Propaganda Campaign against Adolf Hitler (Classroom Activity)

British newspapers were fairly sympathetic to Adolf Hitler when he took power in 1933. Harold Harmsworth (Lord Rothermere) the owner of the The Daily Mail and Evening News, was highly sympathetic to the German government and James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979), has claimed that he helped to fund the Nazi Party.

On 30th January 1933, Rothermere produced a series of articles supporting the new regime. The Daily Mail criticized "the old women of both sexes" who filled British newspapers with rabid reports of Nazi "excesses." Instead, the newspaper claimed, Hitler had saved Germany from "Israelites of international attachments" and the "minor misdeeds of individual Nazis will be submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany."

William Maxwell Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), the owner of Daily Express and the Evening Standard, was also not a critic of Hitler and throughout the 1930s promoted appeasement in the late 1930s and his newspapers praised Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement.

Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of The Times was another supporter of the Nazi regime. He was a member of the right-wing pro-Hitler group,the Anglo-German Fellowship. It has been claimed by Stanley Morison, the author of The History of The Times (1952) that Dawson had censored the critical reports of the Berlin correspondent of the newspaper, Norman Ebbutt. Another correspondent in the city, William Shirer commented: “The trouble for Ebbutt was that his newspaper, the most esteemed in England, would not publish much of what he reported. The Times in those days was doing its best to appease Hitler and to induce the British government to do likewise. The unpleasant truths that Ebbutt telephones nightly to London from Berlin were often kept out of the great newspaper”.

The main critic of Hitler in British newspapers was the cartoonist, David Low. An outspoken socialist, Low cartoons, were so popular with the general public, that Lord Beaverbrook, employed him to work at the Evening Standard. Although Beaverbrook was a strong supporter of the Conservative Party, he promised Low that he would have complete freedom to express his own radical political views. Low produced four cartoons a week and these were syndicated to 170 journals worldwide.

Low's cartoons criticizing Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini resulted in his work being banned in Germany and Italy. After the war it was revealled that in 1937 the German government asked the British government to have "discussions with the notorious Low" in an effort to "bring influence to bear on him" to stop his cartoons attacking appeasement. As Anthony Rhodes, the author of Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II (1987) has pointed out: "When Lord Halifax visited Germany officially in 1937, he was told that the Führer was deeply offended by Low's cartoons of him, and that the paper in which they appeared, the Evening Standard, was banned in Germany.... On Halifax's return to London, he summonded Low and told him that his cartoons were impairing the prime minister's policy of appeasement."

David Low was attacked by the conservative press as a "war-monger" because of his hostility towards Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement. However, after the outbreak of the Second World War the British government urged its artists to mount a campaign against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi government.

Primary Sources

"Will the audience kindly keep their seats." Sidney Strube, Daily Express (3rd July, 1934)
(Source 1) David Low, "How much will you give me not to kick your pants for,
say, twenty-five years?", Evening Standard (8th July, 1936)


(Source 2) David Low, Years of Wrath (1949)

When German troops reoccupied the Rhineland demilitarized zone, Hitler justified the breach of the Versailles and Locarno Treaties by asserting that both were already dead. He had, he said, a peace-plan of his own to take their place - a 25-year Western non-aggression pact. When Eden, to the anxious interest of Van Zeeland (Belgium), Flandin (France), Litvinov (Russia), Titulescu (Rumania) and others, asked for the precise meaning of vague and ambiguous details, Hitler evaded reply.

David Low, Evening Standard (8th July, 1936)
(Source 3) David Low, Evening Standard (8th July, 1936)

(Source 4) David Low, Years of Wrath (1949)

Both the rearming of Germany and the reoccupation of the Rhineland caught Western statesmanship off balance between the French policy of "resistance to Germany and persuasion to Italy" and the British policy of "resistance to Italy and persuasion to Germany". The German General Staff had been unable to make war, but Hitler gambled on there being no resistance from the French without British support. When he was proved right, and leaders of both democracies still refused to accept the risk, his generals were impressed by his "intuition".

(Source 5) Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II (1987)

In the Australian-born David Low, Britain possessed one of the world's finest political cartoonists. His left-wing sympathies turned him violently against the Fascist dictators... When Hitler and Mussolini achieved power, Low quickly realized that to satirize them as tyrants with blood dripping from their fingers, far from embarassing them, only gratified their vanity. What piqued them, he says, was to be depicted as clowns.

Vaughn Shoemaker, Chicago Daily News (1938)
(Source 6) Vaughn Shoemaker, Chicago Daily News (1938)

(Source 7) Chris Lamb, Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons (2006)

As America moved closer to war, cartoonists, as they had during the Great War, became predictably nationalistic and so offered little memorable criticism of their own government or military. Also predictably, Hitler was transformed from a foolish-looking ninny into the brutal murderer he was. In 1939, D. R. Fitzpatrick transformed the Nazi swastika into a bloody death machine. Vaughn Shoemaker showed Hitler ordering a figure of a skeleton driving a cab, "Take me to Czechoslovakia, driver," which Field Marshal Herman Göring called, a "horrible" example of anti-war propaganda.

Vaughn Shoemaker, Take me to Czechoslovakia Chicago Times (8th September, 1938)
(Source 8) Vaughn Shoemaker, Take me to Czechoslovakia
Chicago Daily News (8th September, 1938)

(Source 9) Zbyněk Zeman, Heckling Hitler (1987)

Fitzpatrick's powerful drawing leaves no doubt about the inexorable march of the gigantic Nazi war machine. Crushed under its heavy wheels lies Czechoslovakia. Fitzpatrick's questioning title is full of fear and foreboding.

(Source 10) Stephen Hess, Drawn & Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons (1996)

The great cartoonists have achieved lasting recognition because they have a political or social point of view and have kept that perspective continually before the audience, constantly inventing new ways to present the same message...

Daniel Fitzpatrick, one of the masters in the use of symbolism, transformed Nazi Germany's swastika into a horrific death machine. As Adolf Hitler's armies marched across his symbol repeatedly to challenge Americans to rethink their isolationist stand and enter World War II.

David Low, Evening Standard (8th July, 1936)
(Source 11) Daniel R. Fitzpatrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (25th September, 1938)

(Source 12) United States War Department, What is Propaganda? (1944)

Democracy is a different kind of system from the ground up. It is based on the people, and it works well in proportion as the people are enlightened and informed about what goes on both in peace and in war... To the degree that people are denied access to the facts and to a wide range of independent interpretations of the facts, democracy fails to function effectively.

These simple truths determine the underlying or governing principles of democratic propaganda. The Nazis blindfold their people against the truth. In exact opposition to the rules of Hitler, the democratic countries must present the truth in spite of official suppressions and distortions. And when propaganda has been revealed to be deceitful and distorted, it no longer is effective. Moreover, democratic propaganda must observe the right of the people to know the facts, however unpleasant they may be. The strategy of truth is not only in accord with the basic principles of democracy, but it also a hardheaded and realistic policy for effective dealing with allies, neutrals, and even enemies....

Today's war is four-dimensional. It is a combination of military, economic, political, and propaganda pressure against the enemy. An appeal to force alone is not regarded as enough, in the twentieth century, to win final and lasting victory. War is fought on all four fronts at once-tho military front, the economic front, the political front, and the propaganda front.

 Kukryniksy, Glorifying the Führer (1942)
(Source 13) Kukryniksy, Glorifying the Führer (1942)

(Source 14) Mark Bryant, World War II in Cartoons (1982)

The Kukryniksy group's Hitler poster shows the arms of the Big Three allies reaching out to tighten the stranglehold on the dictator himself now that his country lies in ruins.

Kukryniksy, The Big Three will tie the enemy in knots (1942)
(Source 15) Kukryniksy, The Big Three will tie the enemy in knots (1942)

(Source 16) Edward Boehm, Behind Enemy Lines: WWII Allied/Axis Propaganda (1989)

Propaganda makes use of slogans, but it also makes effective use of symbols. A symbol is a concrete representation of an idea, action, or thing - a sign that stands for something... The propagandist knows the art of working with symbols. He uses symbols to develop both favourable and unfavorable attitudes...

The Nazis made their symbols so unmistakable and conspicuous that if any German omitted to display or use them, he would be quickly detected. These symbols... included the Nazi salute, the swastika, and a lot of titles, badges and uniforms.

David Low, The Salute with both hands now (3rd July, 1934)
(Source 17) B. F. Long, postcard published in the United States (1942)

(18) Mark Bryant, World War II in Cartoons (1982)

A superb characterization by Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) of how Hitler and the Axis powers viewed the New World Order. As well as Hitler seated on the Untermensch rug - while Uncle Sam and John Bull plead in chains - appear (from right) Tojo, a German field marshall, Mussolini (with fan) Göring, Himmler, Laval (with a puppet Petain) and Goebbels. (The wording of Hitler's throne reads: "I am the Holy Ghost.") Szyk, who was born in Poland, fought in the Imperial Russian Army in World War I and worked as a cartoonist in England in 1939 before emigrating to the United States the following year."

Questions for Students

Question 1: Describe the kind of people who would have been attracted to Nazi Party policies included in source 2?

Question 2: How does the debate in source 3 explain the changes that took place in the Nazi Party between 1920 and 1930?

Question 3: Which powerful groups in Germany would have been hostile to Gregor Strasser and Ernst Röhm? Select passages from the sources in this unit to support your arguments.

Question 4: How does the cartoonist convey his feelings towards Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels in Source 7? Explain the significance of the caption.

Question 5: Study source 10. Why has František Bidlo called his cartoon, The Tidiest Country in the World? What mistake has the cartoonist made?

Question 6: Sources 5, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, provide evidence of how many people were killed on the Night of the Long Knives. This is an example of how it is not always possible to know exactly what has happened in the past. Explain why reports differ on the number of people killed during this period.

Question 7: How does your answer for question 6 help to explain the meaning of source 13?