How was propaganda used in World War I.

German war propaganda

In Germany, with the beginning of the First World War, censorship was immediately transferred to the military authorities and the Supreme Army Command (OHL) also dealt with propaganda tasks. German war propaganda "suffered" from fragmentation, however, because the War and Interior Ministry, the General Staff, the Foreign Office and other agencies had their own propaganda departments. Only the "Central Office for Foreign Service", which was founded in October 1914 by a decree of the Reich Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg and was headed by the center deputy and later Reich Finance Minister Matthias Erzberger, could be regarded as an attempt at a systematic control of public opinion abroad. Its main goal, as Erzberger put it, was "to show abroad what it looks like in Germany and what the German people as a whole are striving for, in order to create a lasting foundation for the fair assessment of the German cause." February 1918 merged with other organizations to form the "United Press Department" of the Reich Government. But it was not until 1918 that the plan to create a propaganda ministry had been developed in the German OHL.

The Bild- und Filmamt (BUFA), founded in January 1917 on the initiative of the OHL, took into account the increasing importance of film as one of the most effective propaganda media. With only seven camera teams, however, realistic shots from the front rarely remained in the BUFA documentaries: the propaganda statement clearly dominates over reality.

In contrast to the overtly brutal, sometimes even repulsive anti-German enemy image that British, French and American propaganda spread, the imagery of German official propaganda appeared almost harmless. At the beginning of the war, motifs that served national unity, conveyed confidence in victory and underlined the solid alliance of the Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary dominated. Towards the end of the war, more and more posters and postcards appealed to the population to persevere. Posters that advertised war bonds had only been made pictorial since 1917 - but even with this medium, which is so important for the home front, no fearsome French or English attackers appeared to be fended off. Instead, the pictures of German soldiers urged civilians to draw war bonds. In order to defend against the "barbarian" accusation of hostile foreign countries, the German propaganda published posters that showed rather harmless comparisons of the level of military or social spending of the countries participating in the war. "Enemies" did not appear here either. As recently as 1916, the guiding principles of the chief censorship office of the War Press Office founded in October 1915 and directly subordinate to the OHL said: "The language used against states hostile to us can be harsh. ... The purity and size of the movement that has gripped our people requires A dignified language. ... Calls for barbaric warfare, extermination of foreign peoples is repulsive; the army knows where severity and leniency have to prevail. Our shield must remain clean. Similar calls from the hostile hate press are no excuse for the same behavior on our part. "

That did not mean that the German public did not see any images vilifying Germany's opponents of the war. They were found mainly on postcards, picture sheets and caricatures - media that were not published by official propaganda agencies but rather produced by private publishers. These publications were also subject to censorship and were not harmless; However, they lack the brutality of many Allied depictions, especially on posters. Rather, these images are about making the enemy look ridiculous and thus giving the German viewer the impression of military and, above all, cultural superiority. Here, too, stereotypes characterized the representatives of the hostile nations: The Russians were caricatured as always drunk, unwashed and illiterate, who lived in a backward and oppressive system led by a lousy Tsar Nicholas II. The Balkan states - with the exception of Turkey and Bulgaria, which fought on Germany's side - were portrayed with similar clichés.

However, the Germans saw their main enemy in England, "the perfidious Albion". The "traders" and "shopkeepers" were ridiculed as sad, unsporting figures. The caricature "John Bull" - a well-known personification of England and the English character as an honest and cheerful peasant with a "Union Jack" vest, originated in England in the 18th century - became a greedy but cowardly fat man in German propaganda - and also an oppressor and arsonist. A main target of German ridicule - alongside British colonialism - was the British fleet, whose sea blockade in Germany met with rejection and anger. In the cartoons, however, she was hopelessly inferior to German naval power.

Just as England was represented by "John Bull", a snake or an octopus, "Marianne" stood for France, but above all the rooster that was plucked by the German eagle. The alliance of the Entente powers was also exposed to ridicule in many caricatures and drawings: the ragged or wounded statesmen represented the "cripple-entente", the four-man association became a "gang of four". When the USA entered the war in 1917, the military preponderance shifted in favor of the Allies, anti-American images were spread that criticized American capitalism as a warming factor and, above all, made the peace initiatives of American President Woodrow Wilson ridiculous and untrustworthy.

Until 1917, the calls for the subscription of war bonds in the German Reich appeared only as written posters. It was only when advertising the sixth war loan that the Reichsbank decided on a motif based on the painting by Fritz Erler (1868-1940). "Help us win!" brought in 13.1 million marks - more than any other campaign. Erler's soldier became an icon on the German World War II poster: barbed wire, steel helmets and gas masks had become symbols of bitter trench warfare.

© German Historical Museum, Berlin