WWII Relève Propaganda Posters
By the summer of 1942, large numbers of working-age German men had been transferred to the eastern or western fronts to fight. This resulted in increased vacancies at factories and mines at the very point in time when more laborers were needed to support the German war industry.
Initially, German women were asked to help, but when they were unable to adequately fill the need for laborers, the Germans sought other solutions. As an “occupying power,” they directed the French Vichy regime to ask for volunteers.
The carrot dangled in front of prospective volunteers was that Germany agreed to release one French prisoner of war for every three volunteers. At the time, Germany held more than one million French prisoners of war.
To promote Relève, posters were distributed across France. While I admire the aesthetic value of some of these posters, they include emotionally manipulative propaganda and outright lies. Workers on the posters look fit, healthy and happy — but the reality was that once French workers arrived in Germany, they were housed in prison-like camps and were subject to brutal punishment.
By late 1942, the Vichy regime admitted Relève was a failure. The insufficient number of volunteers (and ongoing questions about the actual ‘voluntary’ nature of those who were sent to Germany) led to Relève being replaced by Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO). Under STO, working for the Germans was no longer a voluntary decision.
Here is the translated text shown on the five Relève posters:
1. “Come to us! You will be well received, you will make money.” The second and third bullets at the bottom promise “they offer the best conditions” and “they take care of you after your departure.”
2. “You have the keys to the camp. French workers, you release prisoners by working in Germany.”
3. “Thanks to those who left for Germany, 250,000 prisoners become free workers.”
4. “Working in Germany, you will be the ambassador of French quality.”
5. “French: go to work in Germany. German workers invite you to join them.”