Confiscated by the Nazis in 1938, 13 First World War posters make exciting additions to the Memorial’s world class poster collection.
In November 2013 the Memorial purchased 13 First World War (FWW) posters at auction in New York. The posters are notable additions to the Memorial’s world class poster collection not only for their aesthetic and historic values but also for their extraordinary provenance. All the posters were once part of the fabled Dr Hans Sachs poster collection. Over the coming weeks the art section will mark this important acquisition via this blog – highlighting individual posters and giving insights into the legacy of Dr Hans Sachs.
The Dr Hans Sachs poster collection
A German dentist of Jewish descent, whose pre-war clientele included Albert Einstein, Dr Hans Sachs (1882-1974) was one of the foremost collectors of posters and other advertising material during the early twentieth century. He championed the emerging art form by initiating the first poster appreciation society in Germany, Verein der Plakat Freunde (the Society for Friends of the poster) in 1905, and as editor of the internationally circulated journal Das Plakat (1910 - 1922). Between 1896 and 1938 he amassed over 12,000 posters which provide a unique historical and visual record of Europe before and between the First and Second World Wars.
In the summer of 1938 Dr Sach’s poster collection was confiscated by the German Propaganda Ministry, allegedly taken on the direct orders of Nazi Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels.
Soon after his collection was stolen, Dr Sachs escaped from Germany and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, fleeing initially to Britain before settling in the United States. After the war he tried in vain to determine if his collection had survived. In the 1950s, according to his great granddaughter, he was told by the German government ‘that his poster collection had been used by the Soviet soldiers to wrap fish and sausage meat.’ The family accepted financial compensation from the German Government at this time.
In the 1970s Dr Sachs became aware that a significant number of posters from his collection had survived and were in the basement of the Museum for German History, then in East Berlin and now known as the German Historical Museum, Berlin. Despite several attempts he was unable to secure the return of the posters prior to his death in 1974. It wasn’t until 2005, 31 years later, that his son Peter Sachs (1937-2013) initiated legal proceedings to regain ownership of it from the German Historical Museum. The legal battle lasted seven years with the German High Court ruling in the family’s favour in March 2012. The posters were auctioned internationally in New York in 2013. The German Historical Museum was among more than 20 public cultural institutions who were successful bidders at this auction.
[Reference: Glass, Suzanne, ‘Will posters confiscated by Nazis from Einstein’s dentist be returned?’ The Times, 28 January 2012, accessed online October 2013; Guernsey’s, The Hans Sachs poster collection, auction catalogue, New York, 2012]
As an Assistant curator in the art section I have the opportunity to work with the poster collection. It was exciting but challenging for the Art team to finalise a selection of acquisitions from the hundreds of wartime posters to be auctioned. In the end, the posters purchased enrich the Art Section’s holdings of German, Italian and French posters. Posters from Russia, Hungary and Poland have come into the collection for the first time. While it is regrettable that the Hans Sachs collection has now been broken up I can’t help but think that Dr Sach’s would have approved of a small selection of his wartime posters entering the Memorial’s collection. As a collector Sachs sought posters with the highest artistic quality, however, he was also interested in the poster’s cultural values and function as propaganda during wartime. He meticulously documented his collection, wrote on all aspects of the medium and exhibited it publically. In much the same way that the Memorial and other cultural institutions do today, Dr Sachs and his society, the Verein der Plakat Freunde, debated the success of propaganda posters; collecting, exhibiting and comparing examples from different countries.
During the First World War Dr Sach’s influence as an expert and champion of the graphic arts in Germany was at its strongest. In 1918 his society, the Verein der Plakat Freunde, were approached by the German Finance Ministry to organise a poster design competition for artistic posters to promote the eighth German war loan campaign.
A number of the winning designs are now in the Memorial’s collection. One is from a series of posters created by Karl Walter (1855-1928) who used humour to great effect. He combined satirical caricatures with dynamic depictions of well-known childhood games as visual metaphors for the ease with which the eighth war loan would assist Germany to win the war.
Hurrah, all of the nine / 8th War loan (ARTV10346) shows the 8th war loan literally bowling away the enemy. The various allies (including stereotypical caricatures of France, England, Russia and America) are presented as helpless bowling pins, suggesting that the powerful war loan (presumably thrown by the German people) would be a successful strike against them. Another poster in Walter’s series depicted the caricatured Allied Nations being terrorised by a giant, ogre like Jack-in-the-box.
A ‘Behind the scenes’ viewing of the posters acquired from the sale of the Dr Hans Sachs collection will be held on Friday 6 June at 11am. Bookings are essential for behind the scenes tours, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (02) 6243 4473.