A DOUBLE DOSE OF EVIL: GUEST LECTURERS KEN JOHNSON, STEVE HELLER, AND POISONOUS PROPAGANDA FROM THE WOLFSONIAN COLLECTION

Just last week, Florida International University Professor Kenneth Johnson and the prolific New York design author and educator Steve Heller delivered lectures to FIU students and faculty using images in their presentations derived in large part from the “dark side” of the Wolfsonian museum’s propaganda holdings.

As Associate Professor of English at FIU, Dr. Johnson has been engaged in the study of demonization and representations of evil in the twentieth century. Some years back, Ken received a Mellon grant designed to encourage faculty to integrate museum objects and artifacts in their curricula. Needless to say, during his residential fellowship at the Wolfsonian he found abundant material for his field research in our extensive collection of war posters and other propaganda items. Subsequently, many student researchers enrolled in his classes have come to the Wolfsonian library to view and study some of those primary source materials. This past Wednesday, Dr. Johnson again made use of some of the provocative propaganda from the Wolfsonian Museum in structuring a lecture titled: “Quiet Violence: The Deep Structure of Violence in the Graphic Arts of War Propaganda.”

Johnson_Jap

 Dr. Johnson took as his central theme the concepts of “identity” and “differentiation,” arguing that “who and what we are is defined by who and what we are not.” Dr. Johnson focused on propaganda that aimed to protect and preserve the identity of “us” by doing “violence to the integrity of the other.” For me personally, the most compelling (and chilling) part of his lecture was the section he called “Teach Your Children Well.”

Johnson_Aryan

Here Dr. Johnson focused on some Nazi-era children’s propaganda books published to differentiate, dehumanize, and demonize Jews in the eyes of “Aryan” schoolchildren in Hitler’s Germany. The Wolfsonian library holds two of the most inflammatory and offensive Nazi children’s books: Der Giftpilz (The Poison Mushroom) and Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid (Don’t trust a fox on a green heath or a Jew by his own oath).

giftpilz-reading 

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GIFT OF ERIC FEILER

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Both of these offensive books were published by Julius Streicher (1885-1945), a virulent anti-Semite.

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The Julius Streicher quote reads: “He who fights the Jews, battles with the Devil.”

In the winter of 1922, Streicher traveled to Munich to hear a speech by the fiery orator and revolutionary, Adolf Hitler. Following that transformative meeting, Streicher became an active supporter of Hitler, and brought his own followers into the Nazi Party, nearly doubling party membership. He also participated in Hitler’s attempt to seize power in Munich during the failed Beer Hall Putsch on November 9, 1923, and was rewarded two years later by being appointed Gauleiter (a Nazi paramilitary commander) for a region in Bavaria.

During this same period, Streicher was actively publishing the anti-Semitic periodical, Der Stürmer (or, The Storm Trooper) which blamed Jews for Germany’s economic and social problems and alleged that Jews were ritually murdering Christians.

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Streicher’s Storm Trooper regularly featured antisemitic cartoons by Philipp Rupprecht (publishing under the pseudonym, Fips).

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After the Nazis took power in 1933, Streicher gained even more power and influence, and his anti-Semitic tracts even greater circulation, especially after the führer announced that Der Stürmer was his favorite paper. Streicher’s publications and speeches played a notorious role in vilifying and dehumanizing Jews. Addressing a crowd of 2,000 children at Nuremberg on December 22, 1936, Streicher reportedly “told the little ones about the terrible times after the war [WWI], when the Devil dominated mankind. ‘Do you know who the Devil is,’ he asked his breathlessly listening audience. ‘The Jew, the Jew,’ resounded from a thousand children’s voices.”

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Children’s books like The Poison Mushroom and Don’t trust a fox… were designed to persuade young German readers that their Jewish neighbors were members of an evil race intent on preying on and corrupting young German women and children—exactly the sort of “purposeful and intentional quiet violence” described by Professor Johnson in his lecture.

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The Poison Mushroom—(also illustrated by Fips)—stereotyped Jews as greedy sexual deviants (heartless Capitalists, landlords, lawyers, Communists, pimps, and pedophiles), thus providing the preparatory psychological brainwashing necessary for the later perpetration of the Holocaust.

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GIFTS OF ERIC FEILER

In the March 19, 1942 issue of Der Stürmer, Streicher signed off on an article celebrating Hitler’s announcement of Hitler’s solution to the Jewish “problem” the previous month, ominously noting that: “There were two ways which might have led to a liberation of Europe from the Jews: Expulsion or extermination! Both methods have been tried in the course of the centuries, but they were never carried to a conclusion…. Fate has decreed that it was finally left to the 20th century to see the total solution of the Jewish problem.”

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After the war, Streicher was brought to trial for War Crimes at Nuremberg. Judged guilty of crimes against humanity, he was sentenced to death: “…For his 25 years of speaking, writing and preaching hatred of the Jews, Streicher was widely known as ‘Jew-Baiter Number One.’ In his speeches and articles, week after week, month after month, he infected the German mind with the virus of anti-Semitism, and incited the German people to active persecution….”

Close on the heels of Dr. Johnson’s lecture, Steven Heller came down from New York to deliver an afternoon presentation at FIU last Friday, the last in a series of Spring 2013 lectures organized for the FIU Jewish Studies Program, Material and Visual Culture of the Holocaust. The lectures were organized in tandem with Race and Visual Culture under National Socialism, an exhibition in the Frost Museum’s teaching gallery curated by FIU Associate Professor Oren Baruch Stier from artifacts from The Wolfsonian-FIU museum.

EXHIBIT BROCHURE

Heller’s talk, “Branding the Nazis,” expounded on many of the themes of his terrific publications on the subject published in 2008: Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State and The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? His presentation this past Friday included images from a few of the hundreds of artifacts which he had generously donated to The Wolfsonian after completing the research on those book projects.

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http://www.librarydisplays.wolfsonian.org/Youth%20in%20uniform/YOUTH.htm

GIFTS OF STEVE HELLER

Around the time these books came out in 2008, Steve interviewed me for a podcast talking about some of the Nazi materials in the collection.

http://www.hellerbooks.com/podcasts/other_core77_frank_luca.mp3

For me, one of the more ironic of the gifts is a book titled Kampf um’s Dritte Reich [Struggle for the Third Reich] that includes a selection of photographs and artistic designs by Hitler’s official photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann.

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GIFT OF STEVE HELLER

Although the Nazis actively campaigned against cigarette smoking—as they wanted healthy young men to swell the ranks of their army—this sticker book published by the Cigaretten-Bilderdienst encouraged Germans to poison their minds with Nazi propaganda even as they poisoned their lungs with tar collecting cigarette cards to glue into the album.

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GIFT OF STEVE HELLER

I was personally thrilled to have Steve back in Miami Beach, where he and his wife, Louise Fili—another prolific graphic designer and author—volunteered to give a joint lecture on design to a packed auditorium at The Wolfsonian later that same evening. Those of you who don’t know Steve should check out his amazing blog post, The Daily Heller:

http://imprint.printmag.com/daily-heller/

~ by "The Chief" on March 26, 2013.

One Response to “A DOUBLE DOSE OF EVIL: GUEST LECTURERS KEN JOHNSON, STEVE HELLER, AND POISONOUS PROPAGANDA FROM THE WOLFSONIAN COLLECTION”

  1. Great Blog!

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