September 01, 2019

The Guns of Autumn

The Guns of Autumn

On the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, we review the final events leading to its outbreak in 1939.

In the Soviet Union, this document was always pointedly referred to as the “Non-Aggression Treaty,” without the odious names of the Nazi and Stalinist diplomats who concluded it. (Interestingly, in Russian, when the names are used in referring to the treaty, Ribbentrop’s comes first.) The emphasis has always been on how crucial this treaty was to the country’s security (and on Hitler’s treachery in violating it two years later).

Until 1989, not a word was said about the secret protocol in which Stalin and Hitler essentially divided up their “spheres of interest” in Europe. Even now, thirty years after Gorbachev acknowledged the existence of those provisions, many Russians still have their doubts. In textbooks, the events of 1939-40 are intentionally covered separately from the “Great Patriotic War.” In the minds of most Russians, “the War” began only in 1941 – nothing much was going on before then.

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