Love and Kerchiefs

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World War Two, also known as the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union, was a war, even though defined by some of the most evil acts of mankind, was also a war fought out of love: love for one’s country and love for one’s family and significant other. When the war started, an editorial titled “The Enemy Will Be Destroyed” was published in the Leningrad Pravda. It stated, “the war has begun… It has been imposed on us by the bloodthirsty Fascist gang that dreams of world domination, that has enslaved and torments many nations whom they have stripped of their independence.” Many people rallied behind their country to stop the bloodthirsty fascists from stripping them of their freedom. Out of patriotism and the love of their motherland, the Soviet Union was able to gather many willing able-bodied men to fight in this war. Many men went off to war with the idea of their loved one wearing a kerchief waiting for them as they get back, but sadly, for many, that wasn’t the case.

Letyat_ZhuravliAs many men went off to war, the picture of a girl waiting back at home with a kerchief was a common theme of Soviet war propaganda.  As seen in the poster above, this idea gave men a face to fight for and made the war more personal. This imagery was used in songs like “My Beloved” and “The Blue Kerchief”. This imagery can also be seen in a later Soviet film “The Cranes are Flying” when Boris is leaving for war and there are many women saying goodbye to their husbands and boyfriends.

The image of a woman wearing a kerchief represented love and separation to the Soviet soldiers. In “My Beloved,” the author depicts his beloved girl waving her kerchief goodbye from the gate as he and his platoon march off. He writes about how he remembers the smile of his beloved girl to help his days pass by quickly and how he carries a picture of her in his pocket. Even though it is a short piece, it clearly depicts the image of a woman with her kerchief while also depicting the author’s feelings for his beloved.

An example of the kerchief representing the separation from loved ones is the song, “The Blue Kerchief.”  Written in 1940, it quickly became a hit and it was sung at the Front and in besieged cities. It reminded the soldiers at the front of their loved ones at home and it reminded the citizens in the cities under Nazi control of the soldiers who were fighting for them.

In this piece, the author depicts his loved one wearing a blue kerchief and it falling off as she is waving goodbye to him. He is constantly remembering that image and her blue kerchief and reminding himself that she promised to wait for him. He is also reminded that he and every other machine-gunner is fighting for their loved one wearing the blue kerchief.

Both of these pieces show how the kerchief represented not only love and separation, but also the hope of a loved one waiting for them. After a certain point in war, the desire to defend the motherland began to disappear among the soldiers and they began to cling to the only idea that they had left: to fight for their loved ones. They fought out of patriotism and love for their motherland, but they won by remembering their loved ones at home.

The sad reality is that not every soldier still had a loved one waiting at home when they returned. Many soldiers believed that once they got home, all would be the same again and everything would go back to normal, but for some that wasn’t the case. Due to the stressful conditions of wartime, some women didn’t wait for the men who loved them, like Veronika in “The Cranes Are Flying.”

Ultimately, for many Soviets during WWII, the kerchief symbolized love, separation, and hope for a better future. Many soldiers clung to the idea of their beloved waiting for them at home as they pushed through the war. Even though some went home to find themselves single, this idea got them through the war and ultimately, played a big part in their victory over Germany and the Nazis.

Other Sources:

Dolmatovsky, E. and M. Blanter. “My Beloved.” Mass Culture in Soviet Russia. pg. 333. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1995.

“June 1941: The Enemy Will Be Destroyed.” The Russia Reader. pg. 493-96. Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2010.

Peterburgsky, Jerzy and Yakov Galitsky. “The Blue Kerchief.” Mass Culture in Soviet Russia. pg. 334-335. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1995.

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16 thoughts on “Love and Kerchiefs

  1. jvillvt says:

    I can’t even put myself in a situation where I am separated from my lover because of war, and even more saddening to think that even after waiting a whole war its unlikely that my girl will be waiting for me back at home; I’m trying to think of what symbol, like the kerchief, would be used in modern day…

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      I feel like its hard to picture this today, because we don’t really have wars like WWII and also those who are in the military have technology like videochat and cell phones to be able to keep in contact. It makes it much easier to keep in contact and being able to wait for them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • carolynbuonforte says:

        I agree. The wars we have today are so much different because of technology. My brother, when he was in Afghanistan, was able to watch his newborn daughter transition out of the newborn phase, whereas if this was WWII, he wouldn’t have known what she looked like until he came back.

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  2. Ethan Tourtellotte says:

    I was able to make a connection to the artwork at the start of your post, the image of the woman with the solider was a visualizer for the artifact I chose, the poem “Wait for Me”. I loved your description at the end of the symbolization of the Kerchief

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      Yes! Wait For Me was one of the poems that I read in which I drew some inspiration from, but I decided not to reference it specifically in the post, because it was a piece that carried so much information and I felt like I wouldn’t do it justice by only briefly talking about it.

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  3. genevievekluck says:

    awesome post! I love the symbolism behind the blue kerchief, and the emotion it represents. I can’t even imagine what it must of been like during that time. It makes sense that they would cling to those memories and use them as inspiration!

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  4. A. Nelson says:

    But there must be some sort of physical, tangible token as well? We have yellow ribbons…and I think a lot of people trade amulets, charms, or jewelry when they are going to be separated?Maybe not something as universal as a “blue kerchief” though?
    I really like this take away from you post: “They fought out of patriotism and love for their motherland, but they won by remembering their loved ones at home.” Sounds about right.

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      Yes! There were some physical tokens that the soldiers had as well! In “My Beloved”, the author talks about carrying a photo of beloved with him! Also, in “The Cranes Are Flying”, Boris has a photo of Veronika with him.

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  5. clairetams728 says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I like how you paralleled the blue kerchief to the ones also worn by many of the characters in “The Cranes are Flying” I hadn’t even picked up on that in the film but they’re definitely everywhere! It is so hard to imagine being in this position today in a society where we get instant gratification with all the technology we have, I can’t imagine how painful it is waiting for someone to come back with such uncertainty

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      Me neither! But I feel like todya things are very different. People who are in military and are deployed have access to videochats and phones now, making it easier to stay in communication with loved ones.

      Like

  6. cameron_b says:

    This is such an interesting post! So often we get caught up in contextualizing these cultural pieces as a whole into the society of the time but to pick out this symbology and what it could have meant is really fascinating. This is likely how they saw it and what it meant to them. Reading this post was quite harrowing and perspective-providing. Great post!

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  7. Meredith Oakes says:

    I loved this post! It is sooo interesting to learn about how a great war like WW2 impacted other societies around the world. It breaks my heart knowing that even USSR soldiers didn’t all make it home safe. I love how the handkerchief symbolized that a loved one was way in the war, I guess it is similar to the yellow ribbon we display here in modern day America!

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