May 9th, 1945

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

The commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two on May 8th and 9th are most charged, symbolically. They lead us to look back at our own history, but also at what we are making out of it. World War One, the centennial commemorations of which will go on until 2018, rang the end of the 19th Century. It contained, together with the other wars of the early 20th Century, elements which will crop up again in World War Two. Such as the “re-concentration camps,” conceived by Kitchener in the Second Anglo-Boer War [1] and the Armenian genocide, carried out by the Ottoman authorities in 1915. This is true also regarding the styles of war: « trench warfare » was conceived at the siege of Port-Arthur in the Russian-Japanese conflict of 1904-1905. We must therefore recognize that the First World War signified a tilting of Europe, and of the whole world beyond it, into a new universe of industrialized violence, with a progressive blurring out of the distinction between civilians and the military. But the Second World War has largely constructed our imaginaries and our political references. It was not, it was no longer “the continuation of politics by other means,” to take up Clausewitz’ formula. World War Two is the first conflict where ideology progressively overtook rational calculations.

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Causalities

It is no longer in good taste, in teaching, to evoke the question of the causes of conflicts. One prefers to bask in general victimisation. It is not that the points of view of « the rank and file soldier, » or the « mere civilian » are of no importance. But they must not obscure the question of the responsibilities in the conflict. And in order to understand this question of responsibilities, one must necessarily teach the causes, but also the sequence of events of the conflict. In this regard, the new history programs in French colleges and lycées are largely faulty.

One cannot treat World War Two without broaching the question of the Munich accords, particularly the fact that the French and the British separated themselves from the Russians in order to negotiate with Hitler [2]. One can discuss at infinitum whether France and Great-Britain really needed these agreements. We know today the whole extent of Hitler’s bluff, for his air force was by no means ready, even if it could display materiel which was more modern than France’s or Britain’s. Manoeuvres in early September 1938 ended up in an unbelievable accident rate. One must not, either, underestimate the aid that the Soviet Union was ready to furnish France, in particular in the form of modern airplanes (I-16). Finally, the Czech army was far from negligible. We must point out here that Czech tanks equipped two German armored divisions in May 1940. But what was important about these agreements was that they convinced Stalin, whose suspicious paranoia was already naturally alerted, that the French and the British didn’t want a war against Hitler. In Britain, only Winston Churchill uttered strong and premonitory words about the war to come [3].

He was comforted in his thinking by the agreement between Germany and Poland (who took advantage of the Munich accords to appropriate a piece of Czech territory) which lead to the dismembering of the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. One must stress here the stupidity of the Polish government (and its blindness). It was allying itself with Germany, even as it was next on the list of victims.

This sheds light onto the German-Soviet non-aggression pact of August 1939. Of this pact, one part is fully justified. Having understood that the British and the French cannot be trusted, Stalin tries to put the USSR out of harm’s way. But another part sheds light onto Stalin’s imperialist tendencies, when he negotiates in secret with Hitler the annexation of the Baltic states and of part of Poland. But to deduce from this an “alliance” between Hitler and Stalin is going too fast. Soviet troops entering Poland on September 17 1939 have orders, if the German troops do not respect their « occupation zone, » to “sweep them away. »

Stalin facing Hitler.

In fact, Stalin knows that a war with Nazi Germany is inevitable. He merely hopes to delay its onset as long as possible. The interruption of the naval program of the 3rd five-year plan in September 1940, and the transfer of steel over to the construction of additional tanks is a good proof that he knows that the clash is inevitable. But he makes the error of taking Hitler for a rational personality. Convinced that Germany will not attack the USSR as long as the war against Great-Britain will go on, Stalin, and the Soviet leadership with him, let themselves be taken by surprise by Hitler’s decision to attack them in June 1941.

In January 1941 two « war games » (Kriegspiel) were held at the Kremlin, the first from January 2 to 6, and the second from January 7 to 14 [4]. The first was a defensive game in which the Soviet forces were entrusted to Marshal Pavlov and the German forces (or the “blues” in the Soviet terminology) to General G.K. Zhukov. The latter encircled the Soviet forces and rapidly opened up the way towards the East. The maps of this first “game” are interesting because they turn out to be very close to the manoeuver that would be executed in reality by the German forces. We’ll notice that if Stalin had really believed Hitler’s word, one wouldn’t see any necessity for such a “game,” played out on his own order, and in his presence in the Kremlin. The second “game” aimed at testing a counter-offensive, and the adversaries of the first game exchanged their respective camps. Zhukov, now at the head of the Soviet forces, not only stopped the German advance, but led a counter-offensive which would bring him to the doors of Romania and Hungary.

A third « game, » even less well known to us, was again held at the Kremlin in early February 1941. This new “game” put to the test a German offensive which was to be launched from the region of Brabuysk in the direction of Smolensk and of the important « land bridge» between the Dvina and the Dniepr which commands access to Moscow. It implies that Stalin had brought himself to the idea of a deep penetration of the German armies into the territory of the USSR. In this « game, » Zhukov applied a scaled defence in order to first wear out the potential of the German armored divisions, then he moved to a counter-offensive from both wings. This corresponds to the scenario which will be carried out at Kursk in July 1943. This “game” demonstrated the superiority of a defensive battle, followed by a counter-offensive, over a preemptive offensive. It shows that by this date, doubt is no longer possible about the seriousness with which a German attack was being considered.

But Stalin remains convinced that this war will not break out before 1942 or 1943. And this is where he errs. And, in the atmosphere of terror and suspicion reigning at the Kremlin, this is enough to discredit information coming in as early as March-April 1941 about German preparations. We must add that the Red Army was then in the middle of what American military historian David Glantz has called an « institutional crisis » [5], to which must be added the loss of transmissions with the advanced echelons. This was, indeed, one of the main reasons for the confusion which reigned in Moscow during the first days of the attack.

Let’s add that Stalin acquiesced to the demands of Zhukov of April and May 1941[6], except to an alert along the border districts, of which it was judged that it could possibly appear as a “provocation” to the Germans. The phrase with which Vassilevski woke up Zhukov on the morning of June 22: « It has started»[7], shows well that the leaders of the Army knew what to expect.

2.5.1945 Berlin Reichstag Armbanduhren wegretuschiert.

2.5.1945 Berlin Reichstag
Armbanduhren wegretuschiert.

The three wars of Hitler.

We must also remember that in this conflict, even putting aside the conflicts in China and in the Pacific, three wars were in fact superimposed. This superposition lends to the conflict its profound nature.

The first of these wars is a war for European domination. When Hitler is attacking Poland, then turns against Great-Britain and France, he is only picking up for himself on the dreams of Wilhelm II and of imperial Germany. But, already gestating in this war, and contained in the still limited atrocities which the German army commits in Poland, and also in Northern France, where British soldiers and the French colonial infantry are summarily executed, we can make out the second war of the Nazis. We must remember at this occasion that the violence and crimes of the German army were not only the doings of the Nazi troops, and that they started very early on in the conflict.

This second war deploys itself fully at the occasion of the attack against the Soviet Union in 1941. It is a war for the enslavement of the Slavic populations, particularly – but not exclusively – of the Russians. France commemorates with horror and sadness the memory of the massacre committed in June 1944 by the division Das Reich at Oradour-sur-Glane; but the villages martyrized in this way by the German army, and not always by units of the SS, must be counted by the hundreds in Belarus, in Russia and in Eastern Ukraine. The savagery of the German soldiers towards the population, but also of the German population itself against the workers, men and women, carried away and treated as slaves on the territory of the Reich knew no limits. It is the violence of this war which will wind up the spring of inexpiable hatred which will come crashing down over the German people in 1945.

The third war begins at the same time, but it will take a particularly significant turn at the moment when the perspectives of a German victory collapse, it is the war of extermination against Jewish populations. The question of what is known by the name of the “Shoah by bullets” shows the whole German army collaborating, with rare exceptions, in these massacres. But the “Shoah by bullets” also sheds light onto the participation of the auxiliaries, essentially Ukrainian, in these massacres in which some 1.3 million people perished. Yet, it is in the wake of the defeat suffered before Moscow that this third war radicalizes itself with the proven will of the Nazi regime to exterminate all the Jews of the territories under its control. This latter war will take an obsessive turn as shown by the allocation to the extermination program of transport materiel for which the German army itself was in desperate need. In the summer of 1944, when the German army is retreating under the blows of the Red Army, Bagration and the Iassy-Kichinev operation, the Nazi power requisitions hundreds of trains, spends hundreds of tons of fuel in order to bring to their death more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews. In this regard, the war of extermination and its symbol, the gas chambers, is anything but a “detail” as Jean-Marie Le Pen said years ago. Even if the actual number of people killed in gas-chambers is relatively small by comparison with the total of dead people, gas-chambers are the best symbol of the war of extermination waged by the Nazis.

 

An ideological war.

In fact, this third war becomes the « real » war for Hitler and his henchmen, the only one they hope to win. It also serves the Nazi regime to weld around itself the German population, and the allies of circumstances which it was able to muster, by way of the horror of the committed crimes. If the enslavement war carried out against the Slavic populations rendered a peace of compromise hardly likely in the East, the war of extermination, the principle of which had been known by the Soviets as early as the beginning of 1942 and by the Americans and the British by mid-1942, resulted in an unimaginable hardening of the conflict in the West. Because of these two wars, Nazi Germany could only win or perish and, as early as the beginning of 1943, Hitler himself was convinced that he could no longer triumph militarily.

There remained nothing left to him but to organize, under various pretexts, the gigantic funerary pyre which was the battle of Berlin. None of the actions undertaken after Kursk make any sense, militarily. One can even wonder about the Nazis’ belief in the “secret weapons” which, indeed, constitute a strong kernel of the propaganda but the military efficiency of which reveals itself very poor in reality. The truth is that, having committed the irreparable, the Nazi regime has cut its bridges with the world of rational calculations, with the Clausewitzian logic of war. The latter no longer has any meaning outside the social Darwinism which is consubstantial to the Nazi ideology.

The war of enslavement and especially the war of extermination transform the nature of World War Two. The latter is not a repetition, in a more violent mode, of the imperialistic war of 1914. When the Soviet troops liberate Maïdanek[8] at the end of July 1944, the – horrified – world will have proofs of the murderous project of Nazi Germany. It must be pointed out that the British and American press will wait several months before taking up broadly the information. In fact, one will have to wait for this for British and American troops to liberate concentration camps in their own turn. But the totality of the extermination camps were liberated by the Soviet troops.

The Nuremberg Tribunal has taken due cognizance of the specificity of World War Two. In creating the notion of “crimes against humanity” and declaring them imprescriptible by nature, it strove to signify the fundamental difference between the First and the Second World War. But the Cold War prevented this logic to be fully recognized.

 

Commemoration and politics

The commemoration of the victory over the Nazis is therefore not the victory of one country (or of a group of countries) over another one, for World War Two is not a war like any other. The dimension of victory is altogether different here. The wars of enslavement and of extermination have given to this victory a universal reach, the reach of a liberation. This is what the power in Kiev is now trying to negate with its project of law 2538-1 putting on an equal footing the henchmen and the victims. This has stirred up the protests of historians the world over. [9] This victory, considering its significance, cannot, and cannot be allowed to, be instrumentalized to ends of politicking.

The Soviet Union carried the heaviest burden and had to face up, until November 1943, to nearly 70% of Hitler’s troops. It would be normal, it would be just that, beyond the conflicts which may oppose French and Russian leaders, the French President, or at the very least his Prime-Minister, go to Moscow on the occasion of May 9th. Honour is at stake, the honour and credibility of the Republic.

Notes

[1] Farwell, Byron (1976). The Great Anglo-Boer War. New York: Harper and Row.

[2] Michel Winock, Nora Benkorich, La Trahison de Munich : Emmanuel Mounier et la grande débâcle des intellectuels, CNRS éditions, 2008.

[3] « They had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor; they will have war. » Hyde, Harlow A. (1988). Scraps of paper: the disarmament treaties between the world wars. page 307: Media Publishing & Marketing,

[4] B. Fulgate et L. Dvoretsky, Thunder on the Dnepr, Presidio Press, 1997, 2001.

[5] D. Glantz, Before Stalingrad: Barbarossa, Hitler’s Invasion of Russia 1941, Tempus, 2003.

[6] Particularly the calling up of 800 000 reservists and the transfer of 4 armies from the military districts of the interior of the country towards the Western borders. See General S.P. Ivanov (ed.) Nachal’nyj Period Vojny, [The initial period of the War] – Moscou,Voenizdat, 1974, chap.8

[7] In Russian: « Eto natchalo ».

[8] Jozef Karszalek, Maïdanek, history and reality of the extermination camp, Rowohlt, Hambourg, 1982

[9] http://krytyka.com/en/articles/open-letter-scholars-and-experts-ukraine-re-so-called-anti-communist-law

 


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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