How did the Nazis control culture and leisure?

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German Women Smoking Cigars in a Cafe, Berlin, 1927 

Moral decline?

“We demand laws against trends in art and literature which have a destructive effect on our national life, and the suppression of performances that offend against the above requirements."

The Program of the National-Socialist German Workers Party, Munich, 24 February 1920.


Why might it have been important for the Nazis to control cultural activities and cultural works?


Why do you think the Nazis wanted to control leisure activities?


How might the Nazi version of German culture have influenced the lives of the German people?

Burning books

During the 1920s Germany experienced a cultural rebirth. Berlin became one of the most exciting capitals in the world. In the field of literature, art, music, film and theatre there was extraordinary innovation and experimentation.

The Nazis and those on the political right felt that Weimar culture represented a moral decline. One of the first acts of the regime was the burning of the books. On 10 May 1933, University students began to destroy any book that was contrary to Nazi ideology. Joseph Goebbels himself threw the works of Sigmund Freud on the flames.

A hundred years earlier, the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine had stated “Any society that burns books will one day burn people”. The Nazis tried to ban Heine’s writings, but he was too much part of German folk lore, so under his writings was written Anon.

Every aspect of cultural life was now monitored by the Reichs Ministry of Culture.


The Nazis promoted the playing of ‘pure’ classical, folk and military style music. Performances of music from German composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Wagner were encouraged. In fact Hitler once stated “In order to understand National Socialism you should listen to Wagner.

Any work by Jewish musicians, such as Mendelssohn were banned, as was jazz music as it was considered ‘black’ music’.

Art and archetecture

Art and architecture were Hitler’s particular interests. Earlier in his life he had attempted to earn his living as an artist in Vienna. Modern art was discouraged as Hitler thought that it perverted and unpatriotic. Instead he demanded art that portrayed and glorified the ‘Aryan’ race, with the family and military figures as the preferred subjects. Paintings and sculptures of were commissioned and displayed in the House of German Art.

Sports and fitness

Physical fitness was at the core of Nazi philosophy. Compulsory deductions were made from workers’ wages to pay for the ‘Strength through Joy’ programme. Two cruise liners were built to take workers on holidays.

The Nazi government financed sports facilities and provided theatre visits for its good, hardworking workers. These programmes appealed to many people.