Burns Library Acquires an Unusual Collection of Art Journals
Below are two statements by high-ranking, 20th-century politicos; to whom would you attribute these statements?
"We are in the hands of the food companies, whose economic clout and advertising make it possible for them to prescribe what we can and cannot eat. City folk, living through the winter largely on canned food, are already at their mercy, but now they attack the countryside with their refined flour, sugar, and white bread."
"Best of luck in your work to free humanity from one of its most dangerous poisons."
[In a message sent to a conference celebrating the creation of the Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research, the world's first anti-tobacco research establishment]
In which country were the following pioneered?
- Animal anti-vivisection laws
- State-sponsored cutting-edge cancer research
- Encouragement for regular health checkups, especially for early detection of cancer in women
- Laws that restricted the manufacture and advertising of tobacco and alcohol, and which were ultimately aimed at the elimination of their consumption
- Workplace environmental laws prescribing
- the maximal amounts of dust that were to be tolerated in factories
- spacious, natural-light filled workplaces with built-in facilities for regular exercise
- the minimal number of physicians to be present in workplaces
- Food reform laws that
- required by law that bakeries bake whole-grained breads
- encouraged a "natural" diet free from artificial colorings and preservatives, and that promoted
- high-fiber, low-fat foods
- soybean substitution for meat
- skim milk substitution for whole milk
- ultimately, a raw diet consisting only of fresh fruits and vegetables
All of the above points came about not just in Germany, but Germany during the rule of the National Socialists. The first quote is from Heinrich Himmler, and the second from Hitler himself.
How is one to assimilate such contradictory information? How can one of the most monstrous regimes in history have sponsored health reforms that we today might label as "progressive?" Does the preoccupation with nature and organicism lead to barbarism? These are the sorts of distressing moral questions that the collection the title of this article refers to provokes, and it is with these questions in mind that the following should be approached.
Recently the Burns Library acquired a run of 20 issues of a German art magazine published during the years directly prior and during World War II. While many academic journals continued during this time period, this was no ordinary journal: it was edited and published by the Central Press of the Nazi Party in Munich. Infamous high-ranking Nazis of the likes of Albert Speer and Fritz Todt were editors and, as we shall see, regular contributors. Moreover, a statement of responsibility on the title page indicates that the journal was "... edited ... for the monitoring of the entire spiritual and ideological training and education of the NSDAP" (i.e. the Nazi Party).
Yet, and perhaps despite its chilling purpose, the journal itself is remarkably free of obviously propagandistic articles, and there is scant mention, even in later issues, that a total war is going on that will utterly destroy Germany. What's going on here?
The journal was published in a large, 28 x 35 cm. format, with mostly black-and-white photos but also with color plates. It was sold in two versions ("Ausgaben"): Ausgabe A included only fine arts, while Ausgabe B also included a section entitled "Die Baukunst" - Architecture - and cost twice what Ausgabe A cost. Published from January 1937 (as Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, January 1937-August 1938) through - amazingly - August/September 1944, Burns Library holdings are comprised of Ausgabe B issues from January 1940 through December 1943.
Before proceeding it is well to remember that, once in power, the Nazis moved swiftly to take over all cultural institutions in Germany: education, music, literature, theater, and the fine arts. No effort was spared to bring every facet of life into compliance with Nazi ideology, which had as its base value a pseudo-biological outlook that was concerned with the preservation of, as they put it, "the German germ plasm." Hence the phrase referring to "spiritual and ideological training and education" on the title page.
Recall, too, that before WWI Hitler had been a bohemian youth in Vienna who had twice applied for - and twice been denied - entrance into the Viennese Academy of Art, and who had made a meager income by selling his watercolors as postcards. So a Nazi-edited art journal is not surprising, given Hitler's perception that art was to be a focal point for the revolutionizing of the German people.
Turning towards the individual issues themselves, each issue's fine arts section (Ausgabe A) would normally have articles on both illustration - drawing and painting - and the plastic arts of sculpture and ceramics. Every issue would feature an artist and his work, usually on his birthday; e.g. "Raffael Schuster-Woldan zum 70. Geburtstag des Kunstlers."
Still lifes and landscapes were two safe themes that painters could safely explore. Like their Soviet counterparts, artists working during the Nazi regime had to take the content of their work into consideration every time if they expected to work. Nothing that even hinted at an abstract theme - labeled by the Nazis as "degenerate" - would have been tolerated. The result for Die Kunst is that many of the full-color plates are, echoing Hannah Arendt's famous phrase, dull to the point of banality. For example, here is a canvas by the artist Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.
Occasionally preliminary sketches would be included in an extended look at the creative work of a given artist; to the left is one example.
Portraiture tended to fare better; here the topics were both more poignant and diverse. With but a few exceptions, portraiture was the only place that this journal admitted that a war was going on.
For example, the portrait of the sailor on the right is that of the highly-decorated U-boat captain, Günther Prien. Prien's boat went down, with all hands on board, on 7 March 1941.
The pensive look of the next portrait, also of a U-boat sailor, belies the danger of that branch of the Kriegsmarine: roughly 75% of Germany's submariners would perish during the war.
However most of the portraiture featured in Die Kunst was of a more prosaic nature, as the following images display:
Similarly, when one thinks of sculpture from this time period one thinks of propagandistic art of the sort done by Arno Breker, and one can indeed find such work in Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich.
That said, here too non-political, even sensitive work may be found, as illustrated in the following two images.
Because all of Burns' issues are from "Ausgabe B," each issue, at the back, featured another title called "Die Baukunst," literally "Architecture." The architecture section was as diverse as its preceding fine arts section, and featured photo-journalistic articles on a wide variety of topics, including interior design and furnishings, landscaping, and of course architecture. The latter included historical topics, such as essays on Spanish castles, as well as current and planned buildings.
Albert Speer was the editor and contributor to this section, and the below article, on the furniture of Paul Ludwig Troost (1879-1934) is a typical example of his work, and for that matter is also a typical example of the work of Troost - the architect featured - who was Hitler's favorite architect. Note the juxtaposition of the prosaic cabinet next to the chilling effect of the conference room.
The article presented below, about Reich Minister for Armaments and Ammunition Dr. Fritz Todt's autobahn, does not mention that this pre-war project was accomplished through the use of forced labor.
But perhaps the most compelling article in the entire corpus of this collection was a piece on the Heinkel factory in Oranienburg. Oranienburg, a town in the northeastern (Brandenburg) area of Germany, was the site not only of the Heinkel Werke, but also of a chemical factory that the Allies thought was manufacturing materiel for an atom bomb, a rail yard that served as a trans-shipment point for lines into the Eastern Front, as well as the infamous Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Like all of the pieces in this journal, what the articles don't say is as important - if not more so - than what they do.
Entitled Schönheit der Arbeit - the Beauty of Labor, the article focuses on ecological and environmental aspects of what was in the 1930s a new factory complex. This complex was a branch factory of the firm Ernst Heinkel Flugzeugwerke, the manufacturer of the He 111 twin-engined bomber used by the Luftwaffe in campaigns like the Battle of Britain and the Invasion of Poland. Images presented below focus on the well-lit by natural light buildings, the worker's village surrounding the factory, a school, and exercise facilities, including a gymnasium and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. All of this is in keeping with the ecological and preventative health initiatives supported by the National Socialists and very briefly outlined at the beginning of this review.
What this article does not say, however, is that the workers at the Heinkel Werke needed all of those recreational facilities to give them the strength they required to keep up with the demanding pace of pre-war armaments buildup. Such long hours were exacted that one German physician predicted that at that pace the German labor force would suffer a collective breakdown with worse implications than the anarchy that followed 1918.
Nor does it say that the physicians assigned to the Heinkel Werke were ensconced in the factory not only to care for the workers' health, but to report on any slackers. As in the Soviet Union, work in Nazi Germany was considered a duty, and slacking, or not working, or even not being able to work, were considered treasonous.
The title of this article then, in that sense, is telling: Schönheit der Arbeit. After Hitler and his party came to power in 1933 the free German labor unions were abolished and replaced by a National Socialist organization called the Deutsche Arbeitsfront Ė the German Labor Front. The Beauty of Labor was a branch of the DAF that was responsible for appeasing workers into conformity and unquestioned loyalty through programs designed to make the workplace more comfortable; this article was designed to show the success of that program by depicting the Heinkel Werke in Oranienburg as a model place to live and work.
At the beginning of this review I noted the morally ambiguous nature of Nazi Party health and ecological reforms. How could what seems to be good come out of what we know to have been one of the worst regimes in history? A partial answer, as illustrated in this journal, is that all of the health, environmental and ecological initiatives had, as an underlying purpose, the mobilization of German population for Hitler's murderous vision. As a Hitler Youth manual put it, "Nutrition is not a private matter!"
As a coda to this review, note the children gathered in front of the houses in the bottom left of the last photo. It is likely that many, if not most of them perished during the war. Allied bombers - USAAF B-17s and B-24s and RAF Lancasters - pounded Oranienburg mercilessly. As a consequence Oranienburg has more unexploded bombs in its soil than anywhere else in Germany, as this article describes. Beauty of Labor, indeed.