This political cartoon comes in reaction to the results of Belgian elections held in April of 1937. The Rexist party was active in Belgium from the early 1930s until their ban in 1944. The main focus of the Rexist party, or “Rex” as it was called, was a “moral renewal” of Belgium through dominance of the Catholic Church, which Belgian Cardinal Jozef-Ernest van Roey did not approve of. The party also advocated Belgian nationalism and Royalism, meaning they were for a monarch being the head of Belgium.
At the time of the election in 1937, Rex had 21 of the 202 deputies and twelve senators in the Belgian government as a result of the elections in 1936. Rex had just recently aligned itself with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany, adopting many of its characteristics. Rex was even able to force the Belgian government to resign in the spring of 1936, but the same government was restored shortly thereafter and Belgium was placed under martial law.
In the election of 1937, the Rexist party’s candidate Leon Degrelle competed with Paul van Zeeland, a member of the Catholic party, for the seat of prime minister. Upon winning his first election in 1935, van Zeeland was able to subside the economic crisis Belgium was going through at the time by devaluing the currency and implementing extensive budgetary policies. In 1937, van Zeeland won the seat of prime minister in a landslide with almost 80% of the vote, a crushing blow for the Rexist party and its momentum. One of the main reasons the Nazi party was able to maintain its dominance in Germany was because of laws that prevented many people apposed to fascism from voting in the national elections, creating landslide victories for their own party.
The article accompanying this cartoon, “Non-Fascist Belgium”, made a statement about how difficult it is for fascism to spread, even when the non-fascist country is neighbors with a fascist country. The author is quick to point out that fascism has never had, “popular approval”, and cites Nazi Germany as an example. The author says that the Nazis, “never mustered more than 38 percent of the German electorate until they were able to master all forms of authority…”. Mussolini’s constitution is also cited, as well as Francisco Franco’s (at the time) on-going attempts to force fascism upon Spain. The article itself is aggressive at the end, with the author feeling a sense of pride in Belgium’s resistance. Calling Degrelle’s strategies “spell-binding”, the article concludes in conceding that Degrelle is a very good campaigner and speaker despite his loss.
This election proved to be the beginning of the end of the Rexist party and fascism in Belgium, and was a statement by the Belgian people of their opposition to a fascist government. When World War II started, Rex welcomed German occupation of Belgium, even though it had initially supported Belgian neutrality. When Belgium was liberated in 1944, the party was banned and many former Rexists were imprisoned or executed for their role in collaborating with the Nazi party.
The humor in this cartoon comes particularly from how it portrays Adolf Hitler. Most of the time in history and in political cartoons, Hitler is shown as a ruthless, evil man who will stop at nothing to claim dominance of Europe. But, this cartoon shows Hitler as a friendly neighbor partaking in the neighbor cliche of peaking over the fence to say hello. He is even giving seemingly friendly advice and participating in friendly conversation. This contradiction creates the humor.
The cartoon also shows Hitler doing the Nazi salute, a common symbol of Hitler’s reign over Germany. In the context of the cartoon, this salute could be taken as Hitler waving to his neighbor, a much more friendly gesture than the Nazi salute. An exaggeration in the cartoon is the landslide of votes shown engulfing “Belgium’s fascist part”, or the Rexist party, is exaggerated to show how badly the Belgian fascist party lost in the election. Upon closer inspection of the cartoon, the man representing the Belgian fascist party has his own toothbrush mustache, just like Hitler’s mustache, showing that the Belgian fascist party is in part an extension of the Nazi party and its policies.
John F. Knott Cartoon Scrapbook, [ca. 1930-1942], 1952, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Author Not Listed. “Non-Fascist Belgium” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 13 Apr. 1937: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.
“Crushing Defeat Handed Fascism In Belgian Vote.” Chicago Daily Tribune 12 Apr. 1937, Volume XCIV – No. 87 ed.: 6. Chicago Tribune. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
“Rexist Movement.” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Vol. 4. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 2216-2217. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
De Grand, Alexander. “Fascism and Nazism.” Encyclopedia of European Social History. Ed. Peter N. Stearns. Vol. 2: Processes of Change/Population/Cities/Rural Life/State & Society. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001. 509-517. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.