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Nazi-Soviet Pact

Nazi-Soviet Pact



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In the 1930s Joseph Stalin became increasingly concerned that the Soviet Union would be invaded by Nazi Germany. Stalin believed the best way to of dealing with Germany was to form an anti-fascist alliance with countries in the west. Stalin argued that even Adolf Hitler would not start a war against a united Europe. Adam B. Ulam, the author of Stalin: The Man and his Era (2007) has argued: "Soviet diplomacy sought (in a much more realistic way than that of Britain and France) to avoid war. To do Stalin justice, he never made a secret greater than his desire to avoid war, or more precisely to avoid Russia's military involvement in one." (1)

On 18th March, 1939, Maxim Litvinov, Commissar for Foreign Affairs, denounced Hitler's decision to occupy Prague. Later that day, the British Foreign Office, asked Litvinov what would be the Soviet Union's attitude be towards Hitler if he ordered the invasion of countries such as Poland and Rumania. On 17th April, Stalin replied when he proposed an alliance between Britain, France and the Soviet Union, where the three powers would jointly guarantee all the countries between the Baltic and the Black Sea against aggression. (2)

Neville Chamberlain did not like the idea. He wrote to a friend: "I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears." (3)

After the successful invasion of Czechoslovakia, Hitler began to make demands on the Polish government. This included a request for the return of the free city of Danzig and the amendment of the Polish corridor. Not surprisingly, Poland called on the British government for help. On 24th April, 1939, Colonel Józef Beck, the Polish foreign minister, arrived in London and proposed a secret understanding involving Britain, France and Poland. Chamberlain welcomed the suggestion as he wanted to pursue a policy of deterrence, without extreme provocation." (4)

The guarantee to Poland, which France joined, was officially announced on 31st March, 1939. David Lloyd George, immediately objected to the agreement. As he pointed out: "If war occurred tomorrow, you could not send a single battalion to Poland." (5) Chamberlain responded that he believed the guarantee would point "not towards war, which wins nothing or settles nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing" but would open the way towards "a more wholesome era, when reason will take place of force." (6)

On 13th April, further Anglo-French guarantees were offered to Rumania, Greece and Turkey. The following week the government introduced conscription for all males aged twenty and twenty-one. It also announced that spending limits on the army, navy and air force were abandoned and a ministry of supply to co-ordinate the supply of war materials was established. Hitler and Mussolini responded by signing a military alliance - the Pact of Steel - which added further to the idea of an inevitable war. (7)

The chiefs of staff supported the idea of an Anglo-Soviet alliance. On 16th May, Ernle Chatfield, 1st Baron Chatfield, Minister for Coordination of Defence, strongly urged the conclusion of an Anglo-Soviet agreement. He warned that if the Soviet Union stood aside in a European war it might "secure an advantage from the exhaustion of the western powers" and that if negotiations failed, a Nazi-Soviet agreement was a strong possibility. Chamberlain rejected the advice and said he preferred to "extend our guarantees" in eastern Europe rather than sign an Anglo-Soviet alliance. (8)

A debate on the subject took place in the House of Commons on 19th May, 1939. The debate was short and was "practically confined to the leaders of Parties and to prominent ex-Ministers". Chamberlain made it clear that he had severe doubts about Stalin's proposal. David Lloyd George, the former prime minister called for an alliance with the Soviet Union. Clement Attlee had been campaigning for a military alliance with the Soviet Union since September, 1938, during the crisis over Czechoslovakia. (9) Attlee argued in the House of Commons that the government should form a "firm union between Britain, France and the USSR as the nucleus of a World Alliance against aggression". The government was "dilatory and fumbling" and was in danger of letting Stalin slip out of their grasp and into Hitler's hands." (10)

Winston Churchill, made a passionate speech where he urged Chamberlain to accept Stalin's offer: "There is no means of maintaining an eastern front against Nazi aggression without the active aid of Russia. Russian interests are deeply concerned in preventing Herr Hitler's designs on eastern Europe. It should still be possible to range all the States and peoples from the Baltic to the Black sea in one solid front against a new outrage of invasion. Such a front, if established in good heart, and with resolute and efficient military arrangements, combined with the strength of the Western Powers, may yet confront Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Goebbels and co. with forces the German people would be reluctant to challenge." (11)

On 24th May, 1939, the Cabinet discussed whether to open negotiations for an Anglo-Soviet alliance. The Cabinet was overwhelmingly in favour of an agreement. This included Lord Halifax who feared that if Britain did not do so the Soviet Union would sign an alliance with Nazi Germany. Chamberlain conceded that "in present circumstances, it was impossible to stand out against the conclusion of an agreement" but he stressed the "question of presentation was of the utmost importance." He therefore insisted that attempts should be made to hide any agreement under the banner of the League of Nations. (12)

In June, 1939, a public opinion poll showed that 84 per cent of the British public favoured an Anglo-French-Soviet military alliance. Negotiations progressed very slowly and it has been claimed by Frank McDonough, the author of Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (1998), that "Chamberlain did not seem to care less whether an Anglo-Soviet agreement was signed at all, kept placing obstructions in the way of concluding an agreement swiftly." (13) Chamberlain admitted: "I am so sceptical of the value of Russian help that I should not feel that our position was greatly worsened if we had to do without them." (14)

Stalin's own interpretation of Britain's rejection of his plan for an anti-fascist alliance, was that they were involved in a plot with Germany against the Soviet Union. This belief was reinforced when Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler at Munich and gave into his demands for the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Stalin now believed that the main objective of British foreign policy was to encourage Germany to head east rather than west. Stalin now decided to develop a new foreign policy. Stalin realized that war with Germany was inevitable. However, to have any chance of victory he needed time to build up his armed forces. The only way he could obtain time was to do a deal with Hitler. Stalin was convinced that Hitler would not be foolish enough to fight a war on two fronts. If he could persuade Hitler to sign a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, Germany was likely to invade Western Europe instead. (15)

Stalin was frustrated by the British approach and dismissed Maxim Litvinov, his Jewish Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Litvinov had been closely associated with the Soviet Union's policy of an anti-fascist alliance. Time Magazine reported that there were several possible reasons for the replacement of Litvinov with Vyacheslav Molotov. "Most ominous - and least likely - explanation of the change: Comrade Stalin had decided to ally himself with Führer Hitler. Obviously Comrade Litvinov, born of Jewish parents in a Polish town (then Russian), could not be expected to complete such an alliance with rabidly Aryan Nazis. More likely: the Soviet Union was going to follow an isolationist policy (almost as bad for the British and French). By turning isolationist it would let Herr Hitler know that as long as he keeps away from Russia's vast stretches he need not fear the Red Army. Russia might even supply the Nazis with needed raw materials for conquests. Comrade Stalin still hankered after an alliance with Great Britain and France and by dismissing his experienced, alliance-seeking Foreign Commissar was simply trying to scare the British and French into signing up. But the most likely explanation was that in the bluff and counter-bluff of present European diplomacy, Dictator Stalin was simply clearing the decks to be ready at a moment's notice to jump either way." (16)

Walter Krivitsky, a former NKVD agent, who had fled to America in the early months of 1939 was asked by a journalist what he thought were the reasons for Stalin's sacking of Litvinov. He replied, "Stalin has been driven to the parting of roads in his foreign policy and had to choose between the Rome-Berlin axis and the Paris-London axis... Litvinov personified the policy which brought the Soviet government into the League of Nations which raised the slogan of collective security, which raised the slogan of collective security, which claimed to seek collaboration with democratic powers. That policy has collapsed." (17)

However, despite the fact that Krivitsky knew Stalin very well, his warnings were ignored. (18) Negotiations continued between Britain and the Soviet Union. The main stumbling-block concerned the rights of the Soviets to "rescue any Baltic state from Hitler, even if it did not want to be rescued". Britain insisted that they would only cooperate with Soviet Russia if Poland were attacked and agreed to accept Soviet assistance. This deadlock could not be broken and Molotov suggested that they concentrated on military talks. However, the British representatives in the talks were instructed to "go very slowly". The negotiations finally ended in failure on 21st August. (19)

Molotov now began secret negotiations with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister. He later claimed: "To seek a settlement with Russia was my very own idea which I urged on Hitler because I sought to create a counter-weight to the West and because I wanted to ensure Russian neutrality in the event of a German-Polish conflict. After a short ceremonial welcome the four of us sat down at a table: Stalin, Molotov, Count Schulenburg and myself.... Stalin spoke - briefly, precisely, without many words; but what he said was clear and unambiguous and showed that he, too, wished to reach a settlement and understanding with Germany. Stalin used the significant phrase that although we had 'poured buckets of filth' over each other for years there was no reason why we should not make up our quarrel." (20)

On 28th August, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed in Moscow. It was reported: "Late Sunday night - not the usual time for such announcements - the Soviet Government revealed a pact, not with Great Britain, not with France, but with Germany. Germany would give the Soviet Union seven-year 5% credits amounting to 200,000,000 marks ($80.000,000) for German machinery and armaments, would buy from the Soviet Union 180,000.000 marks' worth ($72,000,000) of wheat, timber, iron ore, petroleum in the next two years". (21) Apparently, the day after the agreement was signed, Stalin told Lavrenti Beria: "Of course, it's all a game to see who can fool whom. I know what Hitler's up to. He thinks he's outsmarted me, but actually it's I who have tricked him." (22)

Under the terms of the agreement, both countries promised to remain neutral if either country became involved in a war. The cartoonist, David Low, who had long campaigned for an alliance with the Soviet Union, wrote: "Britain and France were dragged to war under such uninspiring and disadvantageous circumstances that it seemed hardly possible for them to win. What a situation! In gloomy wrath at missed opportunity and human stupidity I drew the bitterest cartoon of my life, Rendezvous, the meeting of the 'Enemy of the People' with the 'Scum of the Earth' in the smoking ruins of Poland." (23)

Walter Krivitsky, whose predictions had proved correct, argued in The New Leader: "Not only are the American people shocked, but far more the unhappy masses of Germany and Russia who have paid and will continue to pay for this triumph with their blood. Such master strokes are eloquent proof of the return by the totalitarian states to the darkest phases of secret diplomacy such as characterized the epoch of Absolutism... For the democratic world the importance of the pact lies in that it has finally ripped the mask from Stalin's face. I believe that in those countries where the free word still exists, the master stroke of diplomacy is the death stroke of Stalinism as an active force. I believe this because after nearly 20 years of service for the Soviet government, I am convinced that democracy; despite its present perilous position, is the sole path for progressive humanity." (24)

Nikita Khrushchev was involved in the negotiations with Joachim von Ribbentrop. He later explained why Stalin was willing to reach an agreement with Hitler. "I believe the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 was historically inevitable, given the circumstances of the time, and that in the final analysis it was profitable for the Soviet Union. It was like a gambit in chess: if we hadn't made that move, the war would have started earlier, much to our disadvantage. It was very hard for us - as Communists, as anti-fascists - to accept the idea of joining forces with Germany. It was difficult enough for us to accept the paradox ourselves." (25)

The signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact had a disastrous impact on members of communist parties throughout the world. John Gates, a senior figure in the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), wrote: "The announcement on August 23, 1939, that the Soviet Union and Germany had signed a non-aggression pact came like a thunderclap, not least of all to the communist movement. Leaders and rank-and-file members were thrown into utter confusion. The impossible had happened. We looked hopefully for an escape clause in the treaty, but the official text provided none... Statements now began to come from Moscow - both from the Soviet press and the Communist International - which made clear a big change in policy was under way. When the Nazis now invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war against Germany, the Soviet position was that British and French imperialists were responsible for the war, that this was an imperialist war and that neither side should be supported." (26)

Whittaker Chambers, was another senior figure in the CPUSA who was very upset by the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. He was also employed as a spy by the Soviet Union. He later pointed out: "Two days after Hitler and Stalin signed their pact - I went to Washington and reported to the authorities what I knew about the infiltration of the United States Government by Communists. For years, international Communism, of which the United States Communist Party is an integral part, had been in a state of undeclared war with this Republic. With the Hitler-Stalin pact that war reached a new stage. I regarded my action in going to the Government as a simple act of war, like the shooting of an armed enemy in combat." (27)

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was in a similar position. It had been demanding that Britain should join an alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. However, as Francis Beckett, the author of Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party (1995) has pointed out, with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, "Stalin had made it (CPGB) look and feel both foolish and dishonest". (28)

Lord Halifax argued that the Nazi-Soviet Pact did not make any difference as British policy had "always discounted Russia, so materially the position is not really changed." (29) On 22nd August, 1939, Chamberlain told the Cabinet, "It is unthinkable that we would not carry out our obligations to Poland." (30) Despite these comments he sent Hitler and unequivocal letter, approved by the Cabinet, which stated that Britain intended to stand by Poland. On 24th August, Chamberlain gained parliamentary agreement to pass the Emergency Powers Act. The following day, a formal Anglo-Polish military alliance was signed, to reinforce the British resolve not to abandon Poland. (31)

On 25th August, 1939, Hitler sent a letter to Chamberlain in which he demanded the Danzig and Polish corridor questions be settled immediately. In return for a settlement, Hitler offered a non-aggression pact to Britain and promised to guarantee the British Empire and to sign a treaty of disarmament. (32) Some appeasers such as Nevile Henderson, Richard Austen Butler and Horace Wilson, wanted to do a deal with Hitler. They were accused by Oliver Harvey of "working like beavers for a Polish Munich". (33)

The reply to Hitler went through several drafts, until it was finally agreed by the whole Cabinet on 28th August. In the letter, Chamberlain suggested direct Polish-German talks to settle the issue peacefully, but would not "acquiesce in a settlement which put in jeopardy the independence of the state to whom they had given their guarantee." (34) In response, Hitler demanded a Polish emissary "with full powers" go to Berlin on 30th August 1939, but the Polish government refused. (35)

On 31st August, 1939, Adolf Hitler gave the order to attack Poland. The following day fifty-seven army divisions, heavily supported by tanks and aircraft, crossed the Polish frontier, in a lightning Blitzkrieg attack. A telegram was sent to Hitler warning of the possibility of war unless he withdrew his troops from Poland. That evening Chamberlain told the House of Commons: "Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall on me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitration of war. I fear I may not be able to avoid that responsibility". (36)

At a meeting of the Cabinet on 2nd September, the Cabinet wanted the prime minister to declare war on Germany. Chamberlain refused and argued it was still possible to avoid conflict. That night he announced in the House of Commons that he was offering Hitler a conference to discuss the subject of Poland if the "Germans agreed to withdraw their forces (which was not the same as actually withdrawing them), the British government would forget everything that had happened, and diplomacy could start again." (37)

On hearing the news of the invasion, the Polish cartoonist, Arthur Szyk, now living in the United States, produced a series of cartoons including Peace Be With You. It has been claimed by Joseph Darracott, the author of A Cartoon War (1989), has pointed out: "Arthur Szyk's bitter comment on the Russo-German Pact is an admirable example of his meticulous draughtsmanship... Hitler and Stalin are shown holding palms of peace: behind them a soldier hangs on a cross inscribed Poland." (38)

At a meeting of the Central Committee of the CPGB on 2nd October 1939, Rajani Palme Dutt demanded "acceptance of the (new Soviet line) by the members of the Central Committee on the basis of conviction". He added: "Every responsible position in the Party must be occupied by a determined fighter for the line." William Gallacher disagreed: "I have never... at this Central Committee listened to a more unscrupulous and opportunist speech than has been made by Comrade Dutt... and I have never had in all my experience in the Party such evidence of mean, despicable disloyalty to comrades."

Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the CPGB, made a passionate speech about his unwillingness to change his views on the invasion of Poland: "Please remember, Comrade Dutt, you won't intimidate me by that language. I was in the movement practically before you were born, and will be in the revolutionary movement a long time after some of you are forgotten.... I believe in the long run it will do this Party very great harm... I don't envy the comrades who can so lightly in the space of a week... go from one political conviction to another... I am ashamed of the lack of feeling, the lack of response that this struggle of the Polish people has aroused in our leadership." However, when the vote was taken, Pollitt was defeated and was forced to resign as General Secretary. (39)

On 17th September, the Soviet Red Army invaded Eastern Poland, the territory that fell into the Soviet "sphere of influence" according to the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. On 6th October, following the Polish defeat at the Battle of Kock, German and Soviet forces gained full control over Poland. Joseph Stalin now demanded not only Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as part of the Soviet sphere. He aimed both to recover the land of the Russian Empire and to secure a compact area of defence for the Soviet Union. Hitler, unwilling to fight a war on two fronts, immediately accepted these terms. (40)

I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears. Moreover, she is both hated and suspected by many of the smaller States, notably by Poland, Rumania and Finland.

Ten or twelve days have already passed since the Russian offer was made. The British people, who have now, at the sacrifice of honoured, ingrained custom, accepted the principle of compulsory military service, have a right, in conjunction with the French Republic, to call upon Poland not to place obstacles in the way of a common cause. Not only must the full co-operation of Russia be accepted, but the three Baltic States, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, must also be brought into association. To these three countries of warlike peoples, possessing together armies totalling perhaps twenty divisions of virile troops, a friendly Russia supplying munitions and other aid is essential.

There is no means of maintaining an eastern front against Nazi aggression without the active aid of Russia. with forces the German people would be reluctant to challenge.

Undoubtedly, the proposals put forward by the Russian Government contemplate a triple alliance against aggression between England, France and Russia, which alliance may extend its benefits to other countries of and when those benefits are desired. The alliance is solely for the purpose of resisting further acts of aggression and of protecting the victims of aggression. I cannot see what is wrong with that. What is wrong with this simple proposal? It is said: "Can you trust the Russian Soviet Government?" I suppose in Moscow they say: "Can we trust Chamberlain?" I hope we may say that the answer to both questions is in the affirmative. I earnestly hope so.

Clearly Russia is not going to enter into agreements unless she is treated as an equal, and not only is treated as an equal, but has confidence that the methods employed by the Allies - by the peace front - are such as would be likely to lead to success. No one wants to associate themselves with indeterminate leadership and uncertain policies. The Government must realise that none of these States in Eastern Europe can maintain themselves for, say, a year's war unless they have behind them the massive, solid backing of a friendly Russia, joined to the combination of the Western Powers. In the main, I agree with Mr. Lloyd George that if there is to be an effective eastern front - an eastern peace front, or a war front as it might become - it can be set up only with the effective support of a friendly Soviet Russia lying behind all those countries.

Officials may come and go with alarming frequency in most Government offices of the U.S.S.R., but not in the Soviet Foreign Commissariat. Amid all the shifts, purges and disappearances of Soviet officials, the Foreign Commissariat's topmost personnel has remained so constant that in 21 years since the proletarian revolution Soviet Russia has had only two Foreign Commissars: Georgy Vasilievich Chicherin, from 1918 to 1930 and Maxim Maximovich Litvinov, his successor.

Last week Comrade Litvinov's term abruptly ended, and with his displacement came Europe's sensation of the week. Moscow's radio laconically announced shortly before midnight one night that Comrade Litvinov had been relieved of his job at "his own request." The Commissar, it was explained later, was ill, had been suffering from heart disease. His job would henceforth be taken by Viacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, President of the Council of People's Commissars, a member of the all-powerful Political Bureau of the Communist Party, right-hand man to Dictator Joseph Stalin for some 15 years.

Those who knew that Commissar Litvinov actually does take rest cures at Continental watering places for heart trouble might have accepted the Soviet "request" theory at its face value had it been made at any other time. But only 36 hours later Foreign Minister Josef Beck of Poland was to make an important reply to Adolf Hitler before the Polish Parliament. The British and French press were beginning to talk about "appeasing" the Germans again, at a time when the "Peace Front" was considering involved negotiations with the Soviet Union with a view to stopping Hitler.

Commissar Litvinov has never been much of a power inside the Soviet Union. He was not even a member of the Political Bureau and had been a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee for only five years. He probably did not even formulate Soviet Foreign policy; he was a brilliant diplomatic technician. But in the world's eyes he was identified with that era of Soviet policy when the U.S.S.R. backed up strongly every move to curb the aggressors, pushed forward the principles of collective security, allied itself with democracies, put its face squarely against dictatorships. Was that era to end? Last week all Europe guessed. Some of the guesses:

Most ominous - and least likely - explanation of the change: Comrade Stalin had decided to ally himself with Führer Hitler. Obviously Comrade Litvinov, born of Jewish parents in a Polish town (then Russian), could not be expected to complete such an alliance with rabidly Aryan Nazis.

More likely: the Soviet Union was going to follow an isolationist policy (almost as bad for the British and French). Russia might even supply the Nazis with needed raw materials for conquests.

Comrade Stalin still hankered after an alliance with Great Britain and France and by dismissing his experienced, alliance-seeking Foreign Commissar was simply trying to scare the British and French into signing up.

But the most likely explanation was that in the bluff and counter-bluff of present European diplomacy, Dictator Stalin was simply clearing the decks to be ready at a moment's notice to jump either way. Foreign Commissar Molotov, inexperienced in diplomacy, represents no fixed foreign policy. Chief claim to U. S. fame was his denunciation of Col. Charles A. Lindbergh as a "paid liar" for alleged slurs on Soviet aviation. Speaking German and French, he will still be able to talk turkey with the British-French "Peace Front." If these talks fail (as they were on the point of doing last week) he can turn to negotiations with the Dictators' front.

Whatever Comrade Litvinov's retirement meant, Britain and France thought it was bad news. It was accepted as good news in a Germany which had not failed to notice that, in his last two or three big speeches, Führer Hitler had dropped his usual tirade against the Bolsheviks. Whether it meant nothing or everything. Comrade Stalin had removed one of the smoothest, most accomplished actors from the world's diplomatic stage.

To seek a settlement with Russia was my very own idea which I urged on Hitler because I sought to create a counter-weight to the West and because I wanted to ensure Russian neutrality in the event of a German-Polish conflict.

After a short ceremonial welcome the four of us sat down at a table: Stalin, Molotov, Count Schulenburg and myself. Others present were our interpreter, Hilger, a great expert on Russian affairs, and a young fair-haired Russian interpreter, Pavlov, who seemed to enjoy Stalin's special trust.

Stalin spoke - briefly, precisely, without many words; but what he said was clear and unambiguous and showed that he, too, wished to reach a settlement and understanding with Germany. Stalin used the significant phrase that although we had 'poured buckets of filth' over each other for years there was no reason why we should not make up our quarrel.

Communism, Soviet Russia and Dictator Stalin were called the arch enemies of civilization when Hitler was advancing toward supreme power. Hatred of communism and the faith of the bourgeois that he would save from communism helped him become master of Germany.

Today England is being proclaimed as World Enemy No.1. She is accused of usurping the rights of small nations, of opposing Germany's "right to be the first power in the world."

Hatred of England is simmering or blazing in Japan, India, Arabia, Africa, Ireland, Russia, and England's ally, France. It is being fanned systematically by Nazi agents throughout the world.

Hitler, it is said, hopes to use this hatred to establish Germany as the most powerful nation in the world, the same as he used the German citizen's hatred of communism to establish his rule in Germany.

Friendship with Soviet Russia, or at least an understanding with her, can prove a powerful weapon in Germany's campaign "to force England to her knees," diplomatic sources declare.

The Germans figure that the English are so terrified of the possible formation of a Soviet-German bloc that Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax will again go to Germany and offer all the concessions the Germans want. If the British fail to respond to the threat, the Germans argue that they can still get enough raw materials and money out of Russia to make the deal worth while.

Late Sunday night - not the usual time for such announcements - the Soviet Government revealed a pact, not with Great Britain, not with France, but with Germany. Germany would give the Soviet Union seven-year 5% credits amounting to 200,000,000 marks ($80.000,000) for German machinery and armaments, would buy from the Soviet Union 180,000.000 marks' worth ($72,000,000) of wheat, timber, iron ore, petroleum in the next two years. And at Monday midnight the official German news agency announced from Berlin:

"The Government of the Reich and the Soviet Government have decided to conclude a non-aggression pact with each other. The Reichsminister of Foreign Affairs, von Ribbentrop, will arrive in Moscow on Wednesday to conclude the negotiations."

To the bewilderment of almost everybody else in the world, and the consternation of the non-totalitarian four-fifths of it, the announcement was confirmed in Moscow next morning. Russia had got into a peace pact, but not with the nations she had been doing the public dickering with.

A nightmare which the European democracies and their satellites only whispered about was the alliance of great Communist Russia with great Fascist Germany, a mighty cordon of non-democracy stretching one-third around the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific. There was no comfort in the hind seen reasons which made this Red & Black team if not inevitable, at least understandable:

1) Russia wanted as much peace as she could get, even at the expense of pulling her punches in Spain from 1938 on. If she joined the Allies, it might work out that she had merely balanced the European war scales; joining Germany tipped them, she could hope, to an imbalance the lighter side would not dare to challenge.

2) Russia, while suspicious of Germany, was suspicious of the democracies. Joseph Stalin having served notice in March that he did not propose to be pitted against Germany by the Allies, only so that both countries might be knocked out after each had knocked the other groggy.

3) Russia's rulers still smarted at being uninvited to Munich, where, according to high diplomatic humor, the democracies looked the totalitarians knowingly in the eye and nodded in the direction of the Ukraine.

4) Russia, and her raw materials, and Germany, and her industries, make an economic combination.

At any rate, if either Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler - who have led their countrymen to believe that the other is the devil unchained (but not so deliberately recently) - needed any sales points to make the deal palatable at home, they were available. General belief was that they would scarcely take the trouble. They did not even bother to reveal who had undertaken the preliminaries to the greatest and quietest diplomatic about-face in modern European history.

The attitude of the socialist movement towards the Soviet Union today must be considered against this background. Relations have changed almost beyond recognition. It is hardly a novel situation to find the leaders of the Soviet Union in a state of outright war against the socialist movement. It has happened before. But today the whole movement is obliged to stand up and fight, and draw a clear dividing line between itself and the Soviet Union. It is not the socialist movement but the Soviet Union which has changed. It is not the socialist movement but the Soviet Union which has entered a pact of friendship with Nazism. It is the Soviet Union which stabbed Poland in the back and initiated the war against Finland.

When in August, 1939, Hitler made a pact of friendship with Stalin, some of you may have wondered if Hitler had betrayed western civilisation. Yesterday in his proclamation, the Führer was able to speak openly for the first time. He said that it was with a heavy heart that he sent his Foreign Minister to Moscow. England left him no other choice. She had worked hard throughout the summer of 1939 to build up a coalition against Germany. Hitler was compelled in self-defence to conclude a pact of friendship with Russia in which the signatories agreed not to attack each other and defined spheres of interest.

I believe the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 was historically inevitable, given the circumstances of the time, and that in the final analysis it was profitable for the Soviet Union. It was difficult enough for us to accept the paradox ourselves.

For their part, the Germans too were using the treaty as a maneuver to win time. Their idea was to divide and conquer the nations which had united against Germany in World War I and which might united against Germany again. Hitler wanted to deal with his adversaries one at a time. He was convinced that Germany had been defeated in World war I because he tried to fight on two fronts at once. The treaty he signed with us was his way of trying to limit the coming war to one front.

In the course of two meetings in the Kremlin, on the evening of 23 August and late the same night, the partners thrashed out the main issues of "common interest" and signed a pact of non-aggression and a "secret additional protocol". Stalin could not have had the slightest doubt that the pact at once relieved Hitler of the nightmare of a war on two fronts, and that to that extent it unleashed the Second World War. Yet he, Stalin, had no qualms. To his mind the war was inevitable anyhow; if he had made no deal with Hitler, war wound still have broken out either now or somewhat later, under conditions incomparably less favourable to his country. His purpose now was to win time, time, and once again time, to get on with his economic plans, to build up Russia's might and then throw that might into the scales when the other belligerents were on their last legs.

What Poland had to watch calmly last week (with not nearly enough gas masks to go around, due to the Government's all-for-the-Army emergency economy) was a succession of border intrusions, in which many observers saw true Nazi rhythm. From Germany, from East Prussia, even by air from Free Danzig, came Nazi "gangs" to provoke the alert Polish guards into brief scuffles from which four deaths resulted - extreme casualties of the war of nerves. At week's end the Polish radio, protesting that "the limit of Polish patience is very near," turned from straightforward reporting of developments to a satiric debunking of the provocative propaganda its people were hearing from over the border. One German radio report had it that a certain retired Polish Army captain had been leading forays against Germans in Poland. Polish officials investigated, found that the captain had been dead for two years. Commented the radio: "Such incidents could only, therefore, have been perpetrated by a ghost, for which the Polish authorities can hardly be held responsible."

The announcement on August 23, 1939, that the Soviet Union and Germany had signed a non-aggression pact came like a thunderclap, not least of all to the communist movement. We looked hopefully for an escape clause in the treaty, but the official text provided none. For several days there was no clarification from Moscow and we American Communists were left painfully on our own. It would have been better if we had remained on our own.

A national conference of the Communist Party had previously been scheduled for that weekend and it took place amid pathetic consternation. Eugene Dennis, then the party's legislative secretary and a member of the Political Bureau, the highest party committee, seemed to make the most sense, calling for a fight on two fronts: against the fascist enemy and against the appeasing democratic governments which could not be relied on to fight fascism. This attitude, a reasonable continuity with our former position, did not last long. When the Nazis now invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war against Germany, the Soviet position was that British and French imperialists were responsible for the war, that this was an imperialist war and that neither side should be supported.

The world communist movement followed in the wake of these statements. Until that moment the communist parties had been demanding that their governments fight against fascism; now that the West had at last declared war on the Axis, we denounced them and opposed all measures to prosecute the war. We demanded that the war be ended; how this could be done without the military defeat of Hitler was left unclear. Some communist leaders in the west, like Harry Pollitt, then general secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, projected a policy of working to establish governments that would energetically fight the fascists, but these leaders were removed. Now in disgrace, Pollitt went back to work as a boilermaker. Dennis did not persist in his original position, which had been similar to Pollitt's.

Actually, a good case could be made for the Soviet Union's non-aggression pact with Germany. For years Moscow had tried to reach an agreement with the West against fascism. Instead, the West had come to an agreement with fascism at Munich and behind the back of the Soviet Union. After Munich, the Soviet Union had every reason to believe that the West was not negotiating in good faith but was maneuvering to push Hitler into an attack upon the USSR. Convinced that Hitler was bent on war, unable to conclude a defensive alliance with the West, the Soviet Union decided to protect itself through a non-aggression pact. The West had only itself to blame for what happened. Churchill had warned the British government against such an eventuality. The Soviet Union undoubtedly gained temporary safety and additional time to prepare for the inevitable onslaught.

The British were busy all through early 1939 trying to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union. Even up to the stunning surprise of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, a success in the British negotiations was awaited. The Poles were against it; they wanted no truck with Moscow. But I thought the British-Soviet negotiations would succeed in spite of the Poles, and said so.

Now that this is all in the past, one sees that Stalin signed the pact with Hitler for two reasons, one being to partition a hostile Poland and annex a part of it, the other being to buy time to prepare for an attack Hitler might launch against the Soviet Union. This makes the perfidy of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact no less venal, but perhaps a little less stupid than at first appeared. It would have served mankind far better for Stalin to have joined in deterring Hitler, instead of giving him the green light to make war. But when it comes to attributing blame for Hitler's war, France and Britain bear part of it for selling out Czechoslovakia at Munich.

An Assessment of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (Answer Commentary)

British Newspapers and Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler's Early Life (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler v John Heartfield (Answer Commentary)

The Hitler Youth (Answer Commentary)

German League of Girls (Answer Commentary)

Night of the Long Knives (Answer Commentary)

The Political Development of Sophie Scholl (Answer Commentary)

The White Rose Anti-Nazi Group (Answer Commentary)

Kristallnacht (Answer Commentary)

Trade Unions in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

Hitler's Volkswagen (The People's Car) (Answer Commentary)

Women in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)

The Last Days of Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

D-Day (Answer Commentary)

Home Front Simulation (Answer Commentary)

Alan Turing - School Student (Answer Commentary)

(1) Adam B. Ulam, Stalin: The Man and his Era (2007) page 399

(2) Isaac Deutscher, Stalin (1949) page 422

(3) Neville Chamberlain, letter to Ida Chamberlain (26th March, 1939)

(4) Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (1998) page 80

(5) David Lloyd George, speech in the House of Commons (3rd April, 1939)

(6) The Times (19th March, 1939)

(7) Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (1998) page 80

(8) Robert A. Parker, Chamberlain and Appeasement (1993) page 228

(9) John Bew, Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee (2016) page 226

(10) Clement Attlee, speech in the House of Commons (19th May, 1939)

(11) Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (19th May, 1939)

(12) Cabinet minutes (24th May, 1939)

(13) Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (1998) page 84

(14) Robert A. Parker, Chamberlain and Appeasement (1993) page 236

(15) Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin (1996) pages 426-427

(16) Time Magazine (15th May, 1939)

(17) Walter Krivitsky, Baltimore Sun (5th May, 1939)

(18) Gary Kern, A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror (2004) page 196

(19) A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945 (1965) page 546

(20) Joachim von Ribbentrop Memoirs (1953) page 109

(21) Time Magazine (28th August, 1939)

(22) Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (1971) page 111

(23) David Low, Autobiography (1956) page 320

(24) Walter Krivitsky, The New Leader (26th August, 1939)

(25) Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers (1971) page 112

(26) John Gates, The Story of an American Communist (1959) page 74

(27) Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952) pages 540-541

(28) Francis Beckett, Enemy Within: The Rise and Fall of the British Communist Party (1995) page 90

(29) Andrew Roberts, The Holy Fox: A Biography of Lord Halifax (1991) page 167

(30) Cabinet minutes (22nd August, 1939)

(31) Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (1998) page 86

(32) Adolf Hitler, letter to Neville Chamberlain (25th August, 1939)

(33) John Charmley, Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (1989) page 202

(34) Neville Chamberlain, letter to Adolf Hitler (28th August, 1939)

(35) Adolf Hitler, letter to Neville Chamberlain (30th August, 1939)

(36) Neville Chamberlain, speech in the House of Commons (1st September, 1939)

(37) Neville Chamberlain, speech in the House of Commons (2nd September, 1939)

(38) Joseph Darracott, A Cartoon War: World War Two in Cartoons (1989) page 24

(39) Minutes of the meeting of the Central Committee of the CPGB (2nd October 1939)

(40) Robert Service, Stalin (2004) page 402


What Was the Nazi-Soviet Pact and How Did It Affect Poland?

The Nazi-Soviet Pact was a non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the USSR. Also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the agreement was signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939. It remained in effect for almost two years, until the Germans broke the pact on 22 June 1941 by invading the USSR.

The pact was a surprise to contemporary observers. The Nazis hated communism and the Soviets hated fascism. So why did these ideologically opposed powers enter into such an agreement?


Devil's Bargain: The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact 80 Years Later

David Carlin writes about American and European History. He just finished a series on the July Crisis and the outbreak of WWI. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College where he majored in History. He can be reached at [email protected]

Joseph Stalin cracks a smile. The dictator&rsquos cold eyes even appear to twinkle. Next to him, the Nazi foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, beams with smug satisfaction. That night, Stalin will toast Hitler&rsquos health. The world will tremble.

On August 23rd, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union stunned the world by announcing a nonaggression pact. That pact contained economic assistance as well as secret protocols to divide up Eastern Europe. Within two weeks, the bloodiest conflict in human history had begun.

Given the Western fascination with WWII, the scant attention the Nazi-Soviet pact has received is remarkable. The pact challenges the popular narrative of a righteous Grand Alliance against Nazi tyranny. Additionally, Soviet apologists and Russian nationalists continue to defend the pact as a savvy defensive strategy. However, the Nazi-Soviet alliance played a central role in the outbreak of WWII and the escalation of atrocities that followed.

1. On the Precipice

In March of 1939, Hitler&rsquos troops seized the remaining Czech lands in the former Czechoslovakia. The creation of this new German protectorate forced the Western democracies of Britain and France to confront the Nazi menace. Less than six months earlier, Hitler had piously declared that Czechoslovakia&rsquos Sudetenland region was &ldquothe last territorial demand I have to make in Europe.&rdquo After yielding to Hitler, Britain and France recognized that they had been deceived.

Although British prime minister Neville Chamberlain had long advocated appeasement, after the destruction of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain condemned Hitler as &ldquothe blackest devil [he] had ever met.&rdquo In 1939: Countdown to War, Richard Overy describes how the fall of Czechoslovakia marked a turning point in British policy towards the Reich. Britain accelerated rearmament and drew a firm line against further German expansion. That line was the Polish border, now threatened by Germany. In late March, Britain and France signed a mutual protection pact with Poland.

Poland had only recently drawn Hitler&rsquos venom. He had previously seen it as a useful bulwark against Russian Bolshevism. He had even sent Ribbentrop to negotiate an anti-Communist alliance with the Poles. However, those plans foundered when the Poles refused to cede the city of Danzig (now Gdansk) and the nearby territory to Germany. As in Czechoslovakia, Hitler decried the alleged mistreatment of ethnic Germans in Poland and cast himself as their protector. Once again, his outrageous claims were baseless. Poland&rsquos unique misfortune had little to do with ethnicities and everything to do with geography, sandwiched as it was between powerful, hungry neighbors.

Poland&rsquos other large neighbor was the Soviet Union. In 1920, the Soviets had attempted to export their global revolution to Poland. In a bloody struggle, the Red Army was stopped at the outskirts of Warsaw by heroic Polish defenders. However, the Soviet Union still harbored designs on Poland and other Eastern lands that had once been part of the Tsarist Empire. In the 1930s, suspicion between the Poles and Soviets had complicated plans to forge a common front against Nazism. The Soviets also deeply distrusted the Western Powers, viewing them as ideological cousins of Nazi Germany. Nonetheless, the Soviets and the West sought a policy of collective security to neutralize the Third Reich. British and French capitulation over Czechoslovakia only increased Soviet skepticism in their value as allies.

2. Devils Bargain

Although Hitler had made his name as an ardent anti-Communist, he was an opportunist at heart. Allied together, the Western Powers and the Soviet Union could stymie Germany&rsquos territorial ambitions. If Hitler could gain Stalin&rsquos support, he believed the Western Powers would back down on Poland as they had on Czechoslovakia.

Unlike Britain and France, Hitler had no issue offering Stalin territory in Eastern Poland and the Baltics. Collaboration would also have mutual economic benefits as Germany could provide the USSR with modern technology while the USSR could supply Germany with vital resources. Finally, a Nazi-Soviet alliance would empower both regimes to ignore Western protests while pursuing their ambitions. In the summer of 1939, these pragmatic considerations overrode philosophical differences.

The reconciliation between former archenemies stunned political observers. In a single stroke, the Nazi-Soviet pact had reset the global order. Propaganda outlets in both states worked feverishly to wash away years of ideological mudslinging. The Nazi press quickly replaced articles denouncing Jewish Bolshevism with pieces extolling aspects of Russian culture. In the Soviet Union, when Ribbentrop arrived in Moscow, he was greeted by Nazi flags, recently rescued from the set of an anti-Fascist propaganda film. The Kremlin telegraphed the changed party line to Communist Parties worldwide, where many reacted with utter bewilderment. While many Communist sympathizers ultimately adopted the new position, the about-face deeply tarnished Communism&rsquos reputation.

3. Between the Beasts

In late August 1939, Nazi war planning was complete. Hitler briefed his generals on the impending attack on Poland: &ldquoclose your hearts to pity. Act brutally.&rdquo The German Army would heed his command.

On the morning of September 1st, German troops poured across the Polish border. Within an hour, the National Socialist leader of Danzig declared reunification with the Reich. Events then proceeded at a torrid pace as Poland became the first nation to experience the blitzkrieg. Although the Poles fought bravely, they were no match for the stronger and faster German forces. Within days, the Polish Army was in headlong retreat. On September 19th, Hitler triumphantly declared in Danzig: &ldquoPoland will never rise again&hellipthat is guaranteed not only by Germany but also guaranteed by Russia.&rdquo

Two days earlier, the Soviets had moved into Eastern Poland. Soviet foreign minister Molotov announced that &ldquothe Polish Government has disintegrated&rdquo and the USSR needed to protect Ukrainians and Belarusians. This shabby pretense unleashed the Red Army on the already overwhelmed Polish forces, rendering their situation hopeless. Before invading, the Soviets had aided the German advance by allowing the Luftwaffe to use Soviet radio towers. Once the Soviets entered Poland, they quickly coordinated zones of occupation with the Nazis. Historian Roger Morehouse describes a particularly chilling example of collaboration in his excellent book The Devil&rsquos Alliance. In the Polish city of Brest, the Germans and Soviets held a joint military parade as the Nazis &ldquoreturned&rdquo the city to the Soviets. German commander Heinz Guderian reviewed the troops, while his Soviet counterpart Semyon Krivoshein invited German reporters to Moscow after the war.

For the Poles, there was little to celebrate. The occupiers implemented violently repressive regimes. Both invaders viewed the destruction of the Polish intelligentsia as key to Poland&rsquos permanent subjugation. The Gestapo and their Soviet NKVD counterparts met multiple times during 1939 and 1940, sharing files and handing over political enemies. They also strategized about eliminating Polish resistance and the fate of Polish POWs. Following these conferences, both occupied zones experienced horrific atrocities. In April and May of 1940, the Soviets murdered around 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in the Katyn forest. Nearly simultaneously, the Nazis carried out the AB-Aktion, a series of ruthless massacres targeting Polish leaders. The AB-Aktionfollowed the earlier Intelligenzaktion, which had killed nearly 100,000 Polish teachers, doctors, priests, and other professionals.

As Poland drowned in blood, Hitler looked West. Unlike Germany in WWI, by Spring 1940, Hitler could focus his full energy on defeating France. His friendship with the Soviet Union removed the longstanding nightmare of a full two-front war, which had been central to Germany&rsquos WWI planning. Hitler was able to deploy over 3 million troops in the May invasion of France and the Low Countries. The Nazi-Soviet pact also provided the Reich&rsquos war machine with vital raw materials. Additionally, Soviet trade helped Germany circumvent the British blockade, which had crippled Germany in WWI. The extent to which Stalin&rsquos friendship enabled Hitler&rsquos stunning victories in 1940 is hard to determine, but unquestionably, a hostile Soviet Union would have impacted Hitler&rsquos military calculus.

Stalin drove a hard bargain. He had demanded the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, among his other claims. Hitler obliged by signing the death warrants of these small nations. The Soviets moved quickly. In 1939, they forced their Baltic neighbors to sign mutual assistance pacts, which allowed Red Army troops into each republic. As Moorehouse explains, the Soviets then hoped that Communist agitators would stir up proletarian revolutions. When these revolutions failed to materialize, the Soviets tightened the screws, issuing ultimatums to the Baltic nations. These ultimatums amounted to a full Soviet takeover of the government. The new Soviet puppet regimes then requested annexation into the USSR. Once incorporated, the NKVD began a series of brutal deportations. In June of 1940 alone, over 100,000 Baltic civilians were deported from their homeland. As they had in Poland, Soviet authorities sought to obliterate national identity and civil society, destroying the states&rsquo fundamental institutions.

4. An Endless Slaughter

On June 22nd, 1941, the Nazi-Soviet pact abruptly ended when German forces invaded the USSR. Although Stalin had suspected that Hitler would betray him, he believed that their agreement would survive for longer. As a result, Soviet forces were woefully unprepared for the German onslaught. On the first day of the invasion, the Luftwaffe destroyed nearly 2000 Soviet aircraft. By early July, the Germans had conquered nearly all Baltic and Polish lands in the Soviet sphere of influence. Within five months, the Nazis had captured over 2 million Soviet POWs and approached the outskirts of Moscow.

Nazi leadership considered the invasion a racial war of annihilation. The Western Soviet Union would be depopulated through enslavement and starvation to make way for new German settlers. The atrocious treatment of Soviet POWs reflected a broader Nazi vision for the native peoples. Of the 5 million Soviet POWs, over half were deliberately starved to death or murdered, while the survivors were sent to the Reich as slaves.

While many ethnic groups suffered immensely under the Nazis, the treatment of the Jews stands unsurpassed as a monument to the human capacity for evil. After the invasion of the USSR, the wholesale slaughter of Jews commenced. German troops and special units, Einsatzgruppen, systematically rounded up and shot Eastern European Jews. By the end of 1941, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered nearly 1 million Jews. In December of that year, Himmler noted that he had discussed the Eastern Jews with Hitler, remarking in his diary: &ldquoto be annihilated as partisans.&rdquo More formal guidance for the genocide came with the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, when the Nazi regime formalized the Final Solution to the Jewish question.

September 1941 witnessed the massacre of Kiev&rsquos Jews at Babi Yar. In a two-day period, over 33,000 Jews were murdered by German forces and local Ukrainian collaborators. Occupying Germans in the Baltics urged local partisans to murder their Jewish neighbors. In lands formerly occupied by the Soviets, Nazi propaganda effectively linked the Jews to the hated Soviet system. In Black Earth, historian Timothy Snyder argues that local people blamed the Jews to absolve themselves of the shame and humiliation of the occupation. He also asserts that the destruction of states and their institutions made the Holocaust possible. Indeed, the destruction of the Jews took place in Eastern lands where Soviet and later Nazi occupation had destroyed the existing state. It is telling that Western European Jews and German Jews were first deported to the East before they were murdered. Within the unprotected environment of Eastern Europe, the Nazis were able to enact their most extreme racial policies.

5. The Politics of Memory

With Germany&rsquos defeat in 1945, the Soviet Union reasserted control over areas it had claimed under the Nazi-Soviet pact. The Baltic states remained members of the USSR and deportations resumed after WWII. Poland and other Eastern states did not regain true independence, instead becoming Soviet satellites. The Kremlin dutifully applied a revisionist lens to the Nazi-Soviet pact. An aggressive, cynical land grab was transformed into a brilliant defensive maneuver to buy the USSR time to prepare for an inevitable Nazi attack. The alliance was only necessary because the West had spurned Soviet pleas for a unified anti-Nazi front. As Snyder has written, false narratives are still parroted by Russian propagandists today.

During the war, the West was loath to discuss the pact as the Soviets had become a valuable ally against Hitler. After the war, the Nazi-Soviet alliance did not fit the popular story of the triumph of liberty over totalitarianism. Thus, the Hitler-Stalin pact was allowed to fade from public memory.

Our collective ignorance regarding the Nazi-Soviet pact is particularly unfortunate. Not only does that ignorance allow revisionists to thrive, but it also limits our understanding of WWII. The Nazi-Soviet pact helped spark the conflict by removing a major impediment to Hitler&rsquos conquest of Poland. Once the war began, the pact allowed the Germans by to focus on a single front and mitigate the impacts of the British blockade. The Soviet and Nazi authorities destroyed the states they occupied, creating the chaotic conditions that made the mass murder of the Jews easier. Revisiting the Nazi-Soviet pact does not mean equating the crimes of the Nazis and Soviets, but rather more deeply understanding the development of the Holocaust.

Eighty years ago, two dictators agreed to divide up Eastern Europe. Their agreement would change the lives of millions. While scholars have written about the ideological differences between their regimes, the Nazi-Soviet pact also revealed essential similarities between Hitler and Stalin. Both men were deeply cynical opportunists with the fundamental conviction that might makes right. That impulse is nothing more than a formula for brutality.


The Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact (1939)

The Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact was signed by Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet foreign minister Yyacheslav Molotov on August 23rd 1939. It followed several weeks of diplomatic negotiations. Under the terms of the pact, Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to refrain from war or aggression on each other for a period of ten years. The non-aggression pact paved the way for both Germany and the Soviet Union to invade Poland, dividing and occupying Polish territory between them:

“The Government of the German Reich and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, desirous of strengthening the cause of peace between Germany and the USSR, have reached the following agreement:

Article One

The two contracting parties undertake to refrain from any act of violence, any aggressive action, or any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other powers.

Article Two

Should one of the contracting parties become the object of belligerent action by a third power, the other contracting party shall in no manner lend its support to this third power.

Article Three

The governments of the two contracting parties will in future maintain continual contact with one another for the purpose of consultation in order to exchange information on problems affecting their common interests.

Article Four

Neither of the two contracting parties will join any grouping of powers whatsoever that is directly or indirectly aimed at the other party.

Article Five

Should disputes or conflicts arise between the contracting parties over problems of one kind or another, both parties will settle these disputes or conflicts exclusively by means of a friendly exchange of views or, if necessary, by the appointment of arbitration commissions.

Article Six

The present Treaty shall be concluded for a period of ten years with the proviso that, in so far as one of the contracting parties does not denounce it one year prior to the expiration of this period, the validity of this Treaty shall be deemed automatically extended for another five years.

Secret Protocol

1. In the event of a territorial and political transformation in the territories belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier of the spheres of interest of Germany and the USSR…

2. In the event of a territorial and political transformation of the territories belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of interest of Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula and San…

4. This Additional Protocol will be treated by both parties as strictly secret.”

Signed in Moscow
August 23rd 1939


Nazi/Soviet non-aggression pact

On the afternoon of 23 August 1939, in one of the most surprising events in the history of diplomacy, the Nazi Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, arrived at the Kremlin for discussions with Vyacheslav Molotov, his Soviet counterpart. A few hours later, in the early hours of the following morning, they signed a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

The agreement seemed almost inexplicable at the time. The reaction of Hans Bernhard, an SS officer, was typical: &lsquoWe couldn&rsquot make sense of it&hellip in German propaganda for years it had been made clear that the Bolsheviks were our main enemy.&rsquo Bernhard was right, of course. Indeed, just two years earlier, at the 1937 Nuremberg rally, Hitler had said that the leaders of the Soviet Union were &lsquoan uncivilized Jewish-Bolshevik international guild of criminals,&rsquo and that the Soviet Union was &lsquothe greatest danger for the culture and civilization of mankind which has ever threatened it since the collapse of the states of the ancient world.' i

It had been purely pragmatic principles that had changed Hitler&rsquos mind and had led him to agree to conclude a deal with this &lsquointernational guild of criminals&rsquo. Hitler intended to invade Poland within a few days and he knew that the British and French had agreed to protect the Poles. So an alliance with Stalin protected him from a two-front war. The deal Ribbentrop struck with the Soviets on 24 August was the result of swift negotiations which had been progressed after trade talks between the two countries had begun in Berlin just a few months before. &lsquoThe fact that Mr Ribbentrop acted at a tempo of 650 kilometers an hour called forth the Soviet government&rsquos sincere admiration,&rsquo said Molotov in September 1939. &lsquoHis energy and his strength of will were a pledge to the firmness of the friendly relations that had been created with the Germans.&rsquo ii

Molotov must have been especially grateful for the speed of Ribbentrop&rsquos diplomatic actions when he considered the behaviour of the Soviet Union&rsquos only other credible suitor &ndash Great Britain. In contrast to Ribbentrop&rsquos &lsquo650 kilometers an hour&rsquo, the British had been deliberately slow in their negotiations with the Soviets over a potential diplomatic agreement.

The British, as the Soviets knew, had been pursuing a policy of appeasement towards the Germans during the 1930s. Only after it became clear that Hitler&rsquos aggression could not be stopped by diplomatic discussion &ndash crucially, after the German entry into Prague in March 1939 &ndash did the British realise that they might need the Soviets as an ally against the Nazis.

The British mission to Moscow in the summer of 1939 was led by an obscure Admiral with the impressive name of Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax. He and his team had been sent to Moscow via boat and train rather than air, and once in the Soviet capital had obfuscated on key details of any agreement. The Admiral had been told by both the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, that his tactic in case of any problems in the negotiations should be to keep stalling until October, when the British believed the increasingly harsh weather conditions in Poland would make it less likely that the Nazis would invade. iii

The reason that the British government asked Sir Reginald to play for time, rather than conclude a meaningful agreement with the Soviets, was to a large extent to do with British dealings with one other country &ndash Poland. The British knew that the Soviets would demand access to Polish territory in order to confront the Germans as a condition of any kind of military agreement. But this was something the Poles would be extremely reluctant to accept. So any treaty that tied the Soviets into the forthcoming war on the Allied side would be next to impossible to negotiate.

Even if the Poles could somehow have been made to accept Soviet troops on their soil &ndash which seemed unlikely in the extreme &ndash it was also hard to see why Stalin would agree to any deal with Britain. The Soviet leader had explicitly said at the 18th Party Congress in Moscow on 10 March 1939 that the Soviet Union would not be &lsquodrawn into conflict by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull their chestnuts out of the fire for them.&rsquo iv In essence, Stalin could not see any advantage to the Soviet Union to be on the side of the Allies in any war against the Nazis.

But he could see enormous advantages in an arrangement with Hitler that kept the Soviet Union out of the war. Not least because in a secret protocol to the non-aggression pact the Soviets and the Nazis agreed which countries in Eastern Europe would fall into each others&rsquo &lsquosphere of influence&rsquo. They even agreed a demarcation line across Poland with the Nazis claiming the western half, and the Soviets the eastern half. But both Ribbentrop and Molotov were careful not to explicitly talk of gaining all this territory by military conquest. At the minute the euphemistic phrase &lsquospheres of influence&rsquo sufficed for them both to come to an understanding.

Once the non-aggression pact &ndash together with its secret protocol &ndash had been signed, Molotov and Stalin partied with the Nazi delegation. The irony of a diplomatic arrangement with the Nazis seemed to amuse the Soviet leader. &lsquoLet&rsquos drink to the new anti-Comminternist&rsquo he said, &lsquoStalin!&rsquo v But Stalin also, with apparent sincerity, drank a toast to &lsquoAdolf Hitler&rsquo and promised Ribbentrop that &lsquoI assure you that the Soviet Union takes this pact very seriously. I guarantee on my word of honour that the Soviet Union will not betray its new partner.&rsquo vi

Of course, neither Stalin nor Hitler were naïve people &ndash quite the reverse. And both must have known that this pact represented nothing more than an expedient act. Stalin, in particular, must have thought himself immensely clever. Here, he had in one diplomatic coup excluded the Soviet Union from the war and, potentially, expanded his country&rsquos borders at little or no expense. Moreover, the Nazis would now be occupied fighting in Western Europe for the foreseeable future. France, surely, would prove to be a formidable opponent for the Germans. In this judgment, as in so many of his assumptions about the Nazis, Stalin was to prove catastrophically wrong.


World War II: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

On August 23, 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed a non-agression pact, called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty. Secret protocols of the treaty defined the territorial spheres of influence Germany and Russia would have after a successful invasion of Poland. According to the agreement, Russia would have control over Latvia, Estonia, and Finland, while Germany would gain control over Lithuania and Danzig. Poland would be partitioned into three major areas. The Warthland area, bordering Germany would be annexed outright to the German Reich, and all non-German inhabitants expelled to the east. More than 77,000 square miles of eastern Polish lands, with a population of over thirteen million would become Russian territory. The central area would become a German protectorate, named the General Gouvernement, governed by a German civil authority.

Text of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact

The Government of the German Reich and The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics desirous of strengthening the cause of peace between Germany and the U.S.S.R., and proceeding from the fundamental provisions of the Neutrality Agreement concluded in April, 1926 between Germany and the U.S.S.R., have reached the following Agreement:

Article I. Both High Contracting Parties obligate themselves to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action, and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other Powers.

Article II. Should one of the High Contracting Parties become the object of belligerent action by a third Power, the other High Contracting Party shall in no manner lend its support to this third Power.

Article III. The Governments of the two High Contracting Parties shall in the future maintain continual contact with one another for the purpose of consultation in order to exchange information on problems affecting their common interests.

Article IV. Should disputes or conflicts arise between the High Contracting Parties shall participate in any grouping of Powers whatsoever that is directly or indirectly aimed at the other party.

Article V. Should disputes or conflicts arise between the High Contracting Parties over problems of one kind or another, both parties shall settle these disputes or conflicts exclusively through friendly exchange of opinion or, if necessary, through the establishment of arbitration commissions.

Article VI. The present Treaty is concluded for a period of ten years, with the proviso that, in so far as one of the High Contracting Parties does not advance it one year prior to the expiration of this period, the validity of this Treaty shall automatically be extended for another five years.

Article VII. The present treaty shall be ratified within the shortest possible time. The ratifications shall be exchanged in Berlin. The Agreement shall enter into force as soon as it is signed.

[The section below was not published at the time the above was announced.]

Secret Additional Protocol.

Article I. In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and U.S.S.R. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilna area is recognized by each party.

Article II. In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San.

The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish States and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments.

In any event both Governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement.

Article III. With regard to Southeastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares its complete political disinteredness in these areas.

Article IV. This protocol shall be treated by both parties as strictly secret.

Moscow, August 23, 1939.

For the Government of the German Reich v. Ribbentrop

Plenipotentiary of the Government of the U.S.S.R. V. Molotov

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Elizabethan England, the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the history of cricket - Talking History recommended reads

Though you’re never supposed to talk about them in polite company religion, politics, and sport are at the heart of many fascinating stories and arguments. This week’s ‘Talking History’ recommended reads touch on these taboo topics.

God’s Traitors

Jessie Childs makes the first of the cardinal conversation faux pas the centre of his work, ‘God’s Traitors’. Though Elizabethan England is remembered for its toleration this is really only because the rule of the Virgin Queen was less sectarian than her siblings and contemporaries. In truth Catholics, and other recusants—those who didn’t attend Anglican services every Sunday, faced severe penalties for their religious nonconformity with torturous execution awaiting the most unfortunate.

As with many history books ‘God’s Traitors’ gives a strong indication of the material in the subtitle, ‘Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England’. Though Elizabeth’s reign had never really been kind to Catholics it got drastically worse following Pope Pius V’s papal bull, Regnans in Excelsis in 1570. Using the catholic Northamptonshire Vaux family as her prism Jessie Childs tells the story of the Catholics who killed and died for their belief in Elizabethan England.

This book looks at the religious fundamentalism and extremist ideology that drove figures on both sides of the sectarian divide. Despite the passing of four centuries many of the issues, actions, and ideologies explored in this book remain problematic today. ‘God’s Traitors’ is a great read for anyone interested in the English Reformation, Elizabeth’s reign, and how religion became such a divisive subject in the British Isles.

The Devil’s Alliance

As proven by Pius' bull, words and writing can have a far greater impact on history than actions. In August 1939 another such history altering document was born when Molotov and Ribbentrop signed the Nazi-Soviet Treaty of Non-Aggression. This allowed Hitler to move freely in Western Europe free from the threat of the Red Army in the east.

Despite the practical nature of the pact it was massively unexpected. Ideologically they were fundamentally opposed and each had been demonising the other for years. Though Hitler would break his word after only 22 months the pact had achieved its aims and radically changed the world. In his latest book, ‘The Devil’s Alliance’, Roger Moorhouse explores the Nazi-Soviet Pact in meticulous detail.

Moorhouse goes beyond a simple ideological dissection of the parties involved to illuminate the wider political landscape at the time and how, when we look closely, it isn’t all that surprising that Hitler and Stalin joined together. A great exploration of the pact itself, how it came about, and how the interested parties dealt with its disillusion ‘The Devil’s Alliance’ illuminates the realities of international relations at the time. An excellent book for those interested in the politics of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and the Second World War.

Wounded Tiger

Sport lies at the heart of this week’s final book recommendation. A cultural building block, sports help to forge national identities and bring nations together. It is no surprise that the GAA feature so prominently in the Celtic Revival or that New Zealand, the haka, and rugby are so closely associated and interwoven. In ‘Wounded Tiger’ Peter Oborne looks at the history of cricket in Pakistan and the close relationship between nation and sport.

When Britain ended its direct rule of India in 1947 sectarian divisions saw the territory split between the majority Hindu and Sikh India and the majority Muslim Pakistan in the northwest and east. In its almost 70 year history Pakistan has been plagues by violence and controversy. Tensions with India erupted into conflict in ’48, ’65, ’71, and ’99 while increasing dissatisfaction and violence in East Pakistan culminated in the formation of the independent sate of Bangladesh in ’71.

Oborne uses cricket as a way to explore Pakistan’s history and international attitudes to this national. Though he doesn’t shy away from the controversies that have plagued the national team Oborne looks beyond the stereotypes to find the Pakistani cricket behind the headlines. Even the portraits of some of the greatest players in history are challenged in ‘Wounded Tiger’. This is a must read for anyone interested in the racial, cultural, and social history of cricket and Pakistan.


Who was Responsible for the Outbreak of War?

There’s one very obvious answer to this question: Germany and Hitler. And it’s certainly not an incorrect answer, as we have seen from Hitler’s increasingly aggressive actions in the face of attempts to discourage him.

However, we need to bear a couple of other things in mind when answering this question.

* Appeasement was a terrible way to stop Hitler – Hitler acted fairly moderately for the first few years of his rule. Some people believe that, had Britain and France been more firm with Germany at this time, and especially before it had made progress in re-arming, things wouldn’t have reached the crisis point that they did in 1939. In other words, Hitler could have been made to behave. Of course, we can never know for sure how Hitler would have responded in this situation.

* The League of Nations was ineffective – Likewise, it could be argued that, had the League of Nations been more effective in dealing with powers such as Italy and Japan, Hitler would not have been encouraged to become so aggressive.

* The Treaty of Versailles created the conditions for war– This was a point of view that some far-sighted people put forward way back in 1919, and it’s difficult not to disagree with them. The Treaty created an enormous amount of anger in Germany one of the main reasons for the success of the Nazis in gaining power was that they tapped into this anger.

* The Soviet Union gave Germany the go-ahead for war – The USSR was a massive country, which Germany would have struggled against in a war. With it committed to not attacking Germany, invading other parts of Europe suddenly became a lot more attractive to Hitler.


German-Soviet Pact

The German-Soviet Pact, signed in August 1939, paved the way for the joint invasion and occupation of Poland that September. By signing the agreement, Hitler avoided the threat of a major two-front war. Stalin was permitted subsequently to expand Soviet rule over the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) and parts of Romania and Finland. The pact was an agreement of convenience between the two bitter ideological enemies. It permitted Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to carve up spheres of influence in eastern Europe, while pledging not to attack each other for 10 years. Less than two years later, however, Hitler launched an invasion of the Soviet Union.

Key Facts

This agreement often is commonly referred to as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, after the two foreign ministers who negotiated the deal. It is also known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact, or the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

The diplomatic arrangement included a 10-year non-aggression pact between the two countries, economic cooperation, and territorial expansion.

The pact prepared the way for World War II.

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The German-Soviet Pact is also known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact after the two foreign ministers who negotiated the agreement: German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov. The pact had two parts. An economic agreement, signed on August 19, 1939, provided that Germany would exchange manufactured goods for Soviet raw materials. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union also signed a ten-year nonaggression pact on August 23, 1939, in which each signatory promised not to attack the other.

The German-Soviet Pact enabled Germany to attack Poland on September 1, 1939, without fear of Soviet intervention. On September 3, 1939, Britain and France, having guaranteed to protect Poland's borders five months earlier, declared war on Germany. These events marked the beginning of World War II.

The nonaggression pact of August 23 contained a secret protocol that provided for the partition of Poland and the rest of eastern Europe into Soviet and German spheres of interest.

In accordance with this plan, the Soviet army occupied and annexed eastern Poland in the autumn of 1939. On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland, precipitating a four-month winter war after which the Soviet Union annexed Finnish territory borderlands, particularly near Leningrad. With German indulgence, the Soviet Union also moved to secure its sphere of interest in eastern Europe in the summer of 1940. The Soviets occupied and incorporated the Baltic states and seized the Romanian provinces of northern Bukovina and Bessarabia.

After the Germans defeated France in June 1940, German diplomats worked to secure Germany's ties in southeastern Europe. Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia all joined the Axis alliance in November 1940. During the spring of 1941, Hitler initiated his eastern European allies into plans to invade the Soviet Union.

Hitler had always regarded the German-Soviet nonaggression pact as a tactical and temporary maneuver. On December 18, 1940, he signed Directive 21 (code-named Operation Barbarossa), the first operational order for the invasion of the Soviet Union. From the beginning of operational planning, German military and police authorities intended to wage a war of annihilation against the Communist state as well as the Jews of the Soviet Union, whom they characterized as forming the "racial basis" for the Soviet state.

German forces invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, less than two years after the German-Soviet Pact was signed.


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