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culture acquired greater prominence in both than is generally the case for mod-
ern states. As the archives of the former Soviet Union have become more open
to scholars in recent years, one of the most striking discoveries has been the

University Press, 1996] and Eric Rentschler™s The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its
Afterlife [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996]), little Nazi cinema, other than the
well-known ¬lms of Leni Riefenstahl, was directly propagandistic, and most of it was essentially
light entertainment.
“Die grosse Kulturrede des Fuhrers: Die grosse Kulturtagung,” Volkischer Beobachter 7 Septem-

ber 1938. See also Hitler™s Kulturtagung speech of 1935, in which he foregrounds opera and
architecture (“Der Fuhrer stiftet die Ehrenpreise der Bewegung fur Kunst und Wissenschaft,”
¨ ¨
Volkischer Beobachter, 13 September 1935).
Hitler™s speech of 27 January 1932 to the Dusseldorf Industry Club.

“Schenkt Eure Treue dem neuen Reich! Die grosse Rede des Fuhrers an die Deutschen der Saar,”

Volkischer Beobachter, 3“4 March 1935.
Katerina Clark and Karl Schlogel

extent to which in the 1930s the Politburo were engaged in legislating cultural
matters “ especially Stalin, who, when the Politburo divided up stewardship of
the various branches of government, took the area of culture for himself.96
Since the Soviet Union could not claim to be technologically or militarily
more advanced, it emphasized instead as the grounds of its preeminence a
superior ideology and culture. It was the “country of world culture” while
Nazi Germany was falling far behind in that critical criterion; indeed culture
was, as it were, withering away there.97 Soviet spokesmen belittled the way
Nazi Germany, for all its technological and military advances, failed to use an
advanced science of society (read Marxism-Leninism) and hence, as Bukharin
put it, failed to read “the book of history” and were hurtling their coun-
try backward into the dark ages rather than forward.98 Since history was on
the Soviet side, Bolsheviks could proceed with con¬dence while Nazis would
always be plagued by the fear that their program would fail and their party fall
Nazi Germany, represented as the land of “medieval barbarism and ter-
ror,”100 provided a convenient villain for a country that was stepping up its
own terror and also entering the period of the show trials. But the accusation
that the Nazis were barbaric was not just a matter of name calling. Though
they were seen as barbaric in the more literal sense of violently repressive,
“barbaric” also pinpointed their position on the Bolshevik map of historical
progress. The indicator of their position was less their violence than their atti-
tude to textual culture. To the Soviets, culture meant above all written texts
and among written texts (other than classics of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism)
literature especially.
In Soviet rhetoric “culture,” or as it was also represented, “humanism”
(an “ism” particularly associated with a textual culture), provided one side
of an overarching binary (the other side being “barbarism”) that structured
most representations of the contrast between Nazi Germany and, variously,
the Soviet Union, true Europe, or a true representative of humankind (these
three categories were in their sense of things closely linked). The binary was
presented primarily in terms of the relative command and commitment to
language and culture (after all, we call substandard locutions “barbarisms”).
This master binary subsumed several others which structured most representa-
tions of “them” (Nazis) in Soviet rhetoric of the thirties and the contrast with
“us” (Soviets/Europeans/human beings): unreason/reason, irrational (sadistic,
hysterical)/rational (calm), destroyers of culture/champions and rescuers of cul-
ture, the Dark Ages/the Enlightenment. At the center of all these binaries was

Leonid Maksimenkov, Sumbur vmesto muzyki: Stalinskaia kul™turnaia revoliutsiia, 1936“1938

(Moscow: Iuridicheskaia kniga, 1997), esp. 52“3.
E.g., G. Ryklin, “Zdrastvuite, tridtsat™ piatyi,” Ogonek, no. 1 (1935): 4“5.

N. Bukharin, “Pochemu my pobedim?” Izvestiia, 1 May 1934.

Karl Radek, “Kuda idet Germaniia?” Izvestiia, 22 March 1933.

Pravda, 3 March 1935.
Mutual Perceptions and Projections 429

a concern for the written word, for what “humanism” was deemed ipso facto
to be most committed to foster and preserve.
That this binary was not entirely generated by the Bolsheviks problematizes
the question of the provenance of the basic image of Nazi Germany. One of its
most explicit and pointed formulations is to be found in Lion Feuchtwanger™s
novel The Oppermanns (originally: Die Geschwister Oppenheim; after revi-
sions in exile: Die Geschwister Oppermann),101 which was ¬rst published in
1933 and was thus a trendsetter in representation of the Nazi regime. Feucht-
wanger was not a Communist. Though somewhat Moscow-leaning,102 he went
into exile in southern France and later the United States. As Feuchtwanger
makes clear in his preface, the novel is essentially a ¬ctional rejoinder to Nazi
theory and practice and especially draws, in representing them, on such Hitler
sources as Mein Kampf. The Oppermanns became one of the most popular
novels in the Soviet Union after it was subsequently released in Russian trans-
lation in hundreds of thousands of copies; it was also made into a ¬lm.103 Thus
it was an important text in establishing the Soviet image of Nazi Germany.
The Oppermanns could be approximately characterized as a Jewish version
of Thomas Mann™s Buddenbrooks in that the novel chronicles the decline and
fall of a prosperous merchant family (in this case Berlin-based Jews who own a
chain of furniture stores) culminating in the death of a particularly sensitive and
cultivated male heir. Feuchtwanger™s novel, however, rather than following his
family over a long expanse of time, as does Mann™s, shows a rapid decline over
the period 1932 to 1933. As these dates suggest, a further difference is that the
main reason for this decline is the rise of the Nazis and the persecution of the
Jews; the young scion of the dynasty, Berthold, for example, does not die of
natural causes as in the case of his counterpart in Buddenbrooks but commits
suicide because he cannot take Nazi persecution.104
The novel provides a sociological study of the fate of Germany™s Jews, the
various family members each representing a different occupation and often a
different political orientation as well. Its primary purpose, however, is to estab-
lish how the Nazi “barbarians,” as Feuchtwanger calls them,105 are destroying

The title for the ¬rst edition (Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1933) was Die Geschwister Oppen-

Later in the thirties Feuchtwanger was more closely identi¬ed with the Soviet cultural front.

He became an editor of Das Wort, which ran from 1936 to 1939, and in 1937 he published
Moscow 1937, a commissioned rejoinder to Gide™s attack on the country, Back from the
Sem™ia Oppenheim, adapted for the screen by Sera¬ma Roshal™ and directed by Grigorii

Roshal™, Mos¬lm, January 1939; Viktor Fink, “Sem™ia Oppengeim na ekrane,” Literaturnaia
gazeta, 1 December 1938.
A similar account of the situation of the educated Jews in Nazi Germany and Nazi disregard

for intellectual values is presented in Friedrich Wolf™s play Dr. Mamlock, also of 1933, which
was widely reproduced in Russian in the Soviet Union.
Lion Feuchtwanger, Die Geschwister Oppenheim (Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1933), 144.

Lion Feuchtwanger, The Oppermanns, trans. Jane Cleugh (London: Martin Secker, 1933),
Katerina Clark and Karl Schlogel

true culture and professionalism. Here the central account is provided in a
confrontation between Berthold and his new, Nazi teacher at the gymnasium,
Dr. Vogelsang. Berthold had intended to prepare a class paper “Humanism
in the Twentieth Century” but was required by Vogelsang to write instead
about the alleged triumphs of Arminius against the Romans. Berthold™s failure
to present a suf¬ciently heroic account of Arminius as the victorious German
warrior (together with his Jewish identity) makes him a marked man for Vogel-
The Nazi/humanist clash is also played out in a series of hypocritically
polite exchanges between Vogelsang and the cultivated gymnasium rector, an
anti-Nazi friend of the Oppermann family. The rector reproaches Vogelsang
for the abominable grammar and general desecration of the German language
that he ¬nds in Hitler™s Mein Kampf. Vogelsang, who has recognized these
de¬ciencies to himself and is embarrassed by them, rather than admit this
retorts that Hitler himself made the point in Mein Kampf that oral speech
is higher than the written.106 Berthold™s suicide occurs in the middle of the
novel, but when the work was adapted for ¬lm, the suicide was made the ¬lm™s
climax. And the novel™s end, when an uncle returns to Nazi Germany to join the
Communist underground and perishes, a narrative one might have expected to
be foregrounded, was cut from the ¬lm.
That Soviet spokesmen foregrounded written texts in their account of true
culture while the Nazis, and Hitler in particular, insisted that oral culture was
more authentic could be explained in terms of the fact that Hitler was more
successful as an orator (several German contemporaries remarked that they
came away from his speeches convinced, but if they subsequently had occasion
to read the same speeches, they were totally unimpressed) than Stalin, who
unlike Lenin or Trotsky was not a gifted orator. His speeches were often not
heard at all by the populace but only read in Pravda or some such print source.
Arguably, however, this difference did not just have to do with the respective
strengths and weaknesses of the two national leaders but pinpoints a funda-
mental difference in values. Nazis regarded written culture with suspicion, the
Soviets with extraordinary veneration.107

narrating nazi germany: scenes and sites of contention
The contrast between the two rival regimes to be found in Soviet sources of
the 1930s was framed by a narrative developed in response to two con¬‚a-
grations of the initial year of Nazi rule, 1933: the burning of the books and
the Reichstag ¬re. This narrative was highlighted in a series of public events
with great international visibility which included the Leipzig trial of Dimitrov

Lion Feuchtwanger, Die Geschwister Oppenheim, 111“13. Lion Feuchtwanger, The Opper-

manns, 112“14.
Clearly this opposition was far from absolute in practice inasmuch as Hitler™s Mein Kampf

functioned in Nazi culture as the highest authority. Also, as Peter Fritzsche and Jochen Hellbeck
bring out in their essay in this volume, Nazis were, like Soviet citizens, encouraged to write
their “autobiographies.”
Mutual Perceptions and Projections 431

and others accused of burning down the Reichstag (1933), the Paris Congress
for the Defense of Culture (1935), its sequel in Madrid and Valencia (1937),
and the International Exposition in Paris the same year where the Soviet and
German pavilions were most pointedly set up opposite one another for direct
The books were burned in an infamous moment on 10 May 1933, in a
bon¬re on a square opposite the University of Berlin (many of its students par-
ticipated), a fact that was particularly poignant given the role of its founder,
Alexander von Humboldt, in fostering a humanist education in German uni-
versities (something Radek was quick to point out in his commentary when he
also alluded to Fichte™s addresses from Berlin to the German nation).108 This
event was just the most dramatic in a systematic campaign by the Nazis to
eradicate the kinds of literature and culture they found threatening, whether
by actual physical destruction, as in this case, or by banning or bowdlerizing
a text. Many of the big names in literature and culture had already emigrated
from Germany, but this gesture alienated them further. The Soviet Union took
up their cause and acted as patrons of a transnational fellowship of what the
Soviet writer Sergei Tretiakov called, in the title of his book that contains
chapters on many of them, Liudi odnogo kostra (People of the one bon¬re).
Among many antifascists, it became a point of pride to have had one™s books
burned. The writer Oskar Maria Graf was distressed to ¬nd that only some of
his books had been burned, and in an open letter titled “Burn Me,” he begged
the Nazis to consign the rest to the ¬‚ames.109 Tretiakov™s title is ambiguous.
On the one hand, it suggests a fraternity attracted to the light/heat/¬re of the
great cause, possibly the revolutionary cause, but on the other hand, it also
suggests the willful destruction wreaked by the Nazis, that is, versions of the
two poles of possibility that structured the main Soviet narrative on the Nazis:
This dichotomy received its most prominent airing at the great international
antifascist meeting in Paris of June 1935, the Congress for the Defense of Cul-
ture. By “culture” its title primarily meant literature “ mostly writers attended “
and at the conference literature was characterized as the bearer of “humanism,”
“civilization,” and other such transcendent values which the Nazis trampled
on in their “barbarism” and the burning of books.
Among the antifascists, literature played a central role in cementing a sense of
common cause among politicians and intellectuals of widely differing political
and class backgrounds who were to unite as a “popular front.” The Soviet
Union, which largely bankrolled and organized the event (here Ehrenburg and
Koltsov were particularly active), was using it to enhance its stature in the
world arena.110 However, in order to unite such disparate factions it was

Karl Radek, “Vysshe znamia sotsialisticheskoi kul™tury,” Izvestiia, 13 May 1933.

David Caute, 53.

Boris Frezinskii, “Velikaia illiuziia “ Parizh, 1935 (Materialy k istorii Mezhdunarodnogo

kongressa pisatelei v zashchitu kul™tury),” Minuvshee: Istoricheskii al™manakh, no 24 (1998):
Katerina Clark and Karl Schlogel

decided that the fact that it was a Soviet initiative with Soviet backing should
not be evident, and even that there should be no explicit resolutions of support
for the Soviet Union111 and that in the speeches and resolutions due respect
should be paid to the “bourgeois” as well as the proletarian and revolutionary
cultural tradition.112 Consequently, for the congress such slogans as “culture,”
“humanism,” and “world literature” were chosen “ slogans that were suitably
grandiose but equally suitably vague.
A later, highly visible confrontation between the two came in 1937 at the
International Exposition in Paris. The Nazi-Soviet rivalry there is generally
discussed in terms of architecture, that is, in terms of their two juxtaposed


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