Book Fairs | August 17, 2017

Ukrainian Anti-Nazi Propaganda Postcards in the Spotlight at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair

Ukranian postcards - The children's book illustration.jpg“Two bears, two bears, thrashed the peas,

  Two roosters, two roosters took it to the mill,

  And the sparrow, a fine fellow, played the fiddle.”

Where had he seen them before?  Among the collection of a thousand books Emil Allakhverdov acquired at auction was a little gem - a children’s book titled “Fun World, A Folk Song,” The drawings, illustrating a song in the book, “Two Bears, Two Bears,” looked very familiar. And then, it dawned on him. 

Of the seven drawings in the children’s book, five were used as templates for a series of Ukrainian propaganda postcards entitled “Fun Work, A Folk Song in a New Way,” which Emil had acquired some time ago.  When Emil compared the postcard illustration to those in the children’s book, the resemblance was quite startling!  

The postcards seemingly cheerful illustrations for children were actually powerful anti-Soviet and Anti-Nazi political cartoons printed shortly after the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 - a time when Ukrainian nationalists were equally intent on seeing the demise of the Soviet regime as well.  Their origin had been unknown to Emil.  Here was a piece of the puzzle. 

At the upcoming Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Show, Emil will be making this historically important set of Ukrainian language propaganda postcards available to the public.  The cover postcard in the set shows two tattered bears, symbolizing Russia and Germany, carrying Bolshevism and Nazism to the trash heap of history. These delicate, exquisitely drawn illustrations, printed on the front side of the postcards, carry a heavy message of moral resistance.

It was thought that the artist of these propaganda postcards was likely Sudomora, the same illustrator of the small children’s book, although it was uncertain.  A Ukrainian born in 1889, Sudomora was a celebrated illustrator, having studied at the Kiev Art School.    He worked with Kiev publishers on a wide variety of books and magazines, including “Oktober” and the Soviet youth organization’s “Pioneer” magazine. 

He moved to Lviv, but after the city was captured by the Soviet army, continued his commercial artistic work in Kharkov.  He was arrested in 1949 on charges of anti-Soviet activities and sentenced to 25 years in prison.  He was granted amnesty in 1955 and returned to Kiev where he lived with his wife and children until his death in 1965.

The unique and beautifully illustrated set of postcards may have been inspired by a charming children’s book, but the underlying message is a serious call to resistance.  The Ukraine’s liberation in 1945 by the Russian army brought no relief for the hard-pressed Ukrainians.  The long struggle for independence, not yet achieved today. The postcards, marrying art and history, document a pivotal time in Ukrainian 20th century experience. 

Image: The children’s book illustration on the left and a vivid example on the right of how the drawing was altered for propaganda purposes.  The Russian bear (right), identified by the hammer-and-sickle armband, is threshing victim nations like the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Lithuania, among others.  The Anti-Nazi, Anti Soviet Ukrainian postcard collection will be available at the upcoming Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, September 8-10 at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint.