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THE ANNALS OF POLAND

War and Exile, 1939-1948

Germany and Russia: Partners in Crime

By Daniel Ford, Wall Street Journal, July 7

Adolf Hitler gets the blame for lighting the fuse of World War II, and for good reason. Yet Germany had a partner in Soviet Russia, not only during the infamous Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 but well before, starting with the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922. Without his enablers in Moscow, it's hard to imagine that Hitler would have dared go to war against the rest of Europe.

In Faustian Bargain, Ian Ona Johnson shows how extensive Russia's help was. He begins the story at the end of World War I, which had left the world with two pariah states: Germany because it had begun hostilities, Russia because the Bolshevik Revolution had transformed the country from a wartime ally to a postwar menace. Hardly had the ink dried on the punitive peace treaty signed at Versailles in June 1919 than the two pariahs joined forces.

As Mr. Johnson chronicles, Russia offered a place for the German army to develop weapons and train men in violation of the treaty that its civilian government had just signed. In return, Russia would learn how to modernize the Red Army, huge in size but badly trained and poorly equipped. The agreement was formalized at Rapallo, Italy. "Poland must and will be wiped off the map," wrote Gen. Hans von Seeckt, the man who established Sondergruppe Russland (Special Group Russia), the bureau that would manage military relations between Germany and Russia. Seeckt was referring, of course, to the country that Versailles had resurrected between them. (Poland had long been divided between Germany, Russia and the now-vanished Austro-Hungarian Empire.) "It was not an unfair peace that motivated Seeckt and his fellow officers," Mr. Johnson writes. "It was the far more ambitious aim of reversing Germany's defeat in the First World War."

Mr. Johnson, who teaches military history at Notre Dame, draws on American, British, German, Polish and Russian archives to describe a "secret school of war." The resulting book has an academic flavor, but it's consistently interesting and spiced by the occasional scandal, including one in which a German naval officer brings his Russian girlfriend home to Germany, supporting her through a movie studio he purchased with government money, planning to use it for military propaganda. When the studio goes bankrupt, damning details emerge, triggering high-level resignations and bringing to light "the breadth of Germany'scommitment to rearm."

In the 1920s, without troubling the civilian government in Berlin, the Reichswehr (German defense force) set up a ring of bases south and east of Moscow. German companies like Junkers and Krupp contracted directly with the Soviet government to manufacture warplanes in Russia, deliver coveted German-built locomotives, and train Red Army technicians. Versailles had banned all offensive weapons, but the "Black Reichswehr" in Russia included warplanes, battle tanks and poison gas. Russia, for its part, learned alongside the Germans. Stalin was so interested in Krupp's tank designer Eduard Grotte that he ordered that the man be kept in Russia by "all measures up to arrest."

It's chilling to learn how much time and money Germany and Russia devoted to chemical warfare, hoping to develop gas bombs to be dropped from high altitude upon enemy cities. In the end, the effort failed. "The vision of cities obliterated by mustard gas was fading," Mr. Johnson says of the situation in 1931, "with a war of machines -- tanks and planes -- rising in its place."

Armored warfare seems to have been the most successful collaboration. The Reichswehr developed the doctrine: Heavy tanks with large guns were more valuable than speedy vehicles; they should be deployed in mass and accompanied by motorized infantry. Companies in Germany built the prototype Panzers, as they were called, and shipped them to Russia disguised as farm tractors. An early Krupp model carried a 75mm (three-inch) cannon, larger than those in any other army of the time. The Russians contributed a turret big enough for three men, so every Panzer could go to war with a commander, a gunner, and a loader, instead of the usual two-man turret, where the commander also loaded the cannon. Crucially, the commander would have a radio, when other armies at the time still relied on flags. "When war returned to Europe," Mr. Johnson says, enemy commanders "would learn that popping open the hatch of a tank to wave a flag in the midst of battle was less than ideal."

When Hitler became Germany's chancellor in 1933, his obsession with "Jewish Bolshevism" cooled the relationship with Moscow. Nor did he worry about adhering to the terms of Versailles. The official and "black" Reichswehrs merged into the wartime Wehrmacht, with conscription supporting a huge army with modern tanks and a fully fledged air force, all made possible by Soviet Russia.

Cooperation between the two countries began again in August 1939, when Hitler and Stalin agreed to a "nonaggression pact." The Germans invaded Poland on Sept. 1, the Russians on the 17th, and the two armies met at Brest-Litovsk on the 22nd. The cover of "Faustian Bargain" shows a photograph from that day, with Gen. Heinz Guderian and Brig. Semyon Krivoshein grinning before a victory parade. They may have known each other from the tank school at Kama, east of Moscow, where both had trained in the 1920s.

Meanwhile, German machinery, weapons and technology flowed east, and Russian oil, grain and raw materials helped equip and feed the Wehrmacht that occupied most of Western Europe in 1940. More quietly, the Soviet Union absorbed half of Poland, the Baltic countries, and strategic pieces of Romania and Finland. The mutual exchange continued until the Sunday morning in June 1941 when Germany crashed into the Soviet Union. "Invading German forces," Mr. Johnson tells us, "marched on rubber boots made with materiel shipped over the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Their rations included Soviet grain, which had continued to arrive up to the very day of the invasion."

Poland's Daughter

Poland's Daughter The Second World War -- the worst thing that ever happened. It started in September 1939, with Hitler's Wehrmacht invading Poland from the west, while Stalin's Red Army stormed in from the east. Among their victims was a five-year-old named Basia Deszberg. The Russians shot her father and brother in the Katyn Forest, then loaded Basia, her sister, and her mother into a cattle car for a horrific three-week journey to the steppes of Kazakhstan, there to survive however they could. Over the next eight years, they would escape through Persia, Lebanon, and Egypt to find safe haven in England.

Meanwhile, I was growing up in a United States mired by the Great Depression. Europe's agony was America's windfall! I went from hardscrabble poverty to a college degree and a fellowship that took me to the English university where Basia was also a student. This is the story of our meeting, our travels, and our parting. "It's an extraordinary book, highly original, gripping, at once full of joy and of sorrow" (Cosmopolitan Review).

Available as a paperback or an ebook at Amazon and other online bookstores.

Files about Poland's wartime agony

Stalin's order to shoot 22,000 Polish prisoners
An American eyewitness to the Katyn exhumations
Operation Unthinkable: Churchill's plan to push the Red Army back to the prewar border
A voice from the grave at Bykovnia

Some background reading

Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 (Stephen Kotkin)
Ostkrieg: Hitler's War of Extermination (Stephen Fritz)
The Eagle Unbowed (Halik Kochanski) and Isaac's Army (Matthew Brzezinski)
Stalin's General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov (Geoffrey Roberts)
Exile and Identity: Polish Women in the Soviet Union (Katherine Jolluck)
The Russian Origins of the First World War (Sean McMeekin)
The Inhuman Land (Joseph Czapski)
The Polish Deportees of World War II (Tadeusz Piotrowski, ed.)
George Kennan: An American Life (John Gaddis)
When God Looked the Other Way (Wesley Adamczyk)
Revolution From Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's West (Jan Gross)
Katyn: A Crime Without Punishment (Cienciala et al)
A Concise History of Poland (Lukowski & Zawadzki)
Bloody Foreigners: Poles in Britain (Robert Winder)
The Gulag Archipelago (Aleksandr Solzhenitsym)
Summit at Teheran: The Untold Story (Keith Eubank)
The Dark Side of the Moon (Zoe Zajdlerowa and T.S. Eliot)
Poland 1939: The Birth of Blitzkrieg (Steven Zaloga)
The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia (Tzouliadis)

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Poland's Daughter

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