In The Beginning Was The Word: The Art of Hermann Otto Hoyer

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‘Selbstportrait im Spiegel’ with “Toni” (Antonia)’ by Hermann Otto Hoyer

One of the most famous paintings of the Third Reich era (if there ever was one) is undeniably Am Anfang war das Wort (In the beginning was the Word) from 1937, painted by Hermann Otto Hoyer, a German artist who, very unfortunately for him, had to go through the tribulations of both wars, losing an arm in the process and experiencing the ignominious life of a prisoner in enemy territory. However, the loss of his right arm during WWI did not deter Hoyer from continuing with his artistic career, and in fact we can see photos of Hoyer painting sketches of the aforementioned work with just one operative arm; that is what I call perseverance!

In spite of having gone through both conflicts as a combatant Hoyer managed to stay alive up to the age of 75, though after WWII, he had to go through the humiliation of being imprisoned once again by the Al-lies in his own homeland for another couple of years.

The following biography comes almost entirely from Galleria d’Arte Thule. Bear with me that the original text was poorly translated from Italian so some mild incongruencies could show up in the text, but I think I did a pretty good job overall, in spite of the limitations. I hope you appreciate it.


Hermann Otto Hoyer was born on January 25, 1893 in Bremen. He studied and worked as a painter on glass in Metz, Nancy and Basilea. Hoyer was described as a serious man, reserved but not aloof, tall, reddish-blond and freckled. Before carrying out his military service in Bremen between 1913/14 he spent a semester with Josef Goller in the Art of School of Dresden.


In the First World War, at the Battle of the Marne, Hoyer was wounded by a piece of shrapnel and was taken prisoner and locked up by the British. As recounted later he felt like “a rat in a cage” in Britain. He had to remain in captivity for more than two years so that he could regain his freedom. After two attempts to escape without success he was taken to the concentration camp for “refugees” of Graiba in Tunisia which forced inmates to 14 hours a day of hard labour and only one round of cleaning staff each 60 days. On his third attempt to escape Hoyer was captured again just before the front of Tripoli and locked up for 60 days in a cage, with the shape of a tent, without moving. The next stage of his military detention ordeal was Emzarir, a place plagued by raging typhus and malaria.

The prison camp was then moved to Marseille. Once there he was able to escape with a friend, who was killed by a bullet during the escape flight, while Hoyer reached Switzerland with his right arm badly injured and fractured. From that point on Hoyer had to learn, with great difficulty, to work with his left hand.

After the war, he was finally able to return home. From 1919 to 1925 Hoyer attended classes at the Art Academy in Monaco with Hermann Groeber, a favorite pupil of Franz von Stuck and Carl von Marr. In 1922 Hoyer painted a portrait of Dr. Ferdinand Sauerbruch, an oil painting which still decorates a room in the Chirurgischen Klinik Humboldt University in Berlin. In 1925 Hoyer, who was supported by the brewery family Carl Richter (whose son he was a prisoner of war with), built a country house in Oberstdorf (Allgäu). Hoyer painted landscapes and portraits there. A monumental communion (dinner) at the mountain station of the cable car in Nebelhorn painted in 1929 is still visible today, in a directory of the Heimatmuseum Oberstdorf.

Hermann Otto Hoyer not only specialized in portrait painting but also in German rural life, as this great work of art at the “Artige Kunst” Exhibition in Rostock (Germany) in 2017 clearly shows.


Hermann Hoyer became an early member of the NSDAP Party. With the famous painting SA Man with a Swastika Flag and Wounded Comrade on the Shoulder (1933) (actually known as Bild der Kampfzeit) he put his art at the service of the NSDAP. In the House of Art in Munich in 1937 Hoyer introduced the famous painting Am Anfang war das Wort (In the Beginning was the Word) representing Adolf Hitler speaking to the citizens of Oberstdorf in the initial Kampfzeit of the National Socialist movement. Hitler bought the painting for the planned art gallery in Linz. This painting was reproduced in thousands of postcards and art magazines.

In the Second World War, although devoid of the use of an arm, Hermann Otto Hoyer volunteered for the Waffen-SS with the rank of Obersturmführer (lieutenant). In 1943 he was appointed professor of art academy in Munich. In 1944 Hoyer participated in the exhibition of German artists and the SS in Wroclaw and Salzburg with a portrait of the SS-Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke, a Knight of the Iron Cross who died in the Russian front on February 26, 1943, when his plane was shot down by enemy fire.

The works included in the exhibition were included in a subsequent catalog published by the Reichsführer SS Main Office from Wilhelm Limpert Verlag Berlinof in 1944 entitled German Artists and the SS. Directory of artists and works with 20 Pictures for the Salzburg’s exhibition in June/July 1944. Many of the works were reproduced in postcards. The catalog’s introduction was prepared by SS-Obergruppenführer General Waffen-SS Gottlieb Berger, director of SS-Hauptamt in Berlin.


During the 1945’s “denazification” programs Hoyer was again detained for political reasons. After his release in 1947 he lived with his daughter and son in Oberstdorf until his death on May 30, 1968. Hermann Otto Hoyer was buried in the cemetery of Oberstdorf.

At this day and age Hoyer’s paintings are really difficult to find in public places. One of his paintings hangs in the Museum der Stadt, another in the Wittelsbacher Hof, but most of his artistic works are privately owned.

Washington, May 2, 2001. In another room of the archive that contains the watercolors of Adolf Hitler rests a 1937 painting entitled ‘In the Beginning was the Word’ by Germann Otto Hoyer. An artwork still unavailable to the public at large due to its “blatantly propagandistic” nature. Apparently some individuals are really afraid that such “dangerous” image might inspire people still today. (Photo by Susana Raab for The New York Times)

But… what happened to the celebrated painting In the beginning was the Word?

In much of the literature dedicated to the art of the Third Reich, the painting is presented as a model for the creation of the myth of the “dictator seen as the messiah”. On the orders of the Allied Control Commission, the painting was seized and taken to a military depot of the United States on 13 May 1946. Up to this day the painting is still unavailable to public view, along with four other works, due to the painting being considered “blatantly propagandistic”. The painting is currently in the custody of the U.S. Army at the United States Army Center of Military History in the basement of a skyscraper in Washington DC.

Sources: Galleria d’Arte Thule, Le Prince Lointain, Artnet, Metapedia (Deutsch) and

‘Braunhemd Im Straßenkampf’ (Brown Shirt In A Street Fight) by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘Bauernmahl’ (Farmers’ Dinner) (1935) by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘Am Anfang war das Wort’ (In the beginning was the Word) (1937) by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘Ende des Tages’ (End of Day) (1932) by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘Ferdinand Sauerbruch In The Operation Room’ (1922) by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘Jaeger’ at the Heimatmuseum Oberstdorf by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘SA Man with a Swastika Flag and Wounded Comrade on the Shoulder’ (1933) by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘SS Obergruppenführer Theodor Eicke’ (1944) by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘The Great Trek’ (1940) In memory of the re-entry into the German Homeland of the peasants of Galicia and Woylinia by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘Vor der Mahd’ (Before the Mowing) by Hermann Otto Hoyer
‘Selbstportrait im Spiegel’ with “Toni” (Antonia)’ by Hermann Otto Hoyer