Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Art of Nazi Propaganda Posters

Now that our country seems hell-bent on achieving a right-wing Maga autocracy, I have become obsessed with the comparison to 1930s Germany. The last members of my immediate family left their homeland after Kristallnacht, the first organized Nazi violence against all Jews, in contrast to their previous individual acts. On a single night, November 10, 1938, nearly 8,000 Jewish-owned businesses, schools, hospitals, and homes were destroyed.

My parents had already left in 1934. The only explanation I received from my father was that when he was thrown out of University in Munich in 1933 he knew he wasn’t wanted. When I finally decided to face it and learn still more about Germany in the 1930s, one of my sources was a book called, “The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic”, written by Benjamin Carter Hett in 2018.

Nazi was a derogatory German term for backward peasants that was applied to the extreme right-wing National Socialist German Workers Party. In the book, Hett brings up an interesting subject that I had never thought much about before. Propaganda was an important component in Hitler’s rise to power in the second half of the 1920s and the early 1930s.

The Nazi propaganda machine led by Joseph Goebbels, who became Reich Minister of Propaganda in 1933, was sending out clear messages addressing the German people's fear of uncertainty and instability with the Great Depression, and runaway inflation.

Much of this focused on Communists and Jews as enemies of the German people. Although Goebbels did not have television, or the internet (or Russian interference) he made use of the modern media of the time such as films and radio, as well as traditional tools of newspapers and art in the form of posters. The dual enemy is personified in one example, “The Eternal Jew”.

The poster showing a worker demolishing the Saxon Parliament Building which bears the label “International Finance” conveyed how the Nazi leader could solve Germany’s economic distress, which was exacerbated by the reparations that had to be paid under the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.

This image of Hitler before a host of followers became known as ‘The Hitler Myth’. After all, he was only a private first class in WWI and was never promoted to sergeant because his senior officer did not think he could lead! The text reads “YES, F├╝hrer we are Following You”.

Most of my readers will have heard of the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich in 1937 ...

What I did not know about, though it makes perfect sense, was that there was also a list of prohibited music. The banned composers were usually of African and Jewish descent but there was other music also proscribed.

Here is the poster for the 1935 Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of Will”, commissioned by Hitler and directed and produced by Leni Riefenstahl.

The striking graphic art of many of the Nazi posters made them as effective as they were meant to be. As I have written before, all art is political, and history proves that it can provide a powerful assist on the road to disaster.

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