Inhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture by David B Dennis - review by Frederic Raphael

Frederic Raphael

Culture Vultures

Inhumanities: Nazi Interpretations of Western Culture


Cambridge University Press 541pp £25

Francis Ford Coppola poured Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ over the scene in Apocalypse Now in which a swarm of US helicopters bracket a Vietnamese village and drench it in flames. He could not have implied a clearer analogy between the policies of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and those of Adolf Hitler. History too has a soundtrack. Hitler’s ascent was based on homage to Richard Wagner, the only other Führer to whom the master race was expected to bend the knee in conformity, with his slogan, ‘Germans, honour your German Masters!’ It is sometimes regarded as a conundrum how concentration camp officials could return from their bestial activities and then admire, and play, Beethoven, Mozart or Bach. In fact, we are told here, Bach’s art was held (however absurdly) to prophesy ‘the fate of the Fatherland in its present, most severe volkish struggle’. German music was re-orchestrated to provide a tonic for racial superiority. 

David B Dennis is a professor of history at Loyola University Chicago. Before composing Inhumanities, he ‘examined every page of the [Nazi newspaper] Völkischer Beobachter from January 1920 through April 1945’ and anatomised every ‘major article’ on the arts and philosophy in order to furnish this ‘thematic and chronological tapestry

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