Review: Culture in Nazi Germany by Michael H. Kater (2019) Assessment 7 out of 10

Addresses the questions of whether High Culture, art, music and literature, changed under an authoritarian regime and how Culture was adapted as means of control and influence.

Book burnings and cultural exhibitions, “The Degenerate Art” exhibition which toured Germany and “The Eternal Jew” exhibition and film, showed what to dislike. There was a failed search for a Nazi Culture with ineffective competitions in music and literature, the alternative turning back to the past. Hitler’s preference for Wagner wasn’t shared generally within the Party. Hitler and Speer may have liked monumental neo-classical architecture but the majority preferred a traditional Germanism, much of it destroyed in the bombing of the Reich’s cities.

There were continuities from the Weimer Republic. Non Nazi and conservative or apolitical artists joined its fascist style chambers. Uniquely there was a Jewish Kulturbund, exploited for propaganda purposes overseas, but also a means of control, cultural separation presaging creation of ghettos.

By the beginning of the War, 70% of Germans possessed radios, the highest ratio in the world. Light entertainment was provided for troops, who were supplied with radios, many taken from Jews. The army had its own radio stations. There was WunschKonzert (radio request concert) linking listeners back home with troops in the field, strikingly similar to British Forces Radio which became the BBC’s “Two-Way Family Favourites”.

The book is weakest in listing artists, actors and musicians, before, during and after the Nazi period, sections which begin to bore. It is strongest in adapting political and social models of Nazi-ism, Mommsen’s of the multiple conflicting structures of the Nazi State with the Führer ruling above the chaos, Kershaw’s of “Working towards the Führer” and how this resulted in an unstoppably violent radicalisation, the idea of “inner emigrants”, who remained within Germany, awaiting better times, allowing them to claim afterwards they had been silent opponents. Nazi sequential steps towards cultural and political control are contrasted with the arbitrary violence of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The sections on Geobbel’s media manipulation were fascinating, media which both influenced and entertained. Films provided cover for propaganda for eugenics and Anti- Semitism. There were Biographical films of Frederick the Great, Bismarck and Kruger, all portraying a heroic leader, pointing towards the Hitler Myth, which Geobbels both believed and created. Kater notes that a leadership cult is a necessity for dictatorship. He contrasts Hitler, who was less and less shown in newsreels etc, maintaining his charisma by remoteness, with Stalin’s ever presence.

Geobbels created the myth of heroic national sacrifice at Stalingrad, suppressing the truth that out of the 250,000 strong 6th Army, 90,000 surrendered, only 5,000 eventually returning to Germany.

Before film shows newsreels were projected, taken by Army film units. Films continued to be made, “Kolberg” a film of the Prussian struggle against Napoleon was conceived in 1942, shot with a mass cast, staffed at the expense of the retreating German Army, and only ready to be shown in March 1945 when Kolberg in Pomerania had fallen to the Russians and the Nazi regime was collapsing.

As ever with Culture, personal preferences and those of the writer impinge. Nazis apparently didn’t like Jazz, for which they can hardly been blamed. The sections on painting and literature interested me more than those on music, theatre or sculpture. There was a long section on Thomas Mann, but Hermann Hesse, another emigrant German Nobel prize winning author and writer of “Exilletratur”, is ignored.

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