“Sing”


“Sing” (ca. 1939 or 1941)
by Paul D. Battenfield (1896 – 1985)
22 x 28 in., ink and charcoal on paper
Coppola Collection

This is a spectacular drawing.

Depicting Hitler as a wolf is not surprising. Since the 1930s, his self-given nickname was “Herr Wolf.” And the name “Adolf” is itself derived from an old word for wolf. The theme shows up often, for instance, in Wolfsschanze (the Wolf’s Lair), the name of his Eastern military headquarters.

The cartoon is undated, but one clue, here, is perhaps the focus on small nations. So it is likely to date from after the initial invasion made by the Nazis after Hitler consolidated his power (the Austrian Anschluss, April 1938) and the official declaration of war with England (September 1939), and probably after the Munich agreement and the takeover of Czechoslovakia, when a variety of states were eventually consumed, and this was still called the “phony war” by the British, for the overall lack of obvious aggression taking place. That would put in in the ca. 1939 era.

Alternatively, there is an intriguing option for 1941. The New York Times reproduced the entire text of Mussolini’s February 23, 1941 speech, about which I have more to say a little later, in a cartoon by Shoemaker titled “Is It Worth Saving?” Here is a passage, in which Mussolini references the big bad wolf specifically:

Let me say now that what is occurring in the United States is one of the most colossal mystifications in all history. Illusion and lying are the basis of American interventionism-illusion that the United States is still a democracy, when instead it is a political and financial oligarchy dominated by Jews, through a personal form of dictatorship. The lie is that the Axis powers, after they finish Great Britain, want to attack America.

Neither in Rome nor Berlin are such fantastic plans as this prepared. These projects could not be made by those who have an inclination for the madhouse. Though we certainly are totalitarian and will always be so, we have our feet on hard ground. Americans who will read what I say should be calm and not believe in the existence of a big bad wolf who wants to devour them.

The artist, Paul Battenfield, is a bit of a cypher. He was part of the cartoonist pool at the Chicago Times, and a two-time Pulitzer finalist, but I have not located that much more about him.

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