Hitler. Propaganda. Anti-Semitism. Nazi. Concentration camps. Jews. These are just a few phrases that are commonly associated with Germany during World War II. However, these thoughts merely scratch the surface of what happened in Germany.
This past spring, I wrote a research paper over how German art and culture were affected during the Nazi era, and I realized just how much students don’t know about World War II Germany.
Sure, we all know that Adolf Hitler rose to power, ruled over Germany, tried to annihilate the Jews and attempted to take over most of the world. But how did Hitler convince his entire country to follow him? Propaganda, right? Is it really possible, though, to sway millions of peoples’ opinions with just flyers, posters and newspapers? Of course not!
Looking beyond the surface level of history is one of the most important things we can do as students and as citizens.
Hitler’s scheme went much deeper than a few flyers and targeted newspaper articles. Hitler and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, introduced anti-Semitic messages and beliefs into the fine arts culture of Germany, including the film, music and other visual art industries.
Hitler’s sway over the German culture and arts goes so much deeper than most people realize. Once I looked further into how the German culture worked during that time period, it was easier to see how Hitler was able to rise to power and control a country seemingly by himself.
This research paper taught me more than the effect of propaganda on art and culture in Nazi Germany. It taught me that we can’t take history at face value. If all we do is walk into history class, pass the test and walk away, then we are completely missing the point.
Along with the actual research paper, my professor engaged each student in a discussion over the content of their paper. A paraphrase of one question my professor asked about my topic as a whole: “Why does it matter? Why should we, as historians, care?”
Historians should care about arts and culture in Nazi Germany because it helps complete the picture of Hitler’s regime. The general population should care because we don’t want to repeat the mistakes that were made during the Nazi regime in Germany, or at any point in history.
The point of studying history is so that we, as a people, can make educated decisions based on previous experience.
For example, say you are jogging down the street and trip in a pothole. Are you going to trip in the same pothole the next day, or are you going to avoid it so you don’t twist your ankle?
While the analogy above isn’t the greatest, my point can still be made. Why would we allow ourselves to repeat our previous mistakes, or the mistakes of others, as a nation, as families or as individuals?
We all know about Hitler, the Nazis and anti-Semitism during World War II Germany, but do we really know how Hitler’s reign effects us still today?
Understanding history is key to understanding the present and preparing for the future.
Photo by CrazyCloud