ‘but only for the establishment of a gallery in my home town of Linz.’ In the end, however, Hitler’s fantasy of a world centre for Germanic art was in reality little more than a wish-fulfilment of his own rehabilitation as an artist, after the failures and humiliations of his years in Vienna before the First World War.182

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