According to the widely propagated American narrative, World War II was won by the brave and heroic sacrifice of US soldiers who selflessly signed up or were drafted to fight against fascism in Europe. Americans got involved in this war for altruistic reasons and, had it not been for their entrance into the war, Europe would have been ruled in perpetuity by the murderous Nazi regime. Had the U.S. (with a little bit of help from its European allies) not come to the rescue, the narrative goes, the Third Reich would have succeeded in ruling Europe from Britain in the west to Russia in the east. This is a fabrication of history. Fascism fell not at the hands of the Americans, but as a consequence of the immense man-power and determination of the Russians and the Red Army of the Soviet Union. An astounding 90% of all Nazis who met their end in WWII were killed by the Soviets. The much-hyped “D-day” in which the Americans and the British opened up a second-front against Hitler in the west in June, 1944 was of overall little significance to the outcome of the war, as the German army by that time was retreating to Berlin with the Soviets hot on their trail. In Russia the vicious invasion of the Nazis and their defeat by the brave men and women who took up arms is known as the Great Patriotic War, and May 7th will mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.
The numbers of Russians and other citizens of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) who lost their lives during the Great Patriotic War are mind-blowing, as are the amount of Nazis who died trying to eliminate the Soviet Union and its people from existence. For every American killed fighting the Nazis, 80 soldiers of the Red Army died doing the same. 27 million Soviets paid the ultimate price to stop the ruthless German war machine, around 18 million of them civilians. That’s 27 million of a total population at the time of 193 million. 60% of all households lost a family member fighting in the war. By contrast, less than 500,000 Americans lost their lives throughout the entire World War with Germany and Japan. The amount of lives, or the ‘butcher’s bill’ as historian Max Hastings calls it, paid by the Red Army would amount to a mind-boggling 95% of all military casualties between the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States in the fight against Hitler’s fascist army. The Nazis, with their insatiable appetite for destruction, burned more than 200 cities and 9,000 villages in the USSR to the ground. It would not be an exaggeration to state that what the Soviet Union and its people experienced during WWII was like nothing the world had ever seen before or since. It was not only the Soviets who would suffer a large amount of casualties in the war on the Eastern Front, however. The German Army would meet its match in the Red Army, which was responsible for 90% of all German casualties during WWII. Of the 13.5 million Germans who were killed, wounded or taken as prisoners of war during the vicious war the German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler waged, 10 million of those were at the hands of the Soviet Union. According to Oliver Stone in his documentary series, The Untold History of the United States, “the Soviets were regularly battling more than 200 German divisions. In contrast the Americans and the British, fighting in the Mediterranean, rarely confronted more than 10 German divisions.” The Nazis lost more 6 million soldiers fighting the Red Army, opposed to the 1 million it lost fighting the Americans and the British (along with French partisans) on the Western Front.
Why were the Nazis, in their war on the Eastern Front, so much more brutal, vicious and murderous than they were in the war on the Western Front? The answer is undoubtedly found in the fascist ideology of the Nazi regime itself. Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany, saw Eastern Europe as lebensraum or living space where the “superior” Aryan race could colonize the land and create a vast empire for the purest race. This of course entailed the elimination or enslavement of what were deemed the racially impure races of men in Poland and the Soviet Union, chief among them the millions of Jews and the tens of millions of Slavic peoples (Slavs), the latter of which made up the vast majority of the USSR’s population. Racial-mixing, according to Hitler, was an evil that brought about the end of civilization. Those not of the Aryan stock had to be exterminated. To get rid of them the German Army launched a plan to completely depopulate a huge territory of Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. Reich Minister of the Interior Heinrich Himmler’s General Plan for the East outlined a savage scheme for the extermination of 80 million people to make way for the Germans to not only inhabit Russian land, but to take their resources as well, primarily oil. In the words of one SS-Oberfuhrer in early 1941 before the Soviet invasion, “In Russia, all cities and cultural sites including the Kremlin, are to be razed to the ground; Russia is to be reduced to the level of a nation of peasants, from which there is no return.” On the eve of the invasion, Hitler issued what was known as the Commissar Order which stated, “In this battle [against Bolshevism] it would be a mistake to show mercy or respect for international law towards such elements… The barbaric, Asiatic fighting methods are originated by the commissars… Therefore, when they are picked up in battle or resistance, they are, as a matter of principle, to be finished immediately with a weapon.” It was, for all intents and purposes, a war of complete annihilation in which both soldier and civilian were to be executed on sight.
As far as Europe was concerned, World War II began in September, 1939 when the Nazis quickly overpowered Poland, and France and Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. (Germany already invaded Austria in 1938. They followed by conquering Czechoslovakia the subsequent year.) The Western nations, however, were not blameless when it came to the expansion of fascism in Europe, far from it. When Italian fascist Benito Mussolini invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, it was met with silence in the West. Hitler, witnessing this indifference, decided in 1936 to invade and occupy the Rhineland. The U.S. government meanwhile did not lift a finger to stop the Hitler-backed fascists during the Spanish Civil War (though tens of thousands of American leftists certainly did), and in fact looked the other way as U.S.-based companies provided financial support to the fascist military dictator General Francisco Franco. Such actions on the part of the U.S. and Western Europe convinced Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin that they in fact had no interest in stopping fascism in its tracks. As early as 1934, when the Soviet Union formally joined the League of Nations, Stalin had pleaded with Britain and France to present a United Front against fascism, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. In Stalin’s eyes, he had to act to prevent what he feared most, a German-Polish alliance to invade the Soviet Union. On August 23, 1939 he signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It would prove to be a great source of controversy with Communists all over the world. What it was not, however, was a clear alliance between the two ideologically opposed nations, as Western historians still portray it to this very day. Aside from the fact that Stalin had already proposed an alliance with France and Britain 5 years earlier, the fact is that it was the Soviet Union that Hitler had set out to destroy from the very beginning. Hitler was first and foremost a fervent anti-communist. As early as the 1920s, years before he rose to become the German Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler defined the Nazi movement as a movement to destroy what he referred to as “Jewish Bolshevism”. The Nazis were to first seek to destroy communism in Germany and then the world. According to League of Nations official Carl J. Burckhardt, Hitler once told him that “everything he undertook was directed at Russia… if the West [i.e. the French and the British] is too stupid and too blind to comprehend this, he would be forced to reach an understanding with the Russians, turn and defeat the West, and then turn back with all his strength to strike a blow against the Soviet Union.” In all likelihood Stalin realized this and believed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact would buy time for the Soviet Union to build up its defense.
In the early stages of the war, it wasn’t at all clear if the West was really as opposed to fascism as they were to communism. According to Clara Weiss in a book review on the World Socialist Web Site, “For the bourgeoisie in America and Great Britain, the crimes of the Nazis paled in comparison to the ‘crime’ of the Russian working class in overthrowing Tsarism and capitalism in 1917 and thus removing vast portions of the globe from the immediate orbit of world imperialism. In their anticommunism and their goal of dismembering the Soviet Union, they found common ground with the Nazis.” In fact much of the oil used in the Nazi war effort was purchased from U.S. corporations. According to Mumia Abu Jamal and Stephen Vittoria in Book Two of their three-part series, Murder Incorporated: Empire, Genocide and Manifest Destiny, Standard Oil, Ford Motors, ITT and General Motors all provided materials to assist the German war effort. From 1939-1940, this assistance fueled the German Blitzkrieg, overpowering one nation after the next: Poland, Denmark, Belgium, France, Romania, Greece, and Yugoslavia. As for the Soviet Union, Hitler believed it to be a “giant with feet of clay” and the Red Army to be “not more than a joke.” The British concurred, with one Secret Service agent predicting that the Soviet Union would be “liquidated within eight to ten weeks.”
The invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazi regime came in the early morning hours of June 22, 1941 in what was called Operation Barbarossa, when an army of 3.7 million Germans and their allies (anti-communist nationalists from Romania, Hungary and Slovakia which fought under the Nazi flag) invaded from the Artic all the way down to the Black Sea using “600,000 motor vehicles, 3,648 tanks, more than 2,700 planes, and just over 7,000 pieces of artillery.” Stalin’s military build-up did not appear to have been very effective at all, and when he first received news of the invasion he disbelieved it, dismissing it as yet another case of British misinformation. He was dreadfully wrong.
The Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic fell in the summer of 1941 and was ground zero for some of the most savage brutality by the Nazis during the entire war. Everything from rape to burning to hanging to mass starvation was employed. An estimated 4.2 million Ukrainians were starved to death by the Nazis in a 3 year period from 1941-1944. Soviet Jews, unsurprisingly, became target #1 for the ire of the Nazis and their nationalist allies. Hitler equated war on Marxism with war against Jews, and blamed all of Germany’s problems from 1914 onward on Jews and communism. According to historian Leonid Rein, “For the Nazis, the main bearers of the Communist ideology were Jews. The millions of Jews living in the invaded territory were seen as the very embodiment of the proverbial Jewish Bolshevism dominating the Soviet state… Thus, the extermination of Soviet Jewry was perceived not merely as the annihilation of a racial enemy, but also as a precondition to achieving Nazi geopolitical goals in the east.” One of the bloodiest known massacres occurred in October, 1941 in Odessa, Ukraine, where 35,000 Jews were systematically killed. They were shoved into wooden buildings while grenades were thrown at them and their bodies riddled with bullets. Others were set on fire in the harbor square. In Lithuania, in the first six months after invasion, 180,000 out of 220,000 Jews were eliminated. The entire Jewish population of Estonia was completely wiped out by the end of the year, as was true in the eastern part of Belarus. Over 1 million Soviet Jews were killed from 1941-1942, before the Holocaust (in which 9 million people were systematically eliminated, 6 million of them Jews) had even begun.
Soviet Prisoners of War taken by the Germans were subjected to the most horrifyingly depraved treatment imaginable, starved to the point of no recognition. They had to desperately fight for every last scrap of food or water, and in the most extreme circumstances some were driven to cannibalism. 60% of all Soviet POWs captured by Nazis during the war died in captivity (compared with 4% of American and British POWs held captive by the Nazis). Of the 3.3 million POWs who died mainly of starvation, 2 million of them died before February, 1942, 7 months into the war.
The response to all this bloodshed by some in the United States was quite treacherous. While some proposed opening up a second front against the fascists, others, such as then-Senator (and future President) Harry S. Truman declared, “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia. And if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany. That way let them kill as many as possible.”
Hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers were killed as the Nazis made their way to Moscow in what at first appeared to be a “cake-walk.” A few months after the invasion, the Nazis had captured a landmass double their own country’s size. Hitler remarked that his army was fighting “against an enemy who, I must say, does not consist of human beings but of animals or beasts. We have now seen what Bolshevism can make of human beings.” The cake-walk the Nazis predicted was not to be, however. Unlike France and Belgium had done in 1940, the Soviet Union did not mass all its forces at the border to meet the invaders. Instead most were stationed in the rear to buy time and frustrate the Nazi war effort. Old men and everyday women took up heavy shovels and dug a huge trap into the earth for German tanks to fall in, halting them from advancing to the Russian capital. The Russian resistance was unlike anything the Nazis had ever seen before. Soviets “went into hiding in the vast Pripet Marshes and elsewhere, organized deadly partisan warfare, and threatened long and vulnerable German lines of communication.” Nazis were taken aback by the strength of Soviet weaponry such as the katyusha rocket launcher and the T-34 tank. German diarist Victor Klemperer noted in his diary on July 13, 1941, “We have underestimated the Russians.” In fact, the Nazis were unable to reach the outskirts of Moscow until November, 1941 when they came as close to 30 kilometers. By the next month, they were on the defensive after the Red Army “launched a major, well-prepared counter-attack. On December 8, Hitler essentially ordered his army to abandon the offensive and to move into defensive positions.” The German people were of course kept in the dark about the inevitability of their demise. Many historians wrongly pin the turning point of the war to have been at Stalingrad more than a year later. The truth is that it was there on the outskirts of Moscow in December, 1941 that the myth of the invincibility of the Nazi war machine was shattered forever.
While the Battle of Moscow was still raging in September, 1941, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin openly pleaded with the West to open up a second front against Nazi Germany in northern France. After the decisive battle of Moscow in December, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged that “the Russian armies are killing more Axis personnel and destroying more Axis materiel than all the other 25 united nations put together.” He promised to open up a second front against Germany by the end of 1942. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had other plans. He convinced President Roosevelt to delay opening up a second front and to instead invade North Africa where Britain’s colonial empire was being challenged by the Nazis. For the British Empire, nothing was more important than preserving access to the oil-rich lands of Southwest Asia (the ‘Middle East’) and their giant colony in India. In fact, the U.S. and Great Britain would not open up a second front in Europe until the much-hyped ‘D-Day’ landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944 – an entire year and a half after first promised. By that time, the German Army would be in retreat and the Soviet Red Army would be fighting its way to Berlin to crush them once and for all.
From September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944, nearly 2 ½ years, the city of Leningrad was besieged by the Nazis and placed under a cruel embargo, in what many historians classify as a brutal act of genocide. Of a population of 2.5 million people, only 800,000 survived. Most died from starvation. Others perished from disease and exposure. Even when given the chance to flee, most did not. They would stay and defend their homeland from the fascist invaders. By late 1942, the U.S. was coming through with its lend-lease program, which would amount to about $11 billion in weaponry over the course of WWII delivered to the Soviets (though this was still much smaller than the $31 billion granted the Great Britain). According to Oliver Stone, “To fight the German war machine almost 2,000 new factories were built… By 1943 the Soviet Union was the equal to any industrial power in Europe. It was now able to out-produce Germany itself.”
Finally, the most intense battle of the entire war – and all human history – came in the third quarter of 1942 and lasted more than 5 months as the Nazis pushed towards the oil-rich region of Baku. To get there, they’d have to get through the city of Stalingrad. In the Battle of Stalingrad, the German war machine more than met its match. From August-January, the Nazis lost nearly 500,000 troops, which is more than either the British or the Americans lost in the entire war. Stalin delivered what was known as the “Not one step backward” order which held that anyone retreating from battle would be treated as a traitor to the Motherland and liquidated on the spot. The end came in early February, 1943 when the Nazis surrendered what little remained of their 6￼ Army.
After their humiliating defeat at Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht was in full retreat. The Red Army pursued the fleeing fascists and one by one fought to liberate the ghastly Nazi concentration camps. As they did, they notified the world of the horrors they uncovered. The first of these camps to be liberated were in Poland, beginning with Majdanek in the country’s east in July, 1944, followed by Belzec, Chelmo, Sobibor and Treblinka. On January 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the most notorious extermination camp of all, Auschwitz Birkenau. Thousands of Red Army soldiers would die fighting even as they were approaching the camps, fired on by guards who undoubtedly hoped to conceal their crimes against humanity from the rest of the world. Geoffrey Roberts writes in the Irish Examiner, “When it came to describing Majdanek the Soviet writer and journalist, Konstantin Simonov, warned his readers its horrors were beyond human imagination and comprehension; not simply another scene of atrocities but the site of systematic murder on a massive scale.” At Auschwitz, writes Roberts, what the Soviets found “shocked even their battle-hardened sensibilities. Few among the 8,000 survivors were able to talk or move let alone welcome the Soviets… In the children’s barracks there were only two survivors, the rest gassed or dead as subjects of horrific medical experiments.” They came across the horrific gas chambers built to look like showering rooms where countless people were gassed to death, their bodies then sent to the crematories to be turned into ash. Colonel Anatoly Pavlovich Shapiro, a Ukrainian-born Jew who was among the first of the Red Army officers to enter the camps upon liberation, recalled, “I had seen many innocent killed. I had seen hanged people. I had seen burned people. But I was still unprepared for Auschwitz.” The Nazis finally surrendered on May 2, 1945 after an epic and bloody battle for Berlin, a battle in which the Soviets fought the Nazis single-handedly.
Today, the myth that the Soviet Union was not the main engine of the Nazis’ defeat is as prevalent as ever. As the Cold War intensified between the U.S. and the Soviet Union after WWII, the butcher’s bill paid by the Soviet Union and her people was intentionally downplayed in the West. Despite the enormous sacrifice of the Red Army and the Russian people, only 13% of Europeans (excluding the Russians themselves) believe the Red Army played a significant role in defeating the Nazis at all. 43% believe Western propaganda that suggests the Americans played the biggest role in liberating Europe from fascism in World War II. The time has come for the Soviet Union and the brave men and women of the Red Army to be honored in the West for the enormous sacrifices they made rescuing the world from fascism.