“Propaganda” (80 years ago)


“Propaganda” (October 26, 1939)
by Emidio (Mike) Angelo (1903-1990)
13 x 13.5 in., ink on art board
Coppola Collection

Emidio Angelo was born in Philadelphia, a year after his mother and father, a baker, arrived from Italy. He studied art from 1924 to 1928 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Angelo joined The Philadelphia Inquirer as a political cartoonist in 1937 and worked there until 1954. He also drew cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post, Life and Esquire.


On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. To justify the action, Nazi propagandists falsely claimed that Poland had been planning, with its allies Great Britain and France, to encircle and dismember Germany and that Poles were persecuting ethnic Germans. The SS, in collusion with the German military, staged a phony Polish attack on a German radio station. Hitler then used this action to launch a “retaliatory” campaign against Poland.

Like all clever propagandists, Hitler sought to mask his true intentions by appealing to the moral high ground. He understood that many, if not most, Germans did not want to go to war again; World War I had cost the nation some 2 million dead. And indeed there was no uproar of enthusiasm when German troops invaded Poland. What made it palatable to the civilian population was to paint Germany as the victim of foreign machinations and violence. By staging the phony attacks on the German borders, the Nazis provided “proof” of their victimhood and used it in tandem with the claim that Germany was encircled by enemies in the east and west. To further preserve Germany’s image as the victim, the Propaganda Ministry directed the German press not to refer to the invasion of Poland as war, but only as a military intervention.

In October 1939, Germany directly annexed former Polish territories along German’s eastern border: West Prussia, Poznan, Upper Silesia, and the former Free City of Danzig.

On October 6, Hitler addressed a special session of the Reichstag. After speaking at great length about the victory over Poland he then proposed an international security conference, hinting at desire for an armistice by saying that such a conference would be impossible “while cannons are thundering.” Britain and France rejected these overtures some days later and the uneventful phase of the war known as the Phoney War would drag on until May 10, 1940 (when Germany invaded Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and Churchill replaced Chamberlain).

A Gallup poll was published in the United States asking, “What should be the policy in the present European war? Should we declare war and send our army and navy abroad to fight Germany?” 95% of Americans polled said no.

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