Artists in Latvia under the Nazi Occupation. War, Occupation and Power (summary)

Jānis Kalnačis (PDF)

The cultural policy of Germany in the occupied eastern territories was deliberate and well-organised compared to the brutal looting and destruction of the Soviets.

Many works embodying individual artistic exploration and creative freedom were not exhibited and remained in artist workshops. However, it was even more difficult for the authors of cartoons and posters and young art students mobilised for the army. Cartoonists and poster makers were used for propaganda. However, even among the war-themed posters, some work expresses the tragedy of the Latvian nation. In the same way, artists serving as war correspondents, who were tasked with documenting the bravery of the German and Latvian soldiers, tried to capture the drama of the war years and the end of the war. The cartoonists not only created anti-Semitic drawings at the request of the Nazis. In addition, they directed the irony at the local puppets who served the Soviets.

The Latvian newspaper Tēvija (Homeland) was the organ of the German occupiers with the largest circulation during the war. Most of the cartoons published there were drawn by Ernests Rirdāns (1901–1954), the most popular cartoonist in prewar Latvia and the war years. Although the cartoons by Rirdān were commissioned by Nazi propaganda, their reality cannot be denied.

After the war, Rirdān settled in England. In England, during the Cold War, he published, at his own expense, collections of cartoons in which the main character, ‘the father of all nations’, Joseph Stalin, was compared to Hitler.

In assessing the cartoons and posters of Latvian artists of the war years, it should be acknowledged that there were not a few cases where the views and goals of the commissioners, Nazi propagandists and the Latvian artists coincided. It encourages further discussion of the reasons for this situation.

Keywords: cartoons, posters, Ernests Rirdāns, Second World War, Stalin