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Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: the Wars of History [1]

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Sergei Roy, Editor,, Moscow:

For 70 years since the beginning of World War II, there has been little doubt as to who started hostilities on September 1, 1939. There were too many survivors of the war still around, and their memories were too fresh. The aggressor had been defeated, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, and justly punished – or so the world believed.

Now, after all these years of complete clarity, Europe has sort of bethought itself and decided that that was all an historical mistrial. There was more than one aggressor; the Soviet Union was equally responsible, along with Nazi Germany, for the outbreak of the war. Since Germany has been punished enough, the time has now come to punish the Soviet Union, or rather its successor in law, Russia. The Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression Pact is declared to have triggered the war. As Ribbentrop’s Germany is no longer around, Russia (deemed unchanged since Molotov’s times) is the only party available for finger-pointing.

What appears to me to be particularly revealing about the purveyors of this nonsense is their shy unwillingness to trace their views to their actual historical source. Now, who was the first individual to point the finger at the Soviet Union as an aggressor, or potential aggressor? Why, Hitler, that’s who. Hitler repeated his allegation that his assault on the Soviet Union was “pre-emptive” on numerous occasions: in his statement to Stalin on launching the war; in his address to the army on the same day; in October 1941, when the Blitzkrieg flopped and he appealed to the German people for winter clothing for the soldiers on the Eastern front, lying like mad that in May the situation was so threatening that there could be no longer any doubt that Russia intended to fall upon us at the first opportunity; and again in May of 1942.

After the war, this explanation was trotted out by some of the German war criminals at the Nuremberg trials. Later there arose a whole school of historiography, now flourishing in German-speaking countries, whose adherents are busy rewriting history to prove the “rationality and legitimacy” of Nazi Germany’s politics.

This despite the fact that German intelligence never came up with any information about Soviet preparations for aggression. The more forthright of the German generals, like Friedrich von Paulus, Heinz Guderian and Erich von Manstein, reluctantly admitted this fact. Moreover, in September of 1940 Lieutenant General Ernst Kostring wrote to General Franz Halder that the Red Army was in ruins after Stalin’s purges, and that it would require at least three years to reach its pre-war level.

Indeed, it was a funny way of preparing for aggression against Germany on Stalin’s part, executing within the space of one year, in a bid to establish an unchallenged dictatorship, some 36,700 commanders in the army and 3,000 in the navy – military district chiefs of staff, corps and divisional commanders, staff officers and chiefs of staff down to regimental level.

These awkward historical facts notwithstanding, pro-Hitler propaganda about the start of the war is still peddled by various Russia-haters. Ernst “Revisionist” Topitsch insists that World War II was, in fact, a “Soviet attack on the Western democracies, in which Germany served only as a military surrogate.” I guess it’s fair to say that balderdash like this serves as present-day Hitler apologists’ surrogate for history. A history in which topics like Hitler’s ideological plan outlined in Mein Kampf, the whole of the Third Reich’s ideological tenets on a superior race expanding its Lebensraum, are simply brushed aside.

It is really revolting to see the OSCE joining a bunch of Nazi sympathizers, a move guaranteed to keep Europe divided rather than united. Holding different historiographical views is one thing. Branding millions of Soviet soldiers who died to stop a pan-European holocaust as aggressors is quite another. Too much like spitting on their graves.


[1] Published with permission of Russia Profile.

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