History Today at Hatchards

Backing the USSR

Mark Bryant on the work of Soviet cartoonists engaged in the epic struggle against Nazi Germany.

In October 2008 the Russian cartoonist Boris Efimov died at the age of 108 after nearly 80 years as a professional artist. Incredibly, Efimov began work in 1919, two years after the birth of the Soviet Union, and continued to draw almost to the end of his life. Perhaps his period of greatest fame and creativity came during the Second World War (known as the Great Patriotic War in the USSR), when he served the Soviet war machine alongside many other celebrated political cartoonists and caricaturists, including ‘Deni’ (Viktor Denisov) and the three artists who drew under the collective pseudonym ‘Kukryniksi’.

The powerful and often grotesque anti-Nazi drawings of these and a number of other Soviet cartoonists first became familiar to the British public after the newspaper proprietor Lord Beaverbrook (then Minister of Supply) was presented by Stalin with a collection of Soviet satirical cartoons and posters while on a visit to Moscow in November 1941 (shortly after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union). These were later translated into English as part of an Anglo-Soviet propaganda campaign. A book, Spirit of the Soviet Union, was also published in Britain in 1942, with a foreword by Beaverbrook, and with all royalties donated to the Soviet Red Cross Fund.

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