Punch as a recruit: Puppet head by Harro Siegel for the Reichsinstitut für Puppenspiel, ca. 1940
Time of Remembrance – Punch as a recruit
Punch – the comedy puppet – is an indispensable part of every hand puppet set. This Punch grins, has a long nose and yet: would you have recognised him as Punch? If not, perhaps it’s because he’s wearing a recruit’s cap; this Punch is in fact in the military. Why? With this puppet head, we are starting a small series on our blog dedicated to puppet theatre in National Socialism. Punch with his little cap is a character from a set of hand puppets designed in 1940 for the Reichsinstitut für Puppenspiel. This institution, founded in 1938, had set itself the task of using hand puppetry strategically for political propaganda. On the one hand, the professional puppeteers were to be uniformly trained, especially in “ideological” questions, i.e. in National Socialist ideology. In addition, amateur puppetry was to be established especially in the Hitler Youth and the Association of Young German Women. Punch’s baton was used to hammer Nazi ideology into people’s heads, so to speak.
The artistic quality of our Punch’s head is undeniable and reminds us that the Reichsinstitut – very cleverly – enlisted an eminent puppeteer and puppet designer, Professor Harro Siegel, to design the figures. He designed a set of puppets with classical characters (including a Punch, a Robber, a Grandmother) as well as an anti-Semitic distorted representation of a Jew. The caricatured heads of Chamberlain and Churchill were based on designs by Karl Fritz Riedel. The figures could be ordered in wood or in labolite (a form of plastic); in addition, one could buy so-called “political interludes”, i.e. play texts with politically motivated content. For these plays, further types of figures were created, such as the grouch, the philistine or the Englishman in a pith helmet. If you would like to view the entire set, you can do so in the Online Collection of the Dresden State Art Collections
Whether the envisaged strategy of utilising hand puppetry was actually implemented is unclear. The war put an end to the Reichsinstitut’s grand plan; from 1944 onwards, the production of the puppets was discontinued.
How puppeteers actually lived and worked during National Socialism, how and why puppetry took place on all war fronts, these are the questions we will explore in our next articles in the series Time of Remembrance.
More articles on the Time of Remembrance 2020 here