David Low named his political cartoon describing the German-Russian invasion of Poland that started the WW2 - "Rendezvous." The cartoon depicts a meeting by the two allied Nazi-Soviet dictators over the corpse of a Polish defender. Hitler says to Stalin while smiling, lifting his hat and bowing: "The Scum of the Earth, I believe?" and Stalin responds to him "The Bloody Assassin of the Workers, I presume?" while smiling, bowing and lifting his in kind. The secret agreement on the division of Poland that was part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was not yet known, but nonetheless, Low recognized what happened and drew it in this work. (Image: The Evening Standard (UK), September 20, 1939 issue)
Many people forget that Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Third Reich were allies in the beginning of the World War II. This week includes an anniversary the Kremlin didn’t want anyone to mark or even remember: 77 years ago yesterday in Brest, soldiers and officers from Hitler’s Wehrmacht and from Stalin’s Red Army staged a joint victory parade following the occupation and dismemberment of Poland that marked the beginning of World War II in Europe.
As one Russian commentator put it, “in Soviet history there were many disgraceful and shameful ages, which Soviet historians never acknowledged officially. One of these shameful pages was the Soviet-Fascist parade in Brest after the joint seizure of Poland.”
That action became possible thanks to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which made Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union allies in redrawing the map of Eastern Europe, an action that continues to cast a shadow on the continent regardless of whether the Kremlin is prepared to face the truth of the matter.
There are many ways in which this is so, but today, Ukrainian commentator Ihor Isayev points to one of the most important: moving Central Europeans away from viewing September 1939 as a series of individual tragedies dividing them and recognizing their common victimhood.
And now, he suggests, Ukraine has a chance to help promote that shift and introduce itself as a full-fledged member of “the Central European political discussion about the past,” something many in Kyiv have talked about for some time but that until two weeks ago, no one at the senior level had taken the necessary steps.
Andriy Parubiy (left) (Image: dsnews.ua)
During a visit to Poland earlier this month, Andrey Parubyi, the speaker of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada called on the Polish and Lithuanian parliaments to join with the Ukrainian one in making a join assessment of the impact of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the division of Poland on all of them.
“When two imperialist regimes, Communist and Nazi, in fact unleashed a war in Europe, this war led to victims among Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians. There is no doubt that the very same aggressor who in 1939 carried out repressions against Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians is today with the same imperialist motives is attacking and conducting an aggressive policy regarding Ukraine.”
Although there was no immediate response, Isayev says that the speaker’s proposal was a good one because it “stressed the commonality of the fates of the peoples of East-Central Europe in the 20th century” and represented a clear effort by Ukraine to join the diplomatic and political efforts of Poland and the Baltic states that were behind the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.
Joint Soviet-Nazi military parade in Poland. The history of Russian aggression.
During the period of the Soviet occupation, Moscow and its communist allies sought to keep the peoples of the region from cooperating by pointing out that each had benefited in some way from Soviet actions. But now, Isayev says, “Poland and Lithuania have been able to stress not mutual problems but a common memory which gave them the chance” to work together.
“A common memory and a common wound are also an antidote to Russian propaganda” today which argues that “’if it weren’t for the USSR, Lithuania wouldn’t have received Vilnius and Ukraine would not have its current borders.” But in fact all three of these nations and others besides shared the status of victims of Soviet and Nazi cooperation and actions.
Two German soldiers near the ditch with bodies of executed Poles, Sept.-Oct. 1939 (Image: nationaalarchief.nl)
The Royal Palace in Warsaw on fire after German artillery shelling during the siege of the city, Sept. 17, 1939
The execution of Polish citizens by German army during the occupation of Poland. 56 people were executed near Bochnia on Dec. 18, 1939
T-26 tanks of the Soviet 29th Tank Brigade enter Brest. On the left - German motorcyclists and Wermacht officers next to Opel Olympia car, Sept. 22, 1939 (bundesarchiv)
Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. The meeting of Soviet and German patrols in near Lublin in occupied Poland
German and Soviet commanders meet at the Nazi-Soviet demarcation line in Poland, after a successful invasion, September 1939
Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. The meeting of Soviet and German invading armies in Stryj (now in Lviv oblast of Ukraine), Sept. 1939 (reibert.info)
Soviet Union started WW2 on Hitler's side. Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact map signed by Stalin and Ribbentrop and dated Sept. 28, 1939
Soviet soldiers inspect some of the Polish weapons the Red Army captured during the joint German-Soviet invasion of Poland in September-October 1939, as was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939. The military operations ended with the two-way division and annexation of the entire territory of the Second Polish Republic by Germany and the Soviet Union.
Soviet troops at the German-Soviet parade in occupied Brest, Sept. 22, 1939
Soviet colonel and German officers discuss the Soviet-Nazi demarcation on a map of Poland. German troops advanced farther than was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
German (L) and Soviet (R) commanders in Poland discuss the Soviet-Nazi demarcation on a map of the conquered country in September 1939. At the time, German troops advanced farther than was agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and had to cede the extra territory to the Soviets.
Soviet and German troops in a friendly discussion after suppressing Polish resistance in Brest, Sept. 18, 1939
Soviet and German troops in a friendly discussion after suppressing Polish resistance in Brest, next to armored vehicle БА-20 of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade, 1939 (nationaalarchief.nl)
Soldier of the invading Soviet army guarding a Polish fighter airplane downed by the German air force, Sept. 17, 1939
Russian and German commanders in discussion over a map, during the invasion of Poland, 1939 (imgur.com)
Political officers of the Soviet Red Army ready for the joint Soviet-German parade in occupied Polish city of Brest, Sept. 23, 1939
Polish women reading public orders of the German occupation force, September 1939
Polish tanks destroyed and abandoned near Lviv, Sept. 1939
Polish prisoners of war, defenders of Westerplatte who held out for seven days in the face of heavy Nazi attacks that included dive bombings, September 1939
Polish cavalry in Sochaczev, part of the Battle of Bzura counterattack, Sept. 9-14, 1939
Polish capital city Warsaw after German bombings, Sept. 28, 1939
Parade of German occupation troops in Stryj (Lviv oblast, Ukraine), September 1939
Ordynacka Street in Warsaw destroyed by German bombings. Massive bombardment of Warsaw was conducted on Sept. 25, 1939 with 1150 sorties and 550 tons of bombs
Soviet troops walk freely in Brest by then already occupied by the German Wehrmacht. The Nazis will leave it to the Communists, just as it was agreed in the secret part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, September 1939
Invading German troops marching past a road sign near Lviv, 1939
Invading German troops enter Warsaw on Oct. 1, 1939
German troops crowding around Adolf Hitler traveling in Poland, 1939 (geheugenvannederland.nl)
German soldiers having a friendly conversation with commander of Soviet armored vehicle БА-20 from the 29th Tank Brigade in Brest, Sept. 20, 1939 (Max Ehlert, bundesarchiv.de)
German soldiers destroying border signs on the border with Poland on Sept. 1, 1939
German soldiers boarding trucks to leave the Polish town they destroyed, September 1939
German soldier talking to commanders of the Red Army's 29th Tank Brigade near Dobuczin (now Pruzhany, Belarus), Sept. 20, 1939 (Max Ehlert, bundesarchiv.de)
German officers visiting the Soviet military in Brest, Sept. 22, 1939 and hosted by brigade commander Semion Krivosheyin (center). Next to him his deputy major Semion Maltsev
German generals headed by Heinz Guderian talking with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
German generals headed by Heinz Guderian meeting with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
German generals headed by Heinz Guderian discussing with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
German generals headed by Heinz Guderian conversing with battalion political commissar of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade Vladimir Borovitsky in occupied Brest
German general Heinz Guderian and Soviet brigade commander Semion Krivosheyin during the transfer of Brest to Red Army troops. General Mauritz von Wiktorin on left, Sept. 22, 1939
German general Heinz Guderian and Soviet brigade commande Semion Krivosheyin during the transfer of Brest to Red Army troops. Front - Horch 901 Typ 40, Sept. 22, 1939 (bundesarchiv.de)
German dive bombers Junkers Ju.87 in the sky over Poland, September 1939 (Image: Heinrich Hoffman)
Commanding officers of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade near armored vehicle БА-20 in Brest. Front - battalion political commissar Vladimir Borovitsky, Sept. 1939 (Corbisimages)
Armored vehicle БА-20 of the 29th Soviet Tank Brigade in occupied Brest during talks between Soviet and German invaders (nationaalarchief.nl)
Adolf Hitler hosting the parade in occupied Warsaw after the fall of Poland to German and Soviet military invaders, Oct-5-1939 (Image - Hugo Jager)
Adolf Hitler at the parade in occupied Warsaw after the fall of Poland to German and Soviet military invaders, Oct-5-1939 (Image - Hugo Jager)
10-year old Kazimiera Mika crying for her sister killed by gun fire from a German plane near Warsaw, Sept. 1939 (Image: Julien Bryan)
In Germany's Federal Military Archive, among documents of the top command of the 2nd Tank Group there's a document called "Vereinbarung mit sowjetischen Offizieren über die Überlassung von Brest-Litowsk" (translated as "Agreement with Soviet Officers about the Transfer of Brest-Litovsk") dated September 21, 1939. Here's an excerpt from it: "14:00 (2:00 PM) -- Start of the ceremonial march (Vorbeimarsch) by the Russian and German troops in front of the commanders of both sides with concluding with a change of flags. During the flag change ceremony, the orchestra plays the national anthems." (Image: bild.bundesarchiv.de)
“This is a lesson for Ukraine,” Isayev continues. Like Poland and Lithuania, it should seek to stress the common features of the past of the three peoples rather than those things that have set them apart because there is still the risk that Moscow will try to play them off against one another to the loss of all.
And he concludes: “For Kyiv it is important together with its western neighbors to form a common historical discourse about the 20th century.”
First of all, this is a more effective approach internationally. Second, it helps bring the victims of Stalin and Hitler together. And third, it helps all these peoples to overcome the past that the two dictators inflicted on them.
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Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. He has served as director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn, and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. Earlier he has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Euromaidan Press republishes the work of Paul Goble with permission from his blog Windows on Eurasia.
James Sherr, Senior Fellow, Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the International Centre for Defence and Security, Tallinn, Associate Fellow, Russia & Eurasia Programme, Chatham House, London By voicing his “insistence” on...
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