Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tell a Joke, Lose Your Head

Hitler and Göring are standing atop the Berlin radio tower.
Hitler says he wants to do something to put a smile on Berliners’ faces.
So Göring says: “Why don’t you jump?”

Marianne Elise Kürchner, a 21-year-old war widow working as a technical draftswoman at an armaments factory in Berlin sometime in the summer of 1943, told that joke to a coworker. The coworker denounced her.
Making wisecracks at Hitler’s expense was, in theory at least, a capital crime, but most people who did so faced no consequences. They were rarely denounced, and if they did come before a court they were usually given a warning, at most a few months of “re-education” in Dachau concentration camp.
People who caused problems for the Nazis could expect them to use sedition as an excuse to arrest and execute them. Law-abiding Germans, though, had little to fear until the war began to turn against Germany. Then, punishment for sedition became more severe.
Marianne was forced to appear before the People’s Court. President Roland Freisler was notorious for berating defendants, and his death sentences. Marianne acknowledged making the joke, but said she hadn’t been herself at the time, feeling bitter about the recent loss of her husband at the front.
Freisler didn’t care. In fact, Marianne’s status as a war widow made her crime worse. In fact, he was proud to take no account of individual suffering.”
In his ruling, Friesler wrote:
As the widow of a fallen German soldier, Marianne Kürchner tried to undermine our will to valiant defense and efficient work in the armaments sector toward victory by making hateful remarks about the Führer and the German people and by uttering the wish that we should lose the war … She has excluded herself from the racial community. Her honor has been permanently destroyed and therefore she shall be punished with death.
Friesler rendered his judgment on June 26, 1943. Marianne was guillotined for the joke shortly thereafter. 

Plotzensee Prison execution room

Plotzensee guillotine after an air raid
      Aren’t you glad we don’t have to worry about such a fate?

Recommended: Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany by Rudolph Herzog

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Can Art and Politics Mix?

Adolf Hitler made a quick tour of Paris following the fall of France, on 23rd June 1940. He was accompanied by his architect and later Armaments Minister, Albert Speer, and his favorite sculptor, Arno Breker, whom Hitler chose to give him a guided tour of Paris.

In 2006, a tumult erupted in Germany over the art of Arno Breker. Two of his statues remain near the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, where the World Cup final were held. Critics argued they should have been removed or covered up to avoid offense. Then a publicly financed exhibit devoted to his works was held in Schwerin, Germany. Critics contended it was wrong to acknowledge an artist who created the physical images of Nazi ideology.
Counter arguments maintained that Germans were ready for a discussion on how an artist accommodated the Nazi government. Breker’s moral corruption is what makes him worth studying and could invite dialogue on the question of how talented artists and thinkers could accept such a government.
Arno Breker was born in 1900. He studied architecture, along with stone-carving and anatomy, and concentrated on sculpture at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts, beginning in 1920. He visited Paris in 1924, shortly before finishing his studies, and moved there in 1927. In 1932, he was awarded a Prussian Ministry of Culture prize, allowing him to stay in Rome for a year.
In 1934, he returned to Germany, where the editor of the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter actually denounced some of his work as degenerate art. However, he had Hitler’s support. For Hitler, Arno Breker’s sculptures showed the perfect muscular Aryan man.

Breker contributed two victorious figures: one male The Decathlete, and one female, The Victress, to the Olympic compound.

Breker took commissions from the Nazis from 1933 through 1942. He won the commission for two sculptures representing athletic prowess, for the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. Breker joined the Nazi Party in 1937, and Hitler made him the official state sculptor, complete with a large property and a studio with forty-three assistants, and exempted him from military service.
  Until the fall of the Third Reich, Breker was a professor of visual arts in Berlin. While nearly all of his sculptures survived World War II, more than 90% of his public work was destroyed by the allies after the war. He worked steadily, and created busts of Anwar el-Sadat and Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first postwar chancellor.
Only in 1981, did he publicly distance himself from National Socialism. He claimed he had been unaware of the Nazi atrocities. Good art, he said, is above politics. His supporters insist he was never a supporter of Nazi ideology, but had simply accepted their patronage. He died in 1991 at the age of 90.
What do you think? Should his art be banned because of his association with the Nazis? Or should it be viewed as representative of its era?