It began with a young city planner. He was deeply disturbed that far-right groups were organizing meetings at the “Friedenskreuz (Peace Cross)” station of the Wehrmacht Memorial located on an idyllic mountain path above the town of St. Lorenz, Austria.
The Wehrmacht unit was tasked with training young German draftees. In fact, the Wehrmacht waged a brutal war without compassion against Yugoslavian Partisans.
In 1943, this unit was engaged in almost daily battles with Partisans. So-called retaliatory measures saw entire villages raised to the ground, hostages taken, and civilians murdered.
In 2015, St. Lorenz’s courageous mayor approved a competition and only artists were invited. Several artists presented proposals.
The winning artist was Martin Krenn. He collaborated with RAHM architekten (architects), Robert Streibel (historian) and Gregor Kremser (artist and historian).
On April 3, 2016, a gathering of Austrian government officials, artists, documentarians, historians, and art lovers celebrated as a transparent 2987 cm x 4280 cm (approximately 98 ft. x 140 ft.) metal and fabric version of John Heartfield’s powerful political photomontage Deutsche Eicheln
was unveiled to take a permanent place directly in front of the Wehrmacht “Friedenskreuz (Peace Cross).”
Five students from secondary schools also contributed anti-fascist montages (42.0 cm x 59.4 cm on plates) to the memorial. These works by inspired young artist surround the John Heartfield Deutsche Eicheln
political photomontage installation. Their montages stand as a powerful rebuke against those who would seek to poison the minds of youth with bigotry and hatred.
The “Mahnmal Friedenskreuz St. Lorenz” project is a result of cooperation between Public Art Lower Austria
, Wachau Dunkelsteinerwald Regionalentwicklung, and the community of Rossatz-Arnsdorf.
More about this inspiring event and art installation will be available when Deutsche Eicheln Memorial At The Friedenskreuz St. Lorenz page is added to the HIS EFFECT section of the Exhibition.
In Heartfield’s political art, there are similarities between Hitler’s uniform and Hitler Youth uniforms. However, Heartfield did not dress Hitler in shorts like a Hitler Youth youngster. This is completely in line with Heartfield’s philosophy that his political collages must always be created from real images. He did not “Photoshop” reality to make his point. He used reality in a satiric or ironic manner to drive home his message.
Hitler’s threat must be taken seriously. He is in charge now (the gardener). Hitler is looking after affairs (the metal watering can). The outcome is booming militarization (acorns). What seems likes a harmless activity has massive implications. Deutsche Eicheln
makes it clear that the Hitler Youth, the militarization of German children, had an international impact.
Heartfield does make Hitler appear preposterous by enlarging his head. However, Hitler is not portrayed as infantile or ridiculous. He clearly remains a highly dangerous scheming strategist. Hitler’s enlarged head suggests a puppet under the control of financiers and war profiteers.
The oak tree is a German national symbol. It stands for endurance, fortitude, loyalty, and reliability. In short, it’s a symbol of strength. The stem of a healthy oak should be upright.
Heartfield’s oak trunk appears warped and damaged. This is a “distorted” tree. Hitler is corrupting the stock with his watering can. Following that logic, the root cause of the degenerate acorns is the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, chauvinism, militarism, and patriotism.
There are also the spiked helmets, which were associated with the Prussian military. The gas mask would be a reference to WWI as well as to the newly founded National Air Raid Protection League.
It’s notable that Hitler is not watering oak saplings, but rather an existing big old tree. This means he is refining and enhancing an existing tradition.
Oak leaves are an international symbol of heroism. They are used in many countries. They were also used in Nazi Germany and were SS insignia.
Acorns were also SS insignia (a link amplified by the helmets which sport swastikas). Acorns usually fall in autumn, especially September. The acorns in Heartfield’s montage German Acorns (Deutsche Eicheln)
are huge. They are ready to drop. Heartfield is warning of a war in the making.
Obviously, the acorns Hitler is growing won’t fall far from the tree. This indicates Heartfield is warning of another war in Europe.
Some of the acorns have flat tops. These could signify dumdum bullets whose military use was outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1899.
Is Heartfield implying Hitler was breaking international law? Is he referring to the horrors of WWI where illegal weapons like dumdum bullets were used despite the Hague Conventions? The injuries that these weapons caused were still part of collective consciousness and experience.
Ultimately, Heartfield’s Deutsche Eicheln (German Acorns)
challenges the idea that Nazis could be trusted. Hitler’s expression is grim. It is not the face of a beneficial gardener growing healthy crops.
Implicitly, Heartfield’s political art against Hitler questions Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy. References to Nazi blood and soil ideology and back to nature cult only enhance the grotesque effect of the scene. They support Winston Churchill who had publicly challenged German rearmament and questioned the isolationist policy of the USA.
As so often with a Heartfield photomontage, there is a visual pun. Since Hitler is not your obvious choice as a gardener, the German saying “den Bock zum Gärtner machen” springs to mind. It translates to “to appoint the goat as gardener.” Who would have a goat as their gardener? This is one more dig at Adolf Hitler’s supporters.
Finally, there is the double meaning of “Eicheln.” It can mean acorn, but also glans. Perhaps Heartfield is commenting on Hitler’s fantasies of a testosterone-fueled master race? It’s the sharp-witted satire contained in John Heartfield WWII German political photomontages.
The macho fantasies of Adolf Hitler are also on display in the John Heartfield political photomontage Völkische Tiefenschau
, AIZ, August 31, 1933.