The Battle of Berlin was the final large-scale military operation to
take place in Europe during World War II. The British and American allies did
not participate in this offensive, leaving the Soviet army to conquer the city
The Battle of Berlin was one of the largest battles in human history.
It began on April 16 in the outskirts of the city. By April 25, Soviet
troops had entered the Third Reich’s capital. About 3.5 million soldiers from
both sides participated in the fight with more than 50,000 weapons and 10,000
Soviet troops stormed Berlin while the rest of the Allied army remained more than 100 kilometers outside the German capital. In 1943, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt declared that “the U.S. must obtain Berlin.”
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed that the Nazi capital must not fall into Soviet hands. However, in the spring of 1945, these Allied forces did not make any effort to take possession of the city. British historian John Fuller called it “one of the strangest decisions ever made in military history.”
However, this decision had its motives. In an interview with RBTH, Russian historian Andrei Soyustov said that there were at least two reasons for this decision.
First, according to preliminary agreements, including the accords made in Yalta, Berlin was located in the zone of Soviet military operations. The demarcation line between the USSR and the other Allied forces went along the Elbe River. “Rushing into Berlin for the sake of status, could have, at minimum, backfired and may have resulted in a USSR decision not to fight against Japan,” explains the historian.
The second reason for not storming the giant urban center was that the Allies had been fraught with casualties as the end of the war approached. In the period between the Normandy landing and April 1945 the Allies “were able to avoid storming large cities,” Soyustov notes.
Soviet casualties in the Battle of
Berlin were indeed very high with 80,000 injured and at least 20,000 killed.
The German side suffered just as many losses.
Berlin was captured by Soviet troops on three fronts. The most difficult task fell to the soldiers from the First Belarus Front, commanded by Georgy Zhukov, who had to charge the well-fortified German position in Seelow Heights on the outskirts of the city.
The attack began during the night of April 16 with an unprecedentedly powerful and coordinated artillery barrage. Then, without waiting for morning, tanks entered the battle supported by the infantry.
The offensive was conducted with the help of floodlights, which were set up behind the advancing troops. Even with the use of this clever this tactic, several days were needed to seize Seelow Heights.
Initially, almost one million German servicemen were concentrated around Berlin. However, they were met by a Soviet force that was 2.5 times greater. At the very beginning of the Berlin operation, Soviet troops succeeded in cutting off the majority of the German units from the city.
Due to this, the Soviet Army encountered only a few hundred thousand German soldiers in Berlin itself, including the Volkssturm (the militia) and the Hitler Youth. There were also many SS units from different European countries.
Hitler’s troops worked desperately to defend themselves with two lines of defense organized in Berlin. Many homes were equipped with bunkers and these houses, with their thick walls, became impregnable strongholds.
Of particular danger for the advancing Soviet troops were the anti-tank weapons, bazookas and hand grenades since Soviet forces were heavily reliant on the use of armored vehicles during the attack. In this environment of urban warfare, many tanks were destroyed.
Following the war, commanders of the Soviet operation were often criticized for relying so heavily on the use of armored vehicles.
However, as emphasized by Soyustov, in such conditions the use of tanks was justified: “Thanks to the heavy use of armored vehicles, the Soviet army was able to create a very mobile unit of support for the advancing troops, which helped them break through the barricades into the city center.”
The tactics used in the Battle of Berlin built on experience from the Battle of Stalingrad. The Soviet troops established special assault units, in which tanks played a critical role.
Typically, maneuvers were carried out in the following manner: The infantry moved along both sides of the street, checking the windows on both sides, to identify obstacles that were dangerous for the vehicles, such as camouflaged weapons, barricades and tanks embedded in the ground.
If the troops noticed such impediments up ahead, the Soviet infantry would wait for the arrival of their self-propelled tanks and self-propelled howitzers, known as “Stalin’s sledgehammer.”
Once this support arrived, the armored vehicles would work to destroy German fortifications at point-blank range. However, there were situations where the infantry could not keep up with the armored vehicles and consequently, the tanks were isolated from their cover and became easy prey for the German anti-tank weapons and artillery.
The culmination of the offensive on Berlin was the battle for the Reichstag, the German parliament building. At the time, it was the highest building in the city center and its capture had symbolic significance.
The first attempt to seize the Reichstag on April 27 failed and the fight continued for four more days. The turning point occurred on April 29 as Soviet troops took possession of the fortified Interior Ministry building, which occupied an entire block. The Soviets finally captured the Reichstag on the evening of April 30.
Early in the morning of May 1, the
flag of the 150th Rifle division was raised over the building. This was later
referred to as the Banner of Victory.
On April 30, Adolf Hitler
committed suicide in his bunker. Until the last moment, Hitler had been hoping
that troops from other parts of Germany would come to his aid in Berlin, but
this did not happen. The Berlin troops surrendered on May 2.
Calculating the losses involved in the Battle of Berlin at the end of such a bloody war, some historians doubt whether the Soviet attack of the city was necessary.
In the opinion of historian and writer Yuri Zhukov, after the Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe river, surrounding the German units in Berlin, it was possible to do without the offensive on the Nazi capital.
“Georgy Zhukov… could have just tightened the blockade circle on an hourly basis… But for an entire week, he mercilessly sacrificed thousands of Soviet soldiers… He obtained the surrender of the Berlin garrison on May 2. But if this capitulation had occurred not on May 2 but, let’s say, on the 6th or the 7th, tens of thousands of our soldiers would have been saved,” Zhukov continues.
However, there are other opinions that contradict this view. Some researchers say that if the Soviet troops had just besieged the city, they would have lost the strategic initiative to the Germans.
Nazi attempts to break the blockade from the inside and outside would have resulted in just as many losses for the Soviet Army as the attack, claims Soyustov. It is also not clear how long such a blockade would have lasted.
Soyustov also says that delaying the Berlin operation could have resulted in political problems between the Allied forces.
It is no secret that towards the end of the war the Third Reich’s representatives tried to negotiate a separate peace deal with the Americans and British forces. “In these circumstances, no one would have been able to predict how a blockade of Berlin would have developed,” Soyustov is convinced.
clear that during the most horrendous war in the history of mankind, the USSR
suffered greater losses than any other country – but the exact number of
victims remains disputed.
reacting to Winston Churchill’s Fulton speech that marked the start of the Cold
War, Joseph Stalin mentioned the Great Patriotic War (how Russians refer to the
war with Nazi Germany) and stated that “as a result of the German invasion, the
Soviet Union irrevocably lost… around 7 million people.” That was the first
ever official Soviet stance on war casualties. And it was fake news.
“In fact, Stalin had knowledge of the other statistical data: 15 million
casualties. This number was contained in a report delivered to him in early
1946, by the commission led by The State Planning Committee’s president Nikolai
Voznesensky,” Professor Viktor Zemskov of the Institute of Russian History
notes. Zemskov supposes that Stalin was eager to hide the real scale of losses
from both the Soviet citizens and the world – in order not to show the USSR as
a state weakened by the war.
Nevertheless, the official 7-million estimate of casualties didn’t last
long, as most Soviet people believed that number to be too low. In 1965, Nikita
Khrushchev, who succeeded Stalin as USSR’s leader, mentioned a higher number:
20 million. Essentially, this is the number that became the official evaluation
for the rest of the Soviet era – Leonid Brezhnev adhered to it too, but added
“more than” to the 20 million casualties.
Both Khrushchev and Brezhnev used the phrase “the war cost the country…” to
lump everyone together, not separating those who died in the battlefield,
victims of German occupation, those who starved to death, etc.
After the dissolution of the USSR, the estimate grew again. According to the
latest statements that Russian authorities officially acknowledge, overall
losses (both among soldiers and civilians) amounted to 26,6 million people.
That’s the official evaluation of the losses today (in 2019) – at least, it’s
the number Russian state officials mention on Victory day, commemorations and
While dealing with those numbers, they didn’t take the whole World War II
into account, but rather only the war between the USSR and Nazi Germany between
1941-1945, excluding the Soviet operations between 1939-1941 (the invasion of
Poland and the Winter War with Finland) and the Soviet-Japanese war of
Another important nuance is that the official estimate, given by the
Ministry of Defence in 2015, separates the number of losses (26,6 million
people) into the two following categories:
– Around 12 million soldiers were killed in the battlefield, captured (not
having returned) or gone missing.
– The rest (approximately 14,6 million people) were civilians who died in
the occupation zones, were forcefully moved to Germany (and did not come back)
or lost their lives to starvation, illnesses and so on.
The 26,6 million estimate of losses clearly is official (as of now), but far
from being the only one. Though the Great Patriotic War ended almost 75 years
ago, the war of numbers still goes on, with different historians proposing
different ways to measure the number of losses.
On the one hand, from time to time occurring versions suggest even bigger
losses than the official estimate. For instance, in 2017, Nikolai Zemtsov,
Deputy of the Russian State Duma, stated that “the USSR irrevocably lost almost
42 million people due to [the Great Patriotic] war factors.” That version,
however, is very doubtful – Zemtsov included in that enormous number not only
people who actually died, but children who were not born due to the war – which
is incorrect, as professional demographers state.
On the other hand, there are opinions that suggest 26,6 million is already
an overestimation. In his 2015 article, Viktor Zemskov suggested that the
estimation of war casualties (11,5 – 12 million) is correct, but the number of
civilian losses due to war factors includes too many people: “Such statistics
include the increased mortality in the Soviet home front because of
malnutrition, overburdening work and so on… I disagree with such an
According to Zemskov, it is too hard to distinguish between deaths caused by
war and natural reasons in this case – so to be more precise, historians should
have only included in the number of civilian deaths caused by war, i.e. those
killed directly by Germans, by bombardments, those who died during the Siege of
Leningrad – that amounts to 4,5 million victims. Combined with actual war
casualties, that gives us 16 million people. Nevertheless, official statistics
embrace a larger number of people.
While the argument on the evaluation methods can go on forever, one thing is undeniable: during the Great Patriotic War, the USSR lost a great number of people – strong and passionate men and women in their prime – but it saved the world from German Nazism. The price of victory was terrible, but the price of defeat would have been unthinkable.
There are numerous autobiographical testimonies about World War II
and the Third Reich. The memoirs of former generals or soldiers engaged in
telling their hardships and feats from a heroic perspective abounded for a time
in German language.
Many of these authors were perfectly willing to accept that Hitler
was a tyrant who dragged Germany to disaster, but not to give up pride in their
exploits during the war, which they considered legitimate. Giving up their
pride would have meant accepting the terrible absurdity of the adversities they
had passed through. Is it not too high a price for those who had left the best
youth in the battlefield? After all, our psyche requires us to be able to give
meaning to our suffering, even if this meaning has to be fabricated.
With the advent of May 1968, the European mentality experienced a
turning point that ended this attitude. Thereafter, the former heroic
testimonies could only be self-published or appear in small publishing houses
with a more than questionable political affiliation.
The heroic discourse was gradually becoming a stale and
reactionary attitude, which was inappropriate in the new times. In return, the
victims’ testimonies, a genuine literary genre with its own rules which had
been formerly unnoticed, proliferated and spread more than ever. A new desire to be
a victim, which was replacing the old pride of being a hero,
began to emerge: in some extreme cases impostors appeared describing in great
detail stories of survival in the concentration camps which they had never
experienced. I may return to this in a future entry.
But the kind of testimony that has always shone eloquently for its
absence is the unrepentant Nazi, despite the fact that a high percentage of the
German population of 1945 consisted of them. The reasons for this absence are
in and of themselves and are undoubtedly related to an unacknowledged feeling
However, we can barely count with direct testimonies of someone who recognizes himself as being deeply convinced of the truth of the Nazi worldview. It amazes me all the more that one of the most valuable testimonies of this type rarely appears in the endless bibliographies about Nazism and still does not even have a German translation. I’m referring toA Mind in Prison, the extraordinary memoirs of the German-born physicist Bruno Manz, published in 2000.
title suggests, Manz’s mind was imprisoned by the ideological and propaganda
machine of the Third Reich, but also by the strong convictions held in his
home. His father had always been an assured Nazi, and the deep love that the
child felt for him facilitated inoculation of his ideological venom. It was
easy for the Hitler Youth to do the rest. Later, the handsome soldier Manz ended
up becoming an enthusiastic teacher who was responsible for, among other
things, the indoctrination of Wehrmacht soldiers in Nazi ideology.
Apparently, Manz was lucky not to be directly involved in violent
crimes; however, he was undoubtedly an ideological criminal, a truth about
himself that he finally accepted with all its bitterness. The book also
describes with unusual honesty the disturbing ideological liberation process he
had to face after 1945.
Among other things, and though it took him several months, he
ended up being forced to accept that the death camps were not a mere invention
of Allied propaganda. Finally freed from his mental prison, in 1957 Manz
emigrated to The United States and settled in the country of the former enemy,
taking American citizenship. Ironically, he worked as a physicist in the
missile development program of his new country.
Manz said that, as in many other German homes, in the entrance of
his house in Dortmund there was a kind of domestic altar. Set in the middle was
the Nazi flag; on top, a portrait of Hitler, and on either side pictures of
Goebbels and Göring. Is there any better proof of how the National Socialism
was a political religion?
now let’s have a look at the valuable testimony of Manz:
picture that represented the Führer was a technically inferior photograph of
his profile that my father had bought at Nazi headquarters. From the very
beginning my father was unhappy with this picture, but he put up with it for
want of a better one. The stumbling block was the Führer’s shaggy hair, which
was dotted with mysterious spots that looked quite unnatural and created the
impression that the photograph had been tampered with. […] Apparently the Goebbels
propaganda was also unhappy with the Hitler photograph, for it suddenly ordered
the picture to be withdrawn from all shops and showcases. But no explanation
was given, and that’s when the rumors started. The Stürmer, we heard by the
grapevine, had launched an investigation, yet its findings were so sensitive
that they could not be printed. They could only be transmitted by word of
mouth, and then only to the most trustworthy. In this way, we eventually
learned the “truth”. The pathetic photograph of Hitler was a sinister
fabrication of the Jews. With great technical skill, they had woven all sorts
of Jewish faces into Hitler’s shaggy hair, thus putting him on notice that they
were still calling the shots. Now our eyes had been “opened.” Turning the
picture around and viewing it from all angles, we “saw” a whole array of Jewish
faces laughing and scoffing at us.
was stunned. I am not sure whether my father took the affair as seriously as I
did, but it was he who dug even deeper into the sinister plot. As the commotion
was already cooling down, he surprised us at the dinner table with a view that
tingled my spine. Turning Hitler’s profile upside down, he showed that his ear
became a Jewish nose, his lower jaw turned into a bald forehead, a strand of
hair was transformed into puffy lips, and so on. Now I was really frightened.
If the Jews could penetrate the inner sanctuary of the National Socialist
Party, was there anything they could not to?
The sudden withdrawal of Hitler’s photograph, which had a strong
impact on the German population, was with no doubt due to image control
measures of the Ministry of Propaganda. Trade with Führer portraits had become
a big business, so images of poor quality proliferated. This was to be avoided
at all costs. Moreover, Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, had
exclusive photographic rights to the dictator. Any of these reasons amply
explains the confiscation of the image referred to by Manz, without resorting
to a conspiracy theory.
But in modern western civilization, conspiracy theories always had a big success. The extraordinary effectiveness of their argumentative mechanism has always fascinated me. By constructing false causal links, a conspiracy theory allows us to mark as true something that is nothing but a prejudice, a fear, an irrational hatred or mere suspicion.
There is always a conspiracy theory that will allow us to claim a rational attitude and a logical scrutiny to cover feelings that would embarrass us if we showed them in all their naked irrationality and primitivism. Conspiracy theories even allow us to be proud of our superior intelligence. After all, it was us who knew how to see Jewish faces in the image, where other ignorant mortals only see mere spots formed by chance.
Rare and valuable testimonies like these, though anecdotal, allow us to come closer to the mental mechanisms of horror. What matters is not so much to be aware of the tragic consequences of barbarism, but the simple and effective cognitive mechanisms that, at any given time, can make us a barbarian. In this sense, Manz has given us a priceless testimony.
Contemporary German architecture set its main trends in the first thirty years of the 20th century. The strongest influences came from Weimar and Dessau, where the Bauhaus school was founded in 1919.
Under the leadership of Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), the Bauhaus style spread to the far corners of the earth. Today masterpieces of its synthesis of architecture, technology and functionality can be found all over the world.
The origins of Bauhaus were far from the earlier methods of education in industrial art, art proper and architecture. Its program was based on the newest knowledge in pedagogy.
The idealistic basis of Bauhaus was a socially orientated program, wherein an artist must be conscious of his social responsibility to the community, while the community has to accept the artist and support him. The word, “Bauhaus” is from two German words, Bau, or “building” (from the verb, bauen, “to build”), and Haus, or “house.” The literal meaning is, “architecture house.”
But above all the intention of Bauhaus was to develop creative minds for architecture and industry and thus influence them so that they would be able to produce artistically, technically and practically balanced utensils.
The institute included workshops for making models of type houses and all kinds of utensils, and departments of advertising art, stage planning, photography, and typography. The neoplastic and constructive movements of art to a great extent steered the form lines of Bauhaus. Teachers were such masters of modern art as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.
To better understand the aims of the Bauhaus school, one has to read the following extracts from Walter Gropius’ Manifesto: “The ultimate aim of all creative activity is a building! The decoration of buildings was once the noblest function of fine arts, and fine arts were indispensable to great architecture.
Today they exist in complacent isolation, and can only be rescued by the conscious co-operation and collaboration of all craftsmen. Architects, painters, and sculptors must once again come to know and comprehend the composite character of a building, both as an entity and in terms of its various parts. Then their work will be filled with that true architectonic spirit which, as “salon art”, it has lost.” … “Architects, painters, sculptors, we must all return to crafts! For there is no such thing as “professional art”.
There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman.” … “Let us therefore create a new guild of craftsmen without the class-distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us desire, conceive, and create the new building of the future together. It will combine architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single form.”
Often associated with being anti-industrial, the Arts and Crafts Movement had dominated the field before the start of the Bauhaus in 1919. The Bauhaus’ focus was to merge design with industry, providing well designed products for the many.
The basic idea of the Bauhaus teaching concept was the unity of artistic and practical tuition. Every student had to complete a compulsory preliminary course, after which he or she had to enter a workshop of his or her choice. There were several types of workshops available: metal, wood sculpture, glass painting, weaving, pottery, furniture, cabinet making, three-dimensional work, typography, wall painting, and some others.
It was not easy to get general allowances for the new type of art education. A political pressure was felt from the beginning. In 1925 the Thueringer government withdrew its economic support from the education. Bauhaus found a new location in Dessau. The city gave Gropius building projects: a school, workshop and atelier building (1925-1926) has remained in history by the name ‘Bauhaus Dessau’.
In October 1926, the school was officially accredited by the government of the Land, and the masters were promoted to professors. Hence, the Bauhaus obtained the subtitle “School of Design”.
The training course from then on corresponded to university studies and led to a Bauhaus Diploma. Later this year, because of some political and financial difficulties, the Bauhaus center could no longer remain in Weimar and was closed. In April 1925, Bauhaus resumed its work in Dessau.
Personal relations in Bauhaus were not as harmonious as they may seem now, half a century later. The Swiss painter Johannes Itten and the Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who taught the Preliminary Course, left after strong disagreements in 1928, Paul Klee – in 1931. Some, for instance Kandinsky and Albers, stayed loyal until the closing of Bauhaus in 1933.
In spite of the success, Gropius left the Bauhaus leadership in 1928. His successor was the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer. He promoted the scientific development of the design training with vigor. However, Meyer failed as leader due to political disagreement inside Bauhaus. He was dismissed in 1930.
The German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was invited as director. He was compelled to cut down on the educational program. Practical work was reduced. Bauhaus approached a type of ‘vocational university’. It began to loose the splendid universality that had made it so excellent. Training of vocational subjects started to dominate the initial steps of education. As a matter of fact this tendency became stronger after Mies van der Rohe had transformed the school into a private institute in Berlin in 1932.
The Nazi majority of Dessau suspended the seat of learning. Paul Schultze-Naumburg was the architect that they sent into the school to re-establish pure German art instead of the “cosmopolitan rubbish” the Bauhaus artists were doing. He described Bauhaus furniture as Kisten, or boxes.
Bauhaus was even as private institution so much hated by the National Socialist government that the police closed it up on 11th April, 1933. By September 1932, the Nazis had won a majority in Dessau, and cut off all financial support to the Bauhaus. The school was forced to move to Berlin, where it survived without any public funding for a brief time. On April 11 1933, the Berlin police, acting on the orders of the new Nazi government finally closed it.
The Nazi’s “degenerate art” exhibition in 1937 featured works by several former Bauhaus teachers. The Nazis failed in their efforts to completely erase the Bauhaus.
Its forced closure and the subsequent emigration of many of its former staff and students, ensured that it would become famous and influential throughout the world, especially in the United States, where a Bauhaus school was established in Chicago in 1937. The Bauhaus had a lasting impact on art education and in architecture.
The New Bauhaus, founded in 1937 in Chicago, was the immediate successor to the Bauhaus dissolved in 1933 under National Socialist pressure.
Bauhaus ideology had a strong impact throughout America, but it was only at the New Bauhaus that the complete curriculum as developed under Walter Gropius in Weimar and Dessau was adopted and further developed.
The former Bauhaus master Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was founding director of the New Bauhaus. The focus on natural and human sciences was increased, and photography grew to play a more prominent role at the school in Chicago than it had done in Germany. Training in mechanical techniques was more sophisticated than it had been in Germany.
The method and aim of the school were likewise adapted to American requirements. Moholy-Nagy’s successor at the head of the Institute of Design, Serge Chermayeff, however, remained still quite true to the original Bauhaus.
In the 1950s the New Bauhaus merged with the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Institute of Design is even now still part of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and rates as a respected and professionally oriented school of design.
Gustav Stresemann, a German politician and statesman who served as Chancellor in 1923 (for a brief period of 102 days) and Foreign Minister 1923–1929, during the Weimar Republic. He was co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926.
Stresemann was a Vernunftrepublikaner, that is, someone who supported the Weimar Republic because it seemed the best course of action rather than from a firm commitment to parliamentary democracy. During the war, Stresemann had supported imperial aims and desired extensive annexation of foreign territory.
After the war, he remained a monarchist and founded the DVP to oppose the republic. In early 1920, he wished for the success of the Kapp Putsch. However, shocked by the assassinations of several prominent politicians, he had gradually come to believe that the effective functioning of the Weimar Republic was the best safeguard against violent regimes of either the left or the right. He also became convinced that Germany’s economic problems and differences with other countries could best be resolved through negotiated agreements.
Chancellor only from August to November 1923, Stresemann headed the “great coalition,” an alliance that included the SPD, the Center Party, the DDP, and the DVP.
In this brief period, he ended passive resistance in the Ruhr area and introduced measures to bring the currency situation under control. Because of the failure of several coup attempts–including one by Adolf Hitler in Munich–and a general quieting of the atmosphere after these problems had been solved, the Weimar Republic was granted a period of relative tranquility that lasted until the end of the decade. Overriding issues were by no means settled, but, for a few years, the republic functioned more like an established democracy.
After his resignation from the chancellorship because of opposition from the right and left, Stresemann served as German foreign minister until his death in 1929. A brilliant negotiator and a shrewd diplomat, Stresemann arranged a rapprochement with the Allies.
Reparations payments were made easier by the Reichstag’s acceptance in mid-1924 of the Dawes Plan, which had been devised by an American banker, Charles G. Dawes, to effect significant reductions in payments until 1929. That year, only months before his death, Stresemann negotiated a further reduction as part of the Young Plan, also named for an American banker, Owen D. Young.
The Dawes Plan had also provided for the withdrawal of French and Belgian troops from the Ruhr district, which was completed in 1925. In addition, beginning in the mid-1920s, loans from the United States stimulated the German economy, instigating a period of growth that lasted until 1930.
Gustav_Stresemann,_Chamberlain,_BriandThe Locarno treaties, signed in 1925 by Germany and the Allies, were the centerpiece of Stresemann’s attempt at rapprochement with the West. A prerequisite to Germany’s admission to the League of Nations in 1926, the treaties formalized German acceptance of the demilitarization of the Rhineland and guaranteed the western frontier as defined by the Treaty of Versailles.
Both Britain and Germany preferred to leave the question of the eastern frontier open. In 1926 the German and Soviet governments signed the Treaty of Berlin, which pledged Germany and the Soviet Union to neutrality in the event of an attack on either country by foreign powers.
The Locarno treaties, the Treaty of Berlin, and Germany’s membership in the League of Nations were successes that earned Stresemann world renown. Within Germany, however, these achievements were condemned by many on the right who charged that these agreements implied German recognition of the validity of the Treaty of Versailles.
To them, Stresemann’s diplomacy, as able as Bismarck’s in the opinion of some historians, was tantamount to treachery because Germany was honor bound to take by force that which the rightists felt was owed it. Because of these opinions and continued dissatisfaction on the right with the political system established by the Weimar Constitution, the Center Party and the parties to its right became more right-wing during the latter 1920s, as did even Stresemann’s own party, the DVP.
Carl Schmitt, preeminent antiliberal, is that rare thing, the modern political philosopher relevant long after his time. The simple remember him only for his grasping embrace of Nazism, but the more astute, especially on the Left, have in recent times found much to ponder in Schmitt’s protean writings.
He did not offer ideology, as did so many forgotten political philosophers, but instead clear analysis of power relations, untied to any specific system or regime.
So, as the neoliberal new world order collapses, and the old dragons of man, lulled for decades by the false promises of liberal democracy, rise from slumber, such matters are become relevant once more, and Schmitt informs our times, echoing, as they do, his times.
This book, Gopal Balakrishnan’s The Enemy, slickly analyzes Schmitt’s complex and often contradictory writings. Because Schmitt offered no system, and often contradicted himself in sequential writings, or at least offered ideas hard to rationalize with each other, too often he is seen as an “affectively charged symbol, not as someone whose thought could be understood through a comprehensive and systematic study.”
Balakrishnan’s goal is to accomplish that latter task. “My objective is to reconstruct the main lines of his thought from 1919 to 1950 by identifying the problems he was addressing in context.”
The author makes clear up front that he wants to explore Schmitt’s thought, objectively, not through the lens of his association with Nazism: “Those who still insist on adopting the role of either prosecutor or defence attorney in discussing Schmitt can, I hope, be convinced that there are far more interesting issues involved.”
And, critically, while Balakrishnan is a leftist, his views never, as far as I can tell, infect the text in any way—perhaps, in part, because he feels strongly that Schmitt is not himself monolithically on the Right.
I have not read any Schmitt directly, yet, and so I cannot say if Balakrishnan’s summaries of Schmitt’s thought are accurate or complete. But I turned to Schmitt because his name kept coming up in modern books by leftists (and was used by #NeverTrumper Bill Kristol when trying to tar his opponents). Certainly, at first glance, his thought is relevant not only to the Left, but is just as relevant for today’s reactionaries, such as me.
This is because Schmitt’s thought did not revolve around a retreat to the past, imaginary or otherwise. He was not interested in such restorationism; he correctly saw it as a false path. Rather, all of Schmitt’s thought revolved around taking what exists today and, informed by the past instead of by some Utopian ideology, creating the future. He was master of identifying and rejecting the historical anachronism in favor of reality; such clarity is one key to effective Reaction.
Born in 1888, of a provincial Roman Catholic family in the Rhineland, Schmitt studied jurisprudence (which then included political science and political philosophy) in Berlin in the early 1900s.
At that time, the legal philosophy of positivism dominated German thinking. Positivism held that the law consisted only of, and was derived only from, legal pronouncements, and formed a seamless whole through and by which all legal decisions could be made uniformly and predictably, if only one looked hard enough.
This, a modernist concept beloved of liberals, had erased the earlier philosophy of natural law, under which much of the law existed outside specific legal mandates written down in books, whether divinely mandated or the result of custom and human nature.
Schmitt’s early writings expressed some doubt about positivism, which in the pre-war years had come under some attack as permitting, then ignoring, gaps, as well as for ignoring who made the law. The war, however, firmly set his thought on the path it was to take for the rest of his long life, which was opposition to positivism, as well as all other liberal forms of law.
Schmitt volunteered, but due to an injury, served in a non-combat capacity in Berlin. Here Schmitt associated not with the Prussian elite, but with a more bohemian crowd.
After the war and the post-war revolutionary disturbances, the mainline left-center parties, over the objections of the defeated rightists and cutting out the violent Left, promulgated the Weimar constitution, in August of 1919.
This document governed Germany until 1933, and it was ultimately the springboard for the most important of Schmitt’s thought. But Schmitt’s first major work was not on the new constitution; it was a book about aesthetics as related to politics, Political Romanticism.
Here, he attacked the German Romantics for refusal to politically commit, instead remaining detached observers of critical events, manipulating words to create emotional effect while standing back from history. They would not decide what was worth fighting for; they merely engaged in “endless conversation,” all talk, no action.
As Balakrishnan notes, this book is neither Left nor Right, and one cannot tell where on the political spectrum the author fell, though Romanticism was generally associated with the Right. Schmitt even cited Karl Marx to support his arguments. He thus, at this point, had very little in common with the anti-Weimar Conservative Revolutionaries, men such as Arthur Moeller van den Bruck or Ernst Jünger. Not that he was a man of the Left; he was merely hard to classify.
Declining to work in government, Schmitt began his academic career in Munich, and in 1921 published The Dictator. Though the book was written earlier, 1921 was immediately after the various Communist revolts, as well as the Kapp Putsch; the political situation was, to say the least, still unsettled.
Article 48 of the new Weimar Constitution allowed the new office of President to rule by decree, using the army, in order to ensure “public safety,” a provision that assumed immense importance later.
Even though he mentioned this power, The Dictator wasn’t narrowly focused on Weimar; it was an analysis of all emergency power itself, and its use in the gaps that existed even under a system of legal positivism, where gaps were supposed to not exist.
Schmitt maintained that dictatorial power of some sort was essential in a political system, but distinguished between “commissarial dictatorship,” used to defend the existing constitutional order through temporary suspension (with the classic example of the Roman dictator), and “sovereign dictatorship,” a body or person acting to dissolve the old constitution and create a new one, in the name of, or on behalf of, the people as a whole.
The commissarial dictator has no power to change the structures or order of the state, which remained unchanged and in a sense unsullied by the dictator’s necessary actions; the sovereign dictator does have such power.
This had obvious applications to Weimar, but Schmitt did not focus on the modern; instead, his analysis revolved around sixteenth-century France, where the King claimed the right to suspend customary right in the execution of royal justice.
Opposed to the King were the Monarchomachs, part of a long tradition of political philosophy holding that a tyrannical or impious king could justly be overthrown, and that no extraordinary measures could be taken by the king without tyranny.
In between was Jean Bodin, author of The Six Books of the Republic, who argued that the king could indeed overthrow customary law, but only in exceptional situations, and only to the extent he did not violate natural law as it ruled persons and property.
This view, endorsed by Schmitt, rejects Machiavelli’s instrumentalism, and holds that the dictator is he, of whatever origin, who executes a commissarial dictatorship, as opposed to a sovereign, one who claims the right to execute a sovereign dictatorship. In the modern context, though, for Schmitt, the sovereign dictatorship is not always illegitimate, because the old structures have imploded.
What was wrong for the King of France in the sixteenth century was right for the Germans in 1919. That is, through his analysis, Schmitt concluded that the Weimar Constitution was wholly legitimate, even though it was the result of a sovereign dictatorship, because the sovereign dictator, the provisional legislative power, the pouvoir constituent (the power that makes the constitution), existed for a defined term and then dissolved itself.
The resulting political problem, though, was that if a new constitution was promulgated in the name of the people, the people remained extant, as a separate point of reference, from which “emerges ever new forms, which it can at any time shatter, never limiting itself.”
This, combined with the revolutionary proletariat threatening civil society, created at least the conceptual need for quick elevation of a commissarial dictator, to deal with illegitimate revolutions, before the possible need for a sovereign dictator arose. Such was Cavaignac’s suppression of the Paris mob in 1848.
(It is no accident that Schmitt’s book, Dictatorship‘s subtitle, often omitted in mentions of it, is “From the Beginnings of the Modern Conception of Sovereignty to the Proletarian Class Struggle,” and Schmitt has much to say about internal Marxist debates of the time, another reason he is still read by the Left).
Schmitt viewed Article 48 as authorizing such a commissarial dictatorship—but under no circumstances authorizing a sovereign dictatorship, which had been foreclosed upon the promulgation of the new constitution, whatever external threats might still exist. Though that did not preclude, perhaps, another such moment, which, in fact, arrived soon enough.
As you can tell, The Enemy is in essence a sequential look at Schmitt’s written output, trying to fit each piece into the context of its immediate time, and with other pieces of Schmitt’s work. Balakrishnan next covers two short but influential books revolving around Roman Catholicism, Political Theology and Roman Catholicism and Political Form.
Although often Schmitt is seen as a Catholic thinker, he had a tense relationship with the Church (not helped by his inability to get an annulment for his first marriage), and much of his thinking was more Gnostic than Catholic. While very different from each other, both books more clearly set out Schmitt’s views on how European decline could be stopped, and it was not by more liberalism.
Political Theology begins with one of Schmitt’s most famous lines: “Sovereign is he who decides on the emergency situation.” The book is an exploration of what the rule of law is, in real life, not in theory; an attack on legal positivism as Utopian through a presentation of the critical gaps that positivism could not address; and an explication of the actual practice of provisions like Article 48.
Someone must be in charge when it really matters, in the “state of emergency”; who is that to be? It is not decided, at its root, by positive law; deep down, it is a theological question (hence the title).
Turning from his earlier suggestion that only a commissarial dictatorship was typically necessary, Schmitt came closer to endorsing sovereign dictatorship of an individual, not derived from the people, in opposition to the menace of proletarian revolution.
He praised another anti-proletarian of 1848, the obscure Spaniard Juan Donoso Cortes, who saw “reactionary adventurers heading regimes no longer sanctioned by tradition,” such as Napoleon, as the men who would fight back atheism and Communism, until the earthly eschaton would restore traditional rule.
This vision did not entrance Schmitt for long; it smacked too much of restorationism, of trying to turn back the clock, rather than creating a new thing informed by the old. Still, this was and is one of Schmitt’s most influential books.
Less influential, perhaps, but more interesting to me, is Roman Catholicism and Political Form. Schmitt had fairly close ties to the Catholic Center Party, but this book is not a political work. Nor is it a book of natural law; as Balakrishnan says, in it “names like Augustine and Aquinas are nowhere to be found.
The book portrayed the Roman Church as the potential pivot around which liberalism and aggressively sovereign monarchs of the old regimes could be brought together, through its role in myth and in standing above and apart from the contending classes, as well as being representative of all classes and peoples. (It sounds like this book has a lot in common with a current fascination of some on the American right, Catholic integralism, a topic I am going to take up soon).
What the people thought didn’t matter, but they should be represented and guided, in their own interests, by a combination of aristocrats and clerics, presumably.
Both these books, and for that matter all of Schmitt’s thought, saw modernity as a mistake, however characterized: as bourgeois capitalism, liberal democracy, or what have you. Spiritually arid, divisive, atomizing, impractical, and narrow, it had no future; the question was what future Europe was to have instead.
In 1923 Germany, it certainly seemed that things were about to fall apart, which called forth Schmitt’s next work, translated as The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (though as Balakrishnan points out, and I have enough German to have noticed first myself, a better translation of the title is The Spiritual-Historical Situation of Today’s Parliamentarianism; the word “crisis” is not in the original title).
Here Schmitt lurched away from the idea of the sovereign imposing good government on the masses, and focused on the mass, the mobilization of the multitude that can give authority to the sovereign who decides on the state of exception, citing men like the violent French syndicalist Georges Sorel and impressing on the reader the power of political myth, rather than Roman Catholic truth.
Schmitt discussed the tension between liberalism and democracy, among other things focusing on rational discourse as the key to any parliamentary system, and that rational discourse tends to be lacking in proportion to the amount of direct democracy in a system, though Schmitt attributed that to the power of political myths creating political unity, not to the ignorance and credulity of the masses, as I would.
(This was once something that was universally recognized and assumed, but today the divide between rationality and democracy is ignored. This change, or debasement, derives from a combination of political ideology, in part informed by Marxism and cultural Marxism, and ignorance, from the forgetting of history and thousands of years of applied political thought. It will not end well).
Schmitt is not recommending a particular resolution or political program; Balakrishnan attributes that to Schmitt still building his own thought, without an ideological goal in mind.
To this extent, as I say, Schmitt is the correct type of reactionary: a man who sees what is wrong about today, and what is right about the past, and seeks to harmonize the two to create a better, but not Utopian, future.
Various other writings followed, responsive to the events of the 1920s. Among many interesting points, Balakrishnan notes that “Schmitt rejected what would later be called ‘Atlanticism’: the idea that the USA and Western Europe belonged to a common civilization, and thus shared political interests.”
(In the years after World War II this was a particular focus of Schmitt, giving him something in common with the later French New Right, as well as the Left in general).
He also mocked the League of Nations; if what matters is who is sovereign, international “law” is the final proof of the contempt in which positivism should be held. He wrote a massive work on German constitutional law (which is untranslated to English), analyzing the relationship between democracy and the Rechtstaat, the core structures of German law revolving around the rule of law, which did not presuppose any particular form of government.
In these writings, Schmitt addressed a wide range of thorny problems, including the legitimacy of law and who authorizes a new constitution, from which arise questions of legitimacy, and, just as importantly (and about to become more important at that time), questions of whose interpretation commands assent.
This latter set of questions began to crystallize Schmitt’s adherence to “decisionism”—the idea that what matters, above all, to the legitimacy of a decision is not its content, or its tie to some underlying document or system, but that it be made by a legitimate authority. This is, needless to say, directly contrary to the claims of legal positivism.
As German politics moved toward its climax, Schmitt’s next work was more theoretical, The Concept of the Political (first published in 1927, then substantially revised in 1932, in part as the result of correspondence with Leo Strauss). This book sounds like the most relevant to today, both in its topic and in the specifics it diagnoses about modern liberalism.
Its overarching theme is the most famous of Schmitt tropes: the enemy. While, like all Schmitt’s works, this book is complex, its premise is that “the concept of the state presupposes the concept of the political,” and what ultimately defines the political is the opposition between friend and enemy—not, as Balakrishnan notes, private friends and enemies, but political communities opposed to each other.
Politics is thus, at its core, not separate from the rest of life, but, ultimately, the way in which a political community determines its destiny, in opposition to those who hold incompatible beliefs, through violent conflict if necessary. This is an internal decision to each political community, not susceptible to rational discussion with those outside the community, and it is not a moral, but rather a practical, decision.
Liberalism, which believes that politics is a matter of pure rationality with a moral overlay, not only misses the point, but by being wrong, exacerbates the chances of and costs of conflict, especially by turning all conflict into a crusade where the enemy is evil, rather than just different. Liberalism makes war and death more, rather than less, likely…
“Schmitt claimed that the logic of these decisions cannot be grasped from a non-partisan perspective. The point he was making was directed at those who, failing to understand the irreducibly partisan, emergent dynamics of such scenarios, see the causes of major political events in the small tricks and mistakes of individuals. Lenin, he said, understood that such people must be decisively refuted.”
In fact, conflicts which seem irrational after the fact are not at all irrational; we just cannot, if we ever could, see clearly the rational impulses that drove them, which, again, boil down to the friend/enemy distinction.
In the late 1920s, Schmitt moved to Berlin, and became part of circles there, mostly conservative but idiosyncratically so. He became close friends with Johannes Popitz (later executed for his role in the Stauffenberg plot), who opened doors in government for Schmitt.
He wrote on various topics, including, interestingly, on technology, noting presciently “From its onset the twentieth century appears not only as the age of technology but as the age of religious belief in technology.”
He did not think this was a good thing; it created unrealistic expectations, especially among the masses, and encouraged belief in technocratic, “Fordist” government, a disaster in the making, because technology could never solve human problems, or eradicate the friend/enemy distinction that underlay all human political relations—but it could make war worse, and it “dissolved the protective atmosphere of traditional morality which had shielded society from the dangers of nihilism.”
In many places throughout his career, whatever his own religious beliefs, Schmitt was very clear that man needed the view of history as a struggle reaching toward redemption. The disappearance of that belief would destroy the enchantment of the world, but would not reduce conflict, which would be more and more meaningless.
That’s pretty much the state we’ve reached today; Schmitt would not be surprised, nor he would be surprised by the attempt to resolve this problem by seeking redemption through technology.
As the clock ticked down to National Socialism in power, Schmitt became more involved in government, especially in advocating various forms of constitutional interpretation. Among other works, he wrote Legality and Legitimacy, analyzing the tension between majority rule and the legitimacy of its decisions with respect to the minority, casting a jaundiced eye at the ability of liberals to resist Communists and Nazis.
At this point, in the early 1930s, he was anti-Nazi, but that changed as the Nazis came to power, and Schmitt (always keenly interested in his own career) saw on which side his bread was buttered, although he was also fascinated by the Nazis and what their rise said about politics and political conflict; moreover, he made the typical error of intellectuals, to believe that he could influence and control the powerful through his intelligence.
He ramped-up his own anti-Semitism and, infamously, publicly justified the Night of the Long Knives as “the leader protecting the law.” Even here, he was precise in an interesting way—although his purpose was “nakedly apologetic,” he objected to the retrospective legalization of the Röhm purge, holding that part of the role of the sovereign was, in extreme cases, to extra-legally implement actions dictated by the friend/enemy distinction.
Soon enough, though, despite his attempts to become ever more shrilly anti-Semitic (among other dubious offerings, suggesting that Jewish scholars referred to in books have an asterisk placed by their name to identify them as Jewish). But he was still viewed with suspicion by the Nazis, as a Catholic and an opportunist, and within a few years he was exiled from political life, before the war began.
He did not suffer worse consequences, in part because he was protected by Hermann Göring. Still, he kept writing, among other things, using Thomas Hobbes as a springboard, developing a theory of the supersession of nation states by larger blocs embracing satellite states, as well as related theories of the political implications of Land and Sea.
After the war, Schmitt refused to submit to any form of denazification, so although he was not prosecuted, he was barred from teaching for the rest of his life—another forty years. He maintained intellectual contacts with a wide circle, though, and remained somewhat influential—an influence that has increased since his death in 1985.
Most interesting to me in his later writings is Schmitt’s theory of the katechon. This concept is taken from 2 Thessalonians, which discusses the Antichrist, the Man of Sin, who, verse 6 tells us, is restrained or “withheld” by a mysterious force, the katechon.
When the katechon is withdrawn, Antichrist will become fully manifest. Saint Paul, however, implies that his listeners know who the katechon is. Schmitt expanded this into an idea that some authority must restrain chaos and maintain order, perhaps the Emperor in Saint Paul’s time, another force now—but not the popular will, certainly, and not any element of liberal government.
To grasp the importance of this idea to Schmitt, it helps to know that he once wrote (although this quote is not in Balakrishnan’s book), “The history of the world is like a ship careening aimlessly through the sea, manned by a bunch of drunken sailors who scream and dance until God thrusts the ship under the waves so there will be silence.” Schmitt wasn’t big on history having an arrow, a key claim of liberalism.
Into the idea of the katechon fit most of Schmitt’s prior ideas, including the commissarial dictator, the sovereign who decides on the state of exception, and the variations on Hobbes’s Leviathan that Schmitt explored.
That’s not to say that Schmitt was predicting the rise of Antichrist, or offering a religious concept, rather that the acknowledging the key role of a Restrainer embodies the central theme of much of his thought. I think one can, perhaps, contrast such a role with the role suggested by the Left, of some person or a vanguard, who creates a wholly new system, often conceived of as Utopian.
In reactionary thought, therefore, the katechon plays the essential role of being rooted in reality and human nature; the force that, through a combination of power and inertia, prevents the horrors unleased by Utopian ideology.
As can be seen from the title he chose, Balakrishnan sees the distinction, organically arising in every time and place without the will of anybody, between friend and enemy, as the key distinction of Schmitt’s thought.
In Schmitt’s own words, “Tell me who your enemy is and I will tell you who you are.” You only have to pull a little on this string to come to disturbing conclusions, though, about today’s America. If the premise is that at some point the members of a once-united nation can be split by a friend/enemy distinction, which is certainly objectively possible, the question only becomes how it can be determined if this has happened, and what to do then?
Certainly the American Left long since recognized, since it is the necessary belief of any ideological worldview seeking Utopian goals, who is friend and who is enemy. And even a casual listen to the words of the Left today, from their foot soldiers to their elites, reveals an explicit acknowledgement of this view.
It is not just ideological, either; the Left thrives on the solidarity that comes from recognizing who the enemy is. The American Right, on the other hand, is still delusionally trapped in the idea that we can all get along, or at least, their leaders hope to be eaten last.
Meanwhile the Left marches its columns ever deeper into enemy territory, stopping at nothing and only avoiding widespread violence (though, certainly, there is plenty of Left violence already) because it is not yet adequately opposed. All this fits precisely into Schmitt’s framework; the only surprise is the one-sided nature of the battle.
The Left’s approach is subtly different, perhaps, than the one Schmitt outlined, because the Left insists on politicizing literally everything, rather than only the key points of difference (although maybe that is simply required battle on all fronts, since their ideology presupposes no private sphere).
This spreading thin, driven by ideology, potentially erodes their power, or would if they were being opposed at all, more so if effectively. Beyond that, though, the fatal weakness, in Schmittian terms, of the American Left’s approach, is total lack of both any sovereign decision-maker or source of legitimacy for its decisions, even within a strictly intra-Left frame.
Perhaps this is a universal flaw of the ideological left, from the French Revolution on, and the source of the truism that Left revolutions eat their own. Without a sovereign, no stability, and no future—only the capacity for destruction, on full display now, after which those not poisoned by the beliefs of the Left pick up the pieces.
But first, they have to be recognized as enemies, and treated as such. No time like the present to begin, and better late than never. Certainly, a competent, disciplined leader on the Right could take Schmitt’s theories and weave a coherent plan of defense and attack. Instead, we get Donald Trump, who is better than nothing, but not by much. Don’t get depressed, though, since that Man of Destiny may be just over the horizon. 2019 will be soon enough.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The photo shows, “Again,” by Thomas Hart Benton, painted in 1941.
The Soviet intelligence officer Richard Sorge was worth an entire army. His reports not only saved Moscow during WWII, but also significantly contributed to the victory over Nazism. However, Stalin had a peculiar way of “thanking” him, allowing him to be hanged by the Japanese.
In autumn 1941 the outcome of the whole Soviet-German war was at stake: Hitler’s troops were at the gates of the Soviet capital. However, after some brutal, exhausting clashes, the Soviet army went on the counteroffensive and drove the enemy back.
Victory became possible due to the arrival of fresh Soviet divisions, redeployed to Moscow from Siberia, where they had been awaiting a Japanese attack.
Stalin would never have allowed a weakening of the Soviet forces in the Far East if Soviet reconnaissance officer Richard Sorge had not reported that Japan was not preparing to attack the Soviet Union in 1941. Thus, one man saved the capital of the Soviet Union when all seemed lost.
Richard Sorge was born to become an intelligence officer. Smart, attractive and elegant, he was good at making useful acquaintances, which he exploited perfectly in getting vital information.
At the age of 29, young German communist Richard Sorge moved to the Soviet Union, where he soon was recruited by the Soviet intelligence service.
In 1933, Sorge was sent to Japan, where he successfully impersonated a German journalist. His whole future life was tied to this country thereafter, and it was there that he met his end.
His intelligent and amicable manner allowed Richard Sorge to easily befriend people. One of the most important among them was the German ambassador to Japan, Major General Eugen Ott, who had access to all the secrets of Nazi Germany.
Ott completely trusted Sorge, and in fact was the main source of all important information for the Soviet intelligence officer. Ott often shared info and asked Sorge’s advice, since he thought Richard Sorge worked for the German intelligence service, having no idea who Sorge’s real paymasters were…
Richard Sorge’s other major source was Japanese journalist Hotsumi Ozaki. An advisor to Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, he was a devoted communist and Sorge’s agent, who had access to the highest ranks of Imperial Japan.
Despite the important and useful information Sorge sent to Moscow, the Soviet leadership was very suspicious of their intelligence officer in Japan. A German, with a passion for women and alcohol, with such friends as Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, Sorge was viewed by the Soviets as a double agent.
Still, to gain a spy net in such a closed country as Japan was no easy task, and the Soviet leaders had no choice but to keep Richard Sorge as their main source in the Land of the Rising Sun.
During the series of repressions in the USSR in the late 1930s, known as the Great Purge, Soviet intelligence was literally decapitated, with all its leaders executed, including close colleagues and friends of Sorge. He himself was summoned to Moscow for “talks.”
Afraid for his life, Richard Sorge refused to go, saying he had too much work to do in Japan. This enraged Stalin, who became even more suspicious of “that German.”
These suspicions remained despite the fact that Sorge’s reports significantly helped the Soviet troops to prepare and defeat the Japanese at the Battles of Lake Khasan (1938) and Khalkhin Gol (1939).
Despite being thousands kilometers away from Europe, Richard Sorge had perfect ties with German and Japanese high officials and was sometimes better informed about what was happening there than other Soviet intelligence officers in Europe.
Numerous times Richard Sorge warned his chiefs about German plans to attack the Soviet Union in late June 1941. Yet such reports were ignored.
When Sorge was arrested by the Japanese, he said during the interrogation: “There were days when I sent 3-4 encryptions to Moscow, but, it seems, nobody believed me.”
The attitude towards Sorge completely changed after the launch of Operation Barbarossa confirmed his words. Richard Sorge finally won Stalin’s trust.
On 14 September 1941, Sorge sent perhaps the most important message in his life. “According to my source, the Japanese leadership decided not to begin hostilities against the Soviet Union this year.”
This time Richard Sorge’s words were taken seriously. It is believed that this message finally convinced Stalin to order the redeployment of over a dozen fresh, well-trained divisions from the Far East in defense of Moscow, where they became game-changers.
On December 5, the strengthened Soviet troops went on the counteroffensive and threw the Germans back from the Soviet capital. The Wehrmacht suffered its first serious defeat in the war.
In October 1941, Richard Sorge and his entire group were arrested by the Japanese. At first, the Germans didn’t believe that Richard Sorge, who was proclaimed the best German journalist that year, was a Soviet spy. All their requests to free him were denied.
After Sorge’s work for Soviet intelligence was confirmed, the Japanese twice contacted the Soviets regarding his future fate. Both times the Soviet side answered the same: “We in the Soviet Union know nothing about any such person as Richard Sorge.”
Although it remains unknown as to the precise reason why the Soviets declined to exchange Sorge, it is believed that Stalin could not forgive him for acknowledging his work for the USSR under interrogation, something a Soviet intelligence officer should never do.
When Stalin abandoned his best intelligent officer, Sorge was doomed. As a taunt over the Russians, the Japanese hanged him on November 7, 1944, the 27th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
For 20 years the name of Richard Sorge was forgotten in the Soviet Union. But in the U.S. and Europe, quite the opposite, his activity was well studied. In 1964, Nikita Khrushchev saw the French movie Who Are You, Mr. Sorge? and was shocked by what he saw.
When Khrushchev found out that Richard Sorge was a real person, he ordered the name and fame of the Soviet intelligence officer to be restored. Sorge was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union.
Every May 9th the Russian Federation celebrates its most important national holiday, Victory Day, den’ pobedy. During the early hours of that day in 1945 Marshal Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, commander of the 1st Belorussian Front, which had stormed Berlin, received the German unconditional surrender.
The Great Patriotic War had gone on for 1418 days of unimaginable violence, brutality and destruction. From Stalingrad and the northern Caucasus and from the northwestern outskirts of Moscow to the western frontiers of the Soviet Union to Sevastopol in the south and Leningrad and the borders with Finland, in the north, the country had been laid waste.
An estimated 17 million civilians, men, women and children, had perished, although no one will ever know the exact figure. Villages and towns were destroyed; families were wiped out without anyone to remember them or mourn their deaths.
Ten million or more Soviet soldiers died in the struggle to expel the monstrous Nazi invader and finally to occupy Berlin at the end of April 1945. Red Army dead were left unburied in a thousand places along the routes to the west or in unmarked mass graves, there having been no time for proper identification and burial. Most Soviet citizens lost family members during the war. No one was left unaffected.
The Great Patriotic War began at 3:30am on 22 June 1941, when the Nazi Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union along a front stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas with 3.2 million German soldiers, organised in 150 divisions, supported by 3,350 tanks, 7,184 artillery pieces, 600,000 trucks, 2,000 warplanes. Finnish, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian, Spanish, Slovakian forces, amongst others, eventually joined the attack.
The German high command reckoned that Operation Barbarossa would take only 4 to 6 weeks to finish off the Soviet Union. In the west, US and British military intelligence agreed. Besides, what force had ever beaten the Wehrmacht? Nazi Germany was the invincible colossus. Poland had been crushed in a few days.
The Anglo-French attempt to defend Norway was a fiasco. When the Wehrmacht attacked in the west, Belgium hurried to quit the fight. France collapsed in a few weeks. The British army was driven out of Dunkirk, naked, without guns or Lorries. In the spring of 1941, Yugoslavia and Greece disappeared in a matter of weeks at little cost to German invaders.
Wherever the Wehrmacht advanced in Europe, it was a walkover… until that day German soldiers stepped across Soviet frontiers. The Red Army was caught flatfooted, in halfway measures of mobilisation, because Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin did not believe his own intelligence reports warning of danger, or want to provoke Hitlerite Germany.
The result was a catastrophe. But unlike Poland and unlike France, the USSR did not quit the fight after the expected 4 to 6 weeks. The Red Army’s losses were unimaginable, two million soldiers lost in the first three and a half months of the war. The Baltic provinces were lost. Smolensk fell and then Kiev, in the worst defeat of the war. Leningrad was encircled. An old man asked some soldiers, “Where are you retreating from?”
There were calamities everywhere too numerous to mention. But at places like the fortress of Brest and in hundreds of unnamed fields and woods, road junctions and villages and towns, Red Army units fought on often to the last soldier. They fought out of encirclements to rejoin their own lines or to disappear into the forests and swamps of Belorussia and the northwestern Ukraine to organise the first partisan units to attack the German rear.
By the end of 1941, three million Soviet soldiers were lost (the largest number being POWs who died at German hands); 177 divisions were struck from the Soviet order of battle. Still, the Red Army fought on, even forcing back the Germans at Yelnya, east southeast of Smolensk, at the end of August. The Wehrmacht felt the bite of the battered but not beaten Red Army. German forces were taking 7,000 casualties a day, a new experience for them.
As the Wehrmacht advanced, Einsatzgruppen, SS death squads, followed, killing Jews, Gypsies, communists, Soviet POWs, or anyone who got in their way. Baltic and Ukrainian Nazi collaborators assisted in the mass murders. Soviet women and children were stripped naked and forced to queue, waiting for execution. When winter came freezing German soldiers shot villagers or forced them out of their homes, dressed in rags like beggars, robbing them of hearth, winter clothing and food.
In the west those who predicted a speedy Soviet collapse, the usual western Sovietophobes, looked stupid and had to eat their forecasts. Public opinion understood that Hitlerite Germany had walked into a quagmire, not another campaign in France. While the British everyman cheered on Soviet resistance, the British government did relatively little to help. Some Cabinet ministers were even reluctant to call the Soviet Union an ally. Churchill refused to let BBC play the Soviet national anthem, “the Internationale,” on Sunday evenings along with those of other allies.
The Red Army still retreated, but kept fighting desperately. This was no ordinary war, but a struggle of unparalleled violence against a murderous invader for home, family, country, for life itself. In November the Red Army dropped a pamphlet on German lines, quoting Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist: “It’s impossible either to hold or conquer Russia”
That was real bravado in the circumstances, but also true. Finally, in front of Moscow, in December 1941, the Red Army, under Zhukov’s command, threw back the spent forces of the Wehrmacht, in the south by as much as three hundred kilometres. The image of Nazi invincibility was shattered. Barbarossa was too ambitious, the blitzkrieg had failed, and the Wehrmacht suffered its first strategic defeat. In London Churchill agreed, grudgingly, to let BBC play the Soviet national anthem.
In 1942 the Red Army continued to suffer defeats and heavy losses, as it fought on nearly alone. In November of that year at Stalingrad on the Volga, however, the Red Army launched a counteroffensive, which led to a remarkable victory and the retreat of the Wehrmacht back to its start lines in the spring of 1942… except for the German Sixth Army, caught in the Stalingrad kotel or cauldron.
There, 22 German divisions, some of Hitler’s best, were destroyed. Stalingrad was the Verdun of the Second World War. “It’s hell,” a soldier said. “No… this is ten times worse than hell,” someone else corrected. At the end of the winter fighting in 1943, Axis losses were staggering: 100 German, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian divisions were destroyed, or mauled. The president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, reckoned that the tide of battle had turned: Hitlerite Germany was doomed.
It was February 1943. In that month there was not a single British, American, or Canadian division fighting in Europe against the Wehrmacht. Not one. It was sixteen months before the Normandy landings. The British and Americans were then fighting two or three German divisions in North Africa, a sideshow compared to the Soviet front.
Western public opinion knew who was carrying the burden of the war against the Wehrmacht. In 1942, 80% of Axis divisions were arrayed against the Red Army. At the beginning of 1943 there were 207 German divisions on the Eastern Front. The Germans tried one last hurrah, one last offensive against the Kursk bulge in July 1943. That operation failed. The Red Army then launched a counteroffensive across the Ukraine which led to liberation of Kiev in November. Further north, Smolensk had been freed the month before.
The spirit of the Soviet people and their Red Army was formidable. War correspondent, Vasilii Semenovich Grossman, captured its essence in his personal journals. “Night, Snowstorm,” he wrote in early 1942, “Vehicles, Artillery. They are moving in silence. Suddenly a hoarse voice is heard. ‘Hey, which is the road to Berlin?’ A roar of laughter.”
Soldiers were not always brave. Sometimes they fled. “A battalion commissar armed with two revolvers began shouting, ‘Where are you running you sons of whores, where? Go forward, for our Motherland, for Jesus Christ, motherfuckers! For Stalin, you whores!’…”
They went back to their positions. Those fellows were lucky; the commissar could have shot them all. Sometimes he did. A soldier volunteered to execute a deserter. “Did you feel any pity for him?” Grossman asked. “How can one speak of pity,” the soldier replied. At Stalingrad seven Uzbeks were found guilty of self-inflicted wounds. They were all shot. Grossman read a letter found in the pocket of a dead Soviet soldier. “I miss you very much. Please come and visit… I am writing this, and tears are pouring. Daddy, please come home and visit.”
Women fought along side the men as snipers, gunners, tankists, pilots, nurses partisans. They also kept the home front going. “Villages have become the kingdom of women,” wrote Grossman, “They drive tractors, guard warehouses and stables… Women are carrying on their shoulders the great burden of work. They dominate… send bread, aircraft, weapons and ammunition to the front.” When the war was being fought on the Volga, they did not reproach their men for having given up so much ground. “Women look and say nothing,” wrote Grossman, “… not a bitter word.” But in the villages near the front, sometimes they did.
In the meantime, the western allies attacked Italy. Stalin had long demanded a second front in France, which Churchill resisted. He wanted to attack the Axis “soft underbelly”, not to help the Red Army, but to hinder its advance into the Balkans. The idea was to advance quickly north up the Italian boot, then wheel eastward into the Balkans to keep out the Red Army. The way to Berlin however was north northeast. Churchill’s plan was a failure; the western allies did not get to Rome until June 1944.
There were approximately 20 German divisions in Italy fighting against larger allied forces. In the East, there were still more than two hundred Axis divisions, or ten times those in Italy. On 6 June 1944 when Operation Overlord began in Normandy, the Red Army stood on Polish and Romanian frontiers. A fortnight after the Normandy landings, the Red Army launched Operation Bagration, a huge offensive which stove in the centre of the German eastern front and led to an advance of 500 kilometres to the west, while the western allies were still held up on the Normandy Cotentin peninsula. The Red Army had become an unstoppable juggernaut.
It was just a matter of time before the destruction of Nazi Germany. When the war was over in May 1945, the Red Army had accounted for 80% of the losses of the Wehrmacht, and that percentage would have been far higher before the Normandy invasion. “Those who never experienced all the bitterness of the summer of 1941,” wrote Vasily Grossman, “will never be able fully to appreciate the joy of our victory.” There were many war hymns sung by the troops and the people to keep up morale. Sviashchennaia voina, “Sacred War” was one of the most popular. Russians still stand when they hear it.
Historians often debate about when the decisive turn of battle came in the European theatre. Some propose 22 June 1941, the day that the Wehrmacht crossed Soviet frontiers. Others point to the battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, or Kursk.
During the war western public opinion seemed more supportive of the Red Army than some western leaders, Winston Churchill, for example. Roosevelt was better, a more pragmatic political leader, who easily recognised the preponderant Soviet role in the war against Nazi Germany. The Red Army, he said to one doubtful general in 1942, was killing more German soldiers and smashing more German tanks than all the other allies put together.
Roosevelt knew that the Soviet Union was the linchpin of the great coalition against Nazi Germany. I call FDR the godfather of the “grand alliance”. Nevertheless, in the shadows lurked the usual haters of the Soviet Union, who were only biding their time before emerging again. The greater the certainty of victory over Nazi Germany, the more vocal and strident became the naysayers of the grand alliance.
Americans can be touchy about the memory of the Red Army playing the lead role in the destruction of the Wehrmacht. “What about Lend-Lease,” they say, “without our supplies, the Soviet Union could not have beaten the Germans.” In fact, most Lend-Lease supplies did not arrive in the USSR until after Stalingrad.
Red Army soldiers facetiously called the Lend-Lease food tins the “second front” since the real one was late in coming. In 1942 Soviet industry was already out-producing Nazi Germany in major categories of armaments. Was the T-34 an American, or a Soviet tank?
A polite Stalin always remembered to thank the US government for the jeeps and Studebaker trucks. They increased Red Army mobility. You contributed the aluminum, Russians famously replied, we contributed the blood… the rivers of blood.
No sooner was the war over than Britain and the United States started to think about another war, this time against the Soviet Union. In May 1945 the British high command produced Operation “Unthinkable”, a top secret plan for an offensive, reinforced by German POWs, against the Red Army. What bastards, what ingrates.
In September 1945, the Americans contemplated use of 204 atomic bombs to destroy the Soviet Union. The godfather, President Roosevelt, had died in April, and within weeks American Sovietophobes were reversing his policy. The grand alliance was only a truce in a Cold War which had begun after the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917, and which resumed in 1945.
In that year the US and British governments still had to contend with public opinion. The everyman in Europe and the United States knew very well who had carried the load against the Wehrmacht. You could not resume the old policy of hatred against the Soviet Union just like that without blotting out the memory of the Red Army’s role in the common victory over Hitlerite Germany.
So memories of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression in August 1939 were brought out of the closet, although the memories of prior Anglo-French opposition to Soviet proposals for collective security against Nazi Germany and especially of the betrayal of Czechoslovakia were omitted from the new western narrative. Like thieves in the night, Britain and the United States burgled the true account of the destruction of Nazi Germany.
Already in December 1939, the British planned to publish a white paper blaming Moscow for the failure of Anglo-Franco-Soviet alliance negotiations during the previous spring and summer. The French objected because the white paper was more likely to persuade public opinion that the Soviet side had been serious about resistance to Nazi Germany while the British and French were not.
The white paper was shelved. In 1948 the US State Department issued a collection of documents attributing the blame for World War II to Hitler and Stalin. Moscow fired back with its own publication demonstrating western affinities with Nazism. The fight was on in the west to remember the Soviet Union for the non-aggression pact and to forget the Red Army’s preponderant role in smashing the Wehrmacht.
How many of you have not seen some Hollywood film in which the Normandy landings are the great turning point of the war? “What if the landings had failed,” one often hears? “Oh…, nothing much,” is the appropriate reply. The war would have gone on longer, and the Red Army would have planted its flags on the Normandy beaches coming from the east.
Then there are the movies about the Allied bombing campaign against Germany, the “decisive” factor in winning the war. In Hollywood films about World War II, the Red Army is invisible. It is as if the Americans (and British) were claiming laurels they didn’t earn.
I like to ask students in my university course on the Second World War, who has heard of operation Overlord? Everyone raises a hand. Then I ask who has heard of Operation Bagration? Hardly anyone raises a hand. I ask facetiously who “won” the war against Nazi Germany and the answer is “America” of course. Only a few students—normally those who have had other courses with me—will answer the Soviet Union.
The truth is uphill work in a western world where “fake news” is the norm. The OSCE and European Parliament put the blame for World War II on the Soviet Union, read Russia and President Vladimir Putin, as the subliminal message. Hitler is almost forgotten in this tohu-bohu of evidence-free accusations.
Behind the bogus historical narrative are the Baltic states, Poland, and the Ukraine, spewing out hatred of Russia. The Baltics and the Ukraine now remember Nazi collaborators as national heroes and celebrate their deeds.
In Poland, for some people, this is hard to swallow; they remember the Ukrainian Nazi collaborators who murdered tens of thousands of Poles in Volhynia. Unfortunately, such memories have not stopped Polish hooligans from vandalising monuments to Red Army war dead or desecrating Soviet war cemeteries. Polish “nationalists” cannot bear the memory of the Red Army freeing Poland from the Nazi invader.
In Russia, however, the west’s mendacious propaganda has no effect. The Soviet Union produced its own films, and the Russian Federation also, about World War II, most recently about the defence of the Brest fortress and of Sevastopol, and the battle of Stalingrad.
On 9 May every year Russians remember the millions of soldiers who fought and died, and the millions of civilians who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazi invader. The veterans, fewer each year, come out wearing uniforms that often do not fit quite right or threadbare jackets covered with war medals and orders. “Treat them with tact and respect,” Zhukov wrote in his memoirs: “It is a small price after what they did for you in 1941-1945.”
How did you manage, I wondered to myself observing them on Victory Day some years go, how did you cope, living constantly with death and so much sorrow and hardship?
Now, each year on Victory Day the “immortal regiment”, the bessmertnyi polk, marches; Russians in cities and towns across the country and abroad, march together carrying large photographs of family members, men and women, who fought in the war. “We remember,” they want to say: “and we will never forget you.”
Michael Jabara Carley is Professor of History at the Université de Montréal. He has published widely on Soviet relations with the West. This article comes to us trough the courtesy of The Strategic Culture Foundation.
The photo shows, “Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya Before Execution,” by Konstantin Nikitich Shchekotov, painted, 1947-1949.
In contrast, the deceased Pope had high approval from both Catholic and Jewish communities. In fact, consideration for Pius XII’s canonization were set in place in 1965.
As new Vatican archival material became available, the controversy was reignited, with John Cornwell controversial history, Hitler’s Pope.
Examining the Pope’s early career, Cornwell argued that Pius XII was a hypocritical anti-Semitic, and an authoritarian Pontiff who sought to expand Church power, from his earliest days at the Vatican. According to Cornwell, Pius XII was the Pope that Hitler needed in order to carry out the Holocaust.
Cornwell didn’t just get 15 minutes of fame, he got 60 minute on CBS. And so the myth began.
The controversy gathered steam, as scholars scrambled to either criticize or defend the Pope. All of this took place in the shadow of John Paul II’s decision, in 1990, to declare Pius XII a Servant of God, and in 2009, he was made Venerable, a major path to sainthood.
Building on the works of other Pius XII’s defenders, like Ronald J. Rychlak, Dalin disputed nearly everything that Cornwell contends, especially the alleged papal anti-Semitism and the “silence” of the Pontiff.
Although Dalin’s work seemed like the final nail in the coffin of Cornwell’s false narrative, the myth of the “Nazi Pope” has yet to die.
Let us take a look at the DNA of the myth, item-by-item, so we can finally kill it off.
ITEM 1: Was Pope Pius XII A Nazi Collaborator?
Myth I: Yes, because the Pope was power-hungry!
Reasons given to support this myth…
The Pope wanted to centralize the Catholic Church in order to increase his own power.
He had already passed the Code of Canon Law by 1917, which required Catholics to be more observant of the dictates of the Vatican, and which gave the Church more control over schools, the appointment of Bishops, and regional legislation.
This authoritarian pope seized his chance to increase his power by making a deal with Hitler in the Reich Concordat of 1933. This agreement would disband the Catholic Center Party, Hitler’s main opposition to power, but give the Pope greater control over Catholics in Germany.
The Pope willingly became Hitler’s “pawn,” against the will of the German Bishops.
Myth II: Yes, because the Pope did not speak out against Hitler or the Nazis!
Reasons given to support this myth…
As Hitler would came to wreak havoc on the Jews of Eastern Europe, the Pope remained silent.
After the invasion of Poland, Pius issued an encyclical, Summi Pontificatus (1939), which emphasized “the unity of the human race,” as “neither Jew nor Greek,” but the Pope never mentioned Poland by name.
He never explicitly condemned the atrocities of the Nazis.
This address mentioned only the sufferings of “hundreds of thousands”, not millions.
This address did not even mention the words “Jew” or “Nazi” because the Pope was Hitler’s pawn, a tool of the Nazi regime.
Myth III: Yes, because the Pope did not try to stop Hitler and the Nazis!
Reasons given to support this myth…
The Pope did nothing to stop the Nazis. He simply watched countless Jews taken by Einsatzgruppen from “his very windows.”
There is no evidence that the Pope spoke out against the Nazis, let alone mobilize against them.
He didn’t do enough because he was most likely a Nazi stooge.
Myth IV: Yes, because the Pope was a Nazi ideologue who hated Communists!
Reasons given to support this myth…
In his younger days, Pacelli (the future Pius XII) was a diplomat for the Vatican to the German Kaiser Reich. He had even negotiated with the Kaiser himself, making him no stranger to dealing with egotistical autocrats.
But as the Kaiser Reich fell in the sunset of WWI, the future pope found himself in Munich. It was there that a group of violent communists proclaimed the city as their own. Proper Marxists, they despised religion as an obstacle to human progress.
A Jew by the name of Levien was among their number. Wanting to put the Catholic Church in its place, he entered Pacelli’s workplace. Howling blasphemy and profanities in the entrance hall, he found Pacelli. Levien demanded the papal limousine, but Pacelli refused to give it to him. Levien pressed his gun to Pacelli’s chest and asked once more of the papal limousine. Pacelli kept a cool head and explained to the shooter that he did not fear death. The Marxist took flight after being called back by his superior.
This experience must have traumatized Pacelli, and thus created a hatred for both Communists and Jews. This is why he would always seek neutral diplomatic solutions later in his life.
Hitler and Pacelli were anti-Semitic, and both opposed Communism; their alliance was only natural.
Myth V: Yes, because the Pope was anti-Semitic!
Reasons given to explain this myth…
What else but anti-Semitism can explain the Pope’s silence in the face of the Holocaust?
Why did he not act to save the Jews as they were dragged through the streets of Rome?
Pius XII was an Anti-Semitic authoritarian who was against the Jews, or at the very least indifferent to their extermination.
For these reasons he was happy to cooperate with Hitler.
Rebuttal To Item 1 And To The Myths.
In the words of Rabbi David G. Dalin, what John Cornwell and others concocted in regard to the character of Pope Pius XII is nothing but “an abominable slander.”
Pope Pius XII was not “Hitler’s Pope.” He sought to save the German Catholics, not forsake them. Nor was he truly silent about the Nazis, since his words were, in fact, clearly understood by all Catholics across the world as specific instructions to resist the Nazi oppressors.
Acting in love, against the will of the Nazis, Pius XII saved thousands of Jews across the Third Reich. In fact, he mobilized the Catholic Church as a spy network which reported to British Intelligence. In many ways, Pius XII out-maneuvered Hitler.
But let us look more clearly at the myths themselves.
MYTH I Dismantled… The Pope was not power-hungry.
The Pope did not betray the Catholics of Germany, he tried to save them.
Contrary to what the accusers say, the German Bishops were in favor of the Reich Concordat, not against it.
The Pope sought to centralize power so that he could protect his Catholic subjects. He agonized over reports of Hitler youth groups violently fighting Catholic youth groups in Bavaria.
The persecution of Catholics did not happen because of the Reich Concordat – rather the Concordat happened because of the persecutions.
MYTH II Dismantled… The Pope was not silent about Hitler and the Nazis.
It was understood as such by the Nazi’s German Foreign Office as an assault against them. They were outraged.
Fellow Catholics, and even Jews, understood the message as a denouncement against the Nazi war crimes despite of its vagueness.
Thus, the Pope’s message was heard, understood, and acted upon. But, his message was not an explicit denouncement of the Nazi regime – but maybe this was for a very good reason.
Rabbi Dalin, argues that if Pius XII had more explicitly denounced the Nazis, then the Nazis would have retaliated and simply “invaded” the Vatican (which they actually had plans to do!)
The Pope had no army of his own. The retaliation would have destroyed the papacy and the Church, and completed the circle of persecution. The Pope’s implicit rather than explicit condemnation was far more effective.
Muller gathered information from the Abwehr with the help of fellow Nazi-resistors.
Muller would then fly his sports plane over the Alps and inform Ludwig Kass (the former high-ranking member of the Catholic Center Party) about what was going on in Germany. Kass would then report to Pius XII.
But it didn’t stop there; the Pope then conveyed the highly classified data to British intelligence at the Vatican.
The Pope was behind many of the conspiracies against Hitler.
He was the main link in a connecting agreement between German and Italian conspirators to act in a coordinated fashion.
Plans to assassinate Hitler were aided by the Pope’s participation, including talks to kill Hitler shortly after the invasion of Poland, an attempt to slip a bomb into Hitler’s plane, and finally the famous Operation Valkyrie.
This is why the Pope wasn’t the loudest critic of Hitler – he had to protect the many people who relied on him in their opposition to the Nazis.
Historians like Hurbert Wolf rightly argue that some in the German Catholic Church liked Hitler, and if the Pope loudly criticized the Nazis, there would have been a full-blown revolt among such German Catholics. This which would have started an undesired crisis and could only end in the Nazis gaining more power over the German Roman Catholics.
But didn’t the libellers of Pius XII know that the Pope was spy master? They did! Although Cornwell briefly concedes a large degree of bravery to Pius XII for his participation in intelligence gathering, Cornwell uses it to claim that Pius XII was silent not because of cowardice, but because of his indifference to the plight of the Jews.
The fact remains, the Pope was hardly indifferent to Nazi Power. He actively aided the conspiracies against Hitler.
MYTH IV Dismantled…The Pope was not a Nazi ideologue who hated Communists.
The Pope was well aware of the many atrocities being committed by the Communists in the Soviet Union. The Russian Civil War, the Red Terror, and Stalin’s Gulags of the 1930s were common knowledge. So, certainly, the Pope opposed the Communists – because they were avowed atheists, who were intent on destroying Christianity.
Did this opposition make him a Nazi? Of course not.
The Pope was also aware that the only thing keeping the Soviets at bay were the Nazis.
The best the Pope could do was aid the allies (which he did by channelling highly classified information to them).
Perhaps the greatest injustice against the Pope is the false accusation of anti-Semitism.
Pius XII did so much to help the Jewish people in their time of need that the first major historical work against John Cornwell’s libels was written by a Rabbi named David G. Dalin, to set the record straight.
But the dismantling of Myth V requires fuller elaboration, as follows…
ITEM 2: Did Pope Pius XII care about the Jews?
MYTH I: No, because the Pope did not speak up for the Jews.
In the face of Jewish annihilation, the “Vicar of Christ” was silent. Where was the voice of moral truth when the world needed it most?
After the invasion of Poland, his encyclical, Summi Pontificatus (1939), never mentions Poland by name let alone the Nazi atrocities committed there.
In his Christmas Eve Address in 1942, he never even uses the word Jew. Hence, the Pope did not speak up for the Jews.
MYTH II: No, because the Pope did not act to save the Jews.
The Pope did not try to save the Jews because he was indifferent to their suffering.
Susan Zuccotti brings up a case where the Pope remained silent as the Jews of Rome were being rounded up the Einsatzgruppen “under the Pope’s own windows.”
MYTH III: No, because the Pope smuggled Nazi’s out of Europe.
The Catholic Church smuggled high ranking Nazi officials like Klaus Barbie, Josef Mengele, Adolf Eichmann, and Franz Stangl using the Vatican “Ratlines” after the war.
The “Ratlines” were escape routes that were originally designed for the Catholic clergy to escape from Fascist or Communist persecution. But, the Catholic Church used them to smuggle out Nazis after the war.
Why would the Catholic Church aid Nazis? Simple – because Pius XII was an anti-Semitic Nazi collaborator.
Rebuttal To Item 2 And To The Myths.
Pope Pius XII was a pontiff who loved the Jews. He loved them enough to risk his life to save theirs. His words inspired hundreds of Catholics across Europe to risk their lives to save the Jews as well. Furthermore, he gave them sanctuary when they needed it most. As for the “Ratlines,” they can hardly be said to be connected with the Pope. And even if they were, there is more reason to believe that they were an act of human love, not anti-Semitic hatred.
MYTH I Dismantled… The Pope was not silent about the Nazis.
In Summi Pontificatus (1939), the Pope emphasized “the unity of the human race” as “neither Jew nor Greek.”
Furthermore, in his Christmas Eve Address of 1942, the Pope explicitly talks about the suffering of “hundreds of thousands” of innocent people.
One must realize that the Pope was working behind enemy lines. Very simply, if the Pope became a loud critic of the Nazis, then they would retaliate against the Church and the many Jews that the Church was hiding. In Holland, for example, when the Pope told the bishops to speak out, the number of Nazi atrocities against the Jews increased.
The Pope received many letters telling him that denouncing the Nazis would only make things worse, not better. Even Susan Zuccotti (an early accuser) admitted that the Pope may have been silent for the Jews’ sake.
Rabbi Dalin argues that if the Church had more explicitly denounced the Nazis, then the Nazis would have retaliated. The retaliation would have destroyed the power of the papacy and inflamed the persecutions.
Michael Phayer, a very reputable Holocaust historian, who had originally criticized the silence of Pope Pius XII, reversed his position saying that the Pope was understood as speaking out against the Nazis throughout the war.
MYTH II Dismantled… The Pope did act to save the Jews.
Pius XII risked his life to save the Jews. For example, in the capture of Jews from Rome, Pope Pius XII told his clergy to hide Jews from the Nazis. He not only hid Jews in the Vatican, he also hid 3,000 in his summer home, Castel Gandalfo.
The Pope was not indifferent. Rather, he was a hero of the Jewish people. He risked the safety of the Church, his flock, and himself for the sake of the Jews.
Endless testimonies speak of the clergy saving Jews in Italy from the Einsatgruppen. This evidence was ignored by authors, such as, like Susan Zuccotti. Such actions are not those of an anti-Semite.
What kind of anti-Semite would tell his priests to split their wartime rations with Jews? One could argue that he wasn’t as vocal as he could have been, but there are no grounds whatsoever to claim that Pius XII was an anti-Semite.
MYTH III Dismantled… The Pope did not smuggle Nazis out of Europe after the war.
There is no evidence to claim that Pius XII knew about the Ratlines.
Michael Phayer (the historian who first spoke about “Ratlines”) cannot even manage to the Austrian Bishop, Alois Hudal, to the Nazi “Ratlines”, let alone the Pope.
Phayer argues that because Hudal was responsible for the Austrian refugees, he could be linked to the “Ratlines.” But he cannot prove his assertion by any definitive evidence.
Then, Phayer is forced to admit that his “source” is “incomplete.” All he say is that he “thinks” the Catholic Church helped fleeing Nazis.
We must be careful in the judgement of the dead. The truths of their character come with time.
Here are the words of Joey-Ox, which aptly summarize German Roman Catholic resistance and defiance of Nazism…
““I am philosophically opposed to you. I am a practising Catholic, and my brother is a Catholic priest. Where could I find the possibility of a compromise here?”
These words were spoken to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the dreaded SS.
Where, indeed, is the “possibility of a compromise here?”
[Editor’s Note: We are publishing this poem by Olga Anstei, which appears here for the first time in English translation, along with the original Russian. Dr. Maria Bloshteyn is translating Anstei’s work and has very generously agreed to let us share with our readers this moving record of a great evil].
Translated by Maria Bloshteyn
Raindrops fell on that windless day.
Thorny sloes prickled with acerbic youth.
A limping tree stump in the twilight,
knocked-over tombstones, chapels…
A slip of a girl, a dusky Dryad—
down the damp path into the nocturnal ravine!
There, in the wild garden’s balmy thicket,
unloved but faithful, he’ll fall at my feet!..
Into the depths, down the slopes—until stars come out!
The most carefree of all carefree places!
Closer to noon. It was sunny and bright.
Youthful acerbity flows out gently,
growing more mellow, growing more joyful.
On the hot chalky bluffs the swift
turns his clever head.
Wormwood wilts, held between palms.
Thyme trembles on an angled ledge.
The bumblebee is a beloved tiny brother!
Blue warmth flows down into the Yar…
Handful by handful from all around
into the most fragrant of all fragrant places.
Onward. Obedient to some obscure call,
I go to the crossroad between older graves,
out of a hushed beloved house,
where Azrael stands at the threshold.
I carry a cross that still wants tears,
that raises three mortal candles
that is covered with wax drips
that saw a shroud and head-wreath in the night…
It will be dug into place there, a loathed gift,
at the head of a nameless grave…
The most frightening of all frightening places!
A frightening brown contorted cross!
The last cup of all. The same place where
nature once drowsily luxuriated,
became Golgotha, the base of the cross
to a strange and fateful people.
Listen! They were lined up,
their belongings piled on the gravestones…
then half-covered with soil…
Do you see those old women in kerchiefs,
elders, dignified like Biblical Abraham,
and curly-headed babes, like those in Bethlehem,
in their mothers’ arms?
I can’t find words for this.
Look: here on the road lie dishes,
a torn tallit, scraps of Talmud,
shreds of passports washed out by rain!
A black—murderous—blood-encrusted cross!
The most horrific of all horrific places.
Были дождинки в безветренный день.
Юностью терпкой колол терновник.
Сумерки и ковыляющий пень,
Сбитые памятники, часовни…
Влажной тропинкой — в вечерний лог!
Тоненькой девочкой, смуглой дриадой —
В тёплые заросли дикого сада,
Где нелюбимый и верный — у ног!..
В глушь, по откосам — до первых звёзд!
В привольное — из привольных мест!
Ближе к полудню. Он ясен был.
Юная терпкость в мерном разливе
Стала плавнее, стала счастливей.
Умной головкою стриж водил
На меловом горячем обрыве.
Вянула между ладоней полынь.
Чебрик дрожал на уступе горбатом.
Шмель был желанным крохотным братом!
Синяя в яр наплывала теплынь…
Пригоршнями стекала окрест
В душистое из душистых мест.
Дальше. Покорствуя зову глухому,
На перекрёсток меж давних могил
Прочь из притихшего милого дома,
Где у порога стоит Азраил —
Крест уношу, — слезами не сытый,
Смертные три возносивший свечи,
Заупокойным воском облитый,
Саван и венчик видавший в ночи…
Будет он врыт, подарок постылый,
Там, в головах безымянной могилы…
Страшное место из страшных мест!
Страшный коричневый скорченный крест!
Чаша последняя. Те же места,
Где ликовала дремотно природа —
Странному и роковому народу
Стали Голгофой, подножьем креста.
Слушайте! Их поставили в строй,
В кучках пожитки сложили на плитах,
Видите этих старух в платках,
Старцев, как Авраам, величавых,
И вифлеемских младенцев курчавых
У матерей на руках?
Я не найду для этого слов:
Видите — вот на дороге посуда,
Продранный талес, обрывки Талмуда,
Клочья размытых дождём паспортов!
Чёрный — лобный — запёкшийся крест!
Страшное место из страшных мест!
The photo shows, “Execution at Babi Yar,” by Felix Lembersky, painted in 1952, which depicts the murder of Jews, by the Nazis, at Babi Yar, on September 29-30, 1941. Some 80,000 people were killed at this place, including 33,771 Jewish men, women and children.