Monday, 28 June 2010

Five Germanys I Have Known

On reading Fritz Stern's Five Germanys I Have Known

Fritz Stern's visit to his hometown Breslau (I've never been able to pronounce the Polish name!) is truly touching. I visited it as a total stranger in 2000 with my new Ossi wife whose mother was forced out of Silesia at the end of the war. It seemed fully restored and impressive. I remember that a new art museum that had a great collection was originally a German businessman's villa.

But I come to praise Stern's proposal for memorializing all the heroes of the Resistance. Even some that no one seems to remember heroically. A family Golden Wedding anniversary in Schwerin last summer prompted me to visit the contested Arno Breker exhibition there.

As a Philadelphian, I became interested in the fact that Alexander Calder roomed as Breker's guest in Paris in 1927. The more I looked into Breker's career the less Nazi he seemed to me. His Paris dealer Flectheim was Jewish Two of his works in Schwerin were busts of Gypsies. His best friend in Berlin was Max Liebermann, whose death mask he sculpted for the widow.

When he won the silver medal for two works for the 1936 Olympics (the judges actually gave him the gold, but Hitler--for diplomatic reasons--gave to the gold to his new ally Italy), the Fuhrer playfully punched him in the shoulder, telling him he wanted all this future work, and adding that he didn't want "his" sculptor living in a garret either--giving him Jackelbruch, to live "like a Duke".

Hitler made him professor at the Berlin Academy. Untold prisoners or Gestapo targets owed their life and/or freedom to his wheedling for them to Hitler (including Picasso and Jean Marais.) He went out of his way to attend Chancellery dinners to plead directly with Hitler for prisoners. Speer actually pleaded with him to stop pressuring Hitler, perhaps fearing a backlash on himself. Hitler would settle such tiffs by asserting that artists knew nothing about politics, they were all dimwitted Parsifals.

At the end of the war, Russian and American troops looted or destroyed 90% of his works at Juckenbruch. When he went on trial after the war, some of those he saved actually testified against him! An American general gave Breker the alternatives: a 100 mark fine or create a fountain for Donauwurth. Breker scorned the artistic alternative, saying it was an undignfied abuse of a defeated enemy. He paid the 100 marks.

My theory is that Hitler, that bitter dropout from the Vienna Art Academy, "adopted" Breker as the artistic son he never was himself. I find nothing conniving in Breker's "Nazi" career. And he was an underground savior for hundreds of artists and other prisoners. It is inhumane and Nazi-like to judge him for only nine out of his ninety years. Before and after his Hitler adoption, he led an exemplary life, and not entirely blameful during his "adoption".

Klaus Staeckel canceled his own planned poster exhibition at Schwerin in protest. Staeckel, now the president of the Academy of Art (the same position the Nazis took from Breker's friend Liebermann), should rethink his 1980 Verbot campaign (No Nazi Art in German Museums). It is an intellectual position as stupid at the Nazi Verbot against "Entartete Kunst".

It's as foul as the DDR lefties trying to keep Wolf Biermann de-Burgered. I prefer Christian compassion and forgiveness. Nastiness comes in many forms. Breker had none as far as I can see. Besides I love his work. About which I knew nothing before Schwerin. Put him on Fritz Stern's list, please. Dr. Patrick D.Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

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