Revisiting the Artists Who Worked to Resist the Nazis in 1940s Germany

An underreported part of history

German Resistance Memorial Center in the Bendlerblock
The German Resistance Memorial Center, Berlin.
Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images

In the early 1940s, a loose organization of artists within Germany sought to push back against the efforts of the Nazi government in numerous ways. As a recent article at Hyperallergic points out, their efforts included sending intelligence to the Allies and the Soviets, as well as working to help people who were in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. This group is best remembered today by the name given to them by German intelligence: the Red Orchestra.

An exhibit at the German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin, titled Stefan Roloff: Bearing Witness — Red Orchestra Survivors Speak, revisits the efforts of this group. Roloff is himself the son of one of the surviving members of the Red Orchestra, and his exhibit features extended interviews with, and footage of, other surviving members of the group. Roloff has also made an acclaimed documentary on the group.

As Erin L. Thompson writes at Hyperallergic, the group was not immediately recognized for its efforts after World War II as Cold War tensions between the United States and Soviet Union increased. As Thompson points out, one of the primary goals of Roloff’s work has been to demonstrate that the Red Orchestra’s members were far from politically monolithic. “Their visions of the political future differed,” Thompson writes. “They agreed only that the Nazi present was intolerable.

Revisiting this moment in time includes learning of numerous people who put their lives at risk — and who, in some cases, were executed by the Nazis for their work. It’s a harrowing but vital piece of history.

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