Freedom or Slavery


Practically unknown propaganda poster utilizing the popular octopus motif.

1 in stock

A high-resolution image is available for purchase. Email me for inquiries.

This bold and evocative propaganda poster imploring the audience to “Buy More War Bonds” uses familiar imagery to elicit an emotional response. A simplified outline of the United States containing an illustration of sheaves of wheat is overlooked by the federal eagle, while the tentacled menace of the Nazi regime is shown spreading across Europe. The choice is simple – Freedom or Slavery?

The artist, René Golschmann, was uniquely suited to answer this question due to his exposure to both freedom and slavery during his remarkable life. Born to a destitute Jewish family who fled Russia during the pogroms of the 1890s, Rene was one of four boys born in Paris. He and his brother Jacques became successful businessmen, with the former working as a wine dealer and pearl exporter prior to the war, while Vladimir (the eldest) and Boris (the youngest) were both musical prodigies. Vladimir conducted the St Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1927 until his retirement in 1954 and was close friends with Pablo Picasso throughout much of his life. This fame would help his family tremendously during the war years.

In 1939, the Germans invaded Poland and René was conscripted into the French Army, before the birth records of his second child were made available to military authorities. This fact would have precluded him from being drafted into active military service. In June of 1940, his wife and children having just barely boarded a ship for the US, Paris fell and René, now a sergeant, and his entire regiment were part of the swarm of refugees heading out of Paris to the still-free South. But, by an accident of bad timing, the entire regiment was captured and René was a prisoner of war, sent to Stalag IV in Germany. To his captors, the last name ‘Golschmann’ didn’t immediately sound like a Jewish name, and René was saved from starvation by being sent to work on a slave labor farm.

René’s minuscule diary describes hunger, exposure, and constant terror. A starving cellmate died from eating shoe polish. Because he should not have been drafted in the first place, René’s name appeared on a list of prisoners to be exchanged for French trucks and was miraculously released after only 9 months. Meanwhile, Vladimir had used his influential connections to get René’s family released into his care, despite U.S. officials attempting to deport the wife and children back to their certain death due to American neutrality.

Vladimir was able to get an emergency visa for René after his release, who fled from France to Portugal and from there to safety on what was described as a “hell ship” when it landed in New York in September of 1941. The S.S. Navemar was a Spanish cargo vessel that carried over 1,000 Jewish refugees to America, many of them suffering from typhus and diptheria. Fortunately for René, he had the latter as a child and developed immunity, Meanwhile, Vladimir continued to struggle to save his other brothers. Jacques and his family had disappeared into working for the Underground (the Maquis,) and survived the war. Vladimir was able to get a visa for Boris, but not for his Polish wife, who was under a different quota, so Boris of course refused to leave. They perished in the Bergen Belsen. concentration camp.

After several close calls and another helping hand from Vladimir, René was able to escape France in 1941 and arrived in New York City in September of that year. He was hired as an accountant by a former client in the pearl business and went to the local YMCA to learn English, metalsmithing, and silkscreening. The last technique was used to create this magnificent propaganda poster, designed by Rene and created by hand in his New York apartment as a way to show his appreciation to the country that had given him and his family so much.

This poster, signed and dated in the lower right, was designed to promote the sale of United States war bonds during World War II. It is the only such poster René produced during his life and one of only a handful known to remain in the former possession of his family. The image reflects his terrible personal experience and the deep emotional desire to thank America by giving back in one of the few ways he knew how. He dabbled in other artwork, in a style somewhere between primitive and modernist, but this one is heartfelt like no other. René died in 1988, still suffering terrible nightmares of Nazis until his final day.

Many thanks to René’s daughter, Liliane, for her tremendous patience and assistance with the information in this description.

Map Details

Publication Date: 1943

Author: René Golschmann

Sheet Width (in): 15.30

Sheet Height (in): 19.00

Condition: A

Condition Description: Silkscreen poster with rich color on paper that has toned somewhat from age. A bit of light wear along the outer edges of the sheet and very faint creasing along the center. Near fine.


1 in stock