As far as music and theater in Nazi Germany went, there was no greater triumph than the legacy of Richard Wagner and the Bayreuth Festival. The Party’s importance to Richard Wagner and his ideals, a man that embodied the very German spirit the Reich was determined to capture, was a force to be reckoned with. In addition to his famous operettas, Wagner was known for his strong German nationalism and controversial views, including anti-Semitism. For Wagner, “nothing counted but German ways, German feeling, and German thought” and Jews were the poison that posed a threat to this (Kater 36). First and foremost, Bayreuth, still to this day, is an opera house and festival that showcases the performances of Richard Wagner, but its purpose was twisted in the twentieth century, when it became the yearly highlight and German propaganda machine for the Third Reich (Grunberger 412). Wagner’s music was seen as authentically German, embracing the highest level of Aryan symbolism, and spoke the true voice of conservative Germany, “paranoid, xenophobic and racist, exulting in Aryan blood” (Spotts The discussion of the “manipulation” of the arts in Nazi Germany would be incomplete without the mention of the Berlin Philharmonic, which became the Reichsorchester, or Reich’s Orchestra, serving from the start of Nazi Germany (“The Reichsorchester”). The once-independent orchestra became the personal marching band of the Nazi party. Jewish members were excluded to preserve the German aspect of music, no matter their musical talent, and the orchestra played at high profile events, such as the Nuremberg Rallies and the 1936 Berlin Olympics (“The ‘Reichsorchester'”). The regime and the orchestra participated in a mutually benefiting relationship, one where the orchestra received financial support and the Reich received an important German cultural flagship.
When the Nazi party came to rise in 1933, there was no time to waste; Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda had already discovered the propagandistic value of music and aimed to exploit its properties to brew strong German sentiments (Kater 130). The disproportionally large representation of German composers and artists, such as Beethoven, Mozart, or Bach, was the key to German pride in the arts, and it was strongly perceived that “music was the most German of all the arts” (“Music and the Holocaust”). Music, specifically classical, was the bridge between the past Germany and the Third Reich, and it embodied the former German glory and identity. With the creation of the Reichsmusikkammer, or the Reich Music Chamber, which was under the greater organization of the Reichskulturkammer (or the Reich Chamber of Culture) musicians, composers, and the music itself could officially undergo the not-so-subtle process of “Nazification”, where they would be shaped to fit the Nazi ideologies (Kater 11). Logically, the first step was to purge the arts of “undesirables”, meaning non-Germans, which included Jews, non-Aryans, and others of questionable political backgrounds (Steinweis 103). Musical composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, Ernst Krenek, Kurt Weill, and other non-Aryans were persecuted, while some left Germany and some chose to stay (Grunberger 407). Additionally, Western influences, such as Jazz and Swing, were persecuted in order to protect the German morals from outsiders. For example, youth engaged in swing movement could face consequences such as detention by the Gestapo, jail time, or even in a concentration camp (“Music and the Holocaust”). According to the Reich, jazz and other percussion music was considered “Negro music” and “alien racial influences” (Steinweis 24). The ultimate goal was to eradicate any so-called dangerous influence on German culture life and cultivate Aryan artists and musicians to enrich Germany’s culture and further the Nazi ideology of a racially pure race.
Truth is found through the exploration of new ideas, from all perspectives. However, this task may be daunting if the diversity of information is limited, which subsequently leads to a misguided perception of the truth. Governments are responsible for the dispersion of information in a society and often exert a certain influence or opinion on their people. In other words, governments are the players, the people are the pawns, and propaganda is the game. In most societies, propaganda is existent to a certain level, where the people can still form independent thoughts. But, the same cannot be said for societies in which propaganda rules the way of life, in every single aspect. A prime example, and the society on which this investigation focuses on, would be Nazi Germany. The Third Reich stood by the idea that it would raise its people from birth till death, quite literally, and exerted its iron strong grip on anything and everything possible. Propaganda is structured around furthering an ideology, and for Nazi Germany, the mission to create a “pure” and master race of Aryans, which is sometimes associated with the classic “blond hair, blue-eyes” look (“Nazi Racism”). It is important to note that the “Aryan race” excluded Jews, Romani (the Gypsies), Africans, and Slavs, and the Nazi regime saw these races as significantly inferior (“Victims of the Nazi Era: Nazi Racial Ideology”). In any case, the idea was to create a pure Germanic race. The extent of the Reich’s power was vast, especially in areas that could possibly lead to independent and creative thinking, such as the arts. For the purpose of this investigation, the arts are defined by music, theater, and literature. Art is a muse and it functions as such, serving as a creative outlet of many people, offering a way to express novel thoughts and see life through a different lens. Art holds power to speak volumes without saying the words, and perhaps that was why it became the perfect weapon for Nazi Germany. The Third Reich exploited the arts, using its capabilities to further their mission of solidifying the idea of “Aryanism”, twisted the muse, and as demonstrated by the examples explored in this investigation, was successful to a damaging enough level.