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Hitler’s Speech at the Opening of the House of German Art in Munich (July 18, 1937)

On the day before the start of the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, Hitler concurrently opened the House of German Art in Munich, a new museum designed by architect Paul Ludwig Troost (1873-1934), and its first show, the “Great German Art Exhibition.” The House of German Art was built on the former site of the Glass Palace, a grandly conceived iron and glass exhibition hall dating from the mid-nineteenth century. The Glass Palace had been destroyed in a fire, reportedly the result of arson, on June 6, 1931. At the time of its destruction, the Glass Palace housed an extensive exhibition of German Romantic paintings by masters Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), Phillipp Otto Runge (1777-1810), and others. In his opening speech, Hitler referred to the destruction of both the Glass Palace and the works exhibited therein. He mourned the loss of paintings that he perceived as genuinely “German,” the point of comparison being the modern artworks that Hitler reviled and disparaged as Bolshevist, Jewish, foreign, etc.

For Hitler, the rehabilitation of Germany in the wake of 1918 was not just a matter of politics or economics but also, and even primarily, a matter of culture and art. Hitler saw the construction of the House of German Art and the organization of the “Great German Art Exhibition” as an opportunity for the Third Reich to define a new concept for a great and truly “German” art. The 1937 exhibition was the first of eight annual shows that aimed to define and display the art of the Third Reich. The exhibited works were chosen in an open competition; artists Adolf Ziegler, Arno Breker, and Karl Albiker, all of whom were loyal to the regime, originally comprised the jury for the 1937 show. A few weeks before the opening, however, Hitler replaced the jury with his personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, who functioned as the sole arbiter. Approximately 900 works were exhibited in the first show. These included nudes, genre scenes, still lifes, idealized landscapes, mythological scenes, images of workers and heroes, and above all portraits of “pure” and “Aryan” people. The show made clear that the Nazi regime would only tolerate art that was suitable for its purposes. Any type of art that did not comply with Nazi ideology would be labeled “degenerate” and banned from museums.

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When, four years ago, the ceremonial cornerstone laying for this building took place, we were all aware that it was imperative to lay not only the cornerstone for a new building, but also the foundation for a new and genuinely German art. The goal was to bring about a turning point in the development of all German cultural creation.

Many found it difficult to let go of the term “Munich Glass Palace” and to give this new building a new name. Still, at the time, we believed that it was correct to proclaim this house, whose rooms were to experience the continuation of what was once the most famous German art exhibit, not as the new Glass Palace, but rather as the “House of German Art.” For that was also precisely the way to examine and answer the question of whether a German art still existed at all.

The collapse and overall decline of Germany was – as we know – not only academic or political, but rather, and perhaps to a far greater extent, cultural. Moreover, this process was also not solely attributable to the fact of the lost war. Such catastrophes have often afflicted peoples and states, and these events have not infrequently provided an impetus for their cleansing and, with it, their inner elevation. But that flood of slime and refuse, which the year 1918 spewed onto the surface of our lives, was not produced by the loss of the war, but instead only released by it. It was only through the defeat that such a thoroughly rotten body first experienced the full extent of its inner decay. After the collapse of those earlier social, political, and cultural forms that were only seemingly in order, the baseness that was underlying them for so long began to triumph, and in all areas of life at that.

[ . . . ]

The question has often been asked: what does “to be German” actually mean? Of all the definitions that have been put forth over the past centuries by so many men, one appears to me as the worthiest; it attempts less to provide an explanation than to establish a law. The most beautiful law that I could wish to imagine for my people as their life task on this earth was already declared long ago by a great German: “to be German means to be clear.” This implies, therefore, that to be German also means to be logical and above all to be true. [ . . . ]

Now this deep inner longing for such a true German art, one that carries within it the features of this law of clarity, has always lived among our people. This longing filled our great painters, our sculptors, the creators of our architecture, our thinkers and our poets, and more than anyone our musicians. When on that fateful day, June 6, 1931, the old Glass Palace went up in fire and flames, an immortal treasure of precisely such true German art burned with it as well. They were called the Romantics but they were most beautiful representatives of this German quest for the real and true nature of our people and the most honest and virtuous expression of these inwardly experienced laws of life.

[ . . . ]

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