The swastika is an ancient symbol, its name deriving from Sanskrit. Since its adoption by Hitler is has been invested with negative meaning, implying fascism and racism. It originally signified good fortune.
This extraordinary image blends a number of features from the posters. It is a Jekyll and Hyde transformation. Most obviously, Hitler turns into his own swastika. In so doing he adopts the features of a beast with claws on hands and feet. He is also on the run mercilessly pierced by Soviet and Allied weapons, and note the Soviet one goes entirely through his ‘arm’. The swastika makes him into an octopus-like creature too, the weapons and his head making up the eight limbs. The blood of others on his hands and feet is red, his own is bestially blue. A gruesome, but comic edged monster.
The key event of the summer 1944 was the offensive against German occupation of Belorussia. The campaign was launched just days before this poster was created. The Germans quickly crumbled. This poster predicts the outcome for the Germans. Minsk was taken by early July, and the Germans were in retreat. Losses on both sides were substantial.
Monsters than can be conjured from the familiar are part of story and myth, and figured in the popular prints so widespread in Russia. For example, Medusina was a many legged sea monster, sometimes a mermaid, sometimes something more repulsive, and threatening. The other source is a comment on the fear and dread that the swastika inspired after 3 years of war on Russian soil. The poster also borrowed from the cartoons which exaggerated the characteristics of famous people and made them into animals.
All credit goes to Cheremnykh for this inventive version of Hitler. It draws on two of the most potent ways of seeing him, as a bloody beast, and as the man behind the swastika. The image is also a clever combination of effects. It is repulsive, but Hitler’s comically shocked reaction and the aggression of the USSR and the Allies delight the spectator.
The graphic skills gradually draw the spectator in, first to the swastika, then to the bloody claws, then to the weapons, and finally to the aggressive, awkward octopus motif. This octopus has been speared, and will soon be devoured.
Bednyi’s verse is appropriately aggressive and prophetic but also amusing. The ponderous opening lines give way in the last to a short, almost cheekily colloquial finish.