'The Enemy of Humankind', a Russian poster


In World War One, for the first time, whole nations and not merely professional armies were in mortal combat. Propaganda was global, with a clear message. Hate the enemy; our cause is just; support our soldiers; unite with our allies. In this pre-radio and television age, posters were one of the most important means of spreading propaganda. Governments invested heavily in posters that grabbed attention, and some of them became symbols of national resolve.

A vital function of the poster was to make the enemy appear savage, barbaric, and inhumane. All the belligerents in World War One employed such atrocity propaganda, using stereotypes largely developed in the period leading up to the outbreak of war. The enemy provides a target for attack to unite the people, and offers a scapegoat to diverting attention from problems at home.

This Russian poster is an example. The enemy of the people is personified by Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859–1941) – the last German emperor and King of Prussia, whose policies had contributed to the outbreak of the war. He is caricatured as a cloven-footed, tailed devil, his spiked helmet barely able to conceal his pointed ears, and holding human skulls: an icon of greed, evil and brutality.

Full title:
Vrag roda chelovecheskogo [The Enemy of Humankind]
1915, Russia
Poster / Illustration
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Propaganda for patriotism and nationalism

Article by:
David Welch

Professor David Welch explores nations’ reliance on propaganda in World War One, with a focus on symbols and slogans of nationhood and patriotism.

The Long Shadow of the ‘German Atrocities’ of 1914

Article by:
Sophie de Schaepdrijver
Civilians, Historical debates

Associate Professor Sophie de Schaepdrijver considers how the ‘German atrocities’ have been represented during and after World War One by both the Allied countries and Germany.

Witnessing and remembering Russia’s war

Article by:
Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia
Civilians, Representation and memory

Lead Curator Dr Katya Rogatchevskaia draws on diaries, memoirs and other personal accounts to explore the experiences of Russian civilians and soldiers during World War One.

Related collection items