These eight cartoons were part of a large photo lot I bought recently. The anonymous artist has captured the men he served with in one of the Army propaganda companies. Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling which of the 27 or so companies it might be. The cartoons might’ve been drawn around 1943, judging by the cap in the last cartoon. Anyway, the artist certainly had an eye for people. From top left, we have the company commander, a Hauptmann (Captain) portrayed as the father of the company. The dog might be the company mascot. Next is an Oberfeldwebel, the company master sergeant also known as the Spieβ. The apron and broom alludes to the other name used for the Spieβ: “Mutter die Kompanie” – “mother of the company”. The next guy, shouting in dialect, is another Spieβ, as evident by the two cuff rings and black note book. He shouts “What are you, General?” at some hapless soldier who apparently did something not befitting his rank. Last in the top row is a Leutnant (2nd lieutenant), portrayed as a rooster and by all signs something of a ladies’ man.
First out in the bottom row are two officers reading a newspaper with the headline “What does the elegant gentleman wear in the field?” Could it be that some of the company officers strived for a dapper appearance? They wouldn’t be the first… Next is some sort of legal officer, but I haven’t found any information on the organization of propaganda units that tells what function he would’ve had. Censor? The third guy is a Gefreiter (lance corporal) brandishing a Luger pistol. The “UvD” on his helmet aren’t his initials, but the abbreviation of Unteroffizier vom Dienst (“NCO of the watch”). The loop on his shoulderboard is that of an NCO candidate. Last is a rather bullish man, probably an NCO, and by all apperances a guy of a more practical persuasion.
The propaganda companies were the only media units allowed at the front; there were no free news media or even embedded journalists in the Third Reich. They produced articles and movies, as well as posters and other items for local propaganda. Military and civilian newspapers, newsreels, radio broadcasts, articles for magazines like Signal – all of it were intended to convey the official image of things. Through the filter of Nazi policy, the soldiers and public were kept in the dark when it came to the fortunes of the war. While the quality of the photos and articles was generally high, it served to put a spin on the official version that made readers think that the war could still be won even late in the war. One of the darker sides was the obfuscation of the plight of the Jews in the ghettos, and the justification of the actions taken against them (while not mentioning the organized murder).
World War 2 was more than 70 years ago, but propaganda is still an important feature. We haven’t become more clever, and the ways of influencing our thoughts and attitudes have become if anything more insidious and sophisticated. Stay alert.