Updated: Feb 18, 2021
An interpretation of Bernard Partridge’s Delayed Action Cartoon in Punch Magazine, August 1936.
"I wonder how much longer I can keep this attitude up without letting the thing go?"
(Hitler delays releasing the discus of answers to the British questionnaire during the 1936 Olympics amid impatient spectators who call time on him)
1936 Olympics and Further Context
The 1936 Berlin Olympics have been coined the ‘Hitler Olympics’ or the ‘Nazi Olympics’. The 1936 games were used as ‘propaganda for a National Socialist racial and political ideology of the strong Aryan body’ and to promote a strong, united and peaceful Germany. The awarding of the summer games reinstated Germany’s role on the world stage after the reparations of the Treaty of Versailles and legitimised Hitler’s rule home and abroad. For the first time in Olympic history the games were surrounded in opposition and talks of a boycott for Germany’s human rights offences. These worries were correctly placed as Hitler and the Nazi party were using the games to cover up their anti-Semitic agenda and plans to conquer Europe and appear peaceful and friendly on the world stage. This is exemplified by the huge sculptures of the perfect Aryan athlete that were placed outside the stadium in Berlin. During the games ‘Hitler declared Aryan supremacy’ yet ‘Jesse Owens is proving him a liar’ and did so by going on to win four gold medals.
The cartoon was produced in August 1936, five months after the German reoccupation and remilitarisation of the Rhineland. The reclaiming of this coal, steel and iron rich area was said to be mutual and when Hitler marched 20,000 men into the Rhineland he did so with little obstruction. So much so that Lord Lothian, the British Ambassador to the United States, said the Germans were simply reclaiming ‘their own back yard’.
Another matter raised in the cartoon is the British questionnaire that was presented to the Berlin foreign office in May 1936. Within the questionnaire, the British were questioning and reminding Germany of the Locarno Treaty of 1925 where Germany agreed not to go to war with neighbouring nations. The questionnaire also asked by what terms ‘Germany required to act as a law-abiding power’ in relation to the reoccupation of the Rhineland, questioning what else Germany needed to remove the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles. The British said ‘negotiations for a treaty would be useless if one of the parties hereafter felt free to deny its obligations’ clearly, they were not happy with Hitler’s actions and wanted him to explain his nations activities. Hitler did not respond to these queries sent by Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden.
Cartoons can come in many forms, such as: single sheet prints, periodical and newspaper, political, social and humorous cartoons and many others. They originate from traditional wood cutting illustrations which were used as early as the sixteenth century in Italy and France. Cartoons help to provide a light-hearted view on current affairs and do so in a smaller space than large amounts of text.
Strengths of Cartoons
There is lots of value in using cartoons as historical sources. Pictures can have a more lasting memory in people’s minds and they make a story easier to remember. They also help to diminish a class divide, particularly in early publications during periods of low literacy. In the first ever issue of the Illustrated London News cartoons were accredited to have ‘converted blocks into wisdom, and given wings and spirit to ponderous and senseless word’ and had now ‘became the bride of literature’. When more newspapers began to use cartoons and illustrations they became more popular and the Daily Illustrated Mirror said in one of their first publications that, ‘They are a valuable help to the understanding (of printed work)’. These theories are supported by a forerunner in cartooning in newspapers, W. T. Stead who said: ‘a glace of a cartoon will give you the key to the question in a moment’.
Limitations of Cartoons
However, there are shortfalls with using cartoons. They can often only provide an individual opinion on a subject whether that be the artist or their publication and it can be difficult to understand their motive for some cartoons. Often illustrations are only used to assist historiography not solely used as a defining piece of history, this dampens the role of cartoons and illustrations as evidence by many historians. Indeed, W. T. Stead also said that ‘To assume that it does improve it (written word) implies that the writer has produced an unfinished work’. Not all illustrations have survived and it is mostly the big publications like Punch that are heavily cited for each case which means it can be hard to provide balanced evidence when using cartoons. Although the use of pictures does diminish the need for literacy it can sometimes be hard to follow some cartoons, for instance political cartoons as the reader often needs prior knowledge to fully grasp what the artist is trying to convey. This paired with overly stereotypical imagery used by artists does diminish their historical relevance. In the early days of cartoons, they were believed to only be providing ‘miscellaneous information which is serviceable to the shallow talkers and the indolent members of society’. Which exemplifies a reinstating of the class divide that cartoons have been said to remove.
Cartoons as Historical Evidence
This cartoon demonstrates how sometimes some prior knowledge may be needed to fully understand a cartoon, in relation to the British questionnaire. If Partridge had placed some information about the questionnaire in his synopsis the cartoon may be easier to understand. However, doing so would support the claim that written words are more effective pieces of evidence than cartoons. This cartoon does provide a good viewpoint of the British towards Hitler and the Nazi party three years before World War Two began, and does follow a trend of anti-Hitler and anti-Nazi beliefs and illustrations at the time. Cartoons and illustrations are an effective way of presenting historical events and public opinions of the time; therefore, they should be more widely used and appreciated as historical evidence rather than simply assisting written word.
Punch magazine ran weekly from 1841-2002 in England with a largely middle class audience. It was famous for wit and mockery, and was one of the first to use cartoons, it was at its peak in the 1840s and 1850s. It is one of, if not the most famous, sources of illustrations and is used often when discussing illustrations and cartoons as it provides contemporary opinions of important political events. However, it is important to remember that Punch is produced to make money so does not always provide a balanced view, lessening its historical value.
Bernard Partridge, his other work and similar cartoons
Bernard Partridge was a significant painter and illustrator exemplified by being knighted in 1925. He joined Punch in 1891 and became principle cartoonist in 1910 and worked for them until his death in 1945 drawing nearly one thousand illustrations. His work ‘during the first and second world wars were strikingly powerful, dignified and memorable’. The cartoon under evaluation, Delayed Action, is from this period and another illustration of Partridge’s that demonstrates the importance of the British questionnaire, called Tact, depicts Hitler and Goring discussing Hitler’s response to British queries over the suggested German dismissal of the Locarno Treaty.
Partridge was known for his political cartoons and this era was dominated by Adolf Hitler. These two illustrations highlight the effect of the Berlin Olympics on Britain and how they were concentrating on Hitler’s response to their questionnaire. This one issue about Hitler’s crossing of the agreements of the Locarno Treaty spouted two Partridge illustrations. This shows that, despite apparent approval of Hitler by the government and individuals like Lord Lothian, the public were uneasy about Hitler’s actions. Cartoons are a good barometer of public reaction and Partridge’s cartoons perfectly show this.
The existence of similar images demonstrates that other people agreed with the same issues as Partridge. It was not only Punch readers that had these feelings. The Philadelphia Record publicised similar issues towards Hitler’s attempt to promote ‘international good will’ when he was really promoting his ‘intolerance and discrimination’.
These cartoons show that ‘Delayed Action’ was not the only cartoon at the time that voiced anti-German opinions towards the Olympic Games and was not even Partridge’s only work on the British questionnaire’s queries.
The cartoon depicts Hitler during the 1936 Olympics in Germany. His discus represents the recent British questionnaire and he is facing pressure from people in the crowd who are representing the British people, or the readers of Punch magazine, impatiently waiting for Hitler to release his discus. This cartoon did not seem to aid any political decisions as Hitler never did directly reply to these British worries and war broke out within three years. Hitler’s face in the cartoon does look rather distressed as though he is attempting to ‘keep face’ during the Olympics to show he is peaceful and is avoiding answering the British worries about his stance on peace.
The fact that Hitler is depicted as a discus thrower does have significance. Partridge could have portrayed Hitler in any other sport. Hitler is shown to be not releasing the answers to his questionnaire so it makes sense for Partridge to illustrate him with something you need to throw or release. This could imply that any eventual comments that Hitler will make will be ‘throw away remarks’, meaning Partridge expects that when Hitler does finally respond his answer will not answer the British queries, demonstrating a lack of trust towards Hitler. The javelin and shotput are the two other real options that could have been chosen. The javelin is quite aggressive and hard to fit text on, and the shotput normally has a more well-built athlete so this way they could depict him as less physical and aggressive, meaning he looked comparably weaker.
The swastika on Hitler’s jersey seems to suggest a popular contemporary opinion that the Nazi’s have taken over the Olympic games. They were accused to have made it a showcase for politics rather than just sports. It is also important to note that it is not a German flag on his chest it’s a swastika, displaying the political connotations of the cartoon and Olympic games. Partridge is pointing his issues towards Hitler and the Nazi Party, not the whole of Germany.
This illustration could be perceived as a literal mockery of the German ‘great leader’. His face does look a little troubled and worried and he is not hugely muscled either. However, Hitler is depicted as a competing athlete and he is not pictured feebly. He has an average to athletic build meaning he is not too harshly depicted. It is still rather gentle in its accusations towards Hitler and is merely looking for his response to British worries rather than a full accusation of war mongering tactics from the Nazi’s.
Significance of this cartoon
It can be difficult to assess the perspective within cartoons. This does not appear to be an official British perspective as they were attempting to discuss their issues with Nazi Germany and the questionnaire exemplifies this. Nevertheless, a lot of the competing nations protested the games with some Jewish sportspeople refusing to compete following reports of the persecution of Jewish athletes. This prompted the president of the American Olympic Committee to state ‘The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race’. This illustrates that there was a lot of anti-Olympic opinion so the British people would have been accustomed to these views and the fact that Partridge was illustrating these images displays that some of the Punch readership would have sympathised with them. However, in 1936 there would have been a few people in Britain who had a favourable view of Hitler and might not be very receptive of this cartoon and view it as going too far. The England Football Team greeted the German national anthem with a Nazi salute in 1938 which displays that good relations did remain during this period. These views did not really change until 1939 when the war was beginning.
This demonstrates that Partridge’s illustration may have just been a viewpoint from a particular political perspective rather than representing a whole nation. This is a very interesting source but the audience needs to bring prior knowledge with them to fully understand it. The British questionnaire mentioned in the cartoon is not a particularly well remembered chapter of this period. Cartoons are very culturally significant, so this would be made for a contemporary audience who would understand the themes in the cartoon. This does again weaken cartoons as evidence as sometimes it can be difficult to look back and fully grasp what they are trying to present.
The cartoon can be viewed as a warning of the potential dangers of German aggression. Partridge wants British people to be wary of what Hitler is doing and remind them that he has not responded to their questionnaire. The protests display that people are worried about Hitler and this cartoon shows that the British public want him to explain his actions but he has not replied, yet, Partridge seems to expect he will. The views are complex, the cartoonist is making a very important point but it might not be one that the government was too keen on hearing at the time because it embarrasses those who were facilitating his access to the Rhineland and further decisions of Hitler to happen.
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Peter Kenny Jones
S. Barczewski, J. Eglin, S. Heathorn, M. Silvestri and M. Tusan, Britain Since 1688: A Nation in the World (Oxon, 2015).
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Illustrated London News (London, 1842).
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W. T. Stead, ‘A Cartoon History of Modern England: The Story of Our Times. Told by the Great Cartoonists’, Review of Reviews, 34, 202 (Oct.1906).
W. T. Stead, ‘Have We Gone Picture Mad?’, Review of Reviews, (June, 1895).
E. V. Knox, rev. Paul Goldman, ‘Partridge, Sir (John) Bernard (1861-1945)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35402?docPos=1 accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
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Fig. 1. B. Partridge, ‘Delayed Action’, Punch (London, 1936), at http://punch.photoshelter.com/image/I0000NYx9coY2pOQ accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
Fig. 2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Berlin 1936 Olympic Games’, at https://www.britannica.com/event/Berlin-1936-Olympic-Games accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
Fig. 3. Daily Mail Online, ‘Jesse Owens 1936 Olympic gold medal that enraged Hitler up goes up for auction more than 70 years on’, at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2517276/Jesse-Owens-1936-Olympic-gold-medal-enraged-Hitler-auction.html accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
Fig. 4. B. Partridge, ‘Tact’, Punch (London, 1936), at http://punch.photoshelter.com/image/I00008VZ654aV.mg accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
Fig. 5. J. Doyle, ‘The Modern Mercury’, The Philadelphia Record (Philadelphia, 1935), at https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_da.php?ModuleId=10005680&MediaId=8997 accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
Fig. 6. Vice Sports, ‘The Day England’s Footballers gave the Nazi Salute’, at https://sports.vice.com/en_uk/article/the-day-englands-footballers-gave-the-nazi-salute accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
 See Fig. 1.
 See Fig. 2.
 M. Mackenzie, ‘From Athens to Berlin: The 1936 Olympics and Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia’, Critical Enquiry, Vol. 29 (2003), p.305.
 J. Schaap, Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics (New York, 2007), p.214.
 See Fig. 3.
 S. Barczewski, J. Eglin, S. Heathorn, M. Silvestri and M. Tusan, Britain Since 1688: A Nation in the World (Oxon, 2015), p.248.
 I. Deak, Weimar Germany’s Left-wing Intellectuals: A Political History of the Weltbühne and its Circle (London, 1968), p.98.
 F. McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (Manchester, 1998), p.28.
 ‘Hitler to Offer ‘Economic Peace Plan’ to Europe’, Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, May.8.1936).
 ‘Our Address’, Illustrated London News, (London, May.14.1842).
 ‘Editorial’, Daily Illustrated Mirror, (London, Jan.28.1904).
 W. T. Stead, ‘A Cartoon History of Modern England: The Story of Our Times. Told by the Great Cartoonists’, Review of Reviews, 34, 202 (Oct.1906).
 W. T. Stead, ‘Have We Gone Picture Mad?’, Review of Reviews, (June, 1895), p.539.
 A. I. Shand, ‘Contemporary Literature (No. III). Magazine writers’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 125 (1879), p.231.
 Punch, ‘About PUNCH Magazine Cartoon Archive’, at http://www.punch.co.uk/about/ accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
 E. V. Knox, rev. Paul Goldman, ‘Partridge, Sir (John) Bernard (1861-1945)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35402?docPos=1 accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
 See Fig. 4.
 See Fig. 5.
 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, ‘The Movement to Boycott the Berlin Olympics of 1936’, at https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007087 accessed 24. Mar. 2017.
 See Fig. 6.
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