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Center for German and European Studies Presents

The Ghosts of Denazification in Histories of the Arts

2/26/19, 4:30 PM

About this event

Speaker: Pamela Potter
Professor of Music and German
Director of the Center for German and European Studies
University of Wisconsin, Madison

In her recent book, Art of Suppression: Confronting the Nazi Past in the Visual and Performing Arts, Pamela Potter considers how historians of art, music, theater, film, and dance tended to distort the image of cultural life under Hitler as far more repressive than it actually was. Her investigation showed how their accounts were influenced by the Cold War, the complex meanings of modernism, the experiences of exiles, and the wish to preserve the idea that true art and politics cannot mix. This talk looks at another factor not covered in the book, namely, the flawed Allied project of denazification and its lasting impact on biographies of artists, composers, and other creative individuals. From 1945 to 1950, the high drama surrounding the denazification proceedings attracted international attention, but the establishment of the two German states stifled any critical assessment of the program and its shortcomings, ignoring its lasting impact on postwar German society in the unrelenting wish to judge individuals as Nazis or non-Nazis. In the biographies of creative artists, scholars took pains to defend their subjects because a negative judgment would carry the high stakes of condemning an entire life’s work as tainted. The cases she examines not only disclose the persistent myths that artists in the Third Reich managed to stay “above politics” but also prompt us to consider how the failure to acknowledge the psychological legacy of denazification has hindered us from moving beyond worn classifications of guilt or innocence and from exploring the complex cultural negotiations, both during and after the Hitler years.

A small reception will follow.

Sponsored by: Center for German and European Studies & Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Event Location
  • Social Sciences, room 710
  • 267 19th Avenue South
  • Minneapolis MN
  • USA