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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 opened the House of German Art in Munich, a new museum designed by architect Paul Ludwig Troost (1873–1934). At the same time, he also opened the museum’s very first show, the “Great German Art Exhibition.” It was the first of eight annual exhibitions that aimed to define and illustrate “German art.” The exhibited works were selected in a public competition. A few weeks before the exhibition opened, however, the appointed jury, which consisted of artists loyal to the regime—such as Adolf Ziegler, Arno Breker, and Karl Albiker—was dismissed by Hitler and replaced with his own personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann. On display were some 900 works of art: nudes and genre paintings, still lifes, idealized landscapes, mythological scenes, images of workers and heroes, and, above all, portraits of “pure” and “Aryan” people. At the opening, Hitler delivered a programmatic speech on National Socialist cultural policy and its conception of “German art,” making perfectly clear that the Nazi regime would only accept art that was suitable for propaganda 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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