Janka Kaškiel: An Accomplice in Crimes or the Victim of Two Dictatorships? The Fate of a Caricaturist in the Service of the Stalinist and Nazi Regimes (summary)

Uladzimir Valodzin (PDF)

Janka Kaškiel, born in 1902, was an amateur painter. In the 1920s, he worked for the newspaper Źviazda (The Star) and the State Publishing House of the Belarusian SSR. Kaškiel was made famous by his cartoons and friendly caricatures published in 1928. After the war, however, his name was banned because, during the Nazi occupation, he collaborated with the newspapers in the Belarusian language, Belaruskaya hazeta and Holas vioski, creating anti-Bolshevik, anti-Stalinist and anti-Semitic cartoons and illustrations embodying the images of Belarusian nationalism.

At the end of the Second World War, Kaškielis was arrested. His further fate is unknown. He must have ended his life somewhere in the gulag system in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

It is not clear what motivated Kaškiel to collaborate with the Nazi regime. In addition to economic motives, one must also take into account the fact that before the war, he was persecuted by the NKVD for creating an ideologically ‘incorrect’ collage.

It is not easy to identify works by Kaškiel because his cartoons and drawings are usually unsigned. However, financial documents from the Publishing House of the General Commissariat of Belarus allow us to refine the authorship. The cartoons in the Belaruskaya hazeta are almost exclusively political. They evidence the victories of the Reich’s army, mock Stalin, and, to a lesser extent, Roosevelt and Churchill. Many of the cartoons were anti-Semitic.

Kaškiel’s name was legalised in Belarus only at the end of the 20th century, and his works were brought back into the discourse of Belarusian art history. However, the artist’s biography has remained silent because collaboration with the Nazi regime is still a taboo subject in Belarus.

The works by Kaškiel from the war years are interesting in their thematic content. The content of the cartoons and illustrations created by Kaškiel for Belaruskaya hazeta helps characterise the ideological aspirations of the German administration of the General Commissariat of Belarus and the Belarusian nationalists who collaborated with the newspaper.

Keywords: anti-Bolshevism, anti-semitism, Belarusian nationalism, collaboration, occupation