The Hitler-Stalin Pact, a Reply

There are many inaccuracies in the Proyect/Szelegieniec essay, but I will comment only on a few of the most important ones:

+ The Red Army’s march into [Eastern] Poland was not an “imperial incursion,” as LP and PS claim. “Eastern Poland” was Ukrainian and Belorussian territory taken by Poland when it invaded Soviet Russia in 1919 in what was in fact an “imperialist” conquest. And the area was not under “Polish sovereignty” when the Red Army occupied it in September 1939, since the Polish government, having fled to neutral Romania, had ceased to exist. Also, if the Red Army had not gone in, the Nazis would have occupied the area; it is for this reason that the Western Allies not only did not declare war on the Soviet Union but applauded this Soviet action.

+ The Soviet Union did not “violate the non-aggression pact it co-signed with Poland,” as LP and PS claim, since Moscow had abrogated treaties with Poland when Poland seized the Teschen area of Czechoslovakia in October 1938.

+ It is not true that, as LP and PS claim, “there is no historical evidence to support Pauwels’s claim that the Poland military regime flirted with the Nazi regime in the hope of a joint conquest of Soviet territories.” Here are some samples of this kind of flirting: (1) Already in January 1934, when Hitler had been in power for barely one year, Poland signed with Nazi Germany a pact of non-aggression and friendship, friendship cemented by common hatred of Russians, “reds” in general, Jews, and Czechoslovaks. That same year, high-ranking Polish and Nazi officials also met to talk about the possibility of joint efforts to detach Ukraine from the Soviet Union. (2) In January 1935, Goering was welcomed in Warsaw with an elaborate reception in Pilsudski’s residence. A possible anti-Soviet alliance was again discussed, whereby the Polish side offered concessions with respect to Gdansk (Danzig) and the Polish Corridor in return for acquisitions in Ukraine. Goering reportedly suggested that Pilsudski might be the supreme commander of the invading Polish-German army and that Polish leaders such as Lipski, ambassador in Berlin, were “galvanized” (elektrisiert) by such prospects. It is virtually certain that not only military cooperation but also the division of Ukraine into spheres of influence was discussed. Later in that same year, Polish generals visited Berlin and Dresden to hold talks with German counterparts, and joint action against Czechoslovakia was addressed during Berlin meetings of the political bigwigs, including Hitler himself, Goering, Ribbentrop, and, on the Polish side, the Germanophile Beck, about whom the French secret services were to report a little later that he was now totally “in vassalage” (inféodé) to Hitler – in spite of Poland being a formal ally of France. (3) Even as late as January 1939, after a meeting with Beck, Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentrop wrote that the Polish leader “made no secret of the fact that Poland had aspirations directed toward the Soviet Ukraine and a connection with the Black Sea.” It is clear that such aspirations could never be implemented without the collaboration of Nazi Germany. (4) Polish collusion with Nazi Germany was not restricted to talks about potential common conquests at the expense of the Soviet Union and also of Czechoslovakia. The Polish seizure of the Czechoslovak town of Teschen in the wake of Nazi Germany’s occupation of the Sudeten region in 1938 was a shameless example of such collusion in action.

+ Contrary to what LP and PS claim, there was no such thing as a “Soviet-Nazi oppression of the Polish nation.” The Nazis oppressed the Poles, the Soviets did not. In fact, their occupation of “Eastern Poland” saved the lives of countless inhabitants of that region, especially Jews. More importantly, towards the end of the war, the Red Army delivered Poland from the Nazi yoke – at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives of Red Army soldiers – and thus saved the country.

+ Finally, it is spectacularly untrue that, as LP and PS claim, “without Soviet assistance there wouldn’t be, to use Pauwels term, the ‘Nazi German military Behemoth’”. What turned Nazi Germany into a military Behemoth were, first and foremost, the concessions made in the context of the Western Allies’ “appeasement policy,” allowing Germany, in violation of the Versailles Treaty, to remilitarize, to rearm to the teeth, and to annex Austria and much of Czechoslovakia.

While LP and PS make plenty of false claims, obviously hoping to exonerate the military who ruled Poland in 1939 and to incriminate the Soviet leadership, they are unable, and therefore do not even try, to refute any of my article’s essential points with respect to the M-R Pact’s origins and impact on the World War that followed it, namely:

+ The Soviet Union’s repeated offers to establish an anti-Hitler alliance, an arrangement that might have prevented Hitler from unleashing a world war, were turned down by the leaders of Poland, Britain, and France. Britain and France hoped that Hitler would march east and destroy the Soviet Union, and via their Appeasement policy they facilitated that task for him, most infamously so by offering him Czechoslovak territory at a meeting in Munich in 1938.

+ In striking contrast with Poland, whose rulers rushed to sign a pact with Nazi Germany when Hitler had just come to power, the Soviet Union only responded positively to Nazi Germany’s offer to conclude a non-aggression pact – which was definitely not an “alliance” – when, in the summer of 1939, it became obvious that London and Paris were not acting in good faith and that the idea of collective security was doomed by the Polish government’s decision never to allow Soviet troops on Polish soil.

+ Thanks to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union not in 1939, as originally planned, but in 1941, and from “starting blocks” located about 300 km farther west from the Soviet heartland. The space, and also the time, saved thanks to the Pact enabled the Red Army to survive the Nazi onslaught, fight back successfully, and ultimately win the war. Thanks to this victory, Nazi Germany did not remain the hegemon of Europe, and Poland could rise again from its ashes.



Jacques R. Pauwels is the author of The Great Class War: 1914-1918 and Myths of Modern History: From the French Revolution to the 20th Century World Wars and the Cold War (forthcoming).