Weaponized Wit: WWI Lampoons of Kaiser Wilhelm

Last spring semester, I taught an undergraduate history class at Florida International University on the topic of the First World War as depicted in film and interpreted by historians. Three of the students in the course, Christopher Stotts, Stephanie Diaz, and Ayme Cameron, opted to work on a library installation for their final project. The result of their selection, research, and interpretive and descriptive label writing came to fruition last month as the art handlers installed the works and we opened the show Wit as Weapon: Satire and the Great War.




This installation includes a few clips from such First World War propaganda films as Charlie Chaplin’s The Bond (1918) and Shoulder Arms (1918), the latter humorously depicting life in the trenches.

It also includes short clips from My Four Years in Germany (1918), a film based on the memoirs of the American ambassador to Germany, and from Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919), a satire starring the famous cross-dresser Bothwell Browne as a Mata Hari-like spy sent to seduce the Kaiser and steal his war plans.

The pièce de résistance of the installation is Ye Berlyn Tapestrie, a satire inspired by the medieval Bayeux Tapestry, which recorded episodes in the invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066.


Ye Berlyn Tapestrie closely follows the tapestry it parodies, substituting German war atrocities in Kaiser Wilhelm’s invasion of Flanders, pictured by John Hassall (1868–1948) and published in London in 1915 by “Ye Studio Offices.”



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Ye Berlyn Tapestrie required the creation of a new wall case designed especially to display the piece, which folds out accordion-style to a length of 196 inches. We are grateful for the support of Wolfsonian board member Henry Hacker, who not only donated 225 posters from the First World War to The Wolfsonian in 2010, but has been providing funds to support our library installations, including the new case designed especially for this lengthy satire.


The installation also includes a unique drawing by Louis Raemaekers (Dutch, 1869–1956) picturing Kaiser Wilhem II as a spider on a web


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. promised gift

Raemaeker was a Dutch cartoonist so outraged by the German invasion and occupation of Belgium that despite his own country’s neutrality, he published such scathing satires of German atrocities that the Military Command put a price on his head, prompting him to move to England to carry on with his campaign. Raemaekers’ cartoons were so popular that he made a tour of the United States once they entered the war, and his images were picked up by hundreds of newspapers with circulations in the millions. Many of his illustrations were reproduced as postcards and even as cigarette collecting cards.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

XC2014.12.70.5_000 XC2014.12.70.5_001

XC2014.12.70.6_000 XC2014.12.70.6_001

The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase

Once the installation opened, the student curators and the public were invited to a reception to see the finished product, and to peruse a display in the main library reading room of other satirical works dating from the Great War.


FIU student curator, Christopher Stotts





The library holds a significant collection of children’s books, games, puzzles, and postcards published during the Great War. While Wit as Weapon included works that lampooned various leaders and their armies, the majority of the items targeted the German Kaiser Wilhelm II.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Pamela K. Harer


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. promised gift

The satires, often published as picture books for children and adults, express outrage over his invasion and occupation of neutral Belgium, and the atrocities committed by his armies against civilians on land and by his U-boat commanders on the high seas.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. promised gift

Many of the American propaganda works depict the Kaiser as in league with, or surpassing in inhumanity, Satan and his demons.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. promised gift

Another book selected by the student curators vilified the Italians for repudiating their alliance to the Central Powers and for instead joining the allies prompted by promises of the Austrian provinces of Trento and Trieste at the war’s end. In this children’s book Maledetto Katzelmacker, pictured on the cover as a pop-eyed bandito with a bloody dagger, conspires with a Frenchman, an Englishman, and a Russian to break into the house of Austria to steal a parrot named, appropriately enough, Trento-Trieste. A German and an Austrian soldier catch the burglars in the act, frighten off the others, and hang the Italian.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, gift of Pamela K. Harer

The Wolfsonian–FIU Library is a rich resource for materials on the Great War, including vintage propaganda postcards, sheet music covers, and numerous rare books.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, purchase




The Wolfsonian–FIU, gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

We welcome all of our local readers and those of you planning a visit to Miami to come to the museum to see the installation, on view through January 13, 2019.

~ by "The Chief" on September 4, 2018.

One Response to “Weaponized Wit: WWI Lampoons of Kaiser Wilhelm”

  1. This was a great article, Thank you for your mentorship and patience.

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