In order to unify the people of a nation or race, a regime must find an enemy for their people to unite against. For the Nazi regime, the national and racial enemies of the German people were everywhere. From Bolsheviks to Jews, the Nazis had many scapegoats to blame for almost all of the problems faced by Germany. The issue for the Nazis was, however, that the truth of their enemies was much less harsh than the imagined picture of their enemies. The Nazi artistic, architectural, and aesthetic style, seen throughout the propaganda produced by the regime, was used extensively to determine and illustrate sets of people that, according to the regime, should be excluded by the people of Germany and that would need to be eventually expelled or exterminated.
Nazi propaganda and even architecture are seen to display the ideal of Nazi society, attempting to include those deemed worthwhile additions to their society, while excluding people and ideas that conflict with their world view. In order to understand the discussion of the Nazis’ ideology and worldview, an understanding of the terms used in the discussion must be had. Some of the terms used in this paper are aesthetics, ideology, propaganda, and Volksgemeinschaft. Aesthetics is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a set of principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty.” For the Nazis, this concern with beauty also included concern for the ideal. The ideal society, soldier, community, race, man, and woman are all depicted in their propaganda, showing the beautiful ideal. Propaganda is defined as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” This can mean, as it did for the Nazis, anything from posters and postcards to films and radio programs. Ideology is defined as “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.” In the case of the Nazis, propaganda disseminated their ideology of a pure racial state based upon the exclusion of those deemed unfit. Those deemed worthy would be added to the idea of the Volksgemeinschaft.
The Volksgemeinschaft, literally translated, means “people’s community” and was the idea of a “racially unified” set of individuals that would be completely obedient to the will of the state or nation. The term with the least concrete definition does not need to have such a firm sense of concrete defining but nonetheless requires adequate explanation. Referred to throughout the discussion of Nazi ideology and propaganda is the idea of undesirables, those being excluded by the regime. The term undesirable is a broad term that covers all of the people that were seen as “enemies of the [Nazi] state.” This list of enemies included Jews, Roma or Gypsies, communists and socialists, and homosexuals. While these were the main targets of Nazi exclusion propaganda, there were many more that are not listed here. The knowledge of these terms provides an adequate entry to the discussion of Nazi style and propaganda. Nazi ideology, on the front of inclusion and exclusion from society, is quite clear in its division of who is included and excluded. Those that were included in the new racial nation that the Nazis sought were referred to as being a part of the Volksgemeinschaft. Defined above, the Volksgemeinschaft was the ideal of the Nazi racial state, incorporating the racial aspects of the Nazi ideal with the social function and discipline of the perfected fascist state. In Ulrich Schmid’s paper “Style versus Ideology: Towards a Conceptualisation of Fascist Aesthetics,” it is asserted that fascism while being a radical political ideology, is also to be seen as a social ideology.
The political part of the ideology sought to reform the government while the social side of the movement sought to reshape the social environment of the German nation. The phrase undesirables is brought to light and easily encompasses those that the Nazis sought to exclude from the nation. Politically the regime sought to exclude competing political parties, especially their rivals on the left side of the political spectrum, such as communists or socialists. In social circles, Jews, Roma (Gypsies is an outdated term but better known), and homosexuals, both men and women, were excluded from social interaction, faced harassment and discrimination, and were eventually sent to the forced labour and extermination camps.
Propaganda for the Nazi Regime was key to the continued control of the nation. Throughout the nation, propaganda was abundant in the form of “huge party-rallies, the mass celebrations and spectacles”for the public to attend, “the production of over 1100 feature movies” for the casual consumption of Nazi ideology, “and the abundant dissemination of posters [and] postcards” for the inclusion of the state and its ideology in everyday life. Shown in Katya Mandoki’s article “Terror and Aesthetics: Nazi strategies for mass organization,” the Nazi Regime substituted religion for art and propaganda. Due to the religious aversion to complete loyalty to the state, some churches or groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, were even included as a part of the undesirables. Funds that would have been allocated elsewhere were spent on extensive propaganda campaigns that, just like religion, conveyed “idealizations of purity.” This is shown also in Carsten Strathausen’s article “Nazi Aesthetics” where propaganda is used to construct an ideal that shows “the original in its purified, ‘true’ form.” For the Nazis, the idea of the world in its “purified, ‘true’ form” is how their ideology is displayed in their propaganda, not only what they wish to include in Volksgemeinschaft but also what they wish to exclude.
One of the most prominent features of Nazi propaganda is the depiction of Jews. Their depictions featured disproportionate physical features and very discriminate contexts. Figure 3 depicts a Jewish teacher being removed from a teaching position. The teacher is shown with very typical Jewish features as they were seen by the Nazis: Large nose, heavy brow, brutish figure, and angry grimace as he is being removed from a position of influence. Figure 4 shows the cover of a Nazi’s child’s book titled The Poisonous Mushroom which also features very typical Jewish stereotypes in the images. As shown in the fact that The Poisonous Mushroom is a child’s book, Nazi propaganda reached to every facet of German society. The Nazi exclusion of the undesirables is much of how the Regime defined its ideology of Volksgemeinschaft.
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Nazi aesthetics, through their propaganda posters, films, and radio, shows itself to be a primarily visual set of aesthetics, meaning that its content is easily consumed. Due to the ease of consumption, as well as the vast amount of propaganda produced, the ideal that is created by the regime is quickly spread and consumed by those that wish to become a part of the Volksgemeinschaft. In “Nazi propaganda and the Volksgemeinschaft: Constructing a People’s Community,” David Welch found that the Nazi propaganda had made a complete presentation of the Nazi ideal. “Propaganda presented an image of society that had successfully manufactured a ‘national community’ by transcending social and class divisiveness through a new ethnic unity based on ‘true’ German values.” This set of true German values is demonstrated in figure 2, where there are two German Labour Front members, who have transcended the rigid lines of class and are working together to benefit the greater racial state of the Reich. Both of the men on the poster are physical depictions of the Nazi ideal: Tall, blond, strong, and possessing all the correct facial feature of Aryan men. Alongside this, they are both seemingly content in their fields of work, either in more educated fields such as with the lab coat or in the manual labour side of production, while also working with each other to better the nation, evident in their holding hands.
One of the more subtle details in the poster, representative of one of the Nazi Regime’s most core values, is the two silhouettes of the soldiers in the background. Whether or not they are the same men in the front is irrelevant. There being two of them correlates to the men in the front showing that the ideal members of each group, again regardless of class standing or wealth, come together to support the armed forces of the state, either by homefront contribution or through active service. This poster is representative more of social rather than political influence, leaning back towards Ulrich Schmid’s assertion that propaganda is no longer a representation of a uniquely political ideology but also a social culture. As well in figure 2, the representation of the Nazi’s attempt at a modern function with restorative social change. Roger Griffin discusses how the Nazi state was discernibly anti-modern in its approach to governing, especially in its social exclusion of the undesirables. Nazi ideology is also apparent in their choice of architecture. Seen in figures 5 and figure 6, Nazi architecture is classical in nature, reminiscent of Roman style, and visually grand in nature, standing much taller than even necessary. Figure 5 shows the Nazi honour temple in Munich built to hold the dead Nazis that fell during the failed beer hall putsch of 1923. This building is quite reminiscent of classical architecture, an unsubtle attempt to compare the regime to great empires such as the Romans. Large, ornate columns and decorative roofs, with ornate fire stands and ceremonial guards, the building is almost an exact replica of Roman architecture.
The nostalgic side of the regime is here attempting to display themselves as destined or meant to rule, using an elite form of architecture to do so. This use of classical architecture is the creation of an ideal and through the definition of what the regime includes in its construction, they also outline that those who do not act with the same way that they do are excluded. In the same way, figure 6 depicts the Nazi administration building in Munich. Similarly to the honour temple, the party administration building is built reminiscent of Reich that did not exist, an ideological image rather than one based in reality. The large, ornate windows and decorative bordering along the roof and each floor, as well as the decorative eagles, show that they are again nostalgic for a Reich that did not exist. Despite the grandeur and style of these buildings, their materials very clearly show the modernity of the regime. As discussed in The Architecture of Oppression by Paul Jaskot, the preferred building material of the Nazi regime was concrete and steel.
The modernity of these resources contrasts very sharply the reason why the regime chose classical architecture. While the state is creating an ideal by using classical structuring, they are showing how modernity lays behind the scenes to make their activities function as efficiently as possible. While these materials hold some general resemblance to the classical Roman building materials, the facade is none too strong when brought to light. The Nazi portrayal of so-called degenerates or undesirables was just as unflattering, and misleading, as one might think. Jews, in particular, were at the center of many of the propaganda campaigns that were spurred by the Nazis, often being depicted “in their supposed ‘control of the world.’” This depiction of the Jews falls quite short of the truth, and the Nazis were very aware of this fact. The actual amount of Jews in Germany was quite disproportionate to the claims of the Nazis, with much of the Jewish population being concentrated in very few places. For example, in Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, The Germans, and The Final Solution a 1933 consensus from Bavaria is shown, accounting Jews to only 0.55 percent of the entire population of Bavaria. Further showing the concentration of Jews in Bavaria, Kershaw writes that “almost half of Bavaria’s Jewish population lived in the four cities of Munich, Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Würzburg.” With the amount of Jews much less than the Nazis claimed, and the places they inhabited in Germany much fewer, the ideological portrayal of the Jew by the Nazis easily took hold in many people’s minds. One example of Nazi propaganda in an image from the sympathetic tabloid of Der Stürmer.
The caricature shown is of a Jewish schoolteacher being removed from his classroom by a disembodied hand. His caricature features many of the overemphasized, stereotypical Jewish features that the Nazis favoured, like large brutish hands and an oversized nose. The choice to depict this Jewish man as a teacher was made so that the consumers of the image believe that Jews are in positions of power and influence. With the overdone intimidating features, the consumers of the image were meant to feel afraid of this potentially influential character and his possible wrongdoings. With this image spread to many of the areas in German that did not have any significant Jewish population, the portrayal of Jews soon overrode the truth of Jewish people. While much of the Nazi propaganda machine was focused towards adults as the direct supporters of the regime, children were also subjugated to anti-semitic propaganda as well.
The infamous child’s book The Poisonous Mushroom featured a boy and his mother using mushrooms in their local forest as a euphemism about Jews being poisonous and dangerous. The book was published by the same anti-semite that brought about Der Stürmer, Julius Streicher. As with many children’s books, there are quite a few images inside that help to convey the message about Jews to the child that consumes it. Here is a small excerpt from a translated copy of the book: The mother praises her boy for his intelligence, and goes on to explain the different kinds of “poisonous” Jews: the Jewish pedlar, the Jewish cattle-dealer, the Kosher butcher, the Jewish doctor, the baptized Jew, and so on.“However they disguise themselves, or however friendly they try to be, affirming a thousand times their good intentions to us, one must not believe them. Jews they are and Jews they remain. For our Volk they are poison.” “Like the poisonous mushroom!” says Franz. “Yes, my child! Just as a single poisonous mushroom can kill a whole family, so a solitary Jew can destroy a whole village, a whole city, even an entire Volk.”
The quote, oozing with Nazi ideology, demonstrates the attempt at the exclusion of the Jewish population, even so far as to have made it readily accessible to children. This compounds when combined with the lack of exposure to Jews in many parts of Germany, allowing children to fully develop opinions on groups of people without any exposure to them. One of the more popular images used in the analysis of the book is the cover image. The depiction here is of a group of Jewish men each bearing very stereotypical Jewish features, while the cap of the mushroom appears to be their kippah. Along with the language used in the book, the images create a very vivid image for the children of the Reich to be consuming. On the topic of the Volksgemeinschaft, The Poisonous Mushroom very clearly defines Jews as excluded from the people’s community. In conclusion, the Nazi aesthetic style, through everything within film and cinema, posters, and even architecture, bleeds the exclusionary ideology of the Nazi regime. The defining of those to be excluded was palpable in many areas of the regime’s function, while the use of propaganda spread far and wide throughout the Germany, influencing the minds of adults and children, bolstered by the fact that many people were only exposed to the ideological representation of the Nazis’ undesirables. Whether the outright denial of a group of people, such as in The Poisonous Mushroom, or incredibly subtle, such as in the monumental architecture, the Nazi ideology focused on the exclusion of undesirables and the building of their ideal state. With the incredible amount of propaganda produced by the Reich, it is no surprise that the leading view of those represented in propaganda was not the truth of those people.