World War 2 National Socialism and the Holocaust

Chapter 3: A Cruel Romance: The Nazi-Soviet Alliance And Soviet Expansion, August To November 1939 – Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War by Chris Bellamy

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “Until 1933, long-term cooperation between Germany and the Soviet Union was far from unthinkable. Hitler’s accession changed that, but cooperation was still necessary in the short term. Nor, at the time, did it seem so absurd. Politics, like the world, is round. If you go far enough west, you reach the ‘far east’. And, if you travel far to the political ‘left’ or ‘right’, you end up in the same place: some form of totalitarian dictatorship where state security is not only paramount, but actually threatens the very people whose lives, liberties and aspirations the state exists to protect. So it was with National Socialism under Hitler and Soviet communism under Stalin.”
  • “The struggle against the Jewish Bolshevisation of the world demands that we should declare our position towards Soviet Russia. We cannot cast out the devil through Beelzebub… the future goal of our foreign policy ought not to involve an orientation to the East or West; but it ought to be an eastern policy which will have in view the acquisition of such territory as is necessary for our German people. 18 The last sentence encapsulates Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum (living space)”
  • “In all, 3 out of 5 Marshals of the Soviet Union died, 3 out of 5 Army Commanders (komandarm), First Class, all 10 Second Class, 50 out of 57 Corps Commanders (komkor), 154 out of 186 Divisional Commanders (komdiv), 401 out of 456 colonels, plus almost all corps and divisional commissars.”
  • “The Soviet Union’s ruling elite probably, and not unreasonably, thought that the West was willing to let Hitler get away with anything as long as he delivered on the promise, made in Mein Kampf, to eliminate Bolshevism.”
  • “In the face of such consummate diplomacy, on 14 August 1939 Marshal Voroshilov declared that ‘without clear and unambiguous answers to these questions, further negotiations are pointless. The Soviet military delegation cannot recommend that its government participate in an undertaking so clearly doomed to failure.’ Compared with this sorry state of affairs, the proposal which had come from Germany seemed to be a breath of fresh air.”
  • “Either Molotov was playing a cynical game, or he really had little idea what the Red Army was up to, or the Soviets were trying desperately to organize a military response. Reports of the state of the Soviet forces which moved into Poland suggest the latter is probably the case.”
  • “Russian military administration remains much as it used to be. Train timings are chaotic, motor transport is seldom available at the right time and place, petrol supplies break down, and no one has any clear idea at what time anything is going to arrive. In spite of it all something happens … the Red Army was faced with hardly any opposition, so … the defects in administration did not have their full effect, but even so one is left with the impression that the Russian genius for piecemeal improvisation will always carry them through to a strictly limited extent.”
  • “The weakness of leadership and of the administrative machine are evidently still very serious, and combined with the apathy and loss of initiative of the rank and file, must render the army a somewhat amorphous mass which may be capable of taking hard blows but is not capable of delivering them, at any rate when faced with a large scale organised opposition.”

Thought Questions

  • Describe the development of the agreements between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia regarding spheres of influence generally and the division of Poland specifically
  • What logic was Germany following in developing the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact
  • What logic was Russia following in developing the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact
  • What were the seven articles of the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact?
  • What were the purposes of the secret protocols attached to the pact?
  • In what ways was the protocol exchanging the Lithuania area for a Polish area significant
  • Affirm or Refute: “The biggest and worst war in history had become inevitable when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Nor did the leaders who exercised unprecedented power over these self-confident superstates appear so different from one another.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Ribbentrop’s foreign policy goals were more traditionally German”
  • What was The German Condor Legion
  • How did the Spanish Civil War impact informal and formal relations between Russia and Germany
  • Explain and Expand: “For the victors of the First World War, the Soviet Union was potentially a greater threat than a resurgent Germany.”
  • What was the 1938 Munich agreement and how did it impact relations between Russia and the West
  • What international ‘collective security’ arrangements were in place in 1939
  • Describe the post 1938 negotiations between Russia and the western powers
  • Explain and Expand: “was at this meeting that the idea of a non- aggression pact was first raised.”
  • Describe the Soviet 1939 invasion of Poland by Russia
  • Who was Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria?
  • What was a Russian ‘Operational-Chekist’ group and what role did they perform in Poland
  • What role did prisoner of war slavery have in the destruction of Poland
  • Explain and Expand: “As a result of the observations in Poland and the Baltic States, most foreigners believed that ‘the value of the Red Army for war remains low’.”

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

World War 2 National Socialism and the Holocaust

Chapter 2: Absolute And Total War :: Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War by Chris Bellamy

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “‘A world war, and a war of an extension and violence hitherto undreamt of.’ Just over half a century before the outbreak of the Second World War, Friedrich Engels said that no other kind of war was possible for Germany.”
  • “the maximum use of force is in no way incompatible with the simultaneous use of the intellect”
  • “The conditions for absolute and total war had been developed during the 1920s and 1930s, and reached a climax of intensity in early 1941.”
  • “And unfortunately for others, the greatest civilizations of the time are usually also the most efficient killers. We may admire the Romans’ literature, law, logic, logistics and engineering, but their dominance ultimately rested on being a military superpower. Their army operated like a chainsaw and if they did not enslave any surviving prisoners, they often crucified them. In the twentieth century, which should have been a more civilized age, warfare, to borrow Churchill’s phrase about a new dark age, was made even ‘more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science’.”
  • “War is an act of force and there is no logical limit to the application of that force. Each side therefore, compels the opponent to follow suit; a reciprocal action is started which must lead, in theory, to extremes.”
  • “the proportion of the means of resistance that cannot immediately be brought to bear is much higher than might at first be thought. Even when great strength has been expended on the first decision and the balance has been upset, equilibrium can be restored.”
  • “German policy toward Soviet prisoners and civilians in the occupied territories had been formulated even before fighting started in the East. There were three key orders, each of which was the result of complex evolution: the ‘Führer decree’ of 13 May 1941, which limited military jurisdiction in occupied areas, passing responsibility for dealing with criminals and insurgents to the tender mercies of the SS; Guidelines for the Behaviour of the Fighting Forces in Russia, issued on 19 May 1941; and the most notorious document, which grew out of the others and was very much a clarification of one key area, the famous ‘Commissar Order’ (Kommissarbefehl) of 6 June 1941.”
  • “The impending campaign is more than a clash of arms; it also entails a struggle between two ideologies. To conclude this war is not enough, given the vastness of the space, to defeat the enemy forces. The entire territory must be dissolved into states with their own governments … The Jewish-Bolshevik intelligentsia, as the oppressor in the past, must be liquidated.”
  • “prevent arbitrary excess by individual members of the army, so as to be in good time to prevent the degeneration of the troops”
  • “sense of justice must, in certain circumstances, yield to the requirements of war”
  • “Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the National Socialist German people. Germany’s struggle is aimed against that disruptive ideology and its exponents. The struggle demands ruthless and energetic action against Bolshevik agitators, guerrillas, saboteurs, Jews and the complete liquidation of any active or passive resistance. Extreme reserve and most alert vigilance are called for towards all members of the Red Army — even prisoners — as treacherous methods of fighting are to be expected. The Asiatic soldiers of the Red Army in particular are inscrutable, unpredictable, insidious and unfeeling. After the capture of units the leaders are to be instantly separated from the other ranks.”
  • “… war captivity is neither revenge nor punishment but solely protective custody, the only purpose of which is to prevent the prisoners of war from further participation in the war. This principle was developed in accordance with the view held by all armies that it is contrary to military tradition to kill or injure helpless”
  • “Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality. Bolshevism is an enormous danger for our future. We must forget the concept of comradeship between soldiers. A Communist is no comrade before or after the battle. This is a war of extermination. If we do not grasp this, we shall still beat the enemy, but 30 years later we shall again have to fight the Communist foe. We do not wage war to preserve the enemy … This need not mean that the troops should get out of hand. Rather, the commanders must give orders which express the common feeling of their men … Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.”
  • “Just as the Soviets were ‘subhuman’ to the Germans, Ehrenburg wrote, ‘we do not regard them as human beings’.46The Germans were ‘wild beasts’, ‘worse than wild beasts’, ‘Aryan beasts’ and ‘starving rats’. A colonel ‘shows his old rat’s yellow fangs’.47 Given the conduct of the Germans, such propaganda obviously worked.”
  • “or killed by the simple Russian winter expedient of pouring cold water over them or throwing them in the sea to freeze to death.”
  • “Red Army commanders were already realizing that such barbarism was counterproductive. Atrocities against prisoners usually increased the enemy’s determination to fight to the death, and prisoners were useful sources of intelligence.”
  • “Horrific brutality by one side was met by horrific brutality on the other. That applied to civilians in occupied territory, as well as to regular troops … The Soviet troops who moved into Germany in 1944 and 1945 were deliberately spurred on to exact revenge.”
  • “‘Have you seen the German reports on what the Soviet troops did when they invaded Germany?’ my German friend asked the guide. ‘I put it to you’, my friend said, ‘that every one of those pictures could be matched with one from eastern Germany later in the war.’‘That may be,’ our guide said. ‘But war is war.’58 If you want to understand war, study this one.”
  • “The Department of Internal Affairs [NKVD] must have its own mobilisation plan, which must take into account the steps necessary to maintain firm order in the national territory during the period when huge masses are torn away from their work in the country and proceed to collection points to flesh out the armies, and the population of the towns doubles to meet the requirements of war industry. The crisis … will be compounded by enemy propaganda, sharpened by the activities of enemies of the existing system, by the hopes which individual national and class groups will have as the ruling class grows weary under the impositions of war. It is essential to think through the measures necessary to maintain order along lines of communications most thoroughly, to take into account all dubious [politically unreliable or disaffected] elements, desertion, enemy intelligence and propaganda, measures for censorship, and so on. And also, if necessary, to substitute special formations made up of reliable elements for military units leaving for the front, or to strengthen the police. Aviation, the radio, the need for an unbroken flow of huge masses of troops to the front, supplying them with munitions, home leave from the active army which was previously unknown [it still was, largely, in the Red Army in 1941–5]. All these factors now merge the front and the rear”
  • “The scale of a future war will be grandiose … in a future war the mobilisation of industry will, first of all, take place in a much shorter time than before and, secondly, in this short time industry will produce much more military hardware than in the past war … The future (gryadushaya) world imperialist war will not only be a mechanised war, during which huge material resources will be used up, but, together with this, it will be a war which will embrace multi-million-strong masses and the majority of the population of the combatant nations. The frontiers between the front and the rear will be erased more and more.”

Thought Questions

  • Explain and Expand: “His vision would apply to Soviet Russia, as well as to Germany, and the 1941–5 war on the eastern front was its extreme fulfilment.”
  • What does the author intend by the phrase “absolute war”
  • Who was Carl von Clausewitz and how were his doctrines illustrated on the Eastern Front?
  • Explain and Expand: “Conflict dynamics are therefore a reciprocal process”
  • Explain and Expand: “And, finally, effort in war comprises two interrelated and inseparable factors: the means at your disposal and the strength of your will.”
  • What was Article IV of the Hague Convention of 1907 and how did the various combatants relate to it
  • What moral and materials obligations does a nation agree to under Article IV
  • What were the pragmatic reasons for Stalin and Hitler to disregard the laws of war relating to prisoners
  • Why did Stalin and Hitler have little interest in the welfare of the soldiers being held prisoner by the other
  • What factors impacted the treatment of prisoners on the Eastern Front
  • Compare and Contrast: Prisoner treatment on the Eastern Front and the Western / North African Front (including black colonial troops).
  • Explain and Expand: “The scale, extent and awesome logistical problems of the war on the eastern front compounded this indifference.”
  • Describe how the political nature of the war became an “Absolute War”
  • What is Clausewitz’s ‘Trinity’ and how is it reflected in the Eastern Front
  • How does Clausewitz’s ‘Trinity’ reflect on the Western Front
  • React and Respond: “the best-known Jewish intellectual, Leon Trotsky (who was not a Bolshevik)”
  • Side question: If Trotsky was not a Bolshevik (a supporter, but not a believer), how would the substitution of Menshevik leadership he (supposedly) sought have impacted the Soviet ability to conduct an “Absolute War” – in other words, how would a theoretical Trotskyite Soviet Government compare of the actual Stalinist government in the conduct of “Absolute War” (for the purpose of this question, assume Trotsky himself actually believed in “Trotskyism”)
  • What is distinct about Bolshevism and how does it relate to other forms / branches of European Communism
  • Affirm or Refute: Bolshevism is Leninism
  • Why did Hitler and Nazi Germany use the term “Bolshevism” consistently as opposed to other possible labels?
  • What connections did Nazi Germany seek to attach to “Bolshevism”?
  • Explain and Expand: “The Führer decree of 13 May 1941 was passed on to the army by its commander-in-chief, Walther von Brauchitsch”
  • Explain and Expand: “The idea that depriving Soviet people of their leaders would render them incapable of organized action and the emphasis on eliminating the Soviet ‘boss class’ recur throughout German instructions.”
  • Explain and Expand: Guidelines for the Behaviour of the Fighting Forces in Russia
  • Explain and Expand: Guidelines on the Treatment of Political Commissars
  • What role did Brauchitsch fill in the Third Reich and what were his responsibilities during Operation Barbarossa
  • In what ways did Brauchitsch implement the “Commissar” order
  • What were the Einsatzgruppen?
  • Explain and Expand: “However, when the German advance slowed, the Army High Command (OKH) supported initiatives to get the Commissar Order cancelled, because, they said, it was counterproductive.”
  • Who was Fedor von Bock? Who was Wilhelm Canaris and how did they react to the Commissar Order?
  • Who was Wilhelm Keitel and how did he relate to the Commissar Order
  • Who was Franz Halder and how did he relate to the Commissar Order
  • What was “OKW” and “OKH” and how did they relate?
  • Explain and Expand: “The Germans captured a number of documents which showed that the Red Army command was trying to stop the killing of prisoners, which, of course, confirms that it was happening.”
  • What was the NKVD
  • Compare and Contrast: NKVD and the SS
  • Compare and Contrast: NKVD and the SD
  • Compare and Contrast: The Checka, The O/GPU and the NKVD
  • Briefly describe the GULag Concentration Camp System and the role it filled in Soviet Industrialization
  • Compare and Contrast: the goals and purpose of the KL and GULag concentration camp systems
  • Compare and Contrast: the goals and purpose of the GULag system and the Nazi Death Camp system.
  • What is the significance of “My hand didn’t tremble. It was a joy for me … The Germans didn’t ask us to spare them and I was angry … I fulfilled my task. And I went back into the office and had a drink.”
  • Explain and Expand: ” Soviet preparations to avoid a repeat of Russia’s fate in the First World War — preparations for total, modern, industrialized war — began in 1924–5”
  • React and Respond: “In a conflict of first-class opponents, the decision cannot be won by one blow. War will take the character of a long and fierce conflict… Expressed in the language of strategy, this means a change from the strategy of lightning blows to a strategy of exhaustion. Thus the bond between the front and rear in our days must become much more close, direct and decisive. The life and work of the front at any given moment are determined by the work and condition of the rear.”
  • Explain and Expand: “Just as Engels had predicted a war of unprecedented scope and violence”
  • Explain and Expand: “With no immediate threat of war — apart from a brief scare in 1927 — they could afford to play it long. … But in the vast spaces of the Soviet Union, German forces could exercise unobserved by the signatories of Versailles.”
  • Briefly describe the process of forced industrialization in the Soviet Union and how the overall European situation after World War I impacted its development?
  • Explain and Expand: Chemical Warfare and Absolute War in the context of the Eastern Front (no one has ever really answered this, but an attempt is needed)

Primary Sources

Articles and Resources

Further Reading

World War 2 National Socialism and the Holocaust

Chapter 1: Flight Of The Rabid Wolf: The Long-Term Impact Of The War In The East :: Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War by Chris Bellamy

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “This book is the story of that war. The greatest, most costly and most brutal war on land in human history. It was fought between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany for 1,418 days, from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945, on a front from the Arctic Circle to the Caucasus, from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea, up to 3,200 kilometres long.”
  • “Without British and US dominance at sea, the strategic air campaign and the war in the Pacific, it is very possible that the Soviet Union would have been defeated in 1942 or that, at the very least, the war in the East would have gone on much longer.”
  • “The failure of Barbarossa, which became apparent during 1942, created the conditions for the initiative to pass to the Allies at the end of 1942.13 For that reason, this book pays particular attention to that period and especially to 1942.”
  • “The advance of their Armies from Stalingrad to the Dniester river, with vanguards reaching out towards the Pruth, a distance of 900 miles [1,440 km], accomplished in a single year, constitutes the greatest cause of Hitler’s undoing. Since I spoke to you last not only have the Hun invaders been driven from the lands they had ravaged, but the guts of the German army have been largely torn out by Russian valour and generalship. The people of all the Russias have been fortunate in finding in their supreme ordeal of agony a warrior leader, Marshal Stalin, whose authority enabled him to combine and control the movements of armies numbered by many millions upon a front of nearly 2,000 miles.”
  • “In 1942, the British government had been planning for action ‘in the event of a Russian collapse’. By April 1944 the Foreign Office assessed, rightly, that the Soviet Union would emerge from the war ‘as the strongest land power in the world and one of the three strongest air powers’.”
  • “one Paris night will replace them”
  • “The occupied area contained two-fifths of the grain and four-fifths of the sugar beet produced in the USSR, plus about a quarter of the nation’s farm animals, tractors and combine harvesters. In occupied areas of the Soviet Union the invaders and defenders, between them, destroyed 1,710 towns, 70,000 villages, 32,000 industrial plants and 65,000 kilometres of railway track.40 In the Russian republic alone 23,000 schools were razed to the ground.”
  • “Sixty years on, the demographic, environmental and political impact of the Second World War has largely been absorbed in the West, and in the Pacific. … Yet Russia, while a major power in the world order, remains somewhat isolated. And whereas people in western countries properly acknowledge the tragic experience of the Second World War, as it slips from living memory they have moved on.”

Thought Questions

  • Explain and Expand: “But now Hitler’s delusions were compounded by a perverted and superstitious logic. With so many Aryans being killed on the eastern front, extermination of the Jews and other ‘undesirables’ had to be stepped up to balance the books.”
  • Compare and Contrast: National Socialist Germany and Stalinist Russia with the statement – “However repressive the indigenous regime, whether under the Tsar or the red star, the majority of the people (though far from all) rallied to it, preferring home-grown despotism to anything imposed from abroad.”
  • What was the significance behind Time’s 1943 Man of the Year
  • Explain and Expand: “In the second sentence he alluded to the unwholesome but undeniable fact that only the authority wielded by the Soviet dictator and his security apparatus could coordinate a war effort on this scale in such a country.”
  • Compare and Contrast: The Russian Great Patriotic War and the American Civil War
  • What are some of the areas Soviet historians neglected about the Second World War?
  • Explain and Expand: “Its security measures were far from unjustified, or merely paranoid.”
  • Describe the demographic impact of the Great Patriotic War on the Soviet Union and modern Russia
  • Describe the economic impact of the Great Patriotic War on the Soviet Union

Further Reading