Already during the time of National Socialism, the conditions in Germany were often the target of critical caricatures. One of the best known German caricaturists was Helmut Herzfeld (1891-1968), who under the pseudonym John Heartfield used caustic photo collages to caricature prominent Nazis such as Hitler and Göring. Also famous for his political cartoons was Arthur Szyk, who understood himself as a "soldier in art" during the Second World War, fighting against the Axis powers, National Socialism and the genocide of European Jews by creating memorable pictures in a style which recalls Renaissance wood cuttings.

It is less well known that residents of the various ghettos and concentration camps also made use of cartoons as a weapon against the prevailing inhumane conditions. Despite the great difficulty of attaining suitable drawing materials, the constant threat of terror from the SS and catastrophic living conditions, numerous prisoners secretly created satirical works of art. A commonly used form of cartoon in the camps was the caricatured portrayal of fellow prisoners or of SS members. For example, while in Auschwitz, Wincenty Gawron drew a caricature of the Assistant Camp Commander Karl Fritzsch, which utilizes the stylistic device of transformation, using distorted facial expressions and a large hooked nose to represent the brutality of the SS. Another form of cartoon is the picture story, in which several pictures after another are used to ridicule various aspects of camp life. For example, in his picture story Mickey au camp de Gurs [Mickey in Camp Gurs], Horst Rosenthal has Walt Disney's famous comic figure Mickey Mouse experiencing the absurdities of camp life at the internment camp in southern France, before he eventually erases his way out of the camp at the end of the story to go to America, the land of freedom. Cartoons from Theresienstadt are found particularly commonly. This can be explained by the special situation of the ghetto, which served simultaneously as model a Jewish settlement in National Socialist propaganda, as well as a death camp and transit camp for tens of thousands of people. In his report on the fine arts within the Theresienstadt ghetto, Arno Pařík writes:

"It was the evident discrepancy between the perfectly organized official image of the Ghetto and the actual reality which gave life in Terezín from the very start such a taste of unreality and absurdity."

This grotesque contrast was one reason why many artists portrayed the daily life in Theresienstadt through numerous caricatures and cartoons. One of the most influential caricaturists in Theresienstadt was Bedřich Fritta (actually Fritz Taussig), who depicted the absurdity of ghetto life in a comprehensive cycle of expressionistic drawings, in which the prisoners are portrayed as grotesque figures with caricaturesque distorted faces and deformed bodies. On the other hand, Pavel Fantl left behind numerous watercolors and ink drawings, which are used in combination with satirical picture captions to caricature pointed individual incidents from daily life in Theresienstadt, while Max Plaček is known for his individual caricatures of prominent personalities, scientists, authors and artists. Erich Lichtblau also follows in this tradition of the artistic examination of experiences in the concentration camps by means of cartoons, but with the addition of a number of special attributes, which will now be explained more closely.

 

Continue to Part III: Attributes of Lichtblau's Cartoons