Portraying the enemy in wartime is a propaganda exercise but also relieves tension among the home population. The enemy is usually belittled or demonised. Hitler was a gift to the graphic artist. His hair and moustache, his short stature and greedy pomposity were mercilessly utilised.
Caricature is a potent tool to transform the fearful enemy into a laughing stock or unpleasant animal to emphasise the gulf between us and them. The Russians guffaw at the enemy or are violent against him through their cartoons and sickeningly realistic glimpses of pursuit and execution. Hitler's allies could also be easily attacked.
Enemy soldiers frequently populate the posters. They are satirised, shown in terrified flight, or suffering vicious treatment from masterful Russian soldiers. They are morally corrupt (the looter) or failing in their duty (in disarray after a surprise attack).
They are recognisable by the shabbiness of their uniforms and faces filled with surprise or terror. Their defences and weaponry are no match for the Russian cavalry.
Dubbed Fritz, the German soldier becomes a laughing stock or butt of the caricaturist's sharp pencil. His teeth, though, always remain sharp.
Setting some scenes in German occupied territory undermined the enemy soldiers and boosted Russian morale.
Frightened German soldiers fleeing Russian troops
Representing the enemy as the butt of Russian aggression, or laughing at him, brought the Germans down to size. Hitler was a prime target. His ever-present moustache, pallid skin, his small stature and his swastika made him instantly recognisable.
The depiction varies from violence to the grotesque to caricature, and sometimes is a mixture of all three. The treatment was merciless: the more he suffered the more the Russians felt they were winning the war.
Hitler was subjected to the harsh visual violence found in caricature and cartoon. He was demonised into the animals humans love to hate such as rats, snakes or wolves. The violence he inflicts on others sometimes even turns on him and mutilates him.
This poster has a double purpose. It inflicts pain and disables Hitler. It also marks three years of war and Russian success with manoeuvres which hurt Hitler’s forces the most. There is not much that is comic in this visual violence, despite the cartoon-like format.
Hitler's hair is the signature feature here. His wounds, his threadbare clothes and crutch tell the viewer he is on the way out.
“Soon he'll be dead and gone!”
Reducing your enemy to an animal could be a laughing matter or something deeper and much more detestable. The animals chosen tend to be those associated with the darker side of life such as rats, snakes, a many-headed monster, the hydra, and wolves.
Sometimes the cartoonist is in more genial mood aiming to make the enemy look foolish, or prone to accident. The skill is to make the animal and the target recognisable without losing the features of either. Hitler is always recognisable no matter with which animal he is merged.
Sometimes the enemy soldier comes in for this animal treatment, or one of Hitler's allies, here Finland.
The cartoonist could be both biting and amusing.
Hitler was not the only target. German political figures, Hitler's close German colleague Goebbels, and leaders of other countries associated with the enemy, such as Mussolini, were also satirised.
Ensuring recognition of less prominent leaders sometimes caused a problem. It was solved by appending names or countries where necessary. Reference to the enemy's allies was often powerfully counterpointed by the flags of the USSR, USA and Great Britain.
The enemy leadership was turned into a rabble of the weak, fleeing or struggling. They became the figures of desperate men.
The difference in stature between Hindenburg and Hitler attracts the cartoonist's eye. It is turned into these before-and-after images in which Hitler remains the underdog. Such is the outcome of two decades of German militarism.
Perhaps Hitler's most famous war appointment was Goebbels, the minister of propaganda. In Russian eyes he becomes a monkey or a bird, in attempts to catch his scrawny diminutive stature, and blind devotion to Hitler.
A figure of fun, Mussolini scrabbles, half-naked, down the steps after a greenish, skeletal Hitler. They are being driven from Rome. All roads now lead not to Rome but to Berlin.
The Russians mete out harsh treatment to Hitler's 'brothers' in arms. They are crushed by a stone swastika, or squeezed in a press until the blood runs, watched by a spooky, ghoulish Goebbels.
“Fear and confusion now reign among Hitler’s… ‘allies’”
Geographical reference becomes important in the posters as different places were occupied and then liberated. Maps and globes begin to feature as the posters mark the territorial progress of the war.
Hitler’s desperation to create an empire is a particular focus of attention. Hitler’s plans for territorial expansion are shown to be fragmenting, and his image is particularly disfigured in ‘before-and-after’ drawings. The discovery of animal characteristics on him such as paws or claws, or showing him as an empty vessel, imply his certain failure as a world leader.
Once territory is retrieved, the reprisals inflicted on Hitler are salaciously intense: bayonets pierce him, or his brain is removed. His soldiers suffer mass extermination. The caricaturists’ mischievous revenge is rarely lost
The enemy, then, inhabits the dark side of life. The posters emphasise the bestial and the corrupt with no-holds-barred images of violence and caricature. None of this attack is innocent, and very little makes the viewer simply laugh out loud. There is always something to fear despite the humour.
The posters showing the enemy played a fundamental role in demonising them, and turning them into a force which had to be defeated. The fear they inspired encouraged the Russians to strive even harder for victory.
“Leningrad offensive operation”. The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
1 September 1944.
RIA Novosti archive, image #601168 / Michael Trahman / CC-BY-SA 3.0