Wolfgang Willrich: An Artist of the Third Reich
One of the Third Reich’s most famous artists was Wolfgang Willrich.
Born on March 31, 1897 from a long line of peasant stock, Willrich displayed artistic while still very young.
When he went to college in 1915 in Berlin, he viewed the art trends as decadent. In 1916 he was drafted and served as a non-com in the 251st Infantry Regiment.
He was awarded the Iron Cross on the Western Front. When he became a p.o.w., he spent much time drawing. His first drawings were published by the International Red Cross in a magazine for prisoners of war.
After his release, he resumed study. Although he joined Ludendorff’s Tannenberg Association, differences with Mathilde von Ludendorff caused him to leave. But he still published in their journal. Willrich excelled at portraying Nordic racial types.
In 1933-1934 he was active in the Reich Ministry of Culture, but was forced out because of his affiliation with the Ludendorff circle. Later R. Walter Darre made him an independent employee so he could continue to draw Nordic peasants, which he did with much enthusiasm. Many of his drawings appeared as posters and postcards and were widely distributed. But he still maintained his independence.
He turned down Heinrich Himmler’s offer to become an honorary member of the SS. I fact, he never even joined the NSDAP. Ironically, he considered the Third Reich’s opposition against degenerate art to be too moderate! Together with Walter Hansen and Graf Klaus von Baudissin, he helped organize the Munich Exhibition of Degenerate Art in 1937.
In 1939 he asked to be sent to the front as a combat artist. After Poland, he went to France, Norway, Finland, Sicily and Russia. Many famous military leaders were portrayed by him. Later he portrayed many holders of the Knights Cross. At the end of 1943 he returned to Berlin where he continued his work.
His final art works were published in Argentina after the war. He died on October, 1948 of cancer.