Think of the future

This poster plays on the fear of the future felt by the inhabitants of Burgenland (German Western Hungary). We see an area of Austria between the two important towns of Vienna and Graaz shaded in grey, with Burgenland in a somewhat lighter grey. Hungary, on the other hand, is not depicted – only a black and frightening abyss. Close to the edge of the abyss is a narrow cage in Hungarian colours and in it a man desperately rattling the bars. He is trying to escape from captivity to avoid falling into the black abyss. The message of the picture is underlined by the text: ‘Burgenlanders, Ödenburgers, mind the economic ligature. It will be your downfall!’.

With this poster, the Austrian side warn against voting for Hungary because it would mean being cut off from Austrian trade and commercial life in general. In fact, the towns Vienna and Graz got their food supplies from Burgenland.

Austrian plebiscite poster. Based on a design by H. Bleschner. No. of copies unknown. 90 x 58 cm.


Vote for Hungary

‘No! No! Never!’. This was the motto of the nationalist movement in Hungary after the signing of the Treaty of Tria­non in June 1920, by which the territory of the state of Hungary had been reduced by 60%. The message of this poster, white letters on a red background, is particularly effective. About this slogan there is a map of Hungary before World War I, on which are marked the areas that have been ceded. The Sopron/Ödenburg area is the smallest of these, and the Hungarians had tried to hinder the cession of it by putting in irregular soldiers to repel the Austrian gendarmes.

After the major powers had intervened, a plebiscite was held, which Hungary won with a large margin, despite Austrian claims that the country was bankrupt.

Hungarian plebiscite poster, 1920. Artist and no. of copies unknown. 63 x 45 cm.


Think of the native soil

Farmers were a motif used on posters in all plebiscite areas, and this was also the case in Allenstein and Marienwer­der. A farmer walking behind his harrow when working in the fields symbolises the close bonds between the people and their native soil. He stands in supplication, the palms of his hands turned towards heaven. The text supports his gesture, clearly hoping for support from on high: ‘Oh Lord, make the soil of my forefathers remain German!’.

This motif appealed to the peoples’ deep-rooted oneness with their native soil, and the continuity of the German influence in the region is so clearly presented that a decision in favour of Germany was in fact beyond doubt. The use of Gothic script on this poster, as on others, serves to emphasise the German message.

German plebiscite poster. Based on a sketch by Walter Riemer, 1920. No. of copies unknown. 94 x 69 cm.


Do not be enticed by Germany

In the centre of the poster we see a white skull on a black background, resting on a green snake. The image signals imminently threatening mortal danger, and the text in Polish does the same. At the top, it reads: ‘Death threatens the inhabitants of Upper Silesia if they remain in Germany!!!’. And under the skulls is printed this prayer: ‘From hunger, plague, war and German occupation, good Lord deliver us!’. This is a slightly altered quotation from a familiar Polish prayer, though the German occupation is not mentioned in the original. But linking this powerful picture with the prayer gives an almost biblical dimension to the poster.

The snake is a symbol of temptation, and here it is attempting to lure all the inhabitants of Upper Schleswig into making a fatal choice. The skull is a symbol of mortality and warns of what will happen if people do not vote for Poland. When Adam was tempted to make the wrong choice, he was driven out of Paradise; Upper Silesia must not be similarly tempted to make a wrong choice. Polish plebiscite poster. Mikolów 1921, based on a design by Stanislaw Ligoń (1879-1954). Artist and no. of copies printed unknown. 103 x 67 cm.


Don’t end up as cannon fodder

This very sombre plebiscite poster shows a skeleton in the red cape with a white fur border – the Polish national colours. In his right hand, the skeleton holds a bloody sword. Behind him we see a black horse with blood on its flanks and hooves. The text reads: ‘Poland needs you as cannon fodder!’, and this text, along with the image, was meant to remind people of the Polish-Russian hostilities which ran from February 1919 to March 1921.

This was a warning from the German side in the plebiscite campaign: a Polish victory would mean that the male population would become conscripts in the Polish army, and this would most likely mean death for many of them. The manic cry of the skeleton would lead to a new war. The poster has thus a very moving and urgent motif, clearly appealing to people not to vote for Poland.

German plebiscite poster 1920-21. Artist and no. of copies printed unknown. 71 x 93 cm.