From the moment that Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the respective propaganda machines of each nation came to frame the conflict in equally epic terms.
For Hitler’s Third Reich, the struggle was one to gain lebensraum, or living space, across the fertile plains of the Russian heartland. Once secured, this territory would be annexed and resettled by German farmers. The Nazi leadership similarly saw the military offensive as a chance to wipe Soviet Bolshevism off the map of Europe, all while continuing their persecution of the Jewish people in the East. And as the war dragged on for four long years, the German newsreel footage, declaring that ultimate victory was still at hand, churned out literally hundreds of news briefs.
When Stalin’s armies crumbled before the German tanks, those in Moscow were quick to launch a massive publicity campaign to re-energize the Soviet people. Though hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers were killed and captured in the opening weeks of the war, the civilian population rallied around their Motherland and mobilized themselves to fight a total war. Vowing to drive every last “Fritz” from their soil, Soviet newsreels showed triumphant columns of Russia’s sons marching out to the front, coupled with images of women and children building all manner of planes and other armaments. Despite horrendous losses, the war effort continued, unwavering, until the end of the war in May 1945.
The team at The Vanquished has gone through countless books, periodicals, and movies as our series develops. But what I find the most interesting (and visually stunning) is period newsreel clips. Sure, some of them are staged, and they are clearly one-sided, but they give us an insight into the kind of information that was being fed to the men on the front lines. On the Eastern Front, both the Russian and German alike would have surrounded by a whirlwind of violence, coupled with constant reminders that the very existence of their country was on the line. What impact would hearing this message, week after week, month after month, have on the soldiers? It no doubt must have weighed VERY heavily on their minds.
These are the profound kind of questions we seek to answer in The Vanquished.