As well as maps and globes, naming strategic cities is another way to mark occupied and unoccupied territory. This poster from mid 1944 celebrates the retaking of Minsk. Not only is Berlin empty of resources, but the implication is that Hitler too has run out of ideas.
Minsk was overrun by the Germans in their invasion of Russia in 1941. An important communications hub for road and rail at the time, Minsk was a valuable prize. It was retaken by the Red Army in July 1944. After three years of German occupation this was an important milestone and a cause for Soviet celebration.
The two pictures supply a narrative similar to the comic book. The story is presented within a wry comic frame, justified by the Russian desire for celebration. The colours are used with economy and precision. Hitler’s moustache is central and echoed in the black background, contributing to the pinched-in feel of the whole first frame. By contrast, the Soviet star is magnified in the red that dominates the back of its picture.
The details are superb. The rats appear to be having a conversation, the upper rat has his paws spread wide, suggesting the pot, as well as Hitler’s head are empty. The bodies and faces of the Germans drooping over the edge of the cauldron bring comparison with the rats, but their expressions and positions suggest despair verging on the comic. There is also more than a hint of the theme in religious painting of the damned in hell.
The choice of a cauldron or vessel was a rich one for the skills of the Kukryniksy. Turning the Berlin vessel into a beer mug of Hitler picks on German stereotypes. Its broken handle/ear and two rats searching for food provide a marked contrast to the overflowing Soviet cauldron below.
The space allocated to Hitler is approximately a third, and then doubled for the Russian vessel. These proportions emphasise Hitler’s weakness and Russian strength. Hitler’s wan face and perplexed expression is undermined further by the strength of the Russian hand holding the rifle butt and squashing the German soldiers.