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Teachers Collaborate: Exploring Music and Art in Nazi Germany 

At lunch one day last year in the dining hall, history teacher Lauren Williams mentioned to some other faculty members that she and her students were going to look at concepts of propaganda in her Germany and the Holocaust term course. 

“It just so happened that the right person was sitting there,” she recalled. That person was Netta Hadari, Loomis Chaffee’s Orchestra director. “Netta immediately jumped in and said that (this) was a particular area of interest and field of study of his. I thought: ‘He has to come to my class,’” Lauren said.

The two of them came up with a plan, and on Tuesday, October 4, Netta visited the class as the students considered propaganda surrounding Hitler’s election as chancellor in 1933. 

During his visit, Netta discussed, among other things, the ways in which Hitler used more classical forms of music and art — such as the “distinctly German” orchestral pieces of Richard Wagner, “Hitler’s favorite composer” —  as Nazi propaganda and how he explicitly set up the more modern forms of German Expressionist art and music, which were documenting and exposing the social inequalities of the time, as “entartete” (degenerate) art, in an attempt to subjugate the societal impact of the Expressionist movement.  “Hitler undersood the power of art,” Netta said. “Remember that he was a failed art student.” 

The students viewed and compared several pieces of Expressionist art to artwork from earlier periods and they listened to a moving, atonal piece, “Madonna” by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, who was Jewish and one of those deemed “entartete” by the Nazis. Several students commented that the music was not pleasing to listen to. “I ask you to consider the difference between art and entertainment,” Netta said. “Entertainment reinforces what you know; art questions what you know. Allow your world to be shaken up by (art.)” 

The students gained new insights from Netta’s visit. “[I] thought his class was really interesting because we got to look at German Expressionism,” reflected senior Turner Brode, “and I really enjoyed learning about the shift (from representation) into emotion expressed in art during these times.” 

For Lauren, the visit also reinforced the importance of using the expertise of her colleagues to enrich her teaching and the importance of bringing in outside voices. Through a summer institute that she completed through the Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, Lauren has gained access to thousands of hours of recorded, first-hand testimonies from people who witnessed and survived the Nazi persecutions. (https://fortunoff.library.yale.edu/)

Lauren plans to incorporate some of the testimonies into her course. “We don’t have the same opportunities we once had to bring survivors of the Holocaust to campus given how few remain,” she said. “It’s so important for our students to hear these stories first-hand to help them understand the impact of the Holocaust.” 


 

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