The Eastern European origins of the vampire legend are well known. The myth was associated in the early 18th century especially with Hungary and the Balkans, though it may be a much more ancient presence in Slav and other folklores of Central and South Eastern Europe. As a result, Deni’s choice of vampire for depicting Hitler turns Eastern European anger at the war against its perpetrator rather neatly.
This printed poster was intended for longer display than the TASS windows. Published in the autumn of 1944, it suggests that the USSR was growing in confidence that Hitler would soon be seen as a war criminal.
Paris was liberated at the end of August 1944. Early in September both Finland and Bulgaria capitulated and surrendered to the Russians, and turned against Germany. The soviets continued advancing their front in Eastern Europe making inroads into Poland and Latvia. Hitler fought back. He bombed Britain with the V2 rockets in September 1944, and was desperate to retain his hold in Eastern Europe.The full scale of Hitler’s activities was becoming evident. As the poster indicates they ranged from mass extermination to the looting and destruction of museums, galleries and other cultural institutions. Hitler had been not only occupying Eastern Europe, but in the manner of the vampire had been sucking it dry.
A vampire is a blood-sucking monster which feeds on both the living and the dead, or the ‘undead’ (those who have been resuscitated in some way) as Bram Stoker termed it (Dracula, 1897).
Vampires are deemed to inhabit human bodies, and keep themselves alive, sometimes eternally, by preying on innocent human victims. Using a vampire is also part of the general bestialisation of Hitler in war imagery. The vampire has been represented in many ways, but a focus on fangs and staring eyes is usual.
This poster is the latest of the four by Deni in the Nottingham Collection. As in his other posters, he borrows from several threads in graphic art. Comic-book monsters, lampoons of famous figures and the unforgiving pen of the political satirist lend themselves exceptionally vividly to his control over style and colour.
Hitler is publicly paraded in this drawing as a social outcast. In a corrective, punitive fashion he is given a board around his neck to list his crimes. His militaristic helmet and greatcoat focus him as a war criminal. The white swastika is almost blinding, and is now echoed by the swastika shape made by an axe and chain on his helmet, to suggest he has been part of a torture brigade. The grey of the helmet insignia draws in the menacing shadow behind, and the pallid, bloodless grey of his face.
One fang shows in his mouth, but red is markedly absent from the colour scheme. Not even Deni’s signature, usually in red (see To The East To The West; Despatches from the Front; Hitler in Bandages) is there. Nothing is allowed to detract from this image of darkness and monstrosity. The aim could have been to dissociate the USSR completely from this poster.