The idea for this project arose from several years’ research which led to my book, Rudolf Koch (Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2000). During those years I came upon graphic work, articles, or passing mentions of, or about, numerous German designers.
The lives of every one of these designers were certainly affected from that momentous date, 30 January 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Two months later, in Berlin, the Reich Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda was created under Dr Joseph Goebbels. Far-reaching jurisdiction in all cultural matters (excluding science and education) effectively made his ministry the authority over all questions and matters of culture.
And ‘The management council published a memorandum entitled What German artists expect from the new government. Their main demands: the removal of “all works exhibiting bourgeois and bolshevist tendencies” and the dismissal of museum directors who – “in an unscrupulous squandering of public funds” – were responsible for purchasing modern art and putting “true German works of art” into store. They recommended that the art works removed in this way should be exhibited with their purchase prices and then burned.’ (Janos Frecot, ‘Marginalien zur nationalsozialistischen Kulturpolitik’, in Zwischen Widerstand und Anpassung. Kunst in Deutschland 1933-1945, Berlin: Akademie der Künste, 1978, p. 80.)
On 1 April 1933 the first boycott of Jewish shops occurred. In May the ‘movement against the anti-German spirit’ [Wider den undeutschen Geist] began: on 10 May thousands of books written by authors supposedly representing ideals against this new nationalism were burned in popular displays; on 19th May the Law for the Protection of the National Symbol was effected. In September the Nazis created the Reich Chamber of Culture, the agency that would have power over the arts (and later the press and radio). Its departments covered the fine arts, literature, music and theatre, and were to have dictatorial powers over every individual who worked in those fields. Those who were deemed unsympathetic to the Nazi vision had no future as practitioners or teachers in the new regime. For the others, it was obligatory to be a member.
All designers were thus entangled in this ideological network. For many, because of their political beliefs or religion, there was simply no hope of continuing their professional careers and they were forced to settle eventually in Britain, the USA or other countries. Others were too young at the time to consider emigrating, or simply chose not to because of their beliefs, their patriotism – call it what you will - and remained in the Third Reich. A number of established designers, nevertheless, lost their teaching positions – and the possibility of commissions and exhibitions of their work – and worked alone in their studios, or made that ‘inner exile’ to their country cottages, if they were so lucky. If their luck continued, they were able to resume their careers only when the war ended.*
[*For the difficulties during the prewar period of the famous sculptor Ernst Barlach, see Peter Paret, An Artist against the Third Reich, Cambridge University Press, 2003.]
Here are the words of one who stayed: Eberhard Hölscher, writing of this period in ‘Advertising presentation in Germany’, an article that appeared in 1936 in the British journal Art and Industry –
‘German advertising of the present shows very important changes in its entire organisation and aims which have taken place during the past few years, and which can only be understood in relation to the political and economic re-orientation of Germany….[T]here followed right away at the beginning of the year 1933 with the foundation of the Ministry of National Instruction [or Enlightenment] and Propaganda, an institution which besides attending to its own particular problems, undertook charge of the entire sphere of private advertising and centralised its organisation….The control of the State is extended solely to stop obviously unpleasant banalities and mistakes, which is quite in accord with the wishes of serious enterprises, and also meets the general cultural consciousness of the German nation.
‘A doubtlessly ennobling influence on the whole formation and outward forms of advertising methods has obviously been exercised by the present German cultural policy. Though setting itself against excessive intellectualism, on the other hand it strives towards attracting the discriminative and particularly the national strength, to which the numerous large exhibitions of the past few years bear witness. All have had as their aim to display in an impressive form before their visitors the value and the achievement of a healthy nation.’ (Quoted from Hölscher’s article, ‘Advertising presentation in Germany’, Art and Industry, October 1936, pp. 124-8, where it appears in English.)
A similar opinion was expressed by Walter Funk, State Secretary in the Ministry for National Enlightenment and Propaganda (Ministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda), also in 1936:
‘Of course the German people have their troubles, but they overcome them with great and heartfelt devotion and with an unshakable belief in a better future under their present leadership. All the great and beautiful achievements in Germany in the last four years were due to the voluntary collaboration and co-operation of all German fellow-citizens. By enlightenment and propaganda we have achieved something which can never be achieved by force.’ (Address at the opening of the Continental Advertising Congress, Berlin, 1936; quoted in English in the journal Gebrauchsgraphik [Commercial Art], Dec. 1936, p. 56.)
It is now three-quarters of a century since those events occurred. Design historians in America and Britain have tended to ignore the talents or lives of those who remained in Germany as being unworthy of attention. But the talents were there, and the lives went on. Simply because these designers lived in Nazi Germany is no reason to ignore their work or consider it as all ‘bad’ (and thus a reversal of the Nazis’ concept of ‘Entartete Kunst’ – degenerate art). Any history of twentieth-century graphic design – and Germany’s particularly – must take note of them and their work.
Generally, the lives and work of most émigré designers (usually Jewish) have been covered in books and design journals. In my research I found very little trace of wartime writings or reminiscences of those designers who remained. I have yet to find any memoirs to compare with, for instance, Rudolf Koch’s moving experiences of his months as a soldier during the First World War, Die Kriegserlebnisse des Grenadiers Rudolf Koch. Nevertheless, I have featured, where known, what happened to these designers from 1933 to 1945 – the Hitler period.
I have limited this selection to those Germans (or those who studied in Germany) who were born before 1927, thus those who, scholastically or professionally, lived into, or through, this National Socialist period. Designers who died before 30 January 1933 (when Hitler became Chancellor) are not included.
My definition, loose as it may be, of a graphic designer is one who designed or created works that, usually, were published or reproduced in quantity for industry. There is not always a clear distinction; and the exact definition of a ‘designer’ is difficult. Years ago they were called ‘commercial artists’ or ‘visual artists’; in the 1950s they became ‘graphic designers’, even ‘graphic artists’. I do not normally include fine artists, architects, potters, photographers, sculptors, industrial designers, textile designers, the teachers of the Bauhaus or printmakers unless part of their work was in graphic design.
Primary and secondary sources have been listed. Items included are not necessarily ‘recommendations’.
Certain designers (i.e. Behrens, Bill, Kollwitz, Schwitters) have had an enormous amount written about them. For these, and a few others, I have suggested the most comprehensive references available rather than simply copying the extensive details concerning their work. Some have very little noted after their name; these simply received a comment during these years, or had a poster reproduced once and then they or their work may never have appeared in a professional journal again. I would be most appreciative if family or friends could help me fill in gaps.
I am indebted to Susan Mackervoy for help with certain translations. These are credited ‘S.M.’. I would also like to thank Nicholas Jacobs for certain suggestions and continual encouragement, and to Stephen Lubell who was helpful with references to designers who emigrated to Israel.