Jan 26, 2014

Nazi Relics and Knick-knacks

A week ago, on the 19th, I slogged through snow and slush and pore-slitting winds to the Field Museum to see a special exhibition of Nazi propaganda materials. I was a little guilty of my desire to go -- of course it was an interesting subject for historical reasons, but I also wanted to be shocked and horrified. I was not disappointed.

The exhibit was structured in a very effectively claustrophobic way, a rat's maze of red and gray walls projecting Nazi doctrine towards you from every angle. There were posters to stroke the sentiments of disenfranchised workers and women, some with images of blonde, bright-eyed children looking briskly into a middle distance with Hitler's face superimposed over the sky as a hanging gray mist... Most disturbing to me was footage from "Jud Süß", a 1940 propaganda film, because in the clips I could see how the emotionality might stir an audience and bolster their antisemitism to a dangerous degree. Art, image, and the charismatic, compelling presentation of ideas have that power.

You would never expect to burst out laughing in an exhibit like this, but I did when I saw this relic: "Juden Raus (Jews Out)!" -- a board game for children. Preserved behind glass were the little figurines of caricatured Jews that you could move throughout the game until they were deported to Palestine. The goal is to get rid of all your pieces. Just absolutely, sickeningly ridiculous.

Around the final turn in the exhibition was a very satisfying "de-Nazification" section, with footage of American soldiers dismantling road signs and destruction of Nazi monuments, information on how Germans began to rebuild and reconcile with what had happened (the implication being that they all had to awaken from a trance, which I suppose is true in some ways). Then, a very stern series of placards detailing how people can be susceptible to propaganda and you -- even you, gentle museum-goer -- could have been if you had lived in Nazi Germany.