While romance and love had fallen out of fashion during the onset of the Soviet Union, being widely regarded as facets of bourgeois society, there was a resurgence in courting and the lustful sentiment of mating during the pre-war era. The 1930s experienced a return to traditional family values, however, The Great Patriotic War that began on the Russian front at the end of 1939 left men and women in romantic frenzies with the notion that they may never see each other again. The onset of World War II allowed traditional familial roles to coexist with non-committal love and romance. This coexistence did have consequences, such as skyrocketing illegitimate birth rates, multitudes of unwed mothers, and increasing numbers of widows. In order to encourage the breeding of the new generation of soldiers and industry workers, a tax was placed on childless families, while no financial state-allocated help was given to widows (Source).
Gender roles were also reinforced during this time which conveys a stark contrast from the socialist ideal for men and women to function at an individual level in order to improve the collective society as a whole, rather than maintaining separate spheres based on gender. However, wartime entrenched gender roles as men fought for their “Motherland” and to protect their women, while women waited at home for their victors to return from war. The vast majority of literature and song at this time reflects this prescription of the absence of men at war and women passively awaiting their return, while in reality, most women in the Soviet Union assumed leading roles in factories and kolkhozes, as well and family and community life during the vacancy of their men. They also assumed combat positions such as pilots, anti-aircraft gunners, and transport drivers (Source). Nevertheless, romance and love was a common conviction that was able to contend with the devastating reality of war by keeping soldiers and their lovers hopeful.
One such song, “The Blue Kerchief” by Jerzy Peterburgsky and Yakov Galitsky (1940) demonstrated the anguish of leaving a loved one for war, as told from the male perspective. The kerchief became an emblem of war and separation of lovers at this time. The opening line, “The modest blue kerchief dropped from your neck in despair” signifies the moment couples must say goodbye to each other, the fact that the kerchief is blue is no doubt symbolism for the somber times that are ahead of the situationally estranged man and woman (Mass Culture, 334). The kerchief begins to personify the lover where “Those nights are gone! Where are you kerchief, so precious, so close, and desired” (Mass Culture, 334). The kerchief is something the soldier could reminisce upon and look forward to during the hardship of war and was a reminder that “It’s [war] for all our loved ones, our nearest and dearest that we go to war, The machine-gunner fights for the blue kerchief that those dear shoulders wore” (Mass Culture, 335). The prospect of reunion portrayed the anxieties of war and the possibility of permanent separation from loved ones, however, it also maintained hope that when it was all over the lover would be awaiting the return of her war hero.
The emphasis on fighting for loved ones not only serves to create patriotism rooted in family values but also diminishes the German conceptual efforts for war. The Nazi-German fight for fascism and ethnic cleansing was able to be completely undermined by the multicultural and multiethnic union for humanity and love in Soviet states. As we have seen from the outcome of the war, this narrative prevailed with the victory against the Germans at the Russian front.
Von Geldern, James, and Richard Stites, eds. Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917–1953. Indiana University Press, 1995.