World War 2 Propaganda

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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In 1932, during the Great Depression, Poland formed a pact of nonaggression with the Soviet Union. Then in 1934 signed a similar pact with Natzi Germany, which was broken five years later. World War Two began due to the United Kingdom Declared war on Germany for their invasion of Poland in 1939. In the same year the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the East, and divides Poland between the two countries. In 1941 the German concentration camps Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek are built. The Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943 breaks out against attempts to transport the remaining Jewish inhabitants to concentration camps lasting nearly four weeks before the ghetto is finally burned down.

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In 1944 Polish resistance forces take control of Warsaw in August, however the city is recaptured by the Germans in October and burnt to the ground.

After the German surrender and subsequent end of World War Two in 1945 the Soviet forces captured Warsaw in January and forced all German forces out of Poland by the following March. Poland’s new borders are set by the post-war Potsdam conference, causing Poland to lose territory to the Soviet Union but gain some from Germany. After a Soviet run election in 1947, Poland became a Country under Communist rule. In 1955 Poland joined the Soviet ran Warsaw Pact. Over 50 people are killed during rioting in Poznan over demands for greater freedom in 1956. There are riots due to food price in Gdansk, by the time the protests are suppressed, hundreds were already killed. In 1989, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the first non-Communist Polish prime minister since 1946. The ever-present Soviet troops begin to leave Poland in 19991.

From the end of World War Two to the time that Poland was under oppression, propagandist music was created in order to sway the public. This music was created by the Polish military, and the various grassroots resistance movements that had sprung up throughout this time period. This essay will contain an analysis of some of the propaganda music that was created by the underground resistance movements, and the Polish military during this time.

In order to first determine how a musical piece works as propaganda influencer, propaganda must be defined. It can be relatively easily defined as a type of communication that possesses the intention to influence the behavior and to persuade specific groups of people.2 It is based on the exploitation of emotions by using an “us” against “them” model appealing to patriotism, exploiting pre-existing prejudices, etc. Propaganda relies on a medium determined by its sender in order to distribute the senders’ message to their intended audience. Music is an effective medium for a message to relayed to an intended audience because music influences human behavior by strongly influencing, or affecting emotions; music can be used as a symbol of a groups’ identity; music can be used to coordinate large groups of people; and music can build association between certain emotions and certain objects. 3

One of the most famous and popular Polish protest songs during World War Two was “Siekiera, motyka”, translated “Axe, Hoe”. The song was originally a folk tune with constantly changing lyrics created in 1917, which was then changes into a military song in 1938 with a different name. The wartime protest lyrics was created in 1942 in Warsaw shortly before the riots by Anna Jachnina. Within the next year it was being distributed by the Polish underground resistance. The song describes the life that occurs in German occupied Warsaw, and criticizes the German practice of practice of ?apanka’s, which were street round-ups that carted off random passersby into forced labor duties. ”Siekiera, motyka” and similar songs were banned by the German forces in late 1942, however it remained one of the most popular patriotic street songs during occupied Poland.4

”Siekiera, motyka”

Axe, hoe, moonshine, drinking glass,

day’s ?apanka, at night air-raid,

axe, hoe, lights on, AC current,

when will they get out of here.

We have no more place to hide,

dogcatchers don’t let us live.

they are running through the streets,

looking who else can be snatched.

Axe, hoe, hand saw, rope line,

here’s the Prussia, there’s Treblinka

axe, hoe, lights on, AC current,

run, you bastard, away right now.

Axe, hoe, January, February

Hitler and Duce lose their shoes,

axe, hoe, rope line, wire,

Mr. Painter is kaputt.

Axe, hoe, hand saw, vodka

stupid painter lost the war,

axe, hoe, hand saw, knife,

he lost the war just now, now, now

”Siekiera, motyka” was an effective piece of propaganda due to several factors such as its widespread popularity, and its emotional appeal. The song is used to express the frustration of the Polish citizens in Warsaw and eventually all of Poland. Frustration over the near constant air raids, the ?apanka where their friends, families and neighbors would be carted off to labor camps with little chance of returning, and the fact that even more of their people would be shipped off to the concentration camps with almost no chance of return. The song was a call to action against the German forces, but it was not one of the more violent examples of songs that were created during this time period.

Another popular song from this time period was “Marsz Gwardii Ludowe,” which translates to “The March of the People’s Guard”, and is an example of the more violent resistance works that were created during this time. The poem was initially written by Wanda Ziele?czyk, who gave the poem a different title. However, over time, the more popular name was used more often. Eventually a melody was added to the words when “The March of the People’s Guard” was published. Unfortunately, Wanda was arrested by the Gestapo, and Wanda and her family were shot soon after its release. 5

“Marsz Gwardii Ludowe”

We, from burnt villages,

We, from starving cities –

For hunger, for blood,

For years of tears,

The time has come for revenge.

For hunger, for blood,

For years of tears,

The time has come for revenge.

So, register your weapon

And measure in the heart of the enemy!

Dumb our step,

Million step,

Sounds guerrilla singing.

Dumb our step,

Million step,

Sounds guerrilla singing.

When you fall in the field, then –

Trees will rustle in tact.

Oh, how beautiful

And how easy it is

For free Poland, die like that.

Oh, how beautiful

And how easy it is

For free Poland, die like that.

So forward, Guards, march!

The world is burning around us –

And the enemy will tremble

And the enemy will die

From the hand of folk masses!

And the enemy will tremble

And the enemy will die

From the hand of folk masses!

The song “March of the People’s Guard” was a form of more violent protest. It called for the common people to take up arms and fight for a Poland free from German oppression, and that if they were to die then it would be for a worthy cause and history will remember those who fell in battle favorably. It was written and most often used by members of the underground resistances. The “March of the People’s Guard” has a similar theme to the song “Red Poppies on Monte Cassino” in that if a person were to fall in battle in service for their country, then they will be remembered and their sacrifice is worthwhile.

The song “Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino” or “ Red Poppies on Monte Cassino” is one of the best known military songs written during World War Two. it was written in 1944 during the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy.6 However, It was banned for a period when Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, this is because the communist government sought to decrease the memory of the wartime Polish Armed Forces that fought in World War Two.7

“Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino”

Do you see that rabble on the peak?

There, your foe is hiding like a rat

You have to, you have to, you have to

Grab his neck and from the clouds, knock him down

And they went ferocious and mad

And they went to kill and to avenge

And they went like always unyielding

Like always, for honor, fight

Red poppies on Monte Cassino

Instead of dew, were drinking Polish blood

Through these poppies walked soldier and died

But stronger than death was his wrath

Years go by and centuries will pass

The traces of old days will last

And all the poppies on Monte Cassino

Will be redder because from Polish blood they’ll grow

They charged through fire, expendable

Not just one, took a bullet and died

Like those madman of Samosierra

Like those, years before, at Rac?awice

They charged with force of madmen

And they made it. The assault was successful

And their white and red banner

Was raised on the rubble among the clouds

Red Poppies…

Do you see this row of white crosses?

There Pole with honor, took oath.

Walk forward, the farther, the higher

The more of them you’ll find at your feet

This earth belongs to Poland

Although, Poland is far away from here

Because freedom, by crosses, is measured

This is history’s, one mistake

Red poppies…

“Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino” was written on the eve of a decisive battle during the retreat of Natzi forces at the end of World War Two by Feliks Konarski. At that time all the soldiers knew many of them would die, so the song was used to instill patriotism into said soldiers and as an outlet for their grieving, which is how it is a useful form of propaganda. The message is that if the soldiers die in battle, it was for a just cause, and history and their country will remember them for their sacrifice.

All music that has been written contains a message, what the message is and the messages purpose is what determines if it is qualified as propaganda or not. An influx of propagandist music was created in order to sway the public from the time near the end of World War Two and the time that Poland was under oppression by the Soviet Union after the war. The resistance propaganda, which is normal during war time in a country that was taken over was very successful as seen in the numerous uprisings that occurred. This music was created by the Polish military, and the various grassroots resistance movements that had sprung up throughout this time period. 

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World War 2 Propaganda. (2021, Apr 20). Retrieved from