Capturing the German Eye
American Visual Propaganda in Occupied Germany
Shedding new light on the American campaign to democratize Western Germany after World War II, Capturing the German Eye uncovers the importance of cultural policy and visual propaganda to the U.S. occupation.
Cora Sol Goldstein skillfully evokes Germany’s political climate between 1945 and 1949, adding an unexpected dimension to the confrontation between the United States and the USSR. During this period, the American occupiers actively vied with their Soviet counterparts for control of Germany’s visual culture, deploying film, photography, and the fine arts while censoring images that contradicted their political messages. Goldstein reveals how this U.S. cultural policy in Germany was shaped by three major factors: competition with the USSR, fear of alienating German citizens, and American domestic politics. Explaining how the Americans used images to discredit the Nazis and, later, the Communists, she illuminates the instrumental role of visual culture in the struggle to capture German hearts and minds at the advent of the cold war.
“Cora Goldstein’s Capturing the German Eye recounts the complicated and often contradictory role that visual culture (from propaganda films about the Holocaust to satirical journals) played in the ‘reeducation’ of the Germans after 1945. Focusing on the American zone of occupation (with brilliant comparisons to the Soviet zone) Goldstein shows how American domestic politics, especially that of race, impacted the reconstruction of a postwar West German identity. The chapter on how the United States dealt with German museums and art alone is worth the price of the book: it is sad that Donald Rumsfeld did not read it before abandoning the Iraqi cultural patrimony to looters after ‘Mission Accomplished.’”
“Cora Sol Goldstein has written a brilliant study of the arts of dominion. She captures the drive to make people see, to shape what they see, to hold their gaze. We see that the gaze is not easy to hold, we watch propagandists and artists, military men and civilians in their efforts to stage politics and history. Their failures are as fascinating as their successes. Reading this account of occupied Germany may prompt readers to turn a critical eye on their own carefully staged, all too cinematic visions of history.”
“Cora Goldstein’s book is centrally concerned with military occupation and with the transition from dictatorship to democracy. She focuses her evocative study on the role of images, the destruction of a dictatorial image world, and the generation of a democratic one in this shift of power. The insistence on the power of imaginaries serves as a stark reminder for another age of nation building. The highlight of the book, though, is how modernist art came back to Berlin in a competitive race between, of all places, Washington and Moscow—with their respective military governments in Germany as the main agents.”
“Challenging recent negative assessments of American efforts to reeducate the Germans after 1945, Goldstein’s is the first comprehensive study of Allied film and visual arts propaganda and of the bitter conflicts inside the military administration over how punitive the occupation should be. Set against the background of the Nazi propaganda experience as well as Soviet and British cultural politics during the early cold war, this excellent study will be indispensable not only for modern historians but also for film studies and art history.”