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Killian Coen

Multimodal Essay

For the topic of my multimodal essay, I decided to look at the visual rhetorical arguments
made by WWII Nazi propaganda. I will be looking at the images themselves and the arguments
they make, as well as any accompanying text that so often comes along with propaganda. This
essay will be looking especially carefully at the exigence and kairos surrounding the production
of these images, and how these two factors led to them being designed as they are, in order to
better understand how they were able to shape the collective unconsciousness of an entire nation
into one of bigotry, hate, and unbelievable arrogance.
First Image:

Cover Article of Der Strmer. Photo: Calvin College

Der Strmer was a newspaper ran by one of Hitlers greatest admirers, Julius Streicher,
from 1933 to 1945. This image is the cover to one of the most infamous issues of Der Strmer,
the 1934 issue accusing Jews of conducting ritual murder to secure the blood of Christians for
use in Jewish religious rituals, and the text here translates as, Jewish Murder Plan against
Gentile Humanity Revealed. (Bytwerk) This cover was banned by the Nazis because of the
words it used that compared alleged Jewish ritual murder with the Christian sacrament of
communion. (Bytwerk) After all, in 1934, Hitler was still trying to remain in the good graces of
Christian nations like America because he didnt want them getting involved in his war and
ethnic cleansing, thus his propaganda at the time was designed specifically not to mock this
people group, but to incite the populace into rabid anti-Semitism.
Concerning the kairos of this image, in 1934, Germany was just barely crawling its way
out of a vast economic depression, and Hitler was the man leading the march toward economic
stability. In order to do this, Hitler needed something to distract the masses, as well as something
to blame for their financial woes. German mysticism was deeply rooted in their culture, and part
of German mysticism is inbred anti-Semitism. . According to historian Hank Levin, Germans
interpreted the Volk (proper name for German mysticism) as a rallying point, which enabled
them to see themselves as a superior native race and set themselves apart from other peoples.
Consequently, given that the other major population group at this time in Germany was the Jews,
they became associated with the antithesis of Volkish values (1). This explains how the antiSemitism argued in this and many other pieces of Nazi propaganda so easily convinced native
German viewers. In this image, the hateful words of the article are accompanied by an image of
Jews that are going after Christians for their blood. Here, the Jews are portrayed almost as

Neanderthals, which is a feature that convinces the viewer of the argument that these people are
sub-human, and thus worthy of persecution. Hitler used propaganda such as this to give the
populace something to hate. This led to the distraction of the people, the propping up of the
worst tyrant in history, and eventually to the most egregious case of genocide the world has ever
seen to date.

Second Image:

Nurmberg Nazi Postcard. Photo: Calvin College

This image was taken from a Nazi postcard made in 1933 to commemorate the Nurmberg
Rally, one of the first complete and open gatherings of the National Socialist Party. In the center
and most prominent position is Hitler with a swastika behind him. To his right is William Liebel,
the mayor of Nurmberg, and to his left is Julius Streicher, the aforementioned propagandist and
publisher of Der Strmer. The fact that Hitler appears with these famous men, but appears above
them in full-color with a swastika behind him, is meant to convince the viewer that Hitler is

above even these famous men, and thus worthy of admiration. In the foreground are German
working-class people, which are meant to signify that these are the people led by Hitler, who
appears above them and seemingly overseeing them.
One of the things the Nazi Party did very well was connect its rhetoric to things that
were historically part of German culture, which helped the rhetoric to sink into viewers all the
more deeply. In addition to the inclusion of German mysticism and historic German antiSemitism, Nazis also used particular German locations to root their cause deeper in the hearts of
German people. According to German historian Randall Bytwerk, One of the reasons the Nazis
chose Nuremberg as the site of their party rallies was the citys past. The Nazi Party itself was
new, but connecting it with Nuremberg made it part of the flow of German history (Bytwerk).
The depiction of Nurmberg, Nazi officials, as well as the phrase Nurmberg, the city of the
Reich on this postcard all serve to convince the viewers of the legitimacy of Nazi leadership.

Third Image:

1932 Reichstag election poster. Photo: Calvin College

Another piece of Nazi part propaganda, this image is a poster made for the 1932
Reichstag elections, in which the Nazi party was one of the most popular political factions. In
these elections, like all others, all of the parties were attempting to sway the working class people
to their side, and many of them only attempted to do so without success. A large reason for the
push for support of the workers was the fact that since 1929, Germany was suffering from the
Great Depression. German historian John Simkin claims that unemployment rose from 8.5% to
nearly 30% between 1929 and 1932 (1). The dissatisfaction of the populace led to German
leaders efforts to persuade them that their party ws the one that could drag them out of economic
ruin. Thanks to the rhetoric present in propaganda like this, the Nazi party became the
preeminent party in German parliament.
The poster features a strong Aryan-looking man in the foreground, which is meant to
represent the workers that the poster is targeting. In effect, this poster is telling its viewers that
this is how the Nazi party views them, and thus make them feel flattered and more willing to
vote for National Socialist candidates. The characters beneath the Aryan man represent those that
the party considers detractors from the workers movement. The most prominent one, the one
with the glaring red hat, represents the Marxist party; political opponents of the Nazis. The paper
he is holding up to the Aryan man reads, Nazi barons! Emergency decrees. Lies and slanders.
The big-wigs are living high on the hog, the people are wretched. This is an effort by the Nazi
party to convince the voting public that the Marxists are lying to them, and their words should
not be trusted. This is reinforced by the fact that the man whispering in his ear is a Jew, and
many in Germany at the time would assume that he is whispering lies into the ear of the Marxist,
which the he foolishly believes. The most significant visual element is the huge Swastika in the
center of the image which visually aligns with the powerful Aryan man. Both of these images

appearing larger, higher in position, and more prominent than the other visual elements
communicates the power of the National Socialist party, as well as the strength of those that
support it. This argument is reinforced by the text at the top of the poster, which reads, The
workers have awoken.
In conclusion, I cannot overstate the importance of propagandas use in brainwashing the
nation of Germany during WWII. Its interesting to note that in the examples shown here, as well
as in the propaganda of other countries and time periods, the rhetorical devices used are
extraordinarily subtle, and must be in order to worm their way into the minds of the observer.
Yet, once one receives education regarding these arguments and how they are used, they
instantly lose all their power. If nothing else, the history and propaganda of Nazi Germany
should show people how important it is to be a critical observer who has, through education,
received the tools necessary in order to see through manipulation. As we have seen in North
Korea, without this education, there is very little to stop such tyrannical governments from
perpetrating the same atrocities in the modern era. Without education, injustice has free reign.
Reflective Evaluation:
Beyond satisfying the basic structural demands of this assignment, I believe my work will
be of use to those who wish to get a very global view of the rhetoric present in Nazi propaganda.
Further, many of the issues discussed herein can be applied to the rhetoric present in political
propaganda as a whole, not merely confined to Nazi Germany. The arguments present in Nazi
propaganda are present in the propaganda of other countries at the time; the propping up of the
working class in both Germany and Russia, for example. Not only does this hold true for
countries in the period of the 1940s, but similar arguments are still present in modern day
propaganda. One of the easiest places to see this type of rhetoric today is in North Korea.

Kim Jong II: North Korean Propaganda. Photo: Lawrence Lai.

In this example of North Korean propaganda, we see many of the rhetorical devices used
that are also used in Nazi propaganda. Perhaps the most notable similarity is the presence of text
accompanying the visual elements is once again seen here. In addition, the figure of Kim Jong II
is elevated above the figures of the workers, and is a photograph as opposed to the other figures
which are cartoons. Setting the most important figure above the others and making that person
more visually prominent in the image clearly indicates the authority of that person over those
that are lower and less visually distinct in the image. This is almost exactly the same argument
made by Nurmberg Rally postcard discussed above, in which Hitler is set in nearly the same
position in the image as Kim Jong II is here.
Propaganda has always fascinated me with its ability to shape the minds of a population,
all while being so subtle that the observers arent even aware they are being manipulated, In fact,
without this key aspect of subtlety, the effect of propaganda is lost. I chose text and images
because these are the two modalities present in most propaganda, especially propaganda that is

political in nature. Simply put, these were the two relevant modalities to my topic choice, and
others would not have been applicable.
As far as my methodological choices, my two biggest rhetorical lenses that I used to look
at this work are the exigence and kairos of it all, and how these two factors led to the propaganda
being visually structured the way that it is. In order to accomplish this, I looked at the history
surrounding the production of each piece, and then performed a visual analysis of each piece
relative to the history surrounding it. In the end, my goal is to show how the exigence and kairos
of each piece is used in the visual design of each, and I believe I succeeded in this goal.
Propaganda and its capacity for psychological manipulation will forever be a subject that
captures my imagination, and through this project, I was able to expand upon my knowledge of
not just propaganda and its visual design, but also on the history of Nazi Germany. I could not be
happier with how it turned out.
References:
Lai, Lawrence. North Korean Propaganda Posters. ABCnews.com. Web. November,
2015.
Levin, Hank. Anti-Semitism in German Volk Culture: Propaganda through the Pen
and Screen. Earlham.edu. Web. November, 2015.
Bytwerk, Randall. Nazi and East German Propaganda Guide. Calvin College. Web.
November, 2015.
Wegnor, Gregory. Anti-Semitism and Schooling Under the Third Reich. Routledge
Press. Print. February, 2014.
Simkin, John. Unemployment in Nazi Germany. Spartacus Educational. Web.
November, 2015.