Before we focus on cartoons from the concentration camps and Erich Lichtblau's work in particular, we must first clarify what a cartoon actually is, and describe its typical attributes. The English language generally differentiates between the caricature and the cartoon. On one hand, the term caricature describes a portrait which emphasizes the characteristic idiosyncrasies of a person until they become ridiculous. The other meaning describes a style of drawing in which physiognomy is exaggerated in a way that is distorted and grotesque.

If the subjects portrayed are presented within a context, then the term cartoon is used. The cartoon can be understood as a biased critique of existing political or social circumstances. It consciously attempts to exaggerate, emphasize or distort the nature of an event or a person, using the contrasts and contradictions presented thereby in order to motivate the viewer to contemplate the situation. In order to accomplish this, the cartoon makes use of various stylistic devices. The most commonly used devices are exaggeration, transposition, transformation and contradiction, and are usually used in combination rather than individually.

The commonly used technique of exaggeration makes use of graphical over or under dimensioning, which can be extended until it becomes ridiculous or bombastic. Most of all, this includes the enlarging or shrinking of things, people or issues. With transposition, a subject is shown outside of his usual context, such as within a new situation, in another time or another place. The technique of transformation makes use of the changing, alteration or metamorphosis of forms, states or figures. Changes of appearance using portrait caricature are typical. Finally, contradiction is a stylistic device often used in cartoons. This means the visualization of extremes, inconsistencies or ambiguity. It is possible to differentiate between gag cartoons, editorial cartoons, political cartoons and social cartoons based on their content. The content of Erich Lichtblau's pictures allows them to not only be classified as social cartoons, as they caricature the social injustices of the ghetto, but also as political cartoons, because they show the grotesque results of National Socialist racial policy.In general, the cartoon is associated with humor. However, humor is not a necessity among the defining qualities of a cartoon. On this matter, Edward Lucie-Smith said: "Humour is only one weapon in the caricaturist’s armoury". Furthermore, many cartoons make absolutely no attempt to amuse, but instead are entirely seriousness or even tragic. This particularly applies to the cartoons from the camps, where laughter often remains stuck in the throat in light of such tragic events. Under no circumstances does the humor used in these drawings mean that life in the concentration camp or the ghetto was in any way amusing. Far more so, the laughter here serves the important function as a defense mechanism, in order to make situations which are often perceived as absurd and grotesque more bearable.


Continue to Part II: Cartoons in Concentrations Camps & Ghettos