The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book review

Heckling Hitler

  • HECKLING HITLER: CARICATURES OF THE THIRD REICH, by Zbynek Zeman. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1987, Pb., 128 pp., illustrated, $14.95, ISBN 0-87451-403-7.

Reviewed by Jack Wikoff

Heckling Hitler, a recent selection of the Jewish Book Club, is a collection of 178 anti-Hitler, anti-National Socialist and anti-German political cartoons of the Weimar Republic and Nazi eras. The author, Zbynek Zeman, lives and teaches in England and has written several books on the propaganda of the Second World War.

This volume of political cartoons, which is accompanied by an extensive text, will be of interest to the Revisionist solely because of its historically curious and valuable illustrations. Unfortunately, the text is riddled with anti-Hitlerian platitudes, unhistorical cliches and myths. Author Zeman displays a complete lack of objectivity throughout his textual commentary.

Zeman is clearly no Germanophile. In the introduction he brazenly claims that Germans have no sense of humor. The reader is repeatedly told that Germany was an ideologically and socially backward nation.. From the first chapter, titled “Young Hitler: The Making of a Famous Monster,” the following chapters continue in this disparaging vein to discuss chronologically the events which inspired the political cartoons in this volume.

Political caricature has traditionally flourished in mass circulation daily newspapers. The staff cartoonist, working to fight deadlines, produces a visual statement in quick response to rapidly changing news developments. In Heckling Hitler the reader is provided with many examples of the Allied view, in caricature, of such events as the burning of the Reichstag, the “Night of the Long Knives,” the Spanish Civil War, the Munich Agreement and the Anglo-American alliance with Communist Russia. In retrospect, these political cartoons provide today’s historian and student of popular culture with an understanding of how the National Socialist regime was represented to the daily newspaper reader, the “common man” in the Allied nations.

Many prominent English, American, European and Soviet cartoonists are introduced throughout the text in short biographies, among them David Low, Josef Capek, Paul Weber, George Grosz and Karl Arnold. Many of the artists featured were sufficiently politically organized to mount an anti-Nazi and anti-fascist exhibition of cartoons as early as April-May 1934 in Prague.

Paul Weber is representative of the remarkable careers of many of these cartoonists. Up to 1934 he produced powerfully executed anti-Nazi drawings for pamphlets and periodicals published by the “National Bolshevist” radical Ernst Niekisch, the former chairman of the Munich Workers' and Soldiers' Council of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. Weber spent much of 1937 in the custody of the Gestapo, then emigrated to Florida in 1938. He returned to Germany in 1939 and subsequently produced a series of lithographs condemning British imperialism. Much of this work was published in National Socialist Germany in a work titled Britische Bilder (British Pictures) in 1941.

Perhaps because Heckling Hitler was originally published in Britain, the very important American caricaturist, Arthur Szyk, who produced brilliantly malicious and sarcastic covers and cartoons for Colliers magazine, is regrettably not represented.

Because anyone may be caricatured and ridiculed by exaggeration, political cartoons inherently lend themselves to propaganda against the leaders of other nations. Especially interesting are the many cartoons which lampoon savagely the National Socialist German leadership. As indicated by the title, Adolf Hitler is the target of the majority of illustrations.

Next to Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, is ridiculed most often. Very effective is a cartoon by the Soviet three-man team of graphic artists called Kukriniksy (a composite of their names: Mikhail Kuprianov, Porfiri Krylov and Nikolai Sokolov). Entitled “Fascist Lie Gun,” the cartoon portrays Goebbels as a Hitler-operated machine gun spouting paper (propaganda) through his megaphone-like mouth. One 1931 cartoon strip by the Czech artist Frantisek Bidlo mocks Goebbels' novel Michael. [Now available in English translation from the IHR.] Elsewhere Goebbels is drawn as a monkey riding on Hitler’s shoulder. Alfred Rosenberg is presented as a fur-clad German barbarian with white collar, bow tie and cuffs dancing around a bonfire of books; Herman Göring as a fat, bemedaled boor or a golden-tressed Wagnerian opera singer with horned helmet; Robert Ley, the director of the German Labor Front, as a drunk; SA leader Rohm as a homosexual and so forth through the Nazi hierarchy.

Several of the cartoons in Heckling Hitler rely upon crude racial stereotypes of German people. Thus the Germans are sometimes drawn as beer-swilling louts in Bavarian peasant costume, sexually rapacious, dunderheaded bullies, or obese, blond Bauernfrauen.

After viewing the drawings in Heckling Hitler, many readers are likely to be curious about what sorts of political cartoons were being produced in National Socialist Germany. The average reader is not likely to find a collection of National Socialist German cartoons at the local bookstore or library. The diligent collector can gather a representative collection by making photocopies from scarce bound and microfilmed copies of Nazi-era German and National Socialist periodicals such as Völkischer Beobachter, Das Reich, or the English-language News from Germany.

Nor are we likely to discover a volume of cartoons by major German political artists such as “Erik,” Ernst Heimer, “Groth,” or E.O. Plauen. Especially forbidden would be a collection of the anti-Jewish cartoons of “Fips,” the pen name of Phillip Ruprecht, who drew for Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer.

Hopefully the publication of Heckling Hitler will, if nothing else, stimulate the study of political cartoons of all the belligerent nations during World War Two. Certainly in a war as brutal and merciless as that tragic conflict, one cannot expect the political cartoonists to have pulled any graphic punches. After all, if one is going to bomb, shoot, hang and torture the enemy, then drawing degrading, savage and comical pictures of that same enemy is to be expected.