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Arnold Trachtman was born in the United States and is well-known for his incisive paintings and his critique of contemporary sociopolitical landscapes. His major works deal with the more subtle aspects of Nazism, especially the corporate culpability, what Hannah Arendt called the "Banality of Evil."
I was born in the United States, three years before the Nazis came to power in Germany. I was lucky. I grew up in the "Arsenal of Democracy." And yet it was not always safe. Anti-Semitism thrived here. At any time you could be attacked, verbally, physically or both, by kids your own age or older, and sometimes by adults. The end of the war came with newsreels of the camps and the infinite mounds of the dead being bulldozed into great pits. The survivors looked just barely alive. Their pain was palpable. When I found my direction as an artist, I made work about issues of the day. While pursuing these themes, I found myself continuously drawn to the history of Nazism. Yet it did not appear in my work. I wasn't ready. In late 1985, I was. What I wished to do was demystify the demonology of Nazism. I wanted to show the men behind this great engine of genocide: the major industrialists and corporations of Germany, such as Thyssen, Krupp, Daimler, Benz, Siemens, to name a few. Ten years after the war, all of them were back in business. Understanding the epoch of Nazism, economically, politically and socially, is part of the unfinished business of our era. As this century draws to a close, aspects of Nazism are manifesting themselves in various parts of the world. We must penetrate the darkness of our past in order to have a future.
The Aposteosis of Krupp,1988 Acrylic on canvas
Alfried Krupp, a member of the Krupp Family that ran Germany's largest armaments industry, was tried as a war criminal by the Allies at Nuremberg. Although he was found guilty and sentenced to a long prison term, he was restored to power because of the advent of the Cold War, threats of Soviet encroachment on Germany, and the need to rebuild Germany as a western ally.
Our Most Important Product,1987 Acrylic on canvas
Trachtman's paintings are in a pop art style and use images taken from film montage techniques. Here he shows Hitler's assumption of power on January 30, 1933. President Paul von Hindenburg sits on the right. The "most important product" of the Third Reich would eventually be the gas chambers, built by the TOPF Corporation of Erfurt, Germany.
Peace in Our Time, 1991-92 Acrylic on canvas
Trachman identifies who are the real culprits-not necessarily the Nazis, but the corporate CEOs who aided them, plus the false ambitions of politicians like Neville Chamberlain, who believe that through appeasement, "peace in our time" (Munich Agreement) was possible.
Eastern Tours,1988 Acrylic on canvas
Trachtman's painting raises the issue of corporate culpability during the Third Reich. I.G. Farben, the largest German conglomerate, owned Bayer, AG, Degesh (The German Insecticide Company) and other firms. They produced "Zyklon B" gas for use at Auschwitz and Majdanek death camps for killing inmates. They sold this chemical to the S.S. at a profit. Trachtman asks, "how could it happen?" and suggests that all of the perpetrators did not wear military uniforms.
Page updated 2013.