Jun 23, 2009

Literally Rewriting WWII history (Part IV)


When I wake up and find another Russian revision of World War II story, I know it's going to be a good day. Polish source disclaimer: As usual, my sources on this issue are Polish, so I encourage Russian googlers to hunt down originals, if they exist on the internet.

The latest claim aired on Sunday on the ever-truthful Russian TV, "The Molotow-Ribbentrop Pact: Historical Investigation," claims that:
  • Poles admired the Nazis and the Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck had a photo of Hitler in his office. (Implication: Poles are fascists. Now, was Beck a nationalist who wanted to keep down minorities in Poland? Probably. But there's a wide gulf between a post-independence nationalist surge and admiration for the Nazis.)

  • Poland "wanted to outfox everyone" by jointly planning an attack with Germany and Japan on the USSR. (This one just makes me laugh.)

  • A secret protocol of the 1934 Polish-German Nonaggression Pact agreed to to mutual defense in the event of an attack. (Oh the magic of the secret protocol!)

  • The lands the Soviet Union acquired by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were not Polish, but actually Russian, since they had been part of the Russian empire (I know, I know, jaybird. Lithuania was not a Polish land. Also, Gazeta Wyborcza's writer at this point comments that it's a good thing that Russians choose to forget that Warsaw was once part of the Russian empire as well. )
And ER fans be heartened, it appears that there will be a lot more of this programming going on throughout the summer, leading up to the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

4 comments:

Pirates(and)Diplomats said...

This is the story that keeps giving and giving.

Dmitri Minaev said...

The source in Russian is here: Пакт Молотова-Риббентропа: историческое расследование. The article does mention the Hitler's portrait in the Beck's office, but the implication in the context of the article is different: Polish leaders thought that the 1934 treaty would save them from the war with Germany. Beck thought of Poland as of an ally of Germany.

And this implication has more serious grounds than just the Hitler's photo. So, Poland rejected the Soviet proposal to guarantee the security of Czechoslovakia and to deploy Soviet troops there. In autumn 1938, the reasons for the decision became clear when Poland participated in the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Later, Britain, France and Poland rejected another Soviet proposal to deploy joint forces around Germany to contain their aggression.

Probably, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was the result of the Soviets realizing that they were actually alone against Hitler. Some time ago I posted a comment on Soviet-German cooperation in Kyle Keeton's blog. Sorry, but I'm going to quote myself :)

"Just try to imagine what might happen if Joe Stalin was a gentleman. Germany occupies Poland. Then Germany enters the Baltic states (in about the same way as the Soviets did). On 22 June 1941 the German troops would be 100 kilometres from Leningrad, about 600 kilometres from Moscow, 300 kilometres from Kiev. Where do you think the Nazis would be by the end of August 1941? That's right, on Volga."

Mrta said...

That's a thought-provoking interpretation of Polish and European views of security in the interwar period, and definitely not the impression I got by the sensationalist statement that Beck had Hitler's photo. It makes me want to dig through a little more history/biography. I really applaud the initiative of the Polish-Russian Commission for Difficult Historical Issues, because even if, in the end, the historians agree to disagree on certain interpretations, some basic facts will be laid down for both sides to see.

However, I still have trouble believing that the Soviets were alone against Hitler (though their perception of being alone may have been real). Polish annexation of a couple of kilometers in Czechoslovakia takes away from Poland's perceived moral superiority in this time period, but in no way does it indicate that Poles were conspiring with the Germans, which is how I read the allegation. As for rejecting Soviet overtures, I'm not particularly surprised that Poles did not want Soviet or other troops stationed on its territory. The Polish government was very suspicious of the Soviet Union's motives and as far as I understand, saw the only hope for preserving its newly-gained territory through assurances from countries who it did not share borders with, had not partitioned Poland before, and had an interest in maintaining the post-War order: France and Great Britain. An alliance of these three states would be a deterrent to Germany, and therefore does not leave the Soviets alone in Europe to confront Germany.

Dmitri Minaev said...

> definitely not the impression I got by the sensationalist statement that Beck had Hitler's photo.

Here's the translation of the whole paragraph:
"The successes of the German diplomacy are amazing. Hitler promises everything to everyone: Ukraine and Belorussia to the Poles, independence to the Ukrainian nationalists, military support against the USSR to the Baltic states, elimination of Communism to Japan and Italy, peace to Great Britain and France and the whole world to the Germans. European countries are hypnotized. The foreign minister of Poland Jozef Beck keeps Hitler's portrait in his working room."

So, it says more about Hitler than Beck.

> However, I still have trouble believing that the Soviets were alone against Hitler (though their perception of being alone may have been real).

I didn't mean that the USSR was the only Hitler's opponent. But the alliance with the European countries seemed highly improbable at that time. Had Hitler invaded the USSR before he launched his attack on the West, the USSR would have to face the war alone. France was scared to death, Britain chose the tactics of the "Phoney War", Roosevelt was not sure which side to support (the position verbalized by Truman in 1941: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances.")

So, it was every man for himself. Under these circumstances, the temporary alliance with Germany that allowed to fill in the time necessary to prepare for the war, was a very good solution. And, I'm sorry to say that, the partition of Poland served the same goal: to prepare for the inevitable war.

> As for rejecting Soviet overtures, I'm not particularly surprised that Poles did not want Soviet or other troops stationed on its territory. The Polish government was very suspicious of the Soviet Union's motives and as far as I understand, saw the only hope for preserving its newly-gained territory through assurances from countries who it did not share borders with

The territory newly-gained from exactly this country, you mean? :) Well, Poland faced a difficult dilemma. Their choice might seem rational, had it not been for what happened later. And I think that these later events were easily predictable.