Commentary

This poster stands out in the collection for its bright colours, and its difference from the depictions of the war in Russia (see also TASS 1001). The sun is shining, not on Hitler, but the policy of neutrality seems to have guaranteed security and survival.

As well as an attack on Switzerland’s position there is a strong undertow to this poster. The very foreignness of the image suggests that the war in the German-speaking part of Europe has not yet taken such a toll as it had in Russia. By January 1945 the end is in sight and the time for retribution towards ‘collaborators’ is coming.

Facts

TASS window
1128
Title
"Neutral" Switzerland
Date created
8 January 1945
Artist
P.P. Sokolov-Skalia
Writer
V.I. Lebedev-Kumach
Original dimensions
173cm x 86cm
Collection number
MS 281/1/80

War Context

Historically, Switzerland was close economically and linguistically to Germany. Before WWII, their economies were linked through trade and joint enterprises. As a partly German-speaking country, Switzerland had close cultural ties to Germany. The alliance between Italy and Germany made the Swiss position geographically more vulnerable as she stood on the main communication line between the two allies. She declared her neutrality and was never invaded by the Nazi forces. However, her historic trading partners were all German-controlled in WWII making her position precarious and ambivalent.

The Allies were suspicious, none more so than Russia, whose involvement in this part of Europe had been minimal. Diplomatic relations between USSR and Switzerland had been cut off since the 1920s. The precise reason for this attack in January 1945 is hard to locate. The Nazi forces were in the last stages of defeat, so such an attack on a possible Nazi collaborator perhaps became viable for the first time. Total Russian losses were becoming clear, while Swiss neutrality had protected her citizens.

Artistic Roots

This image of Switzerland borrows two clichés: the cow in her luxuriant alpine meadow, and the rich businessman-cum-profiteer. The first is probably international, but the second owes much to the post-revolutionary period and the ROSTA Windows. The Russian bourgeois class and western capitalists were depicted in the uniform of top hat and tails. This figure wears a hat closer to a homburg, but has the tell-tale striped trousers, spats, tails, white waistcoat, gloves and buttonhole of the wealthy entrepreneur. He is clearly profiting from supplying armaments to an anxious Hitler.

Artist

Sokoliev-Skalia expertly blends a new element to the posters with the familiar in this image. The milch/ cash cow in distant Switzerland stands in the background, edelweiss proliferating at her feet and alpine peaks behind. Her crossed hooves and her owner’s feet humorously mimic one another. Hitler, however, nervously crouching and casting glances over his shoulder is worried as he collects the armaments cascading from the cow’s udders. The poster breathes secrecy and deception.

The colours and composition are skilful too. The clean white cow, the one white cloud in a brilliantly blue sky, the distant white peaks and the white flowers contrast greatly with the darkening spot occupied by Hitler. Red is used to depict rude health in both the cow and the profiteer, but its echo of the TASS number may also suggest that in essence such an ‘idyllic’ rural scene may now be awaiting Russia as she pushes to victory. Finally, compositionally, the key elements are linked: the cow’s and the profiteer’s self-satisfied faces; the overfull udder; and Hitler’s contrasting facial agitation.

Writer

The verse is as pointed as the title. Lebedev-Kumach questions Switzerland’s declared position. She swears she has maintained a ’sacred’ neutrality, but the cow has ’impressive’ milk. The verse is a mixture of direct speech and narrative: Switzerland loudly insists, but the story-teller, allying himself with the satire of the poster, denies her.