Commentary

The Red Army entered Berlin on 30 April 1945, the very day of Hitler’s suicide. The display of this Window in Moscow 12 days later sums up the excitement of final victory, the assertion of Soviet power and the verdict of Europe on German history and culture.

The artist also draws together motifs from revolutionary art, from graphic art as satire and from the tradition of depicting Hitler in the TASS windows themselves. The verse is a model of its kind, managing to combine the serious with the light-hearted, the celebratory with a sense of relief.

Facts

TASS window
1236
Title
On Berlin’s "Victory Avenue"
Date created
12 May 1945
Artist
P.P. Sokolov-Skalia
Writer
V. I. Lebedev-Kumach
Original dimensions
164.5cm x 86cm
Collection number
MS 281/1/112

War Context

American and Russian forces met outside Berlin on 25 April. Mussolini was executed on 29 April by the Italian resistance, and Hitler killed himself in his bunker in Berlin on 30 April. Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945, and the war in Europe was over. This poster is an exuberant Soviet victory poster, celebrating the arrival of the Red Army in Berlin.

Artistic Roots

The swirling red flag recalls a very well known revolutionary painting by Boris Kustodiev, The Bolshevik (1919-20). A giant revolutionary strides through the city, his flag unfurling mightily behind him. The Soviet soldier on the tank in the poster adopts almost the same pose. Kustodiev had bequeathed this motif of the swirling red flag to many posters (see for example, print 11, and print 16).

This poster substitutes the figures teeming below in the Kustodiev work with a terrified Hitler and German statues being pursued and toppled in the path of a Soviet tank.

Artist

Sokolov-Skalia uses the long narrow dimensions of the poster to create a celebratory banner full of movement. The top half is awash with colour and excitement, even to the beams of a magnificent red sun radiating in the background, and focusing down to the red star on the front of the tank. This glow is contrasted to the falling and fleeing figures below. They are the grey statues and figures of German history being toppled by the tank. They are also flying in all directions. The impression is one of annihilation.

True to window tradition Hitler is caraicatured. In his long-johns, he is attempting to flee with two diminutive suitcases, a pathetic sight in the light of the enormity of the moment. He has clearly been caught on the hop. The statues are named as Friedrich II and Bismarck (the statue behind to the left, almost under the tank). As they topple they shout out that ‘Hitler has had it!’ History is speaking and condemning Hitler.

The use of a balloon for the statues’ words is central to the comic strip. It adds an almost childish glee for the spectator at this downfall of the enemy, which is taking place in Berlin itself.

Writer

A mischievous verse is provided to reflect the lighter aspects of the poster. Lebedev-Kumach uses resounding end-rhyming couplets for the first four lines to announce the arrival of the Red Army. He then breaks the pace with two weak endings for the last two lines. They celebrate the piquancy of the moment by turning Berlin’s Victory Avenue into Avenue Kaput, or ‘Avenue of the Broken’.