Struwwelhitler

Robert and Philip Spence were two mid-20th century British novelists and illustrators, best known for creating a parody of Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann's classic children's poetry book 'Der Struwwelpeter' (1845). Nearly 100 years later, they reimagined Hoffmann's work as an anti-Hitler satire named: 'Struwwelhitler. A Nazi Story Book' (1941), under the pseudonym 'Dr. Schrecklichkeit', the German word for "fearsome". Not much is known about them. According to Dorothea McEwan in her highly recommended essay 'Struwwelhitler: A Nazi Story Book and Schicklgrüber' (2002), Robert Spence may have been the playwright who wrote 'Thomas James Takes A Wife' (1950) and 'Leave it to Willie' (1955), or illustrator of Norman Penney's 'Journal of George Fox' (1924). Philip Spence may have been the illustrator whose art can be seen in Thomas Hood's 'The Dream of Eugene Aram' (1902).

Struwwelhitler

In 1941 the Second World War was in full swing. The Axis Powers under Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo had already conquered much of Europe, North Africa and South-East Asia. But the war started to turn in the Allied Forces' favor when Hitler made the fatal mistake of trying to invade Russia, breaking the neutrality pact he had signed with Joseph Stalin. 'Struwwelhitler' refers to many of these events. It's not clear why Robert and Philip Spence picked out Hoffmann's 'Struwwelpeter' as the target for their anti-Nazi propaganda satire, but it had probably to do with the fact that it was - and still is - the most famous German children's book of all time. And since Hoffmann's original book was already full with gruesome imagery the link with Hitler was easily made. 'Struwwelhitler' was published by the British newspaper The Daily Sketch and Sunday Graphic Ltd to support the Relief Fund. The money went to supply goods to the British military forces and help out air raid victims.

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'Struwwelhitler' imitates the literary and graphic style of Hoffmann's work page by page. On the first page we see Hitler as the uncombed Struwwelpeter, though in his case he has no long nails, just hands which drip blood from every finger. He returns in a parody of Little Friederich. Whereas the boy in Hoffmann's original tale just terrorized animals and humans until he was bitten by a dog and bed-ridden for several weeks, this 'Cruel Adolf' purges both his enemies, "oldest friends" and "all the little neutral birds and always broke his plighted words." He too is eventually bitten by a dog and forced to remain in bed at doctor's advice. Though the doctor isn't too keen on curing Adolf: "The doctor came and shook his head, remarked that he soon would be dead / and gave him nasty physic too / precisely with that end in view." The next tale, "The Dreadful Story of Gretchen and the Gun", depicts Germany as a stereotypical blond plaited German girl. She is adviced by two cats wearing the American and British flag "not to play with guns", just like little Paulette in Hoffmann's original story was told not to play with matches. She too is killed off. 'The Story of the Nazi Boys' probably would have pleased Hoffmann, since it continues the anti-racist message of 'Die Geschichte von den schwarzen Buben'. Instead here, rather than three boys who laugh at a black kid, the trio is made up of Hitler, Von Ribbentrop and Goebbels who mock a Bolshevik for being "as red as blood". Just like Nicolas dropped the racist children into a bowl of black ink in Hoffmann's original tale, here Stalin dips them into red ink.

Struwwelhitler

The tale of the foolish hunter whose gun is stolen by a clever rabbit is retold through Mussolini. Il Duce has his weapon stolen by a "Greek goat", mirroring the invasion of Fascist Italy through Greece. The infamous tale of the thumb-sucking boy is now portrayed by Joseph Goebbels. Rather than be forbidden to suck his thumb his mother tells Goebbels not to write down propaganda lies. Just like in the original story the boy's thumbs are cut off by a huge man with scissors, though in this version it's Satan. Suppen-Kaspar who refuses to eat his soup is recast as Hermann Göring who wants "glorious guns instead of butter on his bread." He too starves away until "he's thinner than a ration card." Göring returns in the next story which spoofs Hoffmann's tale about a boy who went out during stormy weather and was swept away by the wind. Here Göring claims nobody will bomb Berlin, until his prediction is proven wrong (which also happened in reality). He then crawls into a plane to try a counterattack but disappears in the sky. The story of Zappel-Philipp who wouldn't sit still at the table is retold with Hitler and Uncle Sam and Lady Britannia as his parents. Here Hitler not only falls down, but also "in disgrace". Mussolini is ridiculed again in a retelling of Hans Guck-in-die-Luft, where the unattentive child who fell in a river is replaced by the dictator falling into the Mediterranean Sea, where his navy is sunk.

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The book finally features an eleventh story which parallels none of Hoffmann's original tales. In 'The Story of Flying Rudolf' Rudolph Hess is targeted. It depicts the odd 1941 event in which Hess personally flew to Scotland by plane in a desperate way to make a truce with the Allied Forces. He was instantly made a prisoner-of-war. The authors wittingly summarize most people's thoughts about Hess' flight: "Now it isn't very clear/ what he's wanting over here / only, this one thing is plain, Rudolf won't go back again.'

'Struwwelhitler' wasn't the first political parody of Heinrich Hoffmann's 'Der Struwwelpeter'. As early as 1848 Henry Ritter published 'Der politische Struwwelpeter. Ein Versuch zu Deutschands Einigung; dem deutschen Michel gewidmet' (1848), which satirized the various Communist revolutions which swept Europe that year. It wasn't even the first, nor only, anti-Hitler parody! As early as 1933, when the Führer has just taken power, a man named Oistros published 'Truffle Eater: Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures' (1933). Yet another anti-Hitler Struwwelpeter parody followed in 1943 named 'Schicklgruber' (1943), written by Robert Collin-Pyper and drawn by Margaret Stavidri.

'Struwwelhitler' remains a funny and interesting historical artefact and was reprinted several times. The 2006 reprint had a foreword by German historian Joachim Fest.

Struwwelhitler

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