Soviet-Nazi Collaboration and World War II

As May 9th, Victory Day in many post-Soviet states, approaches, decency demands that we celebrate the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and honor the millions of soldiers and civilians who gave their lives to rid the world of the scourge of Nazism.

At the same time, if we truly want to honor the dead, we must take heed of the historical lies that the Kremlin, both in its Soviet and post-Soviet hypostases, promotes about the USSR’s relationship with Nazi Germany.

For starters, the Moscow-controlled Communist International, and its sidekick, the Communist Party of Germany, made Hitler’s rise to power possible, if not indeed inevitable, by tarring the German Social Democrats as “social fascists” who threatened to split the proletariat and were, thus, a greater evil than the Nazis. Had the German left remained united against the real threat—Nazism—Hitler might not have come to power. (Many leftists make a similar mistake today, preferring Vladimir Putin’s fascism to American capitalism and thereby promoting war in Europe.)

And then there’s the matter of the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. The part that obligated Nazi Germany and the USSR to nonaggression vis-à-vis each other is arguably defensible in light of Moscow’s desire to ward off a possible German attack.

Completely indefensible is the secret protocol that led to Poland’s partition in September 1939 and the subsequent Soviet attack on and incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. That was imperialism, pure and simple, though, naturally, the Soviets claimed that they were “liberating” the territories from “fascist” rule (sound familiar?).

More than indefensible—indeed, profoundly criminal—was Moscow’s kowtowing to and enthusiastic support of the Hitler state and economy in 1939–41, at precisely the time the Nazis were killing Poles, segregating Jews, and laying the groundwork for the Holocaust. Because the USSR collaborated with the Nazis, it bears a large part of the responsibility for World War II and the enormous destruction that Germany brought to Eastern Europe in general and Eastern European Jews in particular.

By the way, during the two years the Soviets ruled Western Ukraine (the former eastern Poland), they destroyed civil society, dismantled all political and civil rights, deported hundreds of thousands of Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians to Siberia, and then, to top things off, massacred some 20,000–30,000 political prisoners in the week after the Nazis attacked in June of 1941. (About 70 percent were Ukrainian, 20 percent were Polish, and over 5 percent were Jewish.) A shot in the back of the head wasn’t enough. The Soviet secret police also devised refined tortures for their helpless victims: noses, tongues, breasts, and genitalia were lopped off; skin was scalded with boiling water and peeled off; prisoners were buried alive. In one town, hundreds of prisoners were dumped, some dead, some still living, down a salt mine shaft.

The Soviet—as well as current Russian—designation for this monstrous enterprise is the “Great Patriotic War,” a term that conveniently elides the two years of shameful collaboration and the USSR’s direct contribution to World War II and the Holocaust. 

Appropriately for the regnant Stalinist political culture in Putin’s Russia, his neo-Nazi biker pals, the Night Wolves, want to celebrate Victory Day by retracing the Red Army’s route from Russia to Berlin. Just as appropriately, Poland and Germany have refused them permission to cross their territory. (Unfazed by such legalities, the Wolves entered into Poland anyway on April 26th.) No less appropriately, Western states have declined to attend Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.

The West shouldn’t boycott the anniversary events just because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. They should do so because the Victory Day celebration covers up a raft of crimes that should be condemned along with Putin’s regime.

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