The Motherland Calls!

Germany’s sudden invasion of the Soviet Union on the morning of June 22, 1941, left the Soviet population dazed and unprepared. Despite numerous warnings from his intelligence staff, Stalin had refused to believe that Hitler would violate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the nonaggression treaty between the Soviet Union and Germany signed into effect in August 1939. With 5.5 million German troops massed along the border, a demoralized Stalin was nowhere to be seen at the onset of hostilities (he would remain silent until July 3). Instead, People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs Viacheslav Molotov brought news of the war to the nation. In an emotional radio address, he urged citizens to “repulse the predatory attack and drive the German troops from our motherland.” Recalling French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, he promised that Hitler “will meet the same fate.”

In the weeks following the invasion, Soviet propaganda studios drew heavily upon Molotov’s rousing speech, decrying Germany’s treachery and urging citizens to come to the nation’s defense. Concurrently, they envisioned what had yet to actually materialize—a powerful Soviet defense that could bring the German advance to a halt.

Iraklii Moiseevich Toidze. The Motherland Calls!, 1941. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, P440.

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