Der Kampf im Westen: war propaganda through stereoscopic glasses

The repository of a national library does not only store ‘nice’ books. There are also books that are generally termed ‘nasty’. Books containing war propaganda, for example. Take this book, which features photos that can be seen in 3D through stereoscopic glasses. Learn more about this remarkable object in our collection.

Video contains English subtitles.

The book Der Kampf im Westen (The Struggle in the West) was published in 1940. It was commissioned by the German army to boast about its conquests over a relatively short period. These included victories in Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The Germans saw the speed at which they had overpowered the mighty France as a huge triumph and were not afraid to brag about their military superiority. In 1940 and 1941, numerous books and magazines were published, detailing successful German military operations. Der Kampf im Westen is a good example. 

Stereoscopic photography in 'Der Kampf im Westen'

Der Kampf im Westen is particularly remarkable because it doesn’t only consist of words and pictures. The extra-thick cover contains dozens of stereoscopic photos and the special glasses you need to see them.

Stereoscopic photography is a way of viewing photos in 3D and has been around since the 19th century. They were taken with a special camera that featured two lenses, positioned at the same distance from each other as a human eyes. The camera takes two photos simultaneously, which appear to be same but differ very slightly due to the distance between the lenses. If you look at such a photo with each eye, your brain thinks that you’re seeing the image in 3D. This is why you need the special glasses.

Stereoscopic photography was mainly used for fun, for tourist photos of beautiful buildings or mountain ranges. Or for saucy pictures of naked men or women. And in this case, it was used for war propaganda showing the efficiency of the German army in glorious 3D.

The first photos show German troops during exercises and demonstrate the organisational prowess and strength of the German army. The second series of photos show battle images: German troops being mobilised, annihilated towns and vehicles, British and French prisoners of war. The final photos are evidence of the Nazi character of the book: photos of Algerian-French prisoners of war accompanied by racist captions.

The publisher and author of 'Der Kampf im Westen'

Der Kampf im Westen was published by Raumbild Verlag in Munich. This publisher specialised in stereoscopic publications. These books were very popular in Germany before World War II, when Raumbild mainly produced books for tourists and erotic publications. As national socialism in Germany grew, the publisher switched its focus to political propaganda. 

Raumbild worked with film maker Leni Riefenstahl, for instance, on a stereoscopic photo-book about the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Raumbild also produced several books in partnership with Hitler’s official photographer Heinrich Hoffmann. The number of publications dropped during the war, as attractive photo-books were no longer a priority. Although the publisher published some books after the war, the company went bust in 1952.

The author of Der Kampf im Westen, General Hasso von Wedel, was the head of the propaganda department in the German army. Between 1939 and 1944, he wrote a whole series of books about the German army’s battles. Der Kampf im Westen was nothing more than a piece of German war propaganda. We can consider both the publisher and the author of this book to be Nazis.

German war propaganda in the collection

The KB does not only collect books, newspapers and magazines produced in the Netherlands, but also foreign books about the Netherlands. The main subject of this German propaganda book is the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940. It is a source of interesting information about how the German army viewed the battle in the Netherlands as well as the Dutch army. This is why the book belongs in our collection, along with several other German books on this theme. Of course the glasses and stereoscopic photos make this particular book very remarkable.

How can you access the book and see the photos?

Der Kampf im Westen is part of the KB’s Special Collection. Both the glasses and the photos are fragile and must be handled with care to avoid damage. You can request this book under catalogue number: KW 2299 G 6. You can then view it in the KB’s Special Collections reading room.

Would you like to know more?

Huibert Crijns
Collection specialist History