Graphic Witness: George Grosz
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George Grosz
detail from United Front Translated as "One Day We'll Get Even" or, "The Day of Reckoning," this collection of 57 political drawings was published in 1923 by Der Malik, in Berlin.

Part of a series titled "Kleine revolutionare Bibliothek," the series comprised a dozen titles, including other works by Grosz: Das Gesicht der Herrschenden Klasse (The Face of the Ruling Class); Ecco Homo, Gott Mit Uns, Im Schatten (In the Shadow) and Die Räuber.
For a closer look, enlarge by selecting any particular image. You may have to scroll down to see the complete image and caption. Image sizes (and therefore download times) vary: most images are less than 70K.

In two cases (page 27 and page 32) it is possible to select significantly larger (and clearer) images. As each page is turned, you will usually find two images -- just as in the original book.

The original captions [in German] are included. An attempt at translation has been made, but this is by no means definitive, and corrections are welcomed! Even without captions, Grosz speaks volumes.
Background By the close of World War I (1918), the German economy was struggling to recover from hyper-inflation. As early as 1914, German currency had begun to lose its value, when the government stopped exchanging banknotes for gold, and issued more and more loan certificates and treasury bills to finance the war. After Germany's defeat the excessive demands for reparations...and the consequent overburdening of the economy resulted in a distinct lack of readiness on the part of the government to proceed with the repayment of these loans. What was left in middle-class savings accounts finally vanished...the increased printing of paper money resulted in rapidly escalating devaluation...[and] a far-reaching shift in the distribution of wealth and income. Those who had least lost most: the real wages of workers decreased because wages were constantly lagging behind price rises. [Schneede, p. 146]

But for many of those who had been well off before the war, it was a time to grow even richer: capitalist entrepreneurs could pay off their business loans with devalued money and buy "the commodity called labor with money of steadily decreasing value." [Schneede, p. 147]. Grosz refers to Hugo Stinnes, one enterprising businessman who (assisted by the inflation) gained control of more than 1600 companies (employing 300,000 workers) for a fraction of their true value.

Grosz several times makes reference to the Ruhr. This mining and industrial region was threatened with Allied (French) occupation if reparations, assessed by the Allies against Germany in 1921, were not paid in a timely manner. Germany was technically in default when France eagerly occupied the region in January 1923. In late 1922, the German government had ordered passive resistance to French attempts to get the mines and factories working and had stopped further reparations payments. But these moves were countered with an economic blockade, which further damaged an already weakened German economy. Inflation reached an all time high, and it was in this atmosphere that Stinnes and others lined their pockets while pensioners and workers starved.

Background on the conditions and events satirized by Grosz is very useful for those not familiar with the details of this history or the German language. With regard to the Rathenau poster inscriptions, a German reader explains:

'Wirth' is Karl Joseph Wirth, [1879-1956], the Reichskanzler at the time, and a central political figure of the Roman Catholic Zentrumspartei (Center or Centrum Party). National-conservatives saw him as one of the foremost 'Novemberverbrecher's, (people rhetorically accused of high treason because they had started the new republic on November 9/10 1918). He had been one of the earliest 'republicans' within the Centrum Party (1912), and had entered the 1918 'badische Volksregierung' (the first, regional republican state in Germany) as a minister and was part of the constitutional congregation for the Weimar constitution in 1919. Furthermore, as a chancellor in coalition with social democrats and liberals, he had opted for Germany's acceptance of the Entente's reparation claims (London Ultimatum protocols of 1921), which was also a cause of great distress among the national-conservatives, as were the Rapallo protocols of 1922, negotiated with the Soviet Union by then foreign minister Walther Rathenau [1867-1922].
See also a biography of Wirth [in German].

Rathenau was assassinated by right wing extremists on June 24, 1922. The next day, Wirth gave a Reichstag speech in praise of Rathenau, and maybe equally important, accusing the national-conservatives of destabilizing the republic.

In the Grosz depiction of the poster, the smaller caption line translates: 'From a national chant of the reactionaries'. I am not sure whether such a chant really existed, or, maybe more likely, this is a mock version of some other royalist/reactionary song. The term 'red pack' subsumes social democrats AND communists -- the former belonging to the coalition government; the latter in fundamental opposition to the state.


Karl Helfferich, mentioned in the first line, from a Protestant big-industry background, was one of the foremost politicians in the reactionary DNVP party. He succeeded in discrediting Matthias Erzberger (like Wirth, from a South-German Catholic worker's family), the leader of the Centrum Party before Wirth. Erzberger was the first signer of the truce protocol of 11 November 1918; discredited by Helfferich, he had to resign in March, 1920. In August 1921 Erzberger was murdered by right-wing extremists (ten months before Rathenau's killing); therefore, it is clear why Grosz brings together Helfferich and Wirth in one poster: to suggest that Helfferich, the bootlicker of the military-industrial complex, has the same fate in store for acting Chancellor Wirth that Erzberger and Rathenau met.

'Wacht auf, Verdammte dieser Erde' is the first line of the communist/workers hymn 'Die Internationale' in German. Originally from France (lyrics Eugene Pottier, Paris commune 1871, melody by Pierre Degeyter, 1888), it is the one typical worker's movement anthem of the last 13 decades. It was first translated to German in 1910 by Emil Luckhardt. It is, in Germany, still sung at the end of party or trade union conventions; the dogmatic may see a sacrilege in its intonation in social-democrat circles, but generally any organization that feels itself connected to a workers' tradition is likely to claim a right to its use.

[Thanks to MNI for all this information and for translation corrections!]

Related reading/links:
Grosz is included in the searchable index of visual artists, Artcyclopedia

Hess, Hans. George Grosz. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1974

Grosz, George [translated by Nora Hodges]. George Grosz: an autobiography.Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. (Originally published as Ein kleines Ja und ein grosses Nein,1946).

Schneede, Uwe M. George Grosz: Life and Work.New York: Universe Books, 1979. Extensively illustrated.
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