In the early stages of the war, Soviet rhetoric became preoccupied with two significant tropes—revenge for citizens in bondage and partisan action. Both were designed to have an immediate emotional impact.
A flood of images called on Soviet soldiers to seek revenge on and exterminate Germans. They depicted tortured girlfriends and wives, tied and presumably raped by the occupiers; mothers with infants facing German guns; and dead and mutilated children. The avalanche of hatred continued unabated until April 14, 1945, when it was interrupted by Georgii Aleksandrov, head of the Central Committee’s Department of Agitation and Propaganda, who signaled a change in political direction, reminding Red Army soldiers that Stalin had never associated “Hitler’s clique with the German nation” and that “our ideas don’t include the annihilation of the German people.”
Similarly, the Soviet public’s attention was riveted by the heroic partisan war being mounted in the occupied territories. The government was concerned with how best to make use of guerilla tactics, but also alarmed by the mushrooming of partisan groups, which often operated in the absence of any Communist Party control. It was thus essential for the party to place partisan activities under figurative supervision by appropriating their image in official propaganda. As early as 1941, Soviet artists arrived at an idealized, stereotypical image of the partisan: a Russian patriarch whose trademark beard, stout figure, and folksy cloth cap remained constant through the war years. The no-nonsense peasant symbolized the archaic values of Russian patriotism, corresponding with the new ideological trend of national Bolshevism. He also served as a father figure for the millions of young Soviet soldiers fighting on the front lines of the war.
Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalia. Save Me, Brother!, November 2, 1943. Ne boltai! Collection, 0849.