Giuliani On Art,
Hitler On Art
Robert Lederman

"It is not the mission of art to wallow in filth for filth's sake, to paint the human being only in a state of putrefaction, to draw cretins as symbols of motherhood, or to present deformed idiots as representatives of manly strength”.-- Adolf Hitler excepted from a speech made at a National Socialist Party rally, Nuremberg, September 11, 1935.

“Mayor Giuliani yesterday left open the possibility that his office might begin screening art exhibits bankrolled by taxpayers. The closer scrutiny would come on a "case-by-case basis,"...Giuliani's comments came a day after he warned he would slash money to any of 41 city-funded cultural institutions that presented works, which, in his view, aggressively attacked religion”. -- Daily News 10/6/99 Mayor Hints at Art Exams Says city might do 'case-by-case screening of exhibits

“The artist does not create for the artist: He creates for the people and we will see to it that henceforth the people will be called in to judge its art”. -- Adolf Hitler

This has nothing at all to do with the suppression of artistic freedom and modem progress” -- Joseph Göbbels, November 26th, 1937, in Von der Großmacht zur Weltmacht on the seizure of thousands of works of German art.

“Right from the start the National Socialists began to stage propaganda exhibitions of the most blatant examples of bad modern art. The aim was to educate the public by showing them how taxpayers' money was spent” -- Degenerate Art [poster above]

As soon as he assumed power in Germany, Hitler went to great efforts to attack contemporary German art as morally decadent and as a misuse of public tax dollars. He seized art from both public museums and private art galleries, but rather than simply hiding the art he claimed to find so appalling, he went to great lengths to publicly display it, organizing huge art shows of Degenerate Art across Germany.

The entire notoriety of the painting of the Madonna by Chris Olfili is similarly due to Mayor Giuliani’s efforts. Thanks to the Mayor this otherwise insignificant painting has appeared each day on the covers of newspapers and magazines, on television news shows and is the main topic of discussion on radio talk shows and in opinion columns. In his own way the Mayor has sponsored a “degenerate art show” exactly paralleling Hitler’s.

Lurking beneath Mayor Giuliani’s attack on the Brooklyn Museum’s alleged Catholic bashing, misuse of tax dollars and offense to the general public’s sense of morality lies a much larger issue. What is an artist’s responsibility to society and to his or her government? Is artistic expression an act of unfettered individual freedom or is it like owning a car or a gun, a limited privilege that government has a responsibility to strictly control in the interests of public safety and decency ?

Listening to the opinions of Mayor Giuliani and his various religious and secular and defenders on this controversy one is reminded of the exactly similar attack on artistic freedom that took place in Nazi Germany from 1933 until 1945. The expressionist art that was attacked, confiscated and destroyed by Adolf Hitler is in fact the very origin of the artistic sensibilities in the now controversial Brooklyn Museum show. It too was attacked based on the idea that it debased humanity, mocked religion and would, if allowed to continue, destroy public morality.

It might seem bizarre to those who see Mayor Giuliani as being extremely close to certain elements in the conservative and orthodox Jewish community to suggest that his attack on the museum also reeks of anti-Semitism, yet if one was present as I was at the various demonstrations held by those offended by the exhibition it would be impossible to ignore that this is one of the key underlying messages of those who want this show closed. As many of the anti-museum protesters loudly proclaimed, the Museum director, Arnold Lehman, the president of its board of trustees, Robert S. Rubin, and many of the members of its board of directors are Jewish. Critics of the show, including the Mayor, repeatedly use what they claim to be the parallel analogy of dipping a Star of David in excrement to express their outrage about the desecration of the Virgin Mary. In an article in the 9/25/99 NY Times the Mayor actually called the Madonna a “national symbol”, which is something even religious conservatives like Pat Robertson or Cardinal O’Connor would admit crosses the line between the separation of church and state.

For much of the Renaissance there was a cultural debate, which sometimes erupted in violence, imprisonment and executions, about the conflict between the Catholic interpretation of religion and the Jewish, or Jewish-inspired view. The painting of fig leafs over the genitals of Michelangelo’s figures in the Sistine Chapel is characteristic of this conflict between the religious and humanistic view. Artists we now think of as devout Catholics were severely punished by the church hierarchy for expressing views that ran counter to orthodox teachings. Like Chris Ofili who considers himself a devout Catholic, their artistic interpretation of traditional symbols was seen as heretical and as a desecration of the church.

Adolf Hitler, a man few today would consider to be in any way religious, described himself as a Catholic, ("I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so"). A major thrust of his attack on Jewish art and artists in Germany was the idea that they were desecrating religious symbols and attempting to foster a degenerate view of mankind. Read the following quotes on so-called Degenerate Jewish art by Hitler and the accompanying quotes by Mayor Giuliani and you will see that underlying this Giuliani-created controversy is the exact same anti-Semitic, anti-art and anti-freedom ideology.

The following quotes from Adolf Hitler, from contemporary German newspapers and magazines and from the actual catalogue of the Degenerate Art show staged by Hitler are from a pro-Nazi website Degenerate Art [http://www.ns.aus.tm/propaganda/index2.html]. These historical materials as well as digitized versions of Hitler’s infamous book, Mein Kampf, are becoming increasingly difficult to get access to. Many online booksellers have succumbed to pressure and removed Mein Kampf from their catalogues. If you want to really understand what the Nazis were about and why their ideology is still very much alive today and is the driving force behind numerous contemporary social, scientific and political policies here in the U.S. including censorship, public health and the agenda of much of the military-industrial complex which President Eisenhower warned about, there is no better source than this very extensive and profusely illustrated site. While Hitler is of course long dead and the activities and propaganda of today’s neo-Nazis youth can hardly be considered a significant threat to society, the fact remains that thousands of real Nazis were brought to the U.S. by our own government after the war and installed in the military, in industry, in research universities, in think tanks and in the intelligence and propaganda branches of the U.S. government.

While it’s undoubtedly an overworn cliché to call a politician one disagrees with a Nazi or compare him to Hitler this comparison is not always undeserved. In this case, it is the explanation for much of the what Mayor Giuliani has so far done, and what if allowed to go on to higher office, he and his associates intend to do.

“In July, 1937 Hitler and Göbbels decided to clear museums of all remaining modern works and to mount an exhibition of modern works as an example of the most horrific art ever created. The custodians of all government and private museums and art collections are busy removing the most hideous creations of a degenerate humanity and of a pathological generation of so called artists" -- the magazine Der SA-Mann September 18th, 1937.

For the Mayor, the matter is simple, as he explained yesterday morning during his weekly radio program: "Public taxpayer dollars should not go for aggressive desecration of national or religious symbols of great significance and sensitivity to people." -- NY Times 9/25/99

Giuliani’s remarks came a day after he vowed to cut off all city subsidies to the museum if it proceeded with the exhibition, which he described as "sick stuff." "Anything that I can do isn't art," he said. "If I can do it, it's not art, because I'm not much of an artist. And I could figure out how to put this together. You know, if you want to throw dung at something, I could figure out how to do that."

“Art that cannot rely on the joyous, heartfelt assent of the broad and healthy mass of the people, but depends on tiny cliques that are self-interested and blasé by turns, is intolerable. It seeks to confuse the sound instinct of the people instead of gladly confirming it.” -- Adolf Hitler

A Commission under the painter Adolf Ziegler, President Of The Reich Culture Chamber, aided by some art historians, including the Director Of The Folkwang Museum in Essen, Klaus Graf von Baudissin, seized over 5,000 works from private and public collections. Among the works were:1,052 by Emil Nolde, 759 by Erich Heckel, 639 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and 508 by Max Beckmann. They also took works by Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Giorgio de Chirico, Robert Delaunay, André Derain, Theo van Dösburg, James Ensor, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Albert Gleizes, •Alexei Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky, Fernand Léger, El Lissitzky, Franz Masereel, Henri Matisse, •László Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, and Maurice Vlaminck” -- Degenerate Art

How deeply the perverse Jewish spirit has penetrated German cultural life is shown in the frightening and horrifying forms of the Exhibition Of Degenerate Art in München ..... This has nothing at all to do with the suppression of artistic freedom and modem progress. On the contrary, the botched art works which were exhibited there and their creators are of yesterday and before yesterday. They are the senile representatives, no longer to be taken seriously, of a period that we have intellectually and politically overcome and whose monstrous, degenerate creations still haunt the field of the plastic arts in our time”.-- Göbbels, November 26th, 1937, in Von der Großmacht zur Weltmacht.

Young people were barred from the show due to the obscenity of the exhibits from which decent German youth had to be protected. The directors of the show wished that they could place the previous criminal museum directors and idiotic artists next to the works so that the public could spit at them. . . The apparently chaotic display had order built into it. The exhibits were classified by subject just as in the other official exhibition. Only the themes here were Farmers Seen By Jews, Insult To German Womanhood, Mockery Of God. The spectacular and sensational way in which the art was displayed was aimed at mobilising vigorous popular protest. It was meant to be the last chapter of a barbaric age, while the official show signalled the dawn of a new one. Over two million visitors came. Does this not sufficiently prove the necessity for such an education through the horror chambers of degenerate art? reasonably asked one of the prominent members of the League For The Defence Of German Culture”.-- Dr. Walter Hansen, Judenkunst in Deutschland, Berlin, 1942, page 197

“It is not the function of art to wallow in dirt for dirt's sake, never its task to paint the state of decomposition, to draw cretins as the symbol of motherhood, to picture hunchbacked idiots as representatives of manly strength”. -- Adolf Hitler speech at the Nazi Party Rally in Nürnberg in 1935.


Robert Lederman is an artist, a regular columnist for both the Greenwich Village Gazette and Street News, and is the author of hundreds of published essays and letters to the editor concerning Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He is president of ARTIST (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics) His writings have appeared in (to name only a few) the NY Times, NY Post, Daily News, Newsday, Brooklyn Bridge, Park Slope Courier, The Daily Challenge, Amsterdam News, Sandbox, Penthouse, Our Town, and NY Press. Lederman has been arrested 39 times [left] to date for his anti-Giuliani activites and has never been convicted of any of the charges.