This poster was inspired by Stalin’s attack on the ‘total’ mobilisation policy adopted by Germany in 1943-44 to increase her war effort. This policy was enacted, in fact, not only in Germany but also in other countries now under her control. Many foreigners were drafted into the German production lines.

The image shows that Hitler’s and Goebbels’ prey are children, old men and the disabled. The helmet is labelled ’total mobilisation’ ensuring that no one can escape conscription or assignment to war production in a factory.


TASS window
The Pursuit of Manpower in Germany
Date created
soon after 23 February 1944
Extract from speech by Stalin, 23 February 1944
Original dimensions
128.5cm x 119cm
Collection number
MS 281/1/21

War Context

23 February was officially Red Army Day, and Stalin’s statement commemorated their exploits. He also took the opportunity to attack the total mobilisation of forces which had been going on in Germany during the previous year. Hitler had sought to bolster his forces against defeat and intensify the production of armaments in Germany itself.

Given the massive losses in the war, the reality was that Russian manpower was under similar pressures, but Stalin would never had admitted it.

Artistic Roots

There is a nightmarish aspect to this illustration, reminiscent of the painterly output of the symbolists in the pre-WWI period both in Russia and in Europe. They captured a shadowy world of terrifying dreams. It was a style which drew together the skills of painting and drawing, such as had been seen in the work of Vrubel’ in Russia and Redon in France .


The Kukryniksy bring their skills as both graphic artists and painters to this creation. Their task is to represent the situation in Germany as inhumane and repulsive. Dominating the space, the near-black background, which overhangs a desperate flight in the foreground, creates a nightmarish scenario. The sickly yellow of the foreground reflects only shadows.

There is a terrifying threat of entrapment in the helmet dragged along by Hitler and Goebbels, his short stature increased by his fearsome spear. There is nothing to laugh at here: the pursuers are red-mouthed and relentless. The pursued are too weak or incapacitated to escape. The helmet may be battered, but the threat of defeat makes this desperate press-ganging, the more terrifying. It promises certain death.


The text quoted from Stalin’s statement refers to the ‘German fascist brigands’ who are desperate to head off the catastrophe facing them. They pursue a policy of ‘total mobilisation’, even though German manpower has now run dry.