Above: Patrons wait in line to visit the Nazi 'Degenerate Art' exhibit.

Nazi ideology fiercely opposed all modern trends in art and music, which they termed “degenerate.”  Indeed, artists and composers were among the first targets of the regime; several works were removed from museums and banned in concert halls. 

In 1937, the Nazis went so far as to stage an exhibition in Munich which aimed to illustrate the “perverse Jewish spirit” which they believed to have infiltrated German culture. In all, over 16,500 artworks were seized from museums in connection with the exhibition.  The 650 works put on display were ridiculed with Nazi slogans such as “insult to German womanhood” or “nature as seen by sick minds.”  Over one million people visited the exhibition. 

Although a section of the exhibit featured Jewish artists such as Marc Chagall, many of the works in the exhibit were by non-Jewish modern artists including Picasso, Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Beckmann, Klee and Otto Dix. After the end of the show, many of the works were sold at auction in Switzerland to raise money for the Nazi regime. A further 5,000 works were burned.

The following year the Nazis opened a smaller exhibit targeting jazz and modern music, especially Jewish composers Arnold Schoenberg and Kurt Weill, and Paul Hindemith (whose wife was Jewish). The poster for the exhibit – a racist portrayal of an African saxophone player with a Jewish star – was directed at the popular modern opera Johnny Spielt Auf by the non-Jewish composer Ernst Krenek. Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels proclaimed triumphantly, “In the field of music, the might of the Jews has been broken. German musical life is finally cleansed of the last traces of Jewish arrogance and dominance.”


Above: Surrealist Max Ernst was one of many whose works were desecrated by the Nazis.