Sunday, 6 November 2016

Armed with a Pen

Pic of a pen with 3 bullets either side, all pointing upwards

He gave no speeches. 

He fired no bullets. 

Armed with only a pen and pencil, he changed the outcome of the War.

The Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers became world famous during the First World War. His influence had a profound effect on the perception and course of events. He said:

“I want people to know, to think, to see the war as it is.”

As I entered the Dutch centre I was struck by a contrast. Happy, brightly-coloured modern paintings of cupcakes lined the walls. One of Raemaekers stark drawings appeared larger than life ahead of me.

Danse macabre
A woman was dancing with a skeleton. One bony hand rested at her waist, the other held her hand up. The skeleton had his back to the room. He was all bone except for his dance shoes. The woman was flesh and blood. She wore a gown, a crown and her hair in pigtails. She gazed up into his eyes (or where they should have been). Maybe she still saw the man she once knew? She seemed weak and hunched. Her red eyes contrasted against red lipstick in the otherwise dark cartoon.

The image made me think of the generation of women left behind. I later discovered that my interpretation was wrong. The following words appeared under the cartoon:

The German Tango – “From East to West and West to East, I dance with thee.”

Raemaekers portrays Germany in the thrall of a medieval danse macabre. It is a dance to the death. Once begun, it cannot be stopped.

A quotation from Louis Raemaekers’ obituary in The Times also appeared on the screen:

“It has been said of Louis Raemaekers that he was the one private individual who exercised a real and great influence on the course of the 1914-18 War.

Louis Raemaekers stands conspicuous as the one man who, without any assistance of title or office, indubitably swayed the destinies of peoples.”
London, July 1956

Dutch Centre Talk
Who was this influential man now apparently forgotten? Ariane de Ranitz presented her research and book on Louis Raemaekers to the Dutch Centre’s audience. Two of the cartoonists' great-grandchildren were present to hear about their ancestor.

Louis Raemaekers was born and grew up in Roermond in the Netherlands. The city stands in the South-east of the Netherlands. Both Belgium and Germany are within ‘touching’ distance on either side. The young Louis regularly visited his German mother’s relatives over the border. He developed a strong sense of right and wrong.

Emotional Cartoons
His later cartoons scream outrage against the use of citizens as human shields. He lived in neutral Netherlands. Belgian refugees poured across the border describing massacres by German soldiers. Raemaekers drew with a deep sense of shock. Although nervous, he could not stay silent. While the national government remained neutral, he felt that an individual was free to hold a different opinion.

Raemaekers’ cartoons appeared in De Telegraaf. They were not small, hidden at the bottom of the page, inside or at the back. They were huge drawings dead centre on the front page of the broadsheet.

Dutch Neutrality
It seems remarkable today, as it did at the time, that the fiercest satire should come from a neutral rather than a Frenchman or Belgian against Germany. His work carried more weight worldwide because of Dutch neutrality. 

Ultimately, Raemaekers had to leave the Netherlands for Britain for his own safety and that of his family. The German Kaiser had put a bounty on his head. 

Britain to US
From Britain, he ridiculed the indecisiveness of the American President to intervene in the war. His involvement in Allied War propaganda spread in a variety of formats. Lloyd George persuaded Raemaekers to go to the US. There, thousands of American newspapers published his cartoons. He changed the tide of opinion.

Second World War
As early as 1933, Raemaekers again spotted and depicted the threat coming this time from Nazi Germany. He had to leave for the US shortly before the start of the Second World War. His drawings, papers and correspondence with leaders such as Churchill were sent on ahead to Stanford University.

Many nations covered Louis Raemaekers in honours. His native Netherlands took much longer to recognise the great achievements of his pen. His epitaph reads:

Here rests Louis Raemaekers, great warrior for truth and justice.

Links and references: 
Ariane de Ranitz: Louis Raemaekers (link includes the danse macabre cartoon described above)
The Dutch Centre

Karen Andrews is a
freelance French to 
English translator,
copywriter and
editor. She also has 
background in
marketing and 
project management.

Email Karen for further information via in French, German or English.

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