OPPOSITE VIEWS OF WORLD WAR II: WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY HOSTS FIU STUDENTS STUDYING GERMAN AND U.S. PROPAGANDA
It was a busy Saturday morning and afternoon at the Wolfsonian library, as Florida International University students from both Orien Stier’s Holocaust class and my own students studying wartime propaganda came to review some of our visual primary source materials.
Professor Stier’s students came in at 11:00 AM for a presentation on Nazi visual culture. The students saw the kind of propaganda used by the Third Reich to instill a sense of superiority among German “Aryan” types—and fear and loathing for Jews and “Semitic” peoples in Germany and the territories she occupied during the Second World War. and “racial stereotypes” that contrasted smiling blue-eyed blondes, fair-skinned, handsome and physically fit, with scowling “Semitic” types pictured as ugly, swarthy, unkempt, and fat.
The propaganda messages used by the Nazi regime were fairly simplistic and included such tropes as the “cult of the leader”—promoted through staged up-angle photographs and heroic images of Adolf Hitler wearing a serious expression on his face and with an imperial eagle in the background.
Shots of Hitler on parade depicted him like a celebrity, thronged by crowds of adoring women and children, as if to suggest that the bachelor führer was the father figure of the entire German nation.
My own students had just recently viewed Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) which lampooned the Nazis’ ludicrous racial policies and ambitions for world domination. In one particularly telling scene, the mad Dictator of Tomania, Adenoid Hynkel (played by Chaplin) has a hilarious exchange with Herr Garbitsch (an obvious poke at Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels) over their Aryan obsession. As Hynkel muses over the vision of Tomania as “a nation of blue-eyed blondes,” Herr Garbitsch (pronounced “garbage”) asks “Why not a blonde Europe, Asia, America?” As Hynkel relishes the idea, Garbitsch feeds his ambitions (and simultaneously shows the absurdity of the conceit) with the suggestion that this “Blonde world” would be ruled over by “a brunette dictator.”
As soon as Professor Stier’s students exited the library, it was time to quickly replace the German propaganda materials on the reading room tables with U.S. propaganda from the Second World War for my own students set to arrive fifteen minutes later.
There were, of course, a variety of American propaganda pieces on the table that had also been designed to satirize the German dictator.
The library also holds a number of Second World War sheet music covers donated by Charles L. McCartney; one of them uses the popular Donald Duck character to ridicule Hitler while another drawn by the Polish Jew refugee and anti-Axis propagandist Arthur Szyk satirizes the Japanese military leadership.
GIFTS OF CHARLES L. McCARTNEY
Many of the propaganda envelopes provided free of charge to U.S. troops also resorted to stereotyping the Japanese enemy.
GIFT OF STEVE HELLER
On the other hand, most of the propaganda produced for domestic consumption either underplayed or ignored altogether racial strife and prejudice at home. A children’s book titled Nicodemus helps Uncle Sam, for example focused on the efforts of a group of young patriotic African-Americans pitching in on scrap drives and buying war stamps.
GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER
A rare pamphlet published by the National Maritime Union, however, acknowledged the prejudice African-Americans in the naval service encountered as late as 1944, and chronicled their own fight against Jim Crowism and bigotry.
The role of women as war workers, nurses, and servicewomen was also prominently displayed in the propaganda materials on the tables. The library, for example, holds several posters and a large (if incomplete) set of comic postcards celebrating the role played by WAACs (or the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) in the war years.
GIFTS OF LEONARD A. LAUDER
GIFTS OF JEFFREY G. FISCHER AND MICHAEL SMITH
Thanks to a gift made by the artist herself, the Wolfsonian Library also holds a set of original postcards designed and illustrated by Dolores Trenner from her correspondence with her brother during the war years. These unique artifacts provide the viewer with a young girl’s perspective of life on the home front.
GIFT OF DOLORES TRENNER
A donation from the Bienes Center for the Literary Arts facilitated by Library Director Jim Findlay some years ago provided the Wolfsonian with a couple of rare books with humorous illustrations by cartoonist Bill Mauldin capturing the infantryman’s perspective of the war. Far from romanticizing or glamorizing war, these cartoons capture the mud, and waste, and futility of war even as they laud the “grunts” determination to keep on fighting till the job was done.
Before concluding the presentation and heading downstairs to view Tender Comrade, a World War Two era film about women war workers, the students also got to see some items from the recently donated Victory Gold Levi Collection looking forward to the defeat of the Axis powers.
GIFT OF VICTORY GOLD LEVI