This is part two. It stands on its own, but you may want to read Part One: British and French Appeasement of Nazi Germany
History can be quite confusing and confounding. It is no longer a popular field of study. The word itself means "inquiry" from the ancient Greek word "historia, " but as George Santayana is claimed to have said: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"! So in a world full of conflict and war we can learn much from the events of the past, in this case from the Second World War, as part of Jewish History and how it impacts the Jews in the most surprising of ways.
History is all about studying "causes" of "knowledge acquired by investigation" and there can be nothing more astounding than the origins and beginnings of the Second World War (1939–1945) and how yesterday's friends became today's enemies and vice versa.
How does that work exactly? One of the main problems that secular historians and politicians have is that they fail to factor in the Jewish God's true influence and veto power. Far too many are atheists (from a Greek word meaning "there is no God"). Certainly the Communists who ruled Soviet Russia/USSR during the Second World War officially were atheists and had no faith in God. First they were friends of the Nazis and then they became their enemies. How so? What were the dynamics?
If some people or leaders have some faith they may feel and believe that God is "on their side" but Jews who believe in God know and believe that He is paying particular attention to the survival of the Jewish People. They know that no matter how nations and their leaders may want things to play out, nothing is ever predictable in the end except as it says in the Psalms (20:8-10) referring to the Jewish People's ultimate reliance on God: "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses but we will mention the name of God our Lord. They are bowed down and fallen but we rise and stand upright. God will save us, the King will answer us on the day we call"!
In Part One of this series we focused on how Britain and France, in spite of their policy of Appeasement of Nazi Germany, meaning standing by and doing nothing as Germany marched back into the Rhineland in March 1936 - previously controlled by Britain and France - annexed Austria in the Anschluss of March 1938 and took the Sudetenland, irreparably mutilating Czechoslovakia in September 1938.
This most definitely caught the attention of Soviet Russian dictator Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) who was observing the tide of events and how an ever more powerful Germany was gobbling up territory while the British and French stood paralyzed by their self-injurious policy of Appeasement.
In reviewing the contradictory events and moves by nations and political leaders especially of Russia, we cannot fathom the workings of the Divine. Winston Churchill, the war-time prime minister of the United Kingdom captured this sentiment with regard to Russia when he famously said: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."!
Since the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933 and the rise of Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) as the dictator or Fuhrer of Nazi Germany, Russia's Joseph Stalin (1878 –1953) could see a kindred spirit, a bond of dictators something like two Mafia bosses with criminal minds coming to terms with each other as they carve up territory in order to control the world between them. In this spirit the USSR and Nazi Germany moved closer to each other geopolitically as they eyed the large chunk of territory that lay between them: Poland, with Germany on its west and Russia on its east, was squashed between them strategically.
There is much more to the background of how the arch-Fascist Nazi Germany could happily make a treaty, the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact also known as the Hitler–Stalin Pact or Nazi–Soviet Pact signed August 23, 1939, and agree to conquer and divide Poland with the arch-Communist Soviet Union. How could the anti-Communist Hitler make a deal with the anti-Nazi Stalin? Perhaps it is what is known as Realpolitik, the cynical casting away of principles for short term or long term gain and profits.
Since that time Russia has tried hard to hide that sordid fact about its own collusion with the Nazis by ignoring and air-brushing that ugly chapter from its nation's history. No wonder, it is nothing to be proud of. It is a stain on their people and a source of shame for them.
Yet it should not be that great a surprise because both the Nazis and the Soviets were Totalitarian regimes having nothing in common with Western notions of Freedom and Democracy. Both were autocratic systems of government with absolute dictators at the helm. As far as their attitudes to Jews were concerned, up until 1939 they had more in common concerning how they treated their Jewish citizens - with official oppression of Jews and destruction of Judaism.
Both Fascist Nazi Germany and Communist Soviet Russia practiced government-sanctioned anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Antisemitism in the Soviet Union often approached the levels of the anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic racial policies of Nazi Germany.
After all during the Great Purge 1936–1938 Stalin murdered most of the Russian Communist Party's founding Jewish-born Bolshevik leaders and cadres, something to match Hitler stripping Jewish German World War One veterans of any honor and dignity that they deserved from Germany and culminating with the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Maybe the fact that Stalin was born into a devout Russian Orthodox family while Hitler was born into a devout Roman Catholic family, also provided an underlying Christian commonality between them. Even though they were both not religious men, early upbringing always plays a formative psychological role.
Hitler and Stalin were both despotic megalomaniacs with unlimited state power at their disposal, and they were both paranoid and hateful when it came to the Jews. Germany had over 500,000 Jews in it during the early 1930s while the USSR had a huge number of more than 3,000,000 Jews, and Poland in between them had more than 3,300,000 Jews before the Holocaust.
Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union were both anti-Semitic and cared not at all about the fate of the Jews. This recalls the Purim story in the Scroll of Esther of the cynical relationship between Haman, from the seed of Amalek the arch-enemy of the Jews and a type of Hitler who wanted to kill all the Jews, and Stalin a type of Ahasuerus who wanted to get rid of all the Jews in ancient Persia so they make a deal between them that would have wiped out all the Jews under their control. By the time of his death in 1953 Stalin had plans to finally get rid of Russia's Jews as evidenced by the notorious so-called Doctors Plot 1951–1953.
There were more historical factors that pushed Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union into each other's arms. After the Russian Revolution and during the Russian Civil War 1917–1923, particularly during 1918–20, Britain, France, America, and several other Western nations tried to suppress the Bolshevik Revolution by the Communists. They sent their armies to fight against the Red Russian Bolshevik Communists and kept up a boycott against Russia, so that Stalin and his diplomats and military leaders were not naturally predisposed to any good feelings towards the Democratic and Capitalistic Britain, France and America.
In addition Poland fought for and gained its independence from Russia during 1918–1921. No wonder that after the First World War when Germany illegally under Hitler wanted to secretly train its growing army away from the watchful eyes of the British and French they were secretly given bases to do so in Russia to conduct clandestine maneuvers. So there was already a "silent channel" of communication already at work between Germany and Russia that preceded the formal Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23rd, 1939 that basically cemented the ongoing evil partnership that at first would result in the destruction of Poland.
When Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, the British, French and Americans did not want to go to war to save anyone and were officially at peace with Nazi Germany, while Russia cynically joined with Hitler by invading and devouring the eastern part of Poland. Russian/Soviet forces invaded Poland on September 17th, 1939 a mere sixteen days after the German Blitzkrieg smashed into and destroyed western Poland.
Historians have not stopped debating the meanings and murky origins of the Nazi–Soviet Pact, also known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed in Moscow on August 23rd, 1939 nine days before Germany notoriously triggered the outbreak of World War Two by attacking Poland. Russia, or more officially the USSR, under dictator Joseph Stalin made a Machiavellian deal with Hitler to unite and attack Poland together and to divide the Polish spoils of war between themselves. A union between Hitler and Stalin, between the German Wehrmacht and the Russian Red Army, between the arch-Fascist Nazis and the arch-Communist Soviets meant going to war together against a peaceful country that was also home to over 3,300,000 Polish Jews, that did not in any way pose a realistic military or strategic threat to them. On the contrary, all Poland wanted was peace with its two arch-enemies, the Germans and the Russians!
But this marriage made in hell between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia exploded in Stalin's face, when Hitler, after spending time conquering Western Europe, decided to turn his attention on the Soviet Union and launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22nd, 1941, attacking the Soviet Union and destroying the alliance and whatever pacts he had made and promised to Stalin and the Soviets.
Once Russia was under siege by Germany, it allowed Russia's Jews to do their part in fighting to defeat Germany. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 Russian Jews served in all spheres of the Russian Red Army during World War Two. It is important to note that during the war, Jews were not only victims of the Holocaust, but where they were allowed to join and fight, as they were in Russia and America and Britain, they did so overwhelmingly and with joy and bravery.
Some historians have theorized that Stalin was planning a surprise attack on Nazi Germany and Hitler simply preempted by hitting the Soviets first. Whatever the case may be, it was definitely the end of the diplomatic union between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. From that point on Nazi Germany would wage total war against the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union would fight back defiantly in spite of great losses. It would eventually defeat the Nazis and be the ones to enter Berlin at war's end as the USSR became a bona fide member of the Allies, joining Britain and eventually the United States.
All this occurred while the USA still sat it out following a policy of Isolationism and official neutrality, until America was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941, although until then, behind the scenes, President Franklin Roosevelt of the USA allowed clandestine shipments of weapons to Britain and even to Russia once it was attacked by Germany.
There is a famous quote by Winston Churchill the war-time prime minister of the United Kingdom, when asked how he could now support Communist Russia given his past anti-Communist positions, he famously declared: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons"! This was in regard to the signing of the Anglo-Soviet Agreement of July 12, 1941 that saw Churchill's ambassador to the Soviet Union representing Britain sign with Stalin's Foreign Minister representing the Soviet Union. The USA was still neutral and not involved in the war at this point because of its policy of Isolationism.
As the paraphrase of the poet Robert Burns says: "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry"! So Stalin's plans and deals with Hitler went down the drain as he was pushed to become part of the Allies against his will. Philosophers, historians and political scientists might say that instead of being Hitler's partner, Stalin's and the Soviet Union's arm was twisted by "Fate" or by "Circumstances" to join the Allies as a key partner.
It would then be the Soviet Red Army that would inflict the first strategic loss for Germany on the European mainland at the Battle of Stalingrad (August 23, 1942–February 2, 1943). For a Jew who believes in God Who is in charge of His Creation and conducts the affairs of humankind according to a Divine Plan, the explanation is straightforward, because it was God's Will that Stalin and his nation be the main actors on the stage of history, not to befriend as they had first wanted, but for Russia to defeat Nazi Germany.Hitler eventually committed suicide inside his Fuhrerbunker as Russian troops were about to capture him, and finally bring the twelve year Third Reich that Hitler had bragged "would last for a 1,000 years", to its ignominious end.
Any geographical areas of the Soviet Union conquered and occupied by Nazi Germany became hell on Earth for Jews living in those areas:
*The Holocaust in Russia: "The YIVO encyclopedia places the number of Holocaust victims in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic at over 119,000....The Nazi Genocide of the Jews carried by German Einsatzgruppen, and Wehrmacht along with local collaborators resulted in almost complete annihilation of the Jewish population over the entire territory temporarily occupied by Germany and its allies." Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union.
*The Holocaust in Ukraine: "Between 1941 and 1944, more than a million Jews living in the Soviet Union, almost all from Ukraine and Belarus, were murdered by Nazi Germany's "Final Solution" extermination policies and with the help of local Ukrainian collaborators. Most of them were killed in Ukraine because most pre-WWII Soviet Jews lived in the Pale of Settlement, of which Ukraine was the largest part." Belarus was also a part of the Soviet Union at that time.
*The Holocaust in Belarus: "It is estimated that roughly 800,000 Byelorussian Jews (or about 90% of the Jewish population of Byelorussia) were murdered during the Holocaust. However, other estimates put the number of Jews killed between 500,000 and 550,000 (about 80% of the Belarusian Jewish population)."
*The Holocaust in the Soviet Union is even greater in horrific proportions if one adds in the Holocaust in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia: "At the start of the conflict, there were estimated to be approximately five million Jews in the Soviet Union of whom four million lived in the regions occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941 and 1942. The majority of Soviet Jews murdered in the Holocaust were killed in the first nine months of the occupation during the so-called Holocaust by Bullets. Approximately 1.5 million Jews succeeded in fleeing eastwards into Soviet territory; it is thought that 1.152 million Soviet Jews had been murdered by December 1942."
However Russia's path to victory over Germany was not clear-cut because, besides being soaked with the blood of many sacrificed Soviet Russian Jewish Holocaust victims, the Germans were always launching counter-offensives. There was also a famous "general" without whose crucial assistance Russia may well have lost to the Nazis. This "general" is unusual because, like Elijah the prophet, he appears at the most unconventional times, for Russia at war mainly in Winter. When Russia was under attack and being invaded by conquering enemy armies the icy and snowy weather helped the Russians. This "general" made its most famous appearance helping to defeat the French invasion of Russia in 1812 when France led by Napoleon was brought to its knees in Russia by the famous "general" who forced the French to retreat from Russia after they had even reached Moscow, its capital. This Russian "general" is none other than the famous so-called GENERAL WINTER which also defeated the invading German army after the 1941 invasion and forced them to retreat from Russia, as they neared Moscow.
Thus it was "nature", meaning God, Who inflicted the mortal blows on the invading Germans and tilted the balance of power in favor of the Russians forces.
Ironically, as God guides the nations of the world to do His Will, it was thanks to the Russian/Soviet Red Army, that instead of partnering with Hitler, the Russian Red Army led by Stalin's generals brought about Hitler's death and destruction as Hitler committed suicide rather than be captured by the Russian troops surrounding his besiged bunker in Berlin. Hitler committed suicide on April 30th, 1945 and he gave orders that his body be burned. Once this happened Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the Allies a few days later on May 8th, 1945 celebrated as Victory in Europe (VE) Day!
Just as in the Purim story, Haman, Hitler's symbolic historical ancestor, was defeated and met his final ignominious demise, leaving Ahasuerus, like Stalin with a huge part of the Holocaust-surviving Jewish nation in the Soviet Union under his control. They would eventually mostly leave for Israel when the Iron Curtain gates of the crumbling Soviet Union fell.
Next: How America persisted with its policy of Isolationism and refused to join the war against Nazi Germany until it was attacked by Japan on December 7th, 1941.
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.
He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]