German counter-propaganda on the theme of "barbarism"

German counter-propaganda on the theme of

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  • German postcard.


  • German postcard.


  • Photograph of prisoners who are members of the French colonial troops.


© Contemporary Collections

© Contemporary Collections

Photograph of prisoners who are members of the French colonial troops.

© Contemporary Collections

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

In the propaganda battle waged by the belligerents between 1914 and 1918, the Germans, in response to the accusations of murdering innocent people in the invaded areas made against them, also resorted to images to defend themselves, even for against -attack. The documents nbone 1, 2 and 3 prove it.

Image Analysis

The first two photographs, published and distributed in postcard form with an ironic title on “so-called German barbarism”, each show a soldier sharing his food ration with children from French families.

The first document is implausible insofar as we immediately see that the characters pose in a setting: they are aligned, motionless in front of a painted canvas, with a certain aesthetic naivety (a process common in photographic studios of the time) , and the whole has no depth of field.

The similar scene shown in the second document seems more accurate because it has a greater demand for realism. Located outside, in this case in front of a house, the composition is much less flat, more natural than the previous example, without anything guaranteeing us that it is true: the soldier seated on a bench feeds a little girl who 'he is standing on his knees, while in the background, near the front door, two older children smile at them.

The third document is more disturbing. This shot, taken by a German photographer, shows seven prisoners of French colonial troops (a Senegalese, a Guinean, a Somali, a Tunisian, an Annamite, a Sudanese, a Dahomean) who were gathered to pose in front of the lens. Published in a brochure distributed in several languages, this group portrait is used to denounce, in a sarcastic way, the claim of the Allies to want to defend culture and civilization with combatants of color.


The first two photos are staged images seeking to demonstrate that, contrary to repeated claims, the invading troops behave correctly vis-à-vis the civilian populations in the occupied territories. In both cases, the attitude of the soldiers is poles apart from the extremely brutal methods which the Allies systematically attribute to the Germans who are outraged. The emphasis is therefore placed on "good behavior and the generosity of the occupiers" in an attempt to erase the images of torturers that stick to their skin.

The Germans are devoid of colonial troops [1]. Their propaganda is therefore very easy to assert that the natives who came from Africa, the Middle East or Asia, to fight against them, alongside the French, are the "real barbarians". This obvious form of racism, which is perfectly reflected in the photograph taken in the prison camp, will be amplified after the Treaty of Versailles. At the time of the French occupation along the Rhine, the German press will indeed speak of the "black shame"; terrifying stories of murder and rape will be spread about the soldiers of the Foreign Legion. This conditioning of German public opinion will no doubt facilitate the acceptance, as early as 1933, of Nazi propaganda which would use this type of image, more or less, to demonstrate the supremacy of the Aryan race in Europe.

  • Germany
  • War of 14-18
  • propaganda
  • racism
  • Senegalese tirailleurs
  • colonial troops
  • representation of the enemy


Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.

Marc MICHEL, The Call to Africa. Contributions and reactions to the war effort in AOF 1914-1919, Paris, Publications of the Sorbonne, 1982.


1. The French colonies provide approximately 600,000 combatants; North African and Senegalese skirmishers are used as shock troops. General Mangin believes that it is possible to build up a large African army (what he calls the "dark force") and that its role can be decisive on the battlefield. Contrary to legend, these colonial troops did not suffer proportionately higher losses than the metropolitan troops.

To cite this article

Laurent VÉRAY, "German counter-propaganda on the theme of" barbarism ""

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