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Hummel volunteers were unfit for Nazis

The Volunteers -special Iraqi Freedom issueOne might think the Nazis embraced kitsch. But they didn’t like Hummels. Their Army Times equivalent, Der SA-Mann, derided Berta Hummel’s depictions of impoverished but happy German children. Her charcoals and porcelain figurines looked like “wasserköpfige und klumpfüßige Dreckspatzen.” That’s “hydrocephalic, club-footed goblins,” instead of the “hard as Krupp Steel” Aryans they wanted Nazi Youth to be.
 
You might be wondering about the American Flag shown on the right…

The Third Reich banned the sale of the light hearted Hummel statuettes in Germany, but allowed their export, to profit by the foreign exchange.

In 1937 as Germany geared up for war, Berta, now Sister Maria Innocentia working from a convent in Siessen, Wuerttemberg, countered by publishing an uncharacteristically sad drawing of two boys dressed as Brownshirts, called Die Freiwillige, or The Volunteers, under which she inscribed this plea: “Dear Fatherland, let there be peace!”

When the Hummel print archive was on display in New Braunfels, Texas, in 1999, museum docent Tom Ryan described Die Freiwillige:

“They wear short pants and long sleeved brown shirts resembling those of adult Nazi ‘S.A.’ thugs. The cowed boys goose step in unison from left to right. Their tiny combat boots have no strings. Their hair spills out from under their caps. Nearer to us, the first boy somberly beats cadence on a thin, gaily colored drum which resembles a castanet. On his right a less than happy marching partner rests his toy rifle upside down on his right shoulder.”

Hitler was reportedly furious. Paper supplies were denied to the convent and German galleries were forbidden to display Hummel’s art. Eventually SA soldiers were quartered in the Siessen convent and the sisters were put out. Sister Hummel was forced to live in a basement and died shortly after the war of tuberculosis.

But the story is not over.

Another fate awaited Sister Maria’s sad satiric pair, the two little boys who marched unhappily, accompanying Hummel’s personal call for peace. Instead of unwittingly beaconing adults to lead their drumbeat circle in the opposite direction, far away from war, the little pair was ultimately fashioned into a new Hummel. This time sans brown shirts, but with rifle held adroitly.

The two play soldiers were remade into infant patriots, taking up the drum and given the same name, this time in English: “The Volunteers.” Hummel figure 50/0 was made into a special collectible in 1990, for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

(Synopsis: Godmother Superior of kitsch, Maria Innocentia Hummel, intended her “Volunteers” to be a plea for peace. The forlorn would-be soldiers were an affront to Hitler, but a half century later, the United States would prove its imperviousness to satire and enlist Hummel’s little boys into the war against Iraq.)

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