Waging war with a pen - a history of cartoons against Hitler

Heckling Hitler: Caricatures of the Third Reich, by Zbynek Zeman. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England. 129 pp. 178 illustrations. $25 cloth. $14.95 paper. One of the most prevalent criticisms of political art, whether of a free-standing cartoon or an illustration that accompanies an article, is simplification. Few social or political issues can be summed up fairly in a visual metaphor.

On the other hand, the impossibility of qualifying, or diluting, or on-the-other-handing a cartoon statement sometimes forces a more accurate statement of national mood or resolve than a writer could produce.

``Heckling Hitler'' is a collection of cartoons from a profoundly unsimple era. They are arranged more or less chronologically, showing the development of British and American opinion against Hitler and Nazism, from the early '30s, when Hitler was seen as a clown, to the end of the war, when the humor had worn thin.

The majority of the cartoons are by David Low from the London Evening Standard, David Fitzpatrick in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Vaughn Shoemaker in the Chicago Daily News. But there is also the powerful foreboding work of German artists Georg Grosz and Paul Weber and others even more rarely seen, such as Czech artist Josef Capek (brother of the playwright Karl), who died in a concentration camp.

The collection is well paced, divided into the various periods of Hitler's career. The author, Zbynek Zeman, is a European history professor at Oxford, and his running commentary is authoritatively written.

The cartoons are placed in historical context so that even the most oblique references, German puns, literary double-entendres, and twisted quotations from the Nazi propaganda of the period become clear. Professor Zeman includes a very helpful background chapter in the growth and importance of political art and caricature in European history.

The usefulness of ``Heckling Hitler'' is twofold. It shows the development of political opinion in Europe, England, and the United States throughout the '30s into the war years, and it notes rather succinctly the press bias in the various countries.

Editors normally print cartoons with which they agree. The humor in the German cartoons is broad and clumsy, but the British cartoons, particularly Low's, are pointed and subtle. It is rather amazing that, given the facts of World War II, which now seem to us rather obvious, such subtlety was needed. But here's proof that although history is written in decades and eras, journalism and editorial cartoons are produced one day at a time.

Jeff Danziger is the Monitor's editorial cartoonist.

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