The High Style of Nazi Propaganda


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  • 1930
  • Mjölnir (Hans Schweitzer)

The Volk Arises!

In his ongoing search for symbols which would effectively get his message across, Adolf Hitler played with many ideas. Finally, in 1930, his favorite artist, Mjölnir, produced this image which became the most-repeated of Nazi symbols. It is remarkably simple, but as a poster it is a perfect match of arresting visual graphics and short, but telling words. A viewer need not study this poster to get, almost immediately, its full impact.

It shows a determined young man, who raises in his fist high above his head the Nazi flag. Profound emotions sweep across his features, and, whether these are triumphant or despairing, they move the viewer. The brief streaks of red in the lower foreground mirror the bright red field of the Nazi banner which flutters behind the figure.

The caption also deliberately contains graphic language. Instead of saying, "the nation arises," or "determined Germans arise," or even "the National Socialists arise," this poster boldly declares, it is the Volk that arise. "Volk" is almost untranslatable into modern English. It means, of course, people, but people who share such a common heritage and historical consciousness that they have bonded into a community that has become a law of nature. There is about the word something primitive, something elemental, even biological . And at the same time, something that denotes close kinship, homogeneity, family, even tribe, perhaps as in our (now out-dated) expression, "old folks at home."

"Volk," in Nazi usage, becomes a powerful evocation of Gemeinschaft, of a community which takes precedence over individuals, and which becomes creative only when individuals surrender themselves to this emotional unit. Thus, in this poster, the emotions of the man, the bright red of the flag, the swirls in the lower foreground, are echoed in the phrase "the Volk arises."

Of course, by not informing us when, or how, or even why the Volk is arising, the poster can fulfill the emotional expectactions of any number of individual viewers, who project upon it their own frustrations, hatreds, and hopes.

The line at the bottom continues the phrase at the top, the Volk arises

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