Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Who was Louis Raemaekers?

I like to think of my job as writing novels that will give Noble Readers pleasure. The pleasure comes mostly from an interesting story told in such a way that readers can insert themselves into a different time and a place, and so vicariously live a different life for a few hours.

But there is another pleasure to be had, and that is the satisfaction of finding out something new, something that illuminates the past and escapes the clutches of historical cliché. I get pleasure from that, so why shouldn't you?

Noble Readers will likely already know that Holland did not share the fate of Belgium in World War I - lucky for them. But as a neutral country, Holland was in a difficult position.

The man I want to introduce you to in this blog was a cartoonist. His name was Louis Raemaekers. In 1914 he was working in Amsterdam, drawing illustrations for DeTelegraaf. In recent blogs I've mentioned some of the ways in which artists contributed to the war effort. This was true of Raemaekers, whose punchy drawings characterized German aggression so effectively that the Berlin government first demanded that the Dutch put him on trial, and when he was acquitted they actually went so far as to put a "dead or alive" bounty on his head.

This was a move so gobsmackingly stupid that instead of getting Raemaekers shot, it shot Raemaekers to international fame. Raemaekers own move in reply was to cross the Channel and live in England, where his artwork went straight into The Times, was sent on travelling display around the country and ended up being syndicated by periodicals across the United States.

Louis Raemaekers didn't just sit at home and make it all up, you know, Noble Readers. He actually crossed into Belgium to witness at first hand the atrocities inflicted by the Germans on their hapless victims.

Six and two-threes historians - the ones who like to put present-day reconciliation ahead of truth, and who therefore like to say that all countries involved in the Great War were equally culpable in moral terms - those guys tend to dismiss Raemaekers as a "propaganda cartoonist." I don't do that. I recognize the moral rage this unassuming - and remarkably talented --artist felt towards the Prussian clique who were traumatizing Europe at the time.

Some of us just can't stand bullies.


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  2. A large format and lavishly illustrated book about life and work of Louis Raemaekers (280 pages, 350 illust.), based on the dissertation of the author, is published in English and Dutch. See reviews on www.louisraemaekers.com/english. The book can be ordered and shipped worldwide. The website features additional material, including several hundred cartoons, family photos, and newspaper cuttings.