American cultural terrorism (1943)

Pictured is a 1943 propaganda poster by Norwegian pro-Nazi Artist Herald Damsleth. Damsleth was a member of Norway’s home-grown fascist party, Nasjonal Samling, and became their most ardent propagandist after they came to power under German occupation in 1942. Thus, while not formally a part of the German Nazi Party, Damsleth’s work is still integral in understanding the paradoxes in National Socialist depictions of African-Americans as well as how artwork was used to promote Nazism outside of Germany.

“Cultural Terrorism” (Kultur-Terror) is a composite monster of nationalities, ideologies, or ethnicities seen as unacceptable in the utopian Nazi fatherland. The amalgamation of negative associations with America include jazz music (the record), crude capitalism (the “Jewish” businessman with a bag of money), naked women, and slavery. Together they form an artificial homunculus whose sole purpose is to destroy European culture, pictured through the American ‘bomb-leg’ destroying European landmarks (Lübeck’s castle is pictured).

Damsleth’s work reflects Nazi attitudes towards both Jim Crow and American racial violence. Ironically, American race relations, accentuated in the monster’s KKK hood and the nooses, were castigated a symptom of an uncontrolled and uncultured society. While Nazis did not disapprove of Americans’ “racial consciousness” per se, they condemned this freestyle violence as chaotic. And they critiqued what they saw as American hypocrisy, especially when contrasted next to symbols of the American justice system like the gravel and handcuffs. Similarly, despite the criticism of slavery depicted through the two dancing Black slaves in the cage, the poster also demonstrates a distinct racial hierarchy by ironically labelling their jitterbug dancing as the “Triumph of Civilization.” The unclothed Black figures dancing in angular forms symbolize a degenerate African race marked as hypersexual and primitive and, thus, antithetical to Nazi European-Aryan culture.

Niamh Neville

Source: Harald Damsleth, “Kultur-terror. USA vil redde Europas kultur fra undergang. Med hvilken rett?,” Nasjonalbiblioteket Oslo Krig.Nazi.3081. Image courtesy of S. Jones.

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