This battered helmet, its Nazi insignia still just intact, symbolises the weakening position of the enemy. The helmet is no longer large or whole enough to offer the protection the Nazi supporters seek. The title is mocking and is enhanced by the incapacity of the helmet and dejection of the figures below.
Mussolini is the most pathetic, as bottom aloft, he tries to slither into shelter. The poster was created on 25 December 1944, which would have been Christmas in Europe, though of course not in Russia. New Year had replaced Christmas as the main celebration. In any case, the Orthodox Christmas took place at Epiphany, in the first week of January.
The references in the quotation are to Sima (in exile from Romania which had changed sides earlier in 1944), Tsankov (German appointed leader of the Bulgarian Government in exile from 1944) and Petain (leader of Vichy France). Duce is Mussolini (Italy), and the Finns’ are not the true Finns’ because Russia had failed to win back her territory from Finland in the 1939-40 ‘winter war’, and Finland under Mannerheim (of Germano-Swedish descent) had allied itself to Germany. These ‘leaders’ were the Nazi supporters gathering in Berlin in the last months of the war.
There is another poster by the Kukryniksy dominated by a helmet (see TASS 930) created in February 1944. There the image was nightmarish taking its roots from the Symbolist preoccupation with dreams earlier in the century.
Here the satire is much more in the run of the TASS Window tradition of diminishing the enemy and showing its weakness. The impact relies heavily on the figures being immediately recognisable, and in that sense the image is in the tradition of the political caricature.
Sheltering under the battered German helmet, we see Petain, Mannerheim and Petain's prime minister, Laval, while Mussolini, his signature striped trousers in the air, is embarrassingly trying to crawl right underneath. The other figures in the quotation were unknown in Russia and would be difficult to recognise. Consequently, Laval is substituted in. The large holes in the helmet suggest the Russian awareness that the war was going against the enemy. They knew that these figures were scuttling to Germany after the liberation of their own countries.
The Kukryniksy delight in their material: their figures are detailed enough to be recognisable, and individual dejection is palpable. While the subject matter may be serious, the artists enliven these public leaders by revealing their private fears. Petain’s despair is reflected in his overly drooping moustache; Mannerheim raises a wondering finger to his face; Laval, head on hands, looks bemused; and Mussolini hides.
The use of colour is skilful. The bright yellow background shows up the size of the dark helmet and the holes. Though large and dominating the image, the helmet is also shown to be far too small to protect these remnants of the enemy.
The Red Star was the official military newspaper. It was set up in 1924 and is now associated with the Russian Ministry of Defence. The emblem of the red star itself was adopted by Russian soldiers after 1917 in WWI, and was used in the Civil War to designate the Bolshevik forces. Subsequently, the red star became an emblem of the Soviet state.