Fathers of the Nation

A Comparative Analysis of The Visual Portrayals of Hitler and Stalin as Father Figures of Their Respective Countries

Dit is het derde artikel in een reeks artikelen over Russische geschiedenis en communisme.

Auteur: Thirza van Hofwegen


“The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.”

- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) [1]

As this quote by Hitler makes clear, children were deemed very important in the national socialist ideology. When Hitler later came to power, the significance of children in Nazi Germany as expressed in the quote was put into practice with the foundation of several youth organizations, the most important being the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend) and the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel). Furthermore, education of children was reformed to fit in within the national socialist ideology. The emphasis on children as the backbone of Nazi Germany was hardly unique. Almost at the same time in Stalin’s Soviet Union, the youth was enlisted in organizations such as the Komsomol. The importance of childhood was perhaps recognized even earlier in the communist superstate than in Nazi Germany, with Loraine de la Fe arguing that ‘ideas of childhood and citizenship stood at the center of the Soviet Union’s empire-building project during the 1920s and 1930s.’ [2]

In this paper, twenty primary sources (propaganda posters, staged pictures and paintings) from 1933 to 1953, which present Hitler and Stalin as ‘fathers of the nation’ will be analyzed in relation to the personality cults of both leaders, with the question being asked to what extent Hitler’s and Stalin’s images as ‘fathers of the nation’ as visualized in propaganda from this period can be compared to one another. The choice for the number twenty as the amount of primary sources analyzed in this paper is not coincidental, as there are twenty years between 1933 to 1953, the period chosen as the timeframe of this paper. Furthermore, by assigning an equal number of ten primary sources to each dictator, the chance of one dictator being more discussed than the other is prevented. Due to the limited scope of the paper, not all of the primary sources will be discussed separately in much detail. Instead, in this paper, it has been chosen to connect all the primary sources with one another by discerning common patterns between the several sources if possible. Therefore, while the analysis of the primary sources on their own at first may not seem to be very ‘in-depth’, I have attempted to link the primary sources with each other in a way that in the bigger picture, the generalizations and conclusions I have drawn hopefully do make sense.

The scope of twenty years, then, was chosen as it covers all of Hitler’s twelve years as leader of Nazi Germany (1933-1945) and leaves room to analyze the shift in the use of children in Soviet propaganda under Stalin before, during and after the Second World War. No more than two sources from the same year have been chosen to analyze in order to cover the twenty-year timeframe as evenly as possible. Despite this, less material of both dictators being presented with children during the war years could be found. This can be explained by the fact that from the invasion of Poland in 1939 onwards, the aim of propaganda shifted from presenting Hitler as an admirable, trustworthy man towards maintaining public morale and increasing support for the war effort. [3] Similarly, in the Soviet Union, propaganda during the war years was also mainly used to rally national support for the war effort and convince eligible people to enlist. [4]

Each of the primary sources have been selected on three criteria, those being that the exact year in which the propaganda was published or made is known, that English translations of the texts or slogans presented in the propaganda was available and that the sources either directly show the dictators in the presence of children or mention Hitler or Stalin in relation to the children portrayed in them. The sources do not necessarily have to mention Hitler or Stalin directly in relation to fatherhood, but a paternalistic attitude towards the children must be conveyed in some way (e.g. the dictator must be presented as an overarching figure that interferes or influences the youth). In the case of Hitler, more photographs than posters of him posing were available. With Stalin, however, more propaganda and artworks could be found. Therefore, the primary sources will not be compared on a material level, that is, by evaluating the difference between seeing a photograph of the leader posing with a child or a poster showing the same. Rather, while comparing the primary sources, the position of the two leaders towards children in the propaganda, the position of children towards the leader within the propaganda, and, if present, the respective language used in the material which links the leaders to ‘fatherhood’, will be considered. All the primary sources have been found either by using the online search engine Google or by consulting pictures in academic works. In the case of Stalin, many primary sources also discussed in this paper have been derived from Anita Pisch, who has written The personality cult of Stalin in Soviet posters, 1929 -1953 and has researched images from the Russian State University in Moscow. The choice to include some primary sources from Pisch is because she has provided English translations of the Russian slogans used in them, a language which I myself do not speak.

In each of the four paragraphs, a different element of the main research question will be discussed. First, Paragraph 1 will elaborate on the concepts ‘personality cult’ and ‘father of the nation’ and bring up the role of propaganda in the cultivation of Hitler’s and Stalin’s personality cults. This will be followed by a discussion on the role of children in both Hitler and Stalin’s dictatorships and propaganda in paragraph 2. In the same paragraph, a brief history of the symbolism attached to using children in government propaganda, in particular Nazi and Communist propaganda, will also be provided. It is in paragraph 3 that the full analysis and comparison of primary sources which feature Hitler and Stalin as father of their respective nations takes place. In the analysis in paragraph 3, the emphasis is on the position of the children in the propaganda towards the leader, which is a bottom-up approach. This kind of analysis is carried on in the last paragraph, paragraph 4, in which the position of the leader towards the children featured in the propaganda is the focus, thus adopting a top-down approach.

Getting Personal: The concept of ‘personality cults’ in relation to Hitler and Stalin’s regimes

A general definition of personality cult would be ‘a situation in which a public figure (such as a political leader) is deliberately presented to the people of a country as a great person who should be admired and loved’. [5] The term ‘personality cult’ has been attributed to Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech of 1956, in which he denounced worship of his predecessor Stalin, who had died three years before. Jan Plamper has identified five characteristics in relation to modern political personality cults, respectively that propaganda was directed and derived its le