It was a quiet Sunday morning just before dawn in early summer 69 years ago. The Soviet border guards had nervously reported sighting clouds of dust over the western horizon in the previous days. Increasing numbers of aircraft with swastika markings on their wings had been overflying the Soviet airspace.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent repeated messages to Communist dictator Josef Stalin in the Kremlin: Hitler is going to attack the Soviet Union. British intelligence had confirmed that after the last great Luftwaffe bombing raid over London on 10 May 1941, German aircraft, armored units, and infantry were all moving toward the east. Hitler had proclaimed his intentions to the world in his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) He saw the east as the place where Germanys burgeoning population would find lebensraumroom to live.
Despite all warnings and all indications, Stalin refused to believe that Hitler would attack him. He had signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler barely two years earlier. In late August, 1939, Hitler had felt secure to go to war with the British and the French over Poland. He knew that the Pact would prevent Stalin from attacking him from the east.
Now, after his Luftwaffe had failed to defeat the Royal Air Force in the year-long Battle of Britain, Hitler secretly ordered his generals to prepare a drang nach ostena drive to the east. Frustrated in his invasion of Britain, Hitler convinced himself that when he defeated Soviet Russia, Britain would have no choice but to make peace with him.
Hitler and his Nazis had seen how poorly the Soviet military fared against little Finland in the winter of 1939-40. The tiny Scandinavian country had defied Stalins demand for a chunk of its territory and had killed a million Red Army soldiers in the winter war that followed. Virtually without weapons, the Finns invented Molotov cocktails, bottles filled with gasoline. They lit the wicks and hit Soviet tanks with them. Finally, in the spring, Stalins overwhelming numbers forced the Finns to sue for peace. Not a single Finn remained behind in the Karelian Peninsula that their leaders were forced to give over to Stalin.
Seeing this and knowing that Stalin had shot thousands of his own generals, colonels and other high-ranking army officers in a series of bloody purges throughout the 1930s, Hitler was convinced we have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come falling down.
Most observers in the west thought Hitler might be right. They had seen his Wehrmacht roll over Poland in 40 days and over Belgium, the Netherlands, and France in just six weeks.
Churchill disagreed. He told his closest friends he would bet them a monkey to a mousetrap (a term he picked up from horse racing) that Russia would still be fightingand fighting more successfullytwo years from that day.
Churchill won the bet. But not before tens of millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Georgians, Armenians, and many, many others in the old USSR lost their lives. Jews were singled out by Hitler for extermination. The siege of Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was known in the Soviet era) claimed three million livesmore than the U.S., Britain, France, and Canada lost in all of World War II.
When Hitler attacked without warning that morning in June, 1941, Stalin had a nervous breakdown. He cowered in his dacha (vacation home) outside of Moscow. For the first ten days of the German assault, while millions of Red army soldiers were killed or taken prisoner, the Communist rulers of the Kremlin remained paralyzed. Trains full of Russian wheat continued to race westward to Germany as part of the terms of the 1939 Pact. No one had thought to order them stopped. When his Communist comrades came to his dacha to beg for his guidance, Stalin at first thought they had come to arrest him and have him shot.
They should have. No ruler in human history had been responsible for such a catastrophe in his own land. Stalin trusted no one on earth, except Adolf Hitler. But Stalin would survive those first ten days of Barbarossa and live on to see his Red Army come roaring back. Stalins train would carry him to the rubble of Berlin in 1945. He would meet Prime Minister Churchill and President Harry Truman at Potsdam, a Berlin suburb. The allied leaders met, almost literally, over Hitlers dead body.
All through World War II, all through the tragic and bloody conflict that his own alliance with Hitler had made possible, Stalin continued to enjoy a great press in the west. He was called Uncle Joe. Millions of Communists and leftists regarded him and not Churchill, not even FDR, as the leader of progressive mankind. Amazing.
Even more amazing: We have had people in the Obama White House who claim to be Communists, claim to view Chinas Communist dictator Mao Zedongthe only man who managed to kill more people than Stalin and Hitleras a favorite political philosopher.
Eighty-five percent of the Allied war effort in World War II went against Adolf Hitler. Two-thirds of that fight was on the Soviet Front. We had no choice but to align with Stalin. But no onethen or nowshould be under any illusions about what a thoroughly evil man he was. No American should ever be able to claim to be a Communist or to admire Communists without being made to answer for the murderous records of Stalin and Mao.