When we have the opportunity, we savor the warmth of an art gallery or museum. The possibility of seeing a work by a favorite artist fills us with anticipation, and we hope to linger in contemplation over the painter or sculptor’s use of form and color—to immerse ourselves in the piece for gratification and education. But what if you were a lover of Franz Marc’s bold Expressionist shapes and colors or a devotee of Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky’s extraordinary and groundbreaking use of geometric shapes and line, and those artists were missing from the walls—taken down because they did not satisfy the government’s definition of what art should be?
Such was the time that my characters in The Traitor inhabited during political tumult in Germany. On July 19, 1937, the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition opened in Munich with more than 650 works that only weeks before had been in public museum collections throughout the land. Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernst Kirchner, Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, and Oscar Schlemmer were just a few of the noted artists whose paintings and sculptures were confiscated. Outside of government-approved pieces, all others were to be shunned.
Thousands viewed these works as the exhibition was mounted throughout Germany to the general derision of the public, as leaders reiterated the message that any deviation from the norms of creative expression was offensive and detrimental. Citizens reacted negatively to the collection, but what were the true feelings of those visitors? Did their responses reflect fear or conformity to expectations? That question is still open to debate.
The two heroines of my book, who take action against the ideology and practices of the country’s regime, viewed the exhibition when it opened in Munich. They refer back to this—remembering the visit with regret—as they survey sterile, formalist, and propagandistic art in a new museum for German art, saddened because their world has become darker and less colorful.
Much of the rejected art was auctioned off or lost in World War II, but many pieces once deemed unsuitable were later considered priceless.
V. S. Alexander is an ardent student of history with a strong interest in music and the visual arts. Some of his writing influences include Shirley Jackson, Oscar Wilde, Daphne du Maurier, or any work by the exquisite Brontë sisters. V. S. lives in Florida and is at work on a new historical novel for Kensington. Visit his website at VSAlexander.com.
Drawing on the true story of the White Rose, a resistance movement of young Germans, The Traitor tells of one woman who offers her life in the ultimate battle against tyranny during one of history’s darkest hours.
In the summer of 1942, as war rages across Europe, a series of anonymous leaflets appears around the University of Munich, hidden in public places or mailed to addresses selected at random from the phone book. Natalya Petrovich, a student, knows who is behind the leaflets—a secret group called the White Rose, led by siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends.
As a volunteer nurse on the Russian front, Natalya witnessed the horrors of war firsthand. She willingly enters the White Rose’s circle, where every hushed conversation, every small act of dissent could mean imprisonment or death. She risks everything alongside her friends, hoping the power of words will encourage others to resist. But even among those she trusts most, there is no guarantee of safety—and when danger strikes, she must take an extraordinary gamble in her personal struggle to survive.