ARCHIVED THREADS > 70th anniversary of the start of World War II

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message 1: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 5 comments Today, Sept. 1/09 marks the 70th anniversary of WWII. The question remains: who started WWII? Was it Hitler or was Stalin also responsible? Last July the EU and the OSCE passed a resolution stating that both Stalin and Hitler, with the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that carved up Europe, were both equally to blame. As Germany moved in on the Westerplatte fortress in western Poland, just over two weeks later the Red Army launched an attack on eastern Poland. But Putin and Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, argue that Stalin's actions were "necessary", and the two are now going about setting up bodies to challenge, as Medvedev puts it, the "falsification of history".

I have to admit, the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact touches a very special nerve in my system because my father, author Theodore Odrach, lived in Vilnius and later Pinsk (then both a part of eastern Poland) when Bolshevik troops moved in. For anyone interested in this part of the war, my father wrote a novel, Wave of Terror, which details the atrocities committed by the Soviets during this time. His book is set in the Pinsk Marshes in southwestern Belarus, the same location as the movie "Defiance". Though fiction, Wave of Terror is heavily based on eyewitness accounts, and according to my mother (I was a child when my father died and I hardly knew him), almost all the events and people are real. I should also add, I'm my father's translator and we're Publishers Weekly and TLS approved.

As for who started the Second World War, the debate continues. But what's indisputable here is the fact that the war gave birth to two monsters both at the same time.

message 2: by Conrad (last edited Sep 22, 2009 04:30AM) (new)

Conrad I have nothing but respect for the bravery demonstrated by Polish soldiers in World War II. There are so many instances of astonishing heroism among the Poles - from the exploits of the submarine Orzel to the cryptographers who, largely uncredited to this day, made the breaking of Enigma possible. And that's to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands who made a stand against Hitler (and later Stalin) when they were underequipped and more or less doomed from the beginning, as well as the thousands more who migrated to the West to fight another day - which they did, with tremendous valor.

I don't think anyone will seriously argue that Polish loyalists weren't some of THE badasses of World War II.

I also respect those who heap particular derision on Stalin for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, although there is (to say the least) vigorous debate over the need for that pact - some saying Stalin really thought a long-lasting detente with the Nazis was possible, and many saying that (whatever else you conclude about his butchery) it was essential for Stalin to delay Hitler's advance for a time so that he could build up his defenses, as indeed he did. It is certainly predictable that an imperial power like Russia would exploit the opportunity to expand its territory. This is not to defend Stalin. No one is so foolish, and he committed atrocities in Poland for which he and his lackeys deserve to roast in hell for eternity.

Furthermore, I'm sorry and ashamed about the tragedies endured by your parents. To say the least, I wish my grandfather, who served under Patton, could have pushed all the way the eastern Polish border. Many tragedies could doubtless have been prevented, had the British and American advance across Normandy, Belgium, and the Netherlands not been so brutally difficult.

But with all respect, it is still a puzzling misreading of the historical record to conclude that Stalin actually started World War II. It smacks of David Irving-style revisionism, or perhaps Viktor Suvorov's view that Hitler was merely defending himself from a Russian aggressor. These views should be firmly and immediately rejected. Irving is merely a Nazi sympathizer, and Suvorov may well be also, besides which his allegations have no evidence to back them up, but plenty to contradict them.

message 3: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 5 comments Still today the people from eastern Poland (including ethnic Belarusians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians) feel as if they were given away as a sacrifice, and I don't think they will ever find peace of mind as Putin moves toward softening Stalin's image in Russia.

I do believe the argument by the EU and the OSCE is not that Stalin started the war but that Hitler and Stalin were both responsible. Will be interesting to watch how all this unfolds.

Your grandfather served under Patton -- that's fascinating. He must have some amazing stories to tell. I was just reading one of my father's (he was an ethnic Belarusian on the run from the Bolsheviks) accounts of the bombing of the Skoda Armament in Pilzen at war's end. It was quite dramatic, especially when American war planes started to move in. I do believe that attck was headed by Patton, and your grandfather might even have been there.

message 4: by Conrad (new)

Conrad I can't think of much to say about the countries thrown to the wolves between 1940 and 1946 except that it really sucks. The sacrifices the Belorussians, Ukrainians, Poles and Baltic States made over the following 50 years were entirely unreasonable. I'm not sure we could've pried Stalin's finger from the trigger if every American tank had rolled through Moscow. But we didn't have the political leverage to stop Stalin or really the will anyway.

I'm absolutely shocked by the OSCE declaration, though. It shouldn't detract from the horror and revulsion one feels at either genocide to conclude that they were two different events, however deeply connected.

Anyway, it's possible that my grandfather was at Pilzen. He died in 1994 or so, having barely talked about the war to any of his kids. All we know is he was a sergeant when he was discharged, he landed at Normandy in the third wave, and he was awarded a purple heart for getting hit in the leg with shrapnel while resupplying Patton's tanks with gas. I've tried to learn more but it's not easy.

I'm quite curious about your father's book now. It's going on my to-read list. Might I add that you're lucky that your father recorded his impressions of these events - and now we're all fortunate that they've been published.

message 5: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 5 comments My father's impressions of events is a lot to take in, especially when it's so personal. Too bad you don't have more information on your grandfather. He was caught up in a historical event, and it would have been fascinating to hear what he had to say.

Also, out of interest, I belong (but not active member) to a Polish group, whose aim it is to keep alive the memories of Eastern Poles who suffered under Stalin. Anyway, this group keeps up with developments past and present, including the EU and OSCE's resolution on who started WWII.

Though my father's book (Wave of Terror) deals with the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland (now Belarus) in '39, he had a trilogy in mind, where the second book was to deal with German occupation. But he died and just barely finished the first installment.

message 6: by George (new)

George | 116 comments At the very least Stalin was an enabler for Hitler with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Had he chosen to sign a pact with England and France would Hitler have invaded Poland? without knowing he had nothing to fear in the east as long as he stopped from advancing up to the Soviet border? Of course, the Western allies didn't pursue an agreement with the Soviet Union with anywhere near the same fervor as Germany did. But he was quite willing to give Germany a free hand in the west for chunks of Poland, the Baltic States, Romania and Finland. While it's more than a bit much to say that the Soviet Union started the war, it certainly shares considerable blame.

message 7: by Erma (new)

Erma Odrach | 5 comments I agree, the SU shares considerable blame, but blame is not forthcoming and not on any level.

For interest's sake, in the 18th annual session of the OSCE (opened in Lithuania on June 29), one of the resolutions maintained "that both Stalinism and Nazism were responsible for bringing about genocide and crimes against humanity and therefore merited equal censure."

un resolution june/09 wwII hitler/stalin

message 8: by Conrad (last edited Sep 23, 2009 03:57PM) (new)

Conrad I find these arguments of equivalence unsettling.

It is possible for there to have been more than one hideously awful event in history. It is possible for the holocaust and Stalin's mass murders not to have been the same thing. The impulse to not even compare but equate the two usually comes from wanting to dilute the horror of one or the other.

message 9: by George (last edited Sep 23, 2009 04:15PM) (new)

George | 116 comments that's one possible motivation. the other might be not to portray the Soviet Union's role in the war only as entirely heroic, or as merely one more victim. Russia naturally enough prefers to concentrate its memories on its defense and victory over Nazi Germany, something it is rightfully proud of. Its neighbors have other memeories that are also quite valid. Germany gave up everything it gained and then some when it lost. The Soviet Union gave up nothing it gained from its agression prior to the German invasion in its victory and still retains the territory it took from Finland, even if it did eventually give up the Baltic states.

message 10: by Conrad (last edited Sep 24, 2009 01:34AM) (new)

Conrad You're right on all counts. And you just made some good comparisons.

That's not the same as equating the two, which only obfuscates the matter. I just wonder, why bother?

message 11: by James (new)

James | 61 comments Equating atrocities is indeed pointless - if I commit a terrible crime, it is made no more or less terrible depending on whether someone else has committed the same crime or mine is unique. Saying "but they did it too!" is no more legitimate, and a lot less forgivable, in this context than when it's coming from a child caught in some minor wrong.

message 12: by Conrad (new)


Patriotism, even nationalism, is one thing. This attitude that former leaders can do no wrong because they come from our country is another thing entirely. For shame, Russia.

message 13: by James (new)

James | 61 comments Yes, it's hypocritical to hold one set of standards for oneself, one's family, one's country, etc., and another for the rest of humanity. If an act would be wrong if someone else did it to us, it's wrong for us to do it to them.

message 14: by Conrad (new)

Conrad More followup on Medvedev's attitude toward Stalin:

message 15: by James (new)

James | 61 comments Stalin was a drunken, sadistic butcher who killed more Soviet citizens than the Nazis did, and as a leader he was mediocre at best. His management of the Soviet economy and agriculture starved millions of his own people to death, and between his paranoia-driven purges of the USSR's military leadership and his stubborn disregard of the many warnings he got of the impending Nazi invasion, he came close to losing a war that the Germans should never even have had a chance of winning.
Trying to rehabilitate Stalin's image requires sweeping the majority of Soviet history for the decades he ruled under the rug. The people peddling that line of nonsense are as pathetic as the Holocaust deniers.
I've always been struck by an account I read of a time early in the de-Stalinization process Nikita Kruschev (no prize himself) initiated after Stalin's death, when Kruschev was addressing a large audience and talking about Stalin's crimes. Supposedly, someone in the audience shouted a question as to why Krushchev and others hadn't spoken out when those crimes were taking place.
Kruschev, instantly enraged, roared "WHO SAID THAT?" The hall was suddenly silent, people holding their breaths and looking down to avoid Kruschev's eyes. After several seconds, Krushchev more quietly said, "That is why."
Stalin was a psychopathic thug who blighted every life he touched.

message 16: by Conrad (new)

Conrad What a great anecdote.

message 17: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) I wonder if Roosevelt had not died shortly after Yalta. Would he put more pressure to Stalin compared with Truman?

message 18: by James (new)

James | 61 comments Roosevelt, had he lived and been in at least fair health, probably would have stood up to Stalin's demands better than Truman did or than Roosevelt himself did at Yalta.

message 19: by Silvana (last edited Nov 04, 2009 07:41PM) (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) That's what I thought! Just finished watching NatGeo's Apocalypse miniseries and the sight of frail Roosevelt (Churchill said: "...transparency, an air of purification, and often there was a far-away look in his eyes..") sitting next to the Russian bear, in between Stalin and Churchill, well, it gave me the creep.

The British domination ended on the eve of World War II. Churchill was not strong enough to face the Russians, despite his correct impression on Stalin - of which FDR dismissed at first. On the other hand, the US just lost its most revered president in decades and despite winning the war (and emerging as a superpower), at the beginning it could not really stood up in between Stalin and the rest of the world. Maybe the Cold War could be shorter and caused less victims? Anything could have happened.

Speaking of the Cold War, on the 9th of November we will be celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. I'd like share this news item (hilarious!):

message 20: by James (new)

James | 61 comments We saw a very good bio-documentary about FDR that covered his life from young adulthood through his death. I hadn't realized before that just how sick he was for how long before he died. He never seemed to quite grasp that he wasn't going to be around to keep running the show, though, and was badly negligent in failing to bring Truman up to speed on the business of running the war and the relations with the Soviets and the UK - he should have had Truman by his side from the time of the 1944 election on. I think Truman did a very good job, but could have done better if he'd known more about the situation he ended up inheriting. Their relationship was distant; Truman once described FDR as one of the coldest and most uncaring people he'd ever known when it came to his relationships with those around him.

That news story is great - thanks for sharing it; I'll save it. Real humor always has its roots in coping with suffering. It's probably the healthiest coping mechanism. You see a lot of the same kind of gallows humor among military people (especially the special forces types who endure extreme hardships), law enforcement folks, hospital ER staff, and so on. In meetings of AA and other 12-Step programs you'll hear a roomful of people erupt in laughter at stories that horrify outsiders; and if you look at the life story of any really funny person, he or she has gone through some serious suffering. I think of comics like Bill Cosby - he used to do a routine about how he and his little brother would hide from their alcoholic dad when he came home drunk until the old man passed out, and then they'd roll him for pocket change. Jim Carey's family lived in their car for a while when he was growing up; Richard Pryor said he developed his comic skills in prison as a way to avoid getting killed or raped.

message 21: by Nick (new)

Nick | 89 comments James wrote: "Roosevelt, had he lived and been in at least fair health, probably would have stood up to Stalin's demands better than Truman did or than Roosevelt himself did at Yalta."

And your reasons for this are?

Roosevelt thought the way to "handle" Stalin was to treat him as "just another politician" and to humor him. Why else did he invite the Soviets to invade Manchuria when they weren't needed? Why else did he de facto surrender much of Eastern Europe?

I'm not commenting on whether or not this was an effective response. But Roosevelt's health, although not good, did not keep him from campaigning in 1944 and a number of these decisions were reached prior to that.

message 22: by James (new)

James | 61 comments I base that opinion on the fact that when Roosevelt was in better health he was much more vigorous when it came to struggles of will and personality, and much more attentive to what his opponents were doing. He wasn't nearly as energetic in the 1944 campaign as he had been in the earlier ones and by the end of the war his physician actually had him limited to spending a few hours a day on the duties of his office. At Yalta he was too worn out and preoccupied with his pain and exhaustion to contest Stalin's demands regarding the postwar structure of Europe the way he probably would have a few years earlier; he would probably not have, as you correctly put it, de facto surrendered much of Eastern Europe. Re Manchuria, my hunch is that he felt that more pressure on Japan there equaled less Japanese ability to fight us elsewhere, and more Soviet force tied down there equaled less pushing west in Europe. Just an opinion, as we'll never know, but that's the way I see it.

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