German church restores and lists Nazi artwork as ‘cultural artefact’

Grotesque antisemitic 1935 artwork of the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus has been restored in Offenbach-Bieber


A German church has recently restored a grotesque antisemitic 1935 artwork of the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, which embodies the twisted values of the Nazis.

Although the parish priest has denounced the group of paintings, they have now been officially listed and preserved as a “cultural and historical artefact”.

Created in 1935, the altarpiece at the Evangelical Church in Offenbach-Bieber, is the state of Hesse’s only remaining depiction of biblical history created under Hitler’s genocidal regime.

The infant Jesus is pink-skinned, with blond hair and blue eyes. And the crucified Christ has only tiny wounds but bulging muscles. But the pictures not only pander to the Nazis’ twisted obsession with the supposed genetic superiority of the Aryan race, they also glorify their rabid hatred towards Jews.

The thief on the left cross, for example, is a Jewish caricature drawn in the same style as images published in the Nazi-supporting newspaper Der Stürmer. The Pharisees, Jesus’s opponents, have hooked noses and stand lurking in the shadows. Both Jesus and the Roman centurion, however, stand tall and proud in gleaming light.

“Everything reflects the aversion to suffering at the time and is instead based on the worship of heroism,” said a church information sheet in 2000.

Now the local parish priest, Georg Bloch-Jessen, has gone considerably further: “The picture is clearly antisemitic,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper last month.

The offensive artwork was created in 1935 by Hans Kohl, a scenery painter from Frankfurt, who designed it as part of the new church building.

The then parish priest, Pastor Heinrich Gebhardt, started raising funds for the building in 1927.

He was a member of the German Christians (Deutschen Christen), a firebrand antisemitic strain of German Protestantism hell-bent on forcing the church to align with Nazi ideology.

Three of its core emblems showed a fusing of the cross with the Nazi swastika and its official flag was a cross with a swastika at its heart. The German Christians demanded the expulsion of all Christians of Jewish origin and promoted the concept of an “Aryan Jesus”, sent by God to protect the Aryan race.

One of their leading figures, Nazi party member Ludwig Müller, was made “Special Representative for Church Affairs” by Hitler in 1933.

In 1985, the parish officially decided not to take down the murals, although a swastika in the masonry was removed. Twenty years later, the then Pastor, Angelika Meder, wrote that although the pictures represented the Nazi values of the time, many local people still liked them and they gave the building “a special character”.

Chairman of the church board Peter Kreuzer told the JC: “The artwork was created in this region in 1935, and as a result, what is portrayed in the murals is, let’s put it like this, contemporary.

“I’m always cautious when dealing with this subject because this picture is from that period in history, and is therefore naturally also shaped by the spirit of the time. We wanted this work — which was recently restored — to be preserved and to be officially listed so that it can enjoy official protection as a cultural and historical artefact.

“For me, it is always a reminder of this time, and a warning, and we in Germany as a whole must make sure these artworks are not be allowed to fall into oblivion and be forgotten.

“We also have candlesticks next to the pulpit, designed by a Jewish woman, which say ‘Shalom’ in Hebrew.”

Lisa Preugschat, a member of the Offenbach-based local youth theatre project Meschugge, which promotes work against antisemitism and other forms of discrimination, told the JC:

“It was and still is very important to raise awareness of antisemitism in Germany. Antisemitic narratives can be found in every walk of life. I think it is very important to stand up for a society in which nobody has to be afraid to live out their identity openly.

“In order to stop reproducing antisemitic images and narratives and to avoid further hurting those affected, such cultural assets should be removed.

In order not to contribute to historical distortions, they should be documented or made accessible elsewhere and a notice board should be set up at the place of origin to enable critical historical research.”

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