USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact

To the world’s shock and utter horror, the unfathomable occurred in August of 1939 when Hitler and Stalin signed a deal—a non-aggression pact. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, named for the foreign ministers of each state, set the stage for the Nazi invasion of Poland in September and the beginning of the Second World War. The pact secured eastern Poland the Baltic states for Soviet Russia and it allowed Germany to throw its full force to the west in hopes of quickly knocking out both France and Britain. For Hitler, this most unlikely of alliances was a deal made in bad faith. He had no intention of honoring the agreement. For Stalin—and this was his most profound foreign policy error—the deal meant that he would fail to properly prepare Russia against German attack. That the Nazis were set on conquering Russian Europe should not have been a surprise to the Russians. Anti-Bolshevism was a central idea of Nazi ideology—and now the Nazi State would border directly on the much larger and rapidly industrializing Soviet Union. And now Stalin’s industrial capacity was second only to the United States. And what’s more, Stalin had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of natural resources. It could produce war machines forever—while Germany was slowly bled dry. In fact, evidence recently coming out of the Soviet archives, providing rich material for new books, has captured the situation at the top levels of Soviet diplomacy and military intelligence. Those around Stalin knew that war was coming and tried to move Stalin into action. But Stalin refused to believe it and instead stuck stubbornly to the peace. Those advocating war, Stalin believed, were trying to undermine the Soviet state, were trying to lead the country into a fatal blunder in order to weaken it.

Hitler did invade on June 22, 1941. The Eastern Front in WWII would be the most brutal theater of war in human history. It was the clash of the world’s two most murderous dictators, Hitler and Stalin.   

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