Save your child

This exhortation to vote in the plebiscite on 11 July 1920 sends a message that cannot be misunderstood. The text is written in italics, and the motif shows how seriously the German side took this plebiscite concerning their future national affiliation.

The white Polish eagle on a red background, which has been the national symbol of Poland since the 11th century, is here presented as threatening. It is attacking a screaming, defenceless baby that raises its arm in terror to protect itself. A woman rushes in from the left to protect the howling child from the Polish eagle. The Polish side is thus presented as a vicious bird of prey, attempting to carry off what was formerly a German area. This poster is aimed directly at the population in the Marienwerder area of West Prussia (today, Kwidzyn in Poland), appealing to them to vote for Germany.

German plebiscite poster. Based on a design by Walter Riemer, 1920. No. of copies unknown. 95 x 72 cm.

 

Mind the wolf

Upper Silesia was an important plebiscite area. Before World War I, Germany had covered 20% of its weapons and ammunition requirements from here. This important industry formed part of the plebiscite campaign and is represented here by the smoking chimney in the little girl’s basket. She wears a red hood on her head and her basket bearing the legend, ‘Silesia’, is raised on high, while she looks back fearfully at the pursuing wolf. The wolf is red like the Polish flag, and on its side, to hammer the message home, it bears the Polish national coat of arms with the white eagle.

This is a German presentation of the situation of Upper Schleswig, and the motif refers to the fairytale of Little Red Riding Hood and the wicked Wolf by the brothers Grimm. In the fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood is rescued and the Wolf dies, but the result of the plebiscite in Upper Silesia on 20 March 1921 turned out differently: the area was divided between Germany and Poland.

German plebiscite poster. 1920. Artist and no. of copies printed unknown. 48 x 64 cm.

 

Don’t be slaughtered by any old butcher

The fat man against the red background wears a blood-spattered apron; in a belt round his waist hangs a sheath with butcher’s knives and the inscription ‘God with us’. He is sharpening the largest of this knives. On his head he wears Prussian military headgear – a pickelhaube. Presented in this way he is the epitome of a German, and in Upper Silesia Germans were regarded as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Beside him stands a calf, straddling a crate bearing the inscription ‘Prussian independence’. The box is filled with bills for taxes and war damage reparations. The calf symbolises Upper Silesia, which has to choose between being slaughtered by Germany, or the freedom to make its own choices in Poland. The text warns that ‘only the most stupid calves choose their own butcher’. A choice for Germany would entail tax and war reparation burdens. The picture was also used as a postcard.

Polish plebiscite poster with German text. Based on a design by Stanislaw Ligoń (1879-1954). 1920. No. of copies unknown. 98 x 67 cm.

 

God will judge!

In Carinthia, the Austrian ballot papers were green and those of the SHS (the Slovenian-Croatian-Serbian State, which from 1921 became known as Yugoslavia) were white. These two colours were therefore often used in propaganda material connected with the plebiscite in Carinthia.

Here we see an angel in the form of a woman with white robes, wings and a halo. She is holding a wad of green ballot papers, which she is offering to a man with a long white beard and hair. He is wearing a cloak and his right finger is raised as a reminder to vote for the right side. So this is God receiving and passing on the ballot papers, a conclusion supported by the inscription in Slovenian: ‘Bog bo sodil!’ (God will judge).

In Carinthia, Austrians in their propaganda used not only their native language (i.e., German), but also Slovenian, the language of their opponents, which was spoken by many people in the plebiscite area. In the bottom right corner we see a black devil, holding the white SHS ballot sheet in his hand. To his great dismay, he finds himself being pushed away by green ballot papers. Austria – with God’s help – will win this plebiscite.

Austrian plebiscite poster with Slovenian text. Artist and no. of copies printed unknown. Klagenfurt 1920. 80 x 59 cm.

 

Know your enemies

This poster was designed by Maksim Gaspari, a well-known painter in Slovenia. He had previously illustrated Slovenian folk tales. In 1918-20 he threw himself energetically into the plebiscite campaign and painted a large number of pictures calling for a national awakening, as may be seen from the motif of this poster.

The colours green and white were also used in the Slovenian campaign. Here, the victory of Yugoslavia (the SHS state) is depicted. A man in national costume tears up a green Austrian ballot sheet while treading on a green lindworm with a wreath of oak leaves around its neck.

The oak leaves identify German influence, whilst the lindworm is the logo of the town of  Klagenfurt, used here to symbolise Germany-Austria. Lying on the ground, the lindworm cries ‘Alas, Alack’, thus signalling his defeat.

A woman in traditional folk costume, flowers in her right hand and a white ballot sheet in her left, raises her arms to greet the man, rejoicing over the defeat of Germany-Austria.

Yugoslavian plebiscite poster. Based on a design by Maksim Gaspari (1883-1980), 1920. No. of copies unknown. 42 x 54 cm.

 

Don’t be an ass

Both the Polish and the German sides used donkeys in their posters. This one is in human shape, wearing a uniform with an emblem on the breast in the form of a heavy black cross, surrounded by white. This uniform, together with the emblem, indicates that the donkey is German. It is standing arms akimbo, mouth open. ‘I vote German’, brays the figure, presenting himself to Polish eyes as a stiff-necked, stupid donkey. Only stupid people would prefer Germany to Poland. This plebiscite poster was used by the Polish side at the plebiscite in Upper Silesia, but is not known to have been used in West and East Prussia. So far, no Polish plebiscite posters have been found from the latter plebiscite area.

 

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