Hitler and his Nazi henchmen were fiercely opposed to all modern trends in art and music, which they termed “degenerate.” Artists and composers were among the first targets of the regime. Their works were removed from museums and banned in concert halls.
In 1937, the Nazi staged a large exhibition in Munich, which was intended to show the “perverse Jewish spirit” that the Nazis believed had 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 “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 Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, Paul 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. About 5,000 works were burned.
In 1938, the Nazis opened a smaller exhibit targeting especially jazz and modern music, especially the Jewish composers Arnold Schoenberg and Kurt Weill, as well as the non-Jewish 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. In a speech, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels proclaimed, “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.”