- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

French philosopher Paul Ricoeur noted in a recent book certain historic events are “over-remembered” while others are “under-remembered.” The World War II story of the Soviet-Nazi friendship, and the ensuing fate of non-Germanic Central Europe, certainly fall into the second category.

The Soviet-Nazi friendship was the immediate cause of World War II. Without Soviet Russia’s approval and participation, Adolf Hitler would not have attacked Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. This friendship was sealed by the Stalin-Hitler Treaty of Aug. 23, 1939. The secret clauses of the Treaty divided the countries between Germany and Russia among the two powers. In September 1939, both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia entered World War II on the same side. Only Hitler’s insatiable desire for more conquest ended the two years of cooperation during which Stalin supplied Hitler with war commodities and even began restructuring the railway system in Central Europe so the goods could more easily flow to Nazi Germany.

On Sept. 30, 1939, the official Soviet newspaper Pravda editorialized that “the German-Soviet friendship is now established forever. … Both parties hope that England and France will stop their absolutely pointless war against Germany. … Should England and France fail to do so, Germany and the Soviet Union will take the appropriate steps.”

Hitler’s speeches were extensively quoted in the Soviet press in 1939, 1940 and 1941 (until June 22), and the commentaries were favorable. On Sept. 2, 1939, Pravda featured Hitler’s Reichstag speech that held Poles rather than Germans had started the war. On Oct. 7, the paper quoted another Reichstag speech in which Hitler said the Polish state had no right to exist and was built “on the bones and blood of Germans and Russians.” Neither the Germans nor the Russians failed to “pay back” for the alleged Polish trespasses: Jointly, they killed some 6 million Polish citizens.

On March 3, 1940, in Pravda Ia. Viktorov wrote the war “was concocted by the English and French imperialists who want to maintain their status in Europe.”

This went on for two years. But political “reptiles” seldom keep their word, and Hitler was the first to break the Soviet-Nazi Friendship Treaty. On June 22, 1941, he invaded the Soviet Union — or rather, he invaded Poland for the second time, the part of Poland forcibly annexed to the Soviet Union in 1939.

It is from this point on that Americans remember World War II. Six months later the United States entered the war. Now the entire world (except for Japan, Italy and a few more countries) stood up against Nazi Germany. German defeat was inevitable and, when it happened, our parents and grandparents cheered.

Hitler deserved his fate. But in the joy after, Nazi Germany’s most prominent friend, Stalin’s Russia, was forgotten and replaced by Uncle Joe’s Russia, a k a the West’s ally.

Stalin’s Russia, however much it ultimately contributed to the war effort, remained a predatory state bent on enslaving other states. In 1945, just as the celebrations of the war’s end were at their peak, Josef Stalin’s poisonous grip on Central and Eastern Europe tightened, and remained tight even after he died in 1953. This grip was released only in spring 1989 when Solidarity was relegalized and semi-free elections were held in Poland. The Berlin Wall fell in November. Fifty years, two generations, tens of millions of wasted lives.

On May 9, 2005, the “new Russia’s” President Vladimir Putin pulled out all the stops in celebrating Stalin’s victory. Cities throughout Russia have demanded erection of new monuments to Stalin. Jonas Bernstein of Russia Reform Monitor reported in April 2005 that among such cities is Oryol where the city fathers declared Stalin’s butchery of Russian and foreign citizens has never been proven.

While the death of the Nazi regime is just cause for celebration, it befits us to remember that for more than 200 million people, not counting the Russians themselves, the murderous grip of the Soviet Russian military continued for 50 long years.

Not only were the lives of the two generations of Central Europeans wasted, hundreds of thousands perished in the Gulag or in the jails of Soviet-occupied countries through the 1940s and 1950s, while the West built its prosperity.

Even after the exposure of Stalin’s crimes in 1956, people continued fighting and dying to get rid their countries of the Russian army, to mention only the East German rising in 1954, the Hungarian rising in 1956, the Czech rising in 1968, and the risings of workers in Poland in 1970 and 1976, all the way to Solidarity. Unlike postwar Germany, the Russian Federation, which declared itself the Soviet Union’s successor, has refused to symbolically apologize to neighboring countries for entering World War II on the Nazi side, for putting down the risings in countries it occupied in World War II, for damages and destruction done over a half-century of Soviet colonialism.

The world leaders rushed to Moscow to celebrate the May 9 Russian victory. Such trips are of course politically expedient. Russia has a lot of natural gas, some oil and thousands of nuclear warheads. Political expediency is therefore the game of the day. But it should be noted that Russia celebrated Victory Day without a drop of apology or remorse for Stalin or for 50 years of military violence in Central and Eastern Europe.

I therefore salute Lithuania’s former President Vytautas Landsbergis who declined to join the May 9 Moscow celebrations and said his country had been invited “to celebrate its own captivity.”


Professor of Slavic Studies

Rice University

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