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The popular support for Adolf Hitler that followed the National Socialists’ seizure of power in January 1933 tempted many German manufacturers to employ NS references to boost their products’ appeal.

Dr. Goebbels moved quickly to regulate the flood of NS-themed merchandise and, on May 19, 1933, passed the “Law for the Protection of National Symbols.” Local authorities were authorized with the power to seize goods and prosecute manufacturers or merchants who sold products that used National Socialist symbols in ways that were deemed to violate the dignity of NSDAP and the German state. Lists of banned goods, including the names and locations of their producers, were published periodically in the Deutscher Reichsanzeiger (German Reich Gazette), the official state newspaper. Over the years, such contraband included Stormtrooper gingerbread, wine bottles and ashtrays ornamented with swastikas, women’s brooches with “Heil Hitler” in imitation diamonds, and alarm clocks that played the NSDAP anthem, “Die Fahne hoch” (The Flag on High).What began as a legal measure quickly grew into a broader cultural campaign. Newspaper and journal articles warned of the damage done to the German people by kitsch, an argument that had already been made by the German Werkbund at the turn of the twentieth century in its design reform campaign. Since 1933, government and cultural authorities, hoping to educate consumers, organized exhibitions of banned NS merchandise and similarly tasteless products, which attracted tens of thousands of viewers and international attention.

In the reception rooms of the Gau propaganda offices, there was a large glass showcase. It included awards and posters, but also displayed in an eloquent way every manner of national Kitsch. The display provided an educational display of which decorations and goods are worthy of the German people, and which are not.

For example, because Haus Wachenfeld (and later the Berghof) was so closely identified with the Führer, its commercial use also fell under the broad new legislation. This raises an interesting question regarding what might have threatened the dignity of the house. In the case of Haus Wachenfeld, by contrast, the quality of the merchandise seems to have been the deciding factor in determining approval or rejection of commercial designs. Thus, porcelain ornamental plates depicting Haus Wachenfeld tended to be approved, while terra-cotta ones were not. Similarly, a design for velvet cushion covers with an image of “our Führer’s country home” was rejected as an example of “tasteless products.” The concern about the kitschy quality of NS merchandise was not limited to Haus Wachenfeld. Guidelines to help interpret the law emphasized the need for high standards in a design’s conception and execution – all artistically inferior reproductions of National Socialist symbols were to be rejected. Nonetheless, many products did receive approval, since the National Socialists realized that such popular consumer goods increased their hold on the public imagination, as consumers brought these loaded symbols into the intimacy of their homes and made them a part of their everyday lives. Thus, children played with toy wooden models of Haus Wachenfeld and saved their pennies in Haus Wachenfeld replica coin banks; framed colour prints of Haus Wachenfeld hung on living room walls; Hoffmann’s books lay on coffee tables; and the postman delivered postcards of Haus Wachenfeld from friends vacationing in southern Bavaria or just writing to say hello. 

Law for the protection of national symbols

19 May 1933

The Reich Government has passed the following Act, which is hereby announced:

§ 1

It is forbidden to use the symbols of the Germanic history of the German State and the national uprising in Germany publicly in a manner that is likely to violate the sense of dignity of these symbols.

§ 2

The higher administrative authority of the place of manufacture decides whether an object contrary to the provision of § 1 has been placed on the market. In this case, items of this kind are subject to forfeiture without compensation.

§ 3

The police authorities may seize the property before the decision of the higher administrative authorities if, at their discretion, there is a violation of the prohibition in § 1. In such cases they shall immediately inform the administrative authority responsible for the decision.

§ 4

[1] Parties involved may appeal against the decision of the higher administrative authority within 2 weeks to the highest state authority. The appeal has no suspensive effect.

[2] The Reich Minister for National Enlightenment and Propaganda and the state government supervisory to the higher administrative authority may, through a representative of the public interest appointed by them, also appeal to the decision of the highest state authority within the time limit specified in § 1.

[3] Pending the final legal decision, the confiscation ordered by the higher administrative authority shall be regarded as seizure.

§ 5

Compensation for the effects of a seizure is not granted even if a final decision is made that there has been no violation of the prohibition in § 1.

§ 6

In case of doubt, the decisive authorities should hear an expert who combines artistic understanding with a sense of national responsibility.

§ 7

Legal decisions according to §§ 2 and 4 have effect for the entire Reich.

§ 8

Police regulations may be issued for the implementation of § 1 in such cases where the offence consists of singing and playing certain songs or other actions other than placing objects on the market.

§ 9

[1] Whoever deliberately or negligently places objects into circulation contrary to a decision according to § 2 or § 4 shall be punished with a fine of up to one-hundred and fifty Reichsmark or imprisonment.

[2] Likewise, anyone who deliberately or negligently contravenes the police regulations issued on the basis of § 8 will be punished.

§ 10

Existing provisions relating to symbols or emblems of the German Reich and the German states remain unaffected.

§ 11

The legal and administrative provisions necessary for the implementation of this Act shall be enacted by the Reich Minister for National Enlightenment and Propaganda, insofar as regulations relating to symbols and emblems of the German Reich are concerned, are in agreement with the Reich Minister of the Interior. He may issue guidelines for the application of this Act. Which authorities are viewed as the higher land authorities, the higher administrative authorities and the police authorities in line with this Act, are determined by the state governments.

Berlin, May 19, 1933

The Reich Chancellor
Adolf Hitler

The Reich Minister
for popular enlightenment and propaganda
Dr. Goebbels

The Reich Minister of the Interior


Guidelines for the application of the Law of 19 May 1933 on the protection of national symbols

1. If an object itself constitutes the symbol, then its use and distribution is permitted only if it is a product of the visual arts or if the applied art is, for example, pictures and plaques of leading personalities, swastikas on pins or chains, or SA figures.

2. If the symbol is displayed on the object or represented in connection with it, its use is permitted only if the object itself or its purpose has an internal relationship with the symbol, e.g. a swastika at the tip of a flag. In particular, the use of the symbol affixed to the object for the purpose of decorating the object or increasing its marketability is not permissible, e.g. the use of the swastika or German colours on such items as children’s play balls, money boxes, paper, cufflinks, chocolate and tobacco packages. The use of the symbol for advertising purposes is prohibited in any circumstance.

3. In all cases of clauses 1 and 2, the use of the symbol is prohibited if its design is of inferior quality or is provided with disfiguring accessories, e.g. artistically inferior portraits, or with self-luminous swastikas.

4. By the issuance of police regulations (§ 8 of the Act), the use of symbols by singing and playing songs and in the reproduction of products of literature shall be declared inadmissible if the artistic presentation or performance is deemed inferior, or if the performance is made under circumstances which do not reflect the dignity of the symbol, such as playing the national anthems in potpourris or traditional army marches for dancing.

5. The official party-approved badges of the NSDAP as well as pictures of the Führer in the form of busts and plaques may not be used without the consent of the Reichs Leadership of the NSDAP (the Reich Executive Director, Munich, The Brown House) If at the time of the decision there is a permit or a prohibition from the Reichs Leadership, the deciding authority is bound by it. If the opinion of the Reichs Leadership is not yet available, the item is to be obtained before the issuance of the decision and taken as a basis.

National kitsch

Audit of the shops in Königsberg

The Königsberg Police Headquarters shared among other things the following:

„In the last few days, the Gau propaganda management of the NSDAP and the responsible clerk of the police headquarters have audited many Königsberg shops to see if they carry items of national kitsch. In the process, many items were discovered on which symbols of the German state and its national uprising were appropriated in a form that violated the sense of dignity of these symbols. Among other things, the following items were discovered: ashtrays with swastikas; children’s balls with swastikas; pencils with the Horst Wessel song; stationary with the swastika flags and imprinted swastikas; wallets with the insignia of the NSDAP; a cigarette case (silver) with the black-white-red flag and swastika; children’s stockings with a swastika band on the upper trim; cushions with the insignia of the NSDAP; liquorice sticks with swastikas or with a black-white-red flag; cufflinks (silver) with a reduced size swastika flag; paper napkins with a swastika and a black-white-red flag; chocolate wrappers with „Heil-Hitler“ and a picture of the Reich Chancellor; tobacco packages with marching SS men.“


Anti-kitsch exhibition in Cologne

It was the Minister, Dr. Goebbels himself, who said that a work of art is not required to make a program requirement effective, that it is not the symbols and events, but rather the underlying ideas that must take shape. It is not a cheap, anecdotal „immediacy“ that determines the value of art.

The very active Cologne chapter of the „Kampfbundes für Deutsche Kultur“ (The Fighting League for German Culture) acts entirely in accordance with the minister’s opinion, when it searches less for regulations for the art movement itself than those at the points where everyday life assumes form to see whether the measure and tact of national form correspond to the desired content of the National Socialist Volksgemeinschaft (People’s Community). Two events served this purpose.

„Away with the Kitsch!“ is the title of an exhibition at the art association. It is divided into two halves, black and white, as it were. On the left, in a plush and turned „salon“, all conceivable „national consumer goods“, from swastika wallpaper to sausage with the swastika - on the right, a modern kitchen/living room, with simple and unadorned utensils and Hitler’s portrait in modest graphics. As natural explanations serve children’s drawings with the theme „How it should not be“, in whose nightmare room from fleeing perspective, thanks to a childlike imagination, the walls, floors and all things are covered in the colours black, white and red in a tricky way and strewn with spidery swastikas. Meanwhile, a series of photographs, albeit at times randomly selected and questionable in their historical interpretation, but nevertheless attractively arranged in a text frieze, explains the meaning and decline of the sun symbol, from Egypt to the Middle Ages until our own time.

Thus, it seems the dignity of the symbol, which has never been used in the past on utility items and only recently for advertising purposes, is compellingly demonstrated. The lesson is obvious. Not without good reason was an advertisement for purposeful household and other appliances associated with it. Of course, in this context the question must remain unanswered as to why and on what grounds has the use of kitsch only been able to grow so much in recent times. Nevertheless, the defence of such exhibition means of national kitsch was undoubtedly effective.

(from: The Frankfurter Zeitung of July 18, 1933)


On the kitsch list

The Reich Ministry of Peoples Enlightenment and Propaganda in turn took decisions on the basis of paragraphs 2 and 4 of the Act on the Protection of National Symbols, which concern the kitschization of national symbols and tasteless products.

Accordingly, by a new decision, once again twenty products have been properly authorized. Included among these are New Years cards with the swastika, Christmas tree decorations with the swastika and a transparent picture of the Reichs Chancellor with a device for its illumination. Also, for the first time, SA and SS figurines are admitted, because they were of good quality and gave the SA and SS a worthy appearance.

In contrast, 49 kitsch objects were put on the banned list. Among them, and similar, are decals with famous German personalities, self-binders with interwoven swastikas, wooden menu stands, sweaters with sewn-on swastikas, children’s aprons with sewn-on swastikas and sewn-on inscriptions of „Heil Hitler“, and suspenders made of elastic with interwoven swastika patterns. Further items placed on the kitsch list include: Coloured prints, which had been printed in a completely asymmetrical manner with a dissimilar, partly disfiguring reproduction of the portraits of the statesmen in attendance of the national assembly in the Garrison Church in Potsdam as well as postcards with a poem „Der Führer“, whereby the name of the Führer was highlighted in perpendicular sequence with red initial letters.

(from The Frankfurter Zeitung of November 27, 1933)

Contemporary definition from Meyers Lexicon, eighth edition 1939, Bibliographic Institute Leipzig

KITSCH. The (probably from the English sketch, sketch).

Refers to trash, dishonest things that are issued as genuine without justification of genuine sentiment or an inner truth.

Kitsch arises from standard produced falsifications of genuine folk art as well as from the mostly tasteless, emotionally blurred use of fundamental values of all arts in general.

Noteworthy kitsch to be mentioned: the sentimentalism of many entertaining novels, sweet music and clichéd films filled with fairy-tale happiness, also the inferior coloured prints and pictures, flamboyant and impractical furniture, as well as household atrocities such as „knick-knacks“ or „travel souvenirs“. The „national kitsch“ that wanted to spread after the upheaval, fell into prohibition as it was abusing national symbols and the images of the Führer and his fellow fighters. The national kitsch shows exemplarily how difficult it is to determine or to limit the general origin and possible impact of the kitsch.

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