Victors write history, and so the Soviet Union did in relation to Germany. It’s not only that the Soviets displaced the blame for their own crimes, such as the Katyn massacre, onto the Germans. The Soviet Union is also largely responsible for the Holocaust.

Mass murders do not fit in with the German law-and-order mentality; the Germans learned it from the Russians. Two years before the Nazis started loading Jews into cattle trains, Russian security forces did just that with Poles. Starting in the winter of 1940, close to 400,000 people were relocated from the Soviet-occupied regions of Poland. The Soviets gradually escalated mass violence, testing it meticulously. They tried work camps, which killed through cold and planned starvation; they also tried mass executions of loosely defined enemies of state, and ethnic relocation. Brought together, these three components paved the way to genocide.

Other relocations were repressive but not genocidal. It was only the Poles whom the Soviets herded into trains at -50° F, causing a massive death toll. Only the Poles were shot in large groups—more than 110,000 in total—based entirely on ethnicity.
What was wrong with Poles in Stalin’s eyes? The answer looms in the statistics. In the five months after the Soviet occupation of Poland, 93,000 people were arrested, including 23,000 Jews, 41,000 Poles, and 21,000 Ukrainians. Poles inflicted a personal affront on Bolshevik leadership by defeating Russian aggressors in the 1919-1921 war. West Ukrainians consistently opposed the hated Russian rule. But why was the percentage of arrested Jews the highest of all ethnic groups?

After visiting Moscow, German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop issued a communiqué, which Soviet newspapers published on September 20, 1939. “Soviet-German friendship is established forever. … Both countries wish for peace to prevail, and for England and France to stop their fruitless struggle against Germany. If, however, the inciters of war get an upper hand in those countries, then Germany and the USSR will know how to react.” In German parlance, “the inciters of war” were Jews.

Curiously, Nazi leaders, as we know now from their diaries and meetings, were convinced that Jews had pushed Britain and the United States into war with Germany. The Western court Jews fueled that sentiment by calling for boycotts against Germany; they wanted Germany to accommodate its Jews, though Zionists meant to use the occasion to push for Jewish emigration to Land of Israel.
Stalin apparently subscribed to the same world view—namely that an international Jewish cabal opposed communist expansion. The Russian tyrant was oddly concerned with world opinion, which was why he split Poland with Germany instead of conquering the entire country. Only a couple of weeks after the Germans ended the Polish state did the Soviets invade their part. The worldwide Jewish lobby was thus a considerable hindrance for Stalin. Jews were an obstacle to him on yet another issue: Stalin believed that a worldwide crisis and resulting communist revolution were near, and Jews—generally capitalists, not proletarians—were his actual enemies. In the time of the Great Depression, the communist paradise seemed eerily close, and its opponents didn’t deserve human treatment.

Stalin’s pre-war attitude toward Jews was exemplified by his purging of Soviet ministries and high-level government institutions of them, especially the Foreign Ministry in the spring of 1939. He rendered to the Nazis the German communist refugees who lived in the USSR and were overwhelmingly Jewish. Nazis equated German Jews with communists—their original arch-enemies—despite the fact that most local Jews leaned toward capitalist enterprise.

In a self-reinforcing spiral, Germans thought the Russian threat to them was fanned by Jewish Bolsheviks. And there was quite a threat: the Soviet army dwarfed the German one, exceeding it by several times in manpower, tanks, aircraft, and artillery. There was also the marked qualitative superiority of Russian weapons. From 1939 to 1941, Nazi leadership went full circle, from hoping to win in a coalition with Soviets to seeing them as a fatal threat.

Nazi army was very weak. The Versailles treaty had forced demilitarization on Germany, and an entire generation of troops lacked proper training. German industry, crippled by sanctions, produced mostly second-grade weaponry. Even a minor military campaign in Poland took the Germans four weeks. Germany lost the air war against Britain despite a great advantage in aircraft numbers. The African campaign was eventually lost. They prevailed against France by pure strategy rather than by brute military force. Germans well understood their weaknesses and didn’t even try conquering France, which remained formally independent and entered into a ceasefire agreement with Germany.

Even so, strained achievements were made possible by massive Soviet aid to the Nazis. Since about 1920, the Soviet Union had aided Germany in just about every way, from oil, grain, and metal shipments to hosting German military factories and training facilities in circumvention of the Versailles treaty. Soviet and German training and rearmament programs went concurrently. Soviet assistance was indispensable to Germany, which had been devastated by WWI and the Versailles treaty. Austria and occupied France had little to share with Germany, and the Swedes and the Swiss were selling for hard currency, which Germany lacked.

Stalin collaborated not just with Germany generally, but specifically with the Nazis. For years, he covered the loyal German communist party in dirt and derailed their struggle with the Nazis. Ideology aside, Stalin had no interest in losers.

The USSR was Germany’s major political partner. Their cooperation was consistent: the partitioning of Poland had been discussed since the early 1920s. During Germany’s war with Britain, the Soviets hosted the German fleet in Murmansk and provided oil, which eventually fueled German aircraft. The Soviet-German correlation was remarkable: Germany annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia while the USSR took Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Germany fought France to a ceasefire, as did the USSR against Finland. They divided Poland, and the Soviets materially aided Germany in its war with Britain.

The Soviet collusion in partitioning Poland was indispensable to the Germans. In 1939, Germany wouldn’t dare to invade the well-known Russian sphere of influence. Neither could Germany do it in 1941: the Barbarossa succeeded only because Russian and German troops were positioned just across from each other, so close that a few German bombers were able to conduct a large number of short missions. With Poland as a buffer, Germany could not hope for a devastating first strike against the Red Army. A German invasion of Poland would have triggered war with a fully mobilized and incredibly strong Soviet Army.

Germany’s war on the Soviet Union was an apocalyptic endeavor, which the Nazis undertook only to prevent a Russian first-strike. The Barbarossa plan was outright silly: it presumed an advance of 1,500 miles to Archangelsk in four months, often through hardly passable terrain. The Soviet campaign should have been won before the British one, despite the incomparable scope of operations. The planners should have realized that no amount of surprise could enable them to prevail over the much larger and stronger Red Army. German attempts to encircle them were carried out with a ridiculously small number of tanks, and their bombing campaigns were carried out by almost irrelevant numbers of aircraft. German staff understood all the limitations, but had no options, faced with mammoth Soviet forces positioned for invasion of the German sphere of influence. Their evaluation was correct, as Soviet documents show. Thus, in May 1941, the Soviet General Command circulated Considerations on the Plan for Strategic Deployment in Case of War with Germany and its Allies (Соображения по плану стратегического развертывания Вооруженных Сил СССР на случай войны Германией и ее союзниками), which was clearly offensive in nature. The concentration of the best Soviet tanks at the border, tips deeply inside German-controlled territory, on the eve of war, left no doubt about the communists’ intentions.

Only the near-total lack of tactical and strategic command in the Red Army, the near-absence of qualified commanders, and wholesale hatred of communists and Jews allowed the Germans their early victories. It wasn’t that the Wehrmacht won, but that the Red Army disintegrated when the totalitarian pressure on it was temporarily removed during the first months of disorganized fighting.

Back to Jews. Germans had no plans whatsoever for extermination before 1942. They killed the mentally ill but not the Jews, who would ostensibly be the target much more acceptable to German public opinion. Not even the Jewish mental patients were killed initially, nor even the masses of German Jewish communists. Germans cooperated with Zionists on resettling their Jews elsewhere. Zionist education—agricultural and thinly disguised military training—was conducted with the explicit approval of Nazi authorities. The Germans even went so far as to allow Jewish emigrants to take out large amounts of scarce foreign exchange. Unfortunately, American Jewish organizations stonewalled the German efforts, preferring Jews to stay in the Diaspora. In order to bug Germany with the Jewish problem, the United States and Britain rejected resettling of refugees just anywhere in the world—including the Jewish homeland allotted to us even by the League of Nations. The much-touted German plan of resettling its Jews on Madagascar was not a sneer, but a serious attempt to find any place accessible to Germany and amenable to it. As someone who wants Israel free of Arabs, I have no problem with Germans trying to expel their Jews without significant loss of life.

The Germans switched to extermination for three reasons. The first reason was that the Allies had blocked all the options for relocation of the Jews. Jewish refugees could get no visas. When they managed to cross the border illegally, Switzerland turned them back to the Nazis. Britain pressed the governments of Bulgaria and Romania to tighten their lax border policies, which allowed Jews to escape. Britain also pressed Turkey to allow no safe haven to Jews, lest they move afterwards “illegally” to the Land of Israel.

Two, the Nazis wanted revenge: Jews, they thought, were instrumental in Soviet and American aggression against Germany. The reasoning was wrong but not silly: seeing the intense opposition of international Jewry to pogroms and other signals that Jews were not welcome in Germany, the Nazis decided that war was the next logical step after the Jews tried to boycott them.

Three, an apocalyptic mindset descended on Nazi leaders when they embarked on war with the Soviet Union against the better judgment of the German military. They started thinking in terms of their final obligation to change the world by destroying Jews.

Many nations were instrumental in the Holocaust: just about every European nation, America, and some Arabs. But the Soviets made the Holocaust possible. Notoriously full of Jews, the communist establishment prepared a mortal blow for Germany: with the 1939 non-belligerence pact Stalin lured Germany into attacking Britain, to further weaken the aggressor. With massive rearmament he hinted to the Germans of his own aggressive intent, forcing them to amass troops near the Soviet border. The Germans understood Stalin’s trap: he wanted to crush much of their army with a single strike. Such treachery called for revenge, and in the German mind Jews should be targeted.

The Soviets showed Germany that mass ethnic extermination works and is tolerated by international community. Soviet work camps were less deadly than German camps for Jews, but still more deadly for Jews than for gentiles. Soviet camps were no less deadly than German camps for gentiles: thus, 400,000 of 1.8 million Germans taken prisoner after the war died. German forced labor camps were modeled on Soviet ones; no other country practiced them at the time.

The Soviet Union openly started ethnic repression against Jews in 1940. But months before, the Russians had divided Poland with Germany so that Jewish towns fell to the Nazi regime, whose pattern of anti-Semitic repression was well-established by then. When some Polish Jews managed to flee the Nazis, the Russians interned them in Central Asia; ironically, most internees survived in that area, free of German occupation, which gave birth to a persistent canard that Soviet Jews sat out the war in safety.

Stalin allowed a considerable number of Jews to survive, but those were largely the families of ranking communists. About a million such Jews, mostly from Eastern Ukraine and Russia, fled before the advancing German troops. After the war, they changed the face of East European Jewry: it was transformed into a mass of hardcore communists.

Soviet policy explicitly aided the Nazi extermination efforts. Though information on mass murders became available from the first day of the war, it was deliberately suppressed. Given the variety of information sources and Soviet media, it took an order from the highest level to quash all the information on Jewish massacres. Even in the occupied territories, Soviet propaganda remained present through radio broadcasts, leaflets, and rumors—but the Jews were left unaware of their fate, and didn’t flee. This is not an issue of a state’s responsibility to its citizens: perhaps the trains were lacking, but Jews could still be told to flee on foot, and many might have escaped. The logistics bottleneck is over-touted: the retreating Soviets evacuated millions of communist activists’ family members, and the space could have been found for Jews. In many instances, Soviet authorities dissuaded and prohibited Jews from fleeing. The Red Army cordons turned away scores of Jewish refugees, notably from Latvia.

The Soviet establishment facilitated the Holocaust by passing to Germans the housing data on Jews. Most Soviet offices destroyed their documents before Germans took the cities: burning all papers was a standard practice. But housing and registration documents were left to Germans intact in every town, and allowed them to identify Jews, many of whom were assimilated and could not be identified in any other way.

Soviet propagandists made a great effort to counter the German propaganda. Soviet broadcasts dispelled every other German allegation, but were consistently silent on a single one: that Jews provoked the war. The population hated Jews and Jewish Bolsheviks anyway (half a million Russians served in the German army), and took the Soviet silence for tacit confirmation of German anti-Semitic propaganda. Common Soviet people collaborated with Germans in identifying the Jews.
The Holocaust enterprise was directed by Germans but manned by Slavs. Death squads and camps employed tens of thousands of Ukrainians, Slovaks, and Croats—but also many Russians.

The Soviets were careful not to obstruct the Holocaust. In their tens of thousands of bombing raids through Poland into Germany, Russian aircraft commonly overflew the death camps—but not a single bomb was ever dropped on them. The Russians bombed targets just miles away from the death camps, but not the camps themselves. Soviet partisan guerrillas waged a full-scale war on Germans in Byelorussia, sabotaging railroads and installations – but there was no concerted effort to stop the ongoing massacres, arm the ghetto inhabitants, or even inform them of the danger.

The Russians reconfirmed their policy toward Jews in 1953, when the entire country lauded the anti-Semitic rhetoric of its leadership. The intended relocation of Jews to Siberia, stopped by Stalin’s death, was unlike any other ethnic relocation, except the Poles’. Jews were herded specifically for death: pressed into cattle cars as during the Nazi massacres, transported to the coldest place in Siberia, where the only housing waiting for them was the shacks made of roofing felt, which allowed them no chance to survive the winter.

After the war, the Soviets covered German massacres of Jews while trumpeting and inflating other atrocities. The word “Jewish” was excised from reports and commemorations: rather, vague “Soviet citizens” were murdered. That policy cannot be explained by the state’s pandering to popular anti-Semitism; the state was unconcerned with popular feelings, and experience suggests that anti-Semites are not at all uncomfortable with Jews being mentioned in Holocaust accounts. The government suppressed the Jewish massacres for the same reason it suppressed many other wartime accounts, such as the massive collaboration with Nazis: shameful events that implicated the communist regime were stricken from the annals. The regime did not want questions about its own complacency and explicit aid to the murderers.

The Soviet Union didn’t actually save Jews. The Germans killed just everyone whom they could find, almost 100 percent of the Jews in the German-occupied Soviet territory. No statistically significant additional numbers of Jews would have been killed if the war had lasted for another few years. The Soviet Union nurtured the Nazi regime, provoked the war, and—regardless of the eventual victory—is responsible for Holocaust.

Hilter and Stalin
Soviet and Nazi worker
breaking chains