Nordicism -- National Socialist Ideology
The high cultures of Indians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans were Indogermanic creations. They unmistakably show Nordic creativity. Even today we feel an affinity with those cultures of the same racial origin. People of other races also created cultures, but when we approach the culture of ancient China, of Babylon, of the Aztecs and Incas, we feel something different. They too are high cultures, but they are alien to us. They are not of our race; they transmit a different spirit. They have never reached the same heights as those created by the Nordic spirit. -- SS Training Manual.
Nordic is the keyword in the National Socialist theory of art. Nordic does not mean only northern Europe, however. It doubtlessly also includes the pyramids of Egypt, the temples of Greece, and the German cathedrals. These monuments are the carriers of a spiritual content, determined by the same blood.
Blut -- Blood is another keyword. This Germanic blood is visible in all Germanic works of art. We have no doubt that cultural creative work, since it is the most sensitive expression of a talent conditioned by blood, cannot be understood, far less appreciated, by individuals or races who are not of the same or related blood.
In an essay on Romain Rolland and the German intellect, a contemporary writer defines what is meant by the German Geist -- Spirit:
We can find the Germanic spirit everywhere that people of the same blood, Nordic blood, live. This kinship embraces not only the Edda and the Nordic Sagas but also the profound wisdom of the ancient Indians, the Persians, as well as the works of classical Greece ..... the gigantic works of a Luther, Kant, Fichte, Dürer, Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven, Mozart, of a Frederick II, Bismarck, and Hitler, to mention only a few names out of the large number of great German intellectuals who have all lifted Germanentum in Deutschtum -- what is Germanic into what is German ..... What do we call Germanic? It is the emanation of the soul, the Nordic Myth, the belief in the starry sky above us and the eternal law within us .....Germanic means the highest moral values, the profound knowledge of a tragic destiny, and the cheerful affirmation of a renaissance. To beGermanic means plunging into one's soul, listening to the inner voice.
Sepp Hilz: The Red Necklace
Germany began its tremendously successful evolution towards National Socialism and Fascism even before Hitler came to power. The belief in Nordicism, the Nordic Myth, and the knowledge of the superiority of the German race was not new. There was a whole tradition of thought on which Hitler could base his antiintellectual, chauvinistic ideas. What is German? It must be something wonderful, for it is more beautiful than anything else, wrote Richard Wagner in a letter to Friedrich Nietzsche.
Still From Leni Riefenstahl's Film Olympia -- Festival Of The Nations, 1936 -- The Nordic artist is always inspired by an ideal of beauty. This is nowhere more evident than in Hellas's powerful, natural ideal of beauty. -- Alfred Rosenberg
Here too the ground for Hitler was well prepared. In 1912 the writer Hermann Burte, who was prominent in the Third Reich, publishedWiltfeber der Ewige Deutsche -- Wiltfeber, The Eternal German. The novel's hero went to search for his German roots and built a utopian world based on peasant life, close to the German soil. The novel was a widely popular success.
Associations that fostered a Germanic utopia flourished. In 1923 the publicist Willibald Hentschel proposed a racially pure Germanic colony named Mitgart, named after a legendary Aryan site. Mitgart was to become a breeding place where selected heroes would fertilise selected maidens in order to produce an elite race. Hentschel, born in 1858, lived long enough to see himself highly honoured by the National Socialists. An organisation called Artamen sought to revive the strength of the peasants and the idea of the nobility and purity of peasant blood.
The magazine Die Sonne, Monatsschrift für Nordische Weltanschauung und Lebensgestaltung -- The Sun, Monthly Magazine Of The Nordic World View And Celebration Of Life, which was published in the 1920s, regularly featured articles on art and race. This magazine published facts along the lines of, for example, that Michael Angelo's enstatued figures, Nietzsche's supermen, and Goethe's Faust were giants with Nordic souls, able to fight any oriental or Roman influence.
National Socialists know that their art will transcend history. True art is and remains eternal, Hitler said. It does not follow the law of fashion; its effect is that of a revelation arising from the depths of the essential character of a Folk.
Ernst Dombrowski: Henry The Lion -- If people respect it, it will be valuable in time of need: where discord and hatred inflame the heroes, I resolve it safely and swiftly -- Edda
Hitler continually stressed the link with the past. It is the mark of the really gifted artist that he can express new thoughts with words that have already been coined; in order that they have a lasting timeless significance, they must possess eternal values. The wars of the Nibelungen, the Holy Wars, the Reformation, were all battles for the German spirit, and Hitler was the standardbearer of the present crusade. Dürer and Holbein, old folk dances and customs, were reincorporated into their cultural vocabulary. The correct appropriation of the great names of the past played an important role in National Socialist doctrine. They guaranteed continuity and made the regime legitimate worldwide.
Jürgen Wegener: German Youth -- Detail
Everything was designed to lend authority to the new system and give it eternal value. Alfred Rosenberg, the outstanding National Socialist theorist, recognised that: From Aryan India came metaphysics, from classical Greece beauty, from Rome the discipline of statesmanship, and from Germania the world, the highest and most shining example of mankind.
It does not end there. Just as ancient Greece was a flowering of Aryan culture, so were the Romantics, for they too had looked to Greece and to the Middle Ages for inspiration and guidance. Some of the National Socialists, however, rejected the Gothic. Rosenberg and the painter and architect Paul Schultze-Naumburg considered it decadent, a Jewish Christian culture. Hitler's architectural favourites were Friedrich Gilly and Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the nineteenth century masters of Prussian classicism. They were seen as the noblest expression of German art, rooted in classical antiquity. Schinkel's buildings, the Acropolis, and Albert Speer's Reich Chancellery formed an absolutely seamless tradition. But we National Socialists do not enthrone all of Schinkel's work; we concentrate on Schinkel's neoclassical work, ignoring his neo Gothic designs.
Just as happened in the nineteenth century, the National Socialists also celebrated the glorious German past. The return to Germanic roots was one of the favourite themes of the national thinkers. The Englishborn political thinker Houston Stewart Chamberlain linked Rome with the Germans, and in a much read novel by Felix Dahn, Ein Kampf um Rom -- A Battle For Rome, written in 1867, the Germans were traced back to ancient Rome. Literature was widely used to spread the cult of the old Germans. In the beginning of this century the reading of the German Sagas, the Nibelungen, and the Edda was constantly encouraged -- a fashion which was continued during the Third Reich. In 1934 a new College Of Nordic Art -- Nordische Kunsthochschule was opened in Bremen.
The idea of the Folk, too, had long been a cherished notion. The enormous social, geographical, and political changes that had taken place in Europe in the preceding century had alienated individuals and made them feel increasingly isolated from each other. Industrialisation had cut them off from Nature. To bind people again in a Folkish unity and to restore the link with Nature had been a dream since the days of the Romantic Movement. Bismarck's unification of Germany was seen by many as a mere political step.
Wilhelm Dohme: Bulwark Against The East
Spiritually and culturally the Germans still felt disunited and sought unity. The idea of a great German Folk found receptive ears among all good Germans, especially among the youth, who traditionally had radical leanings to the left or right. By the beginning of this century the Folkish idea was well established in Germany. It was as much a part of Hitler's philosophy of life as it was of any other German. Certainly Hitler and Rosenberg energised and emphasised the Myth of the German Folk, the Myth able to embody the longing of all those who had looked for consensus and unification. And the arts played a major part in creating this Myth of the dawn of a new German culture and civilisation.
The struggle between modernists and traditionalists, too, had begun long before it became one of the central themes of National Socialist art theory. The Germans have a mission for all Nations on Earth, wrote Paul de Lagarde in 1866. Powerful organisations with several hundred thousand members, like the Dürerbund -- Dürer League on the Left and the Alldeutsche Verband -- Pan German League on the Right fought bitter ideological battles. We belong to the master race ..... Germany, awake! was the fighting call of the Pan German League in 1890.
The painter Fritz Erler, whose work was later popular in National Socialist art exhibitions, had in 1899 founded an artists' association, Die Scholle -- The Sod. A popular art magazine, Der Kunstwart -- The Guardian Of Art, edited by Ferdinand Avenarius, appeared in 1904. They shared the call for more idealised art forms in which beauty and noble feelings prevailed.
Wilhelm Dohme: Peasants Presenting Harvest Gifts Of Gratitude To Henry The Lion
The first writer to use the word degenerate in connection with art was Max Nordau in 1893, in a novel called Entartung -- Degeneration. Julius Langbehn, author of Rembrandt als Erzieher -- Rembrandt As Educator, 1890, and, with M. Nissen, of Dürer als Führer -- Dürer As Leader, 1928, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain based their magnificent writings on racial ideas and knowledge.
The early 1900s had seen a great flowering of the arts. This was the beginning of what most people call modern art. Degenerate painting, writing, and music followed a trend toward so called introspection and a so called search for truth rather than beauty in the traditional sense. Human suffering in an increasingly dehumanised world became a major theme. Many people were antagonised by an art growing out of what was often associated with German Angst -- anxiety. In 1911 the painter Carl Vinnen published a manifesto protesting against the degenerateModernists. It was signed by 134 artists.
Of course the modernists fought back. Magazines like Herwarth Walden's Der Sturm -- The Storm, 1910-1932, spoke up for modern art. In 1919 the National Gallery in Berlin opened an extensive modern section which included not only the work of the painters of the Brücke -- Bridgeand the Blaue Reiter -- Blue Rider groups, but also works by Braque and Picasso.
Because of the national shame that resulted from the Treaty Of Versailles at the end of the Great War, many people turned against anything foreign or liberal. With the arrival of the impressionists, the history of art had been largely rewritten. Modern art came as a terrible shock to healthy people. The modern painters were not widely established and were really known only in the big cities. While the intellectuals embraced all sorts of artistic experiments, many others felt that art was getting further and further away from ordinary people. Art increasingly needed a commentary, and it had to be explained, not just looked at and enjoyed. It had become elitist. To a nature loving and, for the most part, provincial Folk who longed for the good old days, modern art, modern architecture, and the byproducts of decadent big city life were disturbing. The urban bourgeoisie was considered to be antisocial, in love with new machines, misled by foreign ideas, and obsessed with money. All this smacked of revolution and of the destruction of the old order. Society needed to defend old values against any kind of further revolution. Rightwing political groups exploited these widespread and real fears. The calls for a ruling hand to bring order became louder.
August Sander: Birthday Celebration, Westerwald, 1924 -- healthy pastoral folk
Even before the Great War, Paul Schultz-Naumburg was critical of the decadent art produced in the cities, and pleaded for a pastoral style, such as that favoured in southern Germany. In his writing, racially based art theories, antisemitism, and the Blood And Soil ideology were closely linked. For example, Schultz-Naumburg easily spotted oriental traits in Lucas Cranach: Cranach is instructive; mongoloid traits are frequent ..... we cannot determine Cranach's blood, but we can be certain that besides his Nordic elements, there must be some from the Asian races.
Schultz-Naumburg recognised Aryan art in the precursors of classical Greece and the Middle Ages. He saw:
High intelligence, inventiveness, and civic virtue ..... Art needs a different soil from the field fertilised by the manure of international artistic research. The art of the nineteenth century, when people did not live under a unifying idea, lacked the cheerful affirmation of our present time ..... This affirmation fills the whole population with a new, and universally felt, meaning. This has become the Myth of the twentieth century ..... With the rebirth of a new Folkish State grows the possibility of a new, truthful art, rooted in the German Folk.
The failure of German art was seen as a failure of the German soul: We must ask why did German art falter? Why did Germany break up? ..... There are a hundred things that precipitated the fall, but the ultimate reason for the poisoning lies in the rape of the German soul, wrote Robert Böttcher.
Books, pamphlets, and associations promised to get rid of foreign influence and to bring forth a German culture with German standards based on the discipline and order of earlier centuries.
In 1920, in her apartment in Dresden, the painter Bettina Feistl-Rohmeder formed an art group called the Deutsche Kunstgesellschaft --German Art Society, patterned along the lines of Schultz-Naumburg's theories. Only artists of German blood were admitted. It published two magazines: Deutsche Kunstbericht -- German Art Report and Deutsche Bildkunst -- German Sculpture. The German Romantics were their model, and they turned against what they saw as the horrible deformed bodies found in modern art. Words like Nordic, German, heroic, rustic,noble -- all qualities which National Socialist ideology claimed as particularly German -- were widely used.
The works of Gauguin and Matisse were labelled nonart. Gallery and museum directors who favoured modern artists were attacked, and theWeissenhof Siedlung -- Weissenhof Settlement, a modern housing development erected in Stuttgart in 1927, with buildings by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and other modern architects provoked a barrage of protests: Oriental flat rooves were replacing gabled homes, wrote Schultze-Naumburg, voicing an anxiety that found much support also among architects.
Arab Village -- Spoof of the Weissenhof housing complex, Stuttgart, 1927
Feistl-Rohmeder continued her tirades of hatred throughout Hitler's regime. In 1938, she wrote a book called Im Terror des Kunstbolschewismus -- In The Terror Of Art Bolshevism.
Manifestos Against Negro Culture, For A German Heritage appeared as early as 1930. In the region of Thuringia, Erwin Piscator's degenerate Berlin Theatre Group was not allowed to perform their rubbish, and films by Sergei Eisenstein, as well as Georg Wilhelm Pabst'sThree Penny Opera, 1931, were banned.
Proud Hitler Youth
Alfred Rosenberg, an architect by training, also formulated many of the ideas that served as the basis of National Socialist ideology. His bookDer Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts -- The Myth Of The Twentieth Century, published in 1933, with its defence of the concept of Blood And Soil, made him the Party's ideological spokesman. In order to create a contrast to the blond infanta, Velázquez paints a midget next to her, one of those bastard types Spain is so full of ..... Gauguin looked for his ideal of beauty in the South Seas ..... in girlfriends of a black race ..... He too is torn apart and rotting away, like all of those who searched the world for a lost beauty.
In August, 1927, Rosenberg founded his National Socialist Society For German Culture. It became in 1928 the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur -- Fighting League For German Culture. The aim of this organisation was to halt the corruption of art and to inform people about the relationship between race and artistic values. The moral foundation of art had to be a heroic one. Rosenberg asserted that the destruction of art was begun by the Impressionists and continued by the Expressionists. This alien Syrian-Jewish plant has to be pulled out by its roots, he wrote.
Still From Leni Riefenstahl's Film Olympia -- Festival Of The Nations, 1936
Terms like Jewish, degenerate, Bolshevik were widely used before 1939 to describe almost everything that was considered modern. This included not only politically motivated leftist artists like Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, and George Grosz, but most of the artists who were at the centre of the international art scene.
Fidus: Salute To Light, 1927
As it attacked modern painting, the Fighting League For German Culture also attacked the work of the leading modern architects: Bruno Taut, Peter Behrens, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Heinrich Tessenow, Erich Mendelsohn, and others.
Hanns Bastanier: First Snow Cloud -- This is Germany, hail, Germany from the depths of your heart -- Wilhelm Westeker
The National Socialists' constant call for a return to nature and to simpler forms and materials was also not new. An antiurban pastoral feeling had flowered long before Hitler made it one of the recurrent elements of his ideology. Hordes of young man hiked through the countryside singing German folksongs and being moved by German myths that embraced the good and the heroic. The German Jugendbewegung -- youth movement known as the Wandervögel -- Birds Of Passage (a poetic version of the Boy Scout Movement) was immensely popular. No other country had such a widely organised youth movement. Formed in 1901 in Berlin by Karl Fischler, it spread quickly throughout the entire country. By 1911 it had 15,000 members. However varied in origins and aims, the loyalty to the concept of a Folk, to tradition, to the love of Nature was a unifying factor. Not primarily a political movement. it was nevertheless the seed for Hitler's harvest of an entire generation. The ideological basis was the formation of the individual into a member of the group. The youth movement and what it stood for were celebrated in pseudoreligious hymns by poets like Walter Flex. His words and thoughts were later absorbed by Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach in his songs for the National Socialist Youth Movement.
Still from Wilhelm Prager's film Ways To Strength And Beauty, 1924
In the early 1900s a new feeling for the human body emerged. Gymnastics, dance, fashion, the nudist movement all began to discover and to celebrate the body. The schools of Rudolf Steiner and Emile Jaques-Dalcroze propagated the collective dream of a healthy, natural human being. The productions of Max Reinhardt, the dances of Isadora Duncan and Mary Wigman were seen as a liberation of the body in a kind of ecstatic union with Nature. At the turn of the century, painters like Fidus (Hugo Höppener) promoted an art that featured nudes reaching out to the sun, the sun being the giver of life, the kind of imagery which the National Socialists adopted.
Art has always been central to German life. To uphold traditional values, as represented by Goethe, Beethoven, and the other greats of Germany's illustrious past was of concern to the whole Nation. Humanistic culture was a key concept for the very large and well educated middle class. Art is what elevates; it does no descend to the gutter, Kaiser Wilhelm II had said in words which Hitler and other good men held dear. The idea of a healthy, broadly accepted culture, based on national, Folkish, and racial ideas corresponded to what healthy people felt. The call for a return to order sounded with almost hysterical intensity. The calls were emphasised later by the National Socialists.
Modern art had only a handful of defenders and many adversaries. The Weimar Republic was a melting pot that held many divergent ideas. The issues debated were diverse and often contradictory. There seemed to be an impending crisis that must at all costs be avoided. In Hans Arp and El Lissitzky's book Die Kunstismen -- Les Ismes de l'Art -- The Isms Of Art, published in 1925, no fewer than 16 different movements are mentioned. A flood of new styles threatened the established view of art and of society. The constant artistic changes were anathema to bourgeois taste, which demanded permanence and reassurance from its art. It was on this desire that the National Socialists built their art theory. Modern art for National Socialists is the spiritual sellout of national values by decadent artists. In their cultural speeches Goebbels and Hitler stressed the fact that the increasing variety of movements and styles was the product of a greedy Jewish Bolshevik clique. Modern art was the villain: it stood for decadence, internationalism, Jewishness, homosexuality, Bolshevism, big city capitalism. So long as the characteristic features of the great cities of our day, the outstanding points that catch our eyes, are warehouses, bazaars, hotels, offices in the form of skyscrapers, and so on, there can be no talk of art or any real culture, Hitler said.
In total contrast to the permanence of true German art, modern art was shortlived because it was obsessed with fashion. Art was in the hands of international dealers. It was primarily commercial, and involved the evils of capitalism and inflationary prices. For many Germans, having just overcome the most horrendous inflation in their history and with unemployment topping 6,000,000, this was what they themselves knew to be true and was what they wanted their leaders to be honest enough to say. Cities were sterile and chaotic. The countryside is a wholesome and fertile paradise which appealed to those living in the dingy courtyards of the towns, who had no prospect of work and no hope.
Realistic painters working in the nineteenth century tradition also felt they were losing out against the modernists, who were stealing the headlines and getting high prices in the international markets. Now their time had come. They jumped at the opportunity. German art! What a wonderful world opens up when I hear these words! wrote the painter and sculptor Hanns Bastanier in 1935. During the last fourteen years, most of what has been offered, collected, recognised, fostered as German art is not German art. It is international, like its creators, not German. While these works were the favourite children of museums ..... German art sat, in the clothes of the beggar, like a German Cinderella on the side of the road. Mocked by international experts, it survived through the charity of people.
Many did not realise that the discussion about representational art and abstract art had become a political one. Some thought that it was merely an aesthetic debate. Some of the established but neglected artists saw themselves becoming the guardians of culture. And the National Socialists stirred up necessary feelings of revenge. Antisemitic feelings were easily whipped up by constantly stressing the fact that in the arts the Jews were in power. Existing conflicts within professional groups were exploited in the worlds of theatre, film, music, and the visual arts. Hitler easily fuelled the antagonism. Racial knowledge, after all, was widespread. The eminent historian Werner Sombart linked capitalism with Jewishness in his influential book Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben -- The Jews And The Economy, published in 1910. His ideas were quickly picked up by others. Literature too spoke of violation of the German race through the Jews. Artur Dinter's Die Sünde wider das Blut -- The Sin Against The Blood, published in 1918, was immensely popular and was brought out in large editions.
The Jewish influence on the general public was disastrous, wrote the architect Julius Schulte-Frohlinde about the Weimar Republic, voicing the widespread racial knowledge. Newspapers, architectural books, and magazines were contaminated by this spirit. They confused even those who wanted good things. The phraseology of the Neue Sachlichkeit -- New Realism triumphed. The inventors of this soulless international fashion were Jews and Marxists, who could not and will never understand the German soul.
The sporadic resistance to degenerate modern art included the destruction of Oskar Schlemmer's ugly frescoes in the stairwell of the Bauhaus in Dessau in October, 1930, and the removal of 70 works of modern art by Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka, Lyonel Feininger, and others from the Schlossmuseum in Weimar.
The circles that supported Hitler, including the entire educated middle class, desperately hoped that the new regime would bring back the good old days and restore the old feudal system by encouraging thatched rooves, folkdances, celebrations of winter solstices, and Swastikas. At the beginning of the Hitler regime there were no direct guidelines about the look of the new German art, other than the sentences in Hitler's book My Struggle about what was degenerate and unacceptable, and what was acceptable. There were ideas about Folkishness and Teutonic values. At the beginning there was a little confusion about what the new German must not include.