By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers

Russia, Germany, and Poland 1917-1945 Part Eleven

While Hitler was disappointed he had not gotten his short, victorious war, Stalin was irate. As noted, three years earlier, Litvinov had negotiated the 1935 Soviet-Czechoslovak Treaty of Mutual Assistance. Under its terms, the USSR would assist in defense of Czechoslovakia if that state were threatened, but only if the French rendered assistance first.1 During the crisis in 1938, Stalin offered to commit military forces to assist Prague, even ordering a partial mobilization of the Red Army. It remains unclear whether this offer was genuine, especially given possible Soviet interest in directing Hitler’s aggression westward.2 The most recent evidence from the Russian archives suggests that had the French acted, the Soviet Union would have fulfilled its obligations under the terms of the 1935 treaty, but that the Kremlin was fairly confident the French would not act.3 At the time, neither France nor Britain seriously considered Soviet assistance, refusing to invite a Soviet delegation to attend the Munich Conference where Czechoslovakia’s fate was decided.4 In practice, this meant that Soviet collective security policy had failed once again. Stalin had kept his options open throughout the 1930s. He maintained channels to Germany and offered openings for political rapprochement from 1933 to 1938, even while Litvinov pursued collective security. Following the Munich Conference, the German option became much more attractive.5 The series of negotiations that would eventually lead to a renewal of the Soviet-German partnership began over trade relations shortly following the Munich Conference. As noted, German-Soviet economic exchange did not cease in 1933. However, it did decline from its peak in 1930.6 Much of the continuing trade was conducted under credit agreements, whereby the German government provided credits to the Soviet government to purchase industrial and finished goods from German firms. Every year between 1933 and 1938, Germany remained one of the top three exporters to the USSR. And Germany continued to import key raw materials from the USSR as its rearmament measures rapidly used up existing stocks of resources in Germany. This led German officials, including Hermann Göring, then managing German war production, to seek expanded trade agreements with their Soviet counterparts five times in 1937 and 1938.7 However, these attempts failed because the Soviets demanded political talks as part of any economic agreement.8 

Circumstances changed after the Munich agreement. By December 1938, German raw material needs had become desperate, with former Reichsminister of Economics Hjalmar Schacht informing Hitler that without further resource imports in critical areas like oil, rubber, iron, manganese, phosphates, tungsten, and chrome, “armaments production had reached the limit of peacetime expansion possibilities.”9 With few other options, the Germans stepped up their negotiating efforts with the USSR. On December 1, 1938, the Eastern European Economic Section of the German Foreign Ministry, forty-one-year-old Karl Schnurre, decided to renew the German approaches. A member of the Ostpolitik faction devised a generous credit proposal designed to bring the Soviets back to the negotiating table. The Germans would offer credits to cover Soviet purchases worth 500 million Reichsmarks in Germany in exchange for 300 million Reichsmarks’ worth of Soviet raw materials.10 The Soviets responded with a proposal for trade talks in Moscow on January 11, 1939. 

Behind the scenes, there was enthusiasm on the Soviet side. Kliment Voroshilov sent Anastas Mikoyan, then managing foreign trade, a list of requested purchases to be made from Germany’s military industry as part of the deal.11 The final proposal stretched to seventeen pages. The Soviet Air Force alone planned to request from German industry four complete fighter and bomber prototypes, seven engine designs, thirteen different machine gun and bomb designs, nine types of laboratory equipment, and ten kinds of optical and electrical equipment. The total list included 112 items. The Red Army would consider presenting German trade representatives such a list during a period of supposed hostility shows how essential German designs and expertise remained for the Red Army.12 It also indicated that the Soviets had in mind broader rapprochement, as the Germans would never agree to sell such a list of weaponry without a political understanding. 

The Soviets soon found themselves disappointed, however. Hitler, steered by Ribbentrop, remained committed to his approaches to Poland. With his assent, Ribbentrop canceled Schnurre’s proposed trip to Moscow on January 28.13; instead, Ribbentrop ordered Ambassador Schulenberg to enter into trade negotiations, but without the power to agree. Negotiations seemed to be making progress, but Soviet demands for large quantities of military materiel proved unpalatable to Hitler, who still believed Ribbentrop’s promises about constructing an anti-Soviet coalition. On March 11, the German Foreign Ministry ordered Schulenberg to bring negotiations to a “standstill in a suitable way” while leaving room for their future resumption.14 

A change in circumstance would ultimately present new opportunities. With German connivance, Czechoslovakia had begun to disintegrate following the Sudeten crisis of the previous year. Its remaining national minorities, particularly the Slovaks, were encouraged to clamor for independence or greater autonomy. Hitler took advantage of the disorder that followed, ordering the Wehrmacht to prepare to occupy the remainder of the Czech state.15 On March 14, 1939, he ordered Czechoslovakia Emil Hacha, to Berlin. At one in the morning, Hitler, who had kept Hacha waiting for hours while watching a movie, summoned the elderly lawyer into his presence. He announced that as he spoke, the German Army was invading Czechoslovakia. He told Hacha he could either order the Czech military to lay down arms and prevent bloodshed, or force would be used, including the terror bombing of Prague. Hacha’s reaction to this was a heart attack. While under medical treatment, he signed Hitler’s demands and ordered the surrender of the Czech military to the occupying Germans.16 

There was a little legal pretext for the invasion; one German representative in Prague recorded that the Germans “deplored the perfectly correct, even accommodating, attitude of the Czechs everywhere.”17 It was an act of naked aggression. Hitler’s reward was the powerful Czech military arsenal, carefully built up throughout the interwar period: more than 1,000 modern aircraft, 2,000 artillery pieces, and 800 modern tanks.18

The German invasion stunned Neville Chamberlain. He delivered a quiet and cautious address to Parliament shortly after the news came in on March 15.19 Two days later, he addressed a crowd in Birmingham, saying, “Public opinion in the world has received a sharper shock than has ever yet been administered to it, even by the present regime in Germany.” He went on to insist defensively, “Really, I do not need to defend my visits to Germany last autumn, for what was the alternative?” But there was a hint of resolve in the speech that was new. He concluded by saying that “No greater mistake could be made than to suppose that, because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing, this nation has so lost its fiber that it will not take part to the utmost of its power in resisting aggression.”20

Hitler had more shocks in store. Seven days after taking Czechoslovakia, he seized the city of Memel from Lithuania. The following day, he forced Romania into a pro-German trade treaty, providing the Wehrmacht with a guaranteed oil supply.21 Hitler also began exerting heavier pressure to bring Poland into the German orbit.22 

Chamberlain finally acted. During a cabinet meeting on March 18, he made clear that it was time to take a stronger line, even to the point of risking war.23 After a brief deliberation, his government, publicly announced a security guarantee to Poland, promising to protect Polish sovereignty should Hitler invade.24 The aim was to deter further aggression. But Chamberlain’s decision was made hastily, without consulting the Foreign Office. His speech announcing the policy indicated that he had chosen Poland over the Soviet Union as a partner in the East.25

The problem was that Britain could offer little military support to Poland directly, and Poland was too weak to defeat Germany without considerable assistance. Realistically, cooperation between Poland and the Soviet Union was the only means of deterring German aggression toward the East. Unfortunately, by emphasizing commitments to Poland without serious overtures to Stalin, Chamberlain had simultaneously alienated the Soviet Union and made his foreign policy dependent upon it. He had some reasons for ignoring Moscow: the broad consensus among British and French intelligence continued that the Red Army had become useless after the purges. For instance, in the spring of 1939, the French General Staff described the Red Army as “virtually worthless,” while the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service reported that it “could do nothing of real value.”26 Combined with a general distrust of Soviet ideology and lingering horror from collectivization and the purges, the Soviets seemed a hopeless ally. 

For his part, Hitler was furious about the guarantee to Poland. It ended any possibility he could cajole Poland into supporting a crusade against the Soviet Union.27 Upon receipt of the news of the British statement, Hitler shouted, “I’ll cook them a stew that they’ll choke on!”28 On April 3, 1939, he ordered plans drawn up for the invasion of Poland, to begin no later than October 1 of that year.29 By way of explanation, he told German military leadership that “We have nothing to lose; we have everything to gain . . . the power of initiative cannot be allowed to pass to others.”30 

The Wehrmacht’s own rearmament programs were leveling off, approaching maximum production possible given resource, workforce, and finance constraints.31 Technologically, prototypes commissioned between 1933 and 1935 now made up the bulk of German production, providing—as noted—a temporary lead in armaments that would gradually fade. The British and French were now committed to serious rearmament, and across the Atlantic, the United States had also begun to gear up for national mobilization.32 Hitler’s window for war was closing. After four years, nothing had come of Ribbentrop’s efforts to persuade Polish foreign minister Józef Beck to ally with Germany – Beck understood the stakes too well. 

The idea of a new Soviet partnership would first emerge from veterans of the old. There were constituencies within both the German military and Foreign Ministry, primarily veterans of the Rapallo Era, that favored the renewal of ties with the Soviet Union. 33 To sway the Führer, members of the German Foreign Ministry fed information to key members of Hitler’s entourage indicating that Stalin was interested in rapprochement in March, some of which was at best misleading.34 In this context, Göring, likely seeking to undermine rival Ribbentrop’s influence with Hitler, suggested to Hitler the abandonment of overtures to Poland and a reorientation toward the Soviet Union. To further sway Hitler, he even traveled to Rome in mid-April to discuss with Mussolini the Italian reaction should Germany pursue an anti-Polish agreement with Moscow. 

The guarantee to Poland had triggered a reaction in Moscow, too.35 Immediately, the Soviets renewed their approaches to Germany. On April 17, 1939, Soviet ambassador Alexei Merekalov in Berlin met with State Secretary Ernest von Weizsäcker to discuss whether the now German-occupied Škoda Works in Czechoslovakia would fulfill military orders that had been placed there by the Soviet government.36 Merekalov concluded his remarks by noting that the German reaction would demonstrate whether Germany wanted to “cultivate and expand economic relations with Russia” or not.37 Stalin also ordered the recall of his ambassadors in London, Paris, and Berlin for consultations. 

On April 21, Stalin summoned his foreign policy team to the Kremlin, including Ambassador in London Ivan Maisky, Merekalov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Voroshilov, Mikoyan, and Litvinov. The air was tense, particularly between Commissar of Foreign Affairs Litvinov and his rival Molotov. Stalin made clear that he was “manifestly dissatisfied with England” and that he was concerned “there might be a plot in London or Paris to involve Moscow in a war and then leave her in the lurch.”38 Molotov suggested opening negotiations with Germany. Merekalov made clear that Berlin would be open to an agreement.39 Given the hostile attitude toward his collective security project, Litvinov then dramatically offered his resignation. Stalin rejected it, then turned to Maisky, asking his assessment of the situation in London. Sensing the mood in the room, Maisky suggested that a new British act of appeasement toward Germany was indeed possible, possibly to encourage Hitler to attack the Soviet Union.40 

On May 3, Stalin removed Maxim Litvinov, who was Jewish, from office. Stalin replaced Litvinov with his closest associate Molotov, ethnically Russian and supportive of renewed cooperation with Germany. Molotov, known as “stonearse” by his associates for his dull personality and long working hours, would later describe his understanding of the role of foreign minister as “expand[ing] the borders of our fatherland.”41 Stalin’s first order to him, in Molotov’s own recollection, was to “purge the ministry of Jews.”42 This was intended as a signal to Hitler.43 Other signals were immediately forthcoming, too. On May 4 and 5, Soviet diplomat Georgii Astakhov sought out German diplomats in Berlin to discuss the Škoda contract issue.44 During those meetings, one of them recalled, Astakhov “spoke about the removal of Litvinov and tried to ask indirectly whether this event would bring us to a changed attitude of the Soviet Union.” 45 Astakhov wrote back to Moscow that “the Germans are trying to create the impression of an impending or even immediate improvement in the German-Soviet relations” and that their motives for doing so were so obvious, the Polish guarantee, that such signals should be taken seriously.46 

That assessment was accurate. Hitler ordered a halt to media attacks against the USSR, then recalled Ambassador Schulenberg, diplomat Gustav Hilger, and military attaché Ernst Köstring from Moscow to Berlin for his own round of consultations. On May 10, he met with Hilger, the most experienced Russia expert in the Foreign Ministry, resident in Moscow for twenty years, and trade negotiator Karl Schnurre. Unusually for Hitler, he listened attentively, asking thoughtful questions on the nature of Soviet foreign policy.47 He met with Köstring shortly thereafter, behaving similarly.48 These men, veterans of the Rapallo Era and advocates of rapprochement with the USSR, described a Stalin willing to collaborate and with much to offer economically.49 

On May 17, Astakhov approached Karl Schnurre to discuss renewing the stalled trade talks. He also noted that “there were no foreign policy disagreements between Germany and the Soviet Union, and that, as a result, there was no basis for hostility between the two states.”50 Astakhov then explicitly cited the precedent of the Treaty of Rapallo, a subject laden with military and political meaning.51 Three days later, in Moscow, new Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov visited Ambassador Schulenberg for an hour-long conversation. Molotov suggested that economic talks could resume once the necessary “political bases” were constructed. He proposed both governments think about “the way in which better political bases could be built.”52 He would not say more when pressed, leaving Schulenberg, to Molotov’s amusement, temporarily bewildered.53 Schulenberg conveyed to Berlin his belief that Molotov had “almost invited political discussions” and that “our proposal of conducting only economic negotiations had appeared insufficient to him.”54

In light of these signals and ongoing talks between the Soviets and Great Britain, Hitler decided to reopen negotiations in Moscow. On May 30, the German Foreign Ministry informed Schulenberg, “Contrary to the policy previously planned, we have now decided to undertake definite negotiations with the Soviet Union.”55 But after years of mistrust, neither side was certain whether talks were entirely tactical, aimed at isolating the other from other potential partners. Astakhov, Merekalov, and Weizsäcker in Berlin and Schulenberg and Molotov in Moscow spent much of June cautiously sounding out. For instance, Astakhov visited the Bulgarian ambassador in Berlin, whom he hardly knew, and spent two hours explaining Soviet attitudes toward Germany, apparently assuming he would relay the information. Most notably, the Bulgarian ambassador told his hosts, Astakhov had stated that of options available to the USSR, “a rapprochement with Germany . . . was closest to the desires of the Soviet Union.”56 

On June 17, the German Foreign Ministry informed Mikoyan of their interest in sending Schnurre back to Moscow to reopen trade negotiations. He rejected this offer as being too risky, given that there were British and French emissaries in Moscow. Mikoyan eventually offered to send a delegation to Berlin instead.57 Stalin seems to have been playing for time. Hitler, growing frustrated, briefly canceled further talks, though only four days later, Schulenberg and Molotov discussed the political basis upon which a trade deal could be negotiated.58 Between July 7 and July 12, the Germans dropped one of their major reservations in the economic negotiations: they would sell armaments to the Soviets.59 This marked a change in the German negotiating position, which had essentially blocked weapons sales to the USSR since 1935. 

On July 21, Schnurre formally opened new economic talks with Soviet envoys in Berlin. Hitler told the German Foreign Ministry that “we will here act in a markedly forthcoming manner, since a conclusion, and this at the earliest possible date, is desired for general reasons.”60 Specifically, Hitler now planned to launch a war against Poland in late August. An economic partnership with the USSR would provide critical raw materials to maintain the German war machine in a possible British blockade. Given that German military planners calculated Germany had only three to six months of oil in the event of war, and even greater shortages of other raw materials,  Wehrmacht officers concluded that “making our greater economic sphere blockade-proof can only be achieved through close economic cooperation with Russia.”61 In essence, this was the idea that had motivated Seeckt back in 1920: that the USSR might serve as strategic and economic depth in a new war between Germany and the Western powers. Even better, in the German view, an agreement with Stalin might deter the British from honoring their guarantees to Poland at all, thus handing Hitler yet another easy victory. Ribbentrop, who spent nearly every moment by Hitler’s side in the critical months of 1939, told the Führer this would in fact be the case.62 

Stalin, whose intelligence agencies allowed him to read much of the German diplomatic traffic, was well aware of the German position.63 He resolved to extract the highest possible terms from Hitler before reaching an accommodation. The Germans began negotiations by proposing a large credit arrangement at high interest, centering on raw material deliveries to be made over a short period of time in exchange for finished goods.64 The Soviets countered every one of the German terms and won each at the negotiating table as Hitler pressed the German Foreign Ministry to reach an arrangement. By August 4, the two sides had reached the basic contours of a credit deal.65 But the Soviets refused to finalize the arrangement, waiting to see if they could improve their bargaining position before political talks began. 

Hitler was impatient for Stalin’s agreement. On August 11, Hitler informed Mussolini that he was considering temporary rapprochement with Stalin to deter any British or French action over Poland.66 The same day, he declared to an amazed foreign visitor, “Everything I am doing is directed against Russia; if the West is too stupid and too blind to grasp this, I shall be forced to come to an understanding with the Russians, strike West, and then after its defeat turn against the Soviet Union with my assembled forces.”67

As Hitler waited for Stalin, London and Paris sent representatives to Moscow to negotiate a military alliance with the Soviets against Germany. Inexplicably, they were sent via slow-boat, were not authorized to sign any documents, and, in the British case, had not even been credentialed by their own government.68 Their primary goal may have been to keep the Germans and Soviets from concluding a deal. On August 11, they finally arrived, greeted with a huge feast hosted by Commissar for Defense Kliment Voroshilov. Despite the warm reception, Stalin was not impressed. The envoys had low ranks, lacked credentials, and could not communicate in Russian, the large delegation had only one Russian speaker as an interpreter. At a meeting of a Politburo that day, Stalin formally decided to begin political negotiations with Germany.69 

The Germans had far more to offer than the British and French. Sympathetic Stalin observer and New York Times journalist Walter Duranty would later write, “I do not doubt that the Soviet [sic] would always have preferred to retain its friendship with Germany rather than rapprochement, however close, with Britain, France, and Poland.”70 That view was broadly shared in the embassies of the other great powers in Moscow in August 1939.71 Hitler could give his assent to Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, eastern Poland, and Bessarabia, whereas London and Paris would not. Hitler could supply huge quantities of machine tools and military technology to the USSR. At the same time, the British and French could not, especially as they tried desperately to catch up with the German lead in armaments. 

There were also ideological reasons behind Stalin’s preference for a German partnership. Stalin perceived the capitalist world as a hostile bloc, divided between “rich” and “poor” states.72 Great Britain stood at the head of the “rich” states; Germany was a revisionist “poor” state. Stalin’s goal remained to avoid any unity between these two groups, resulting in a capitalist crusade against the Soviet Union. Instead, however, if the two fought an extended war, the Soviet Union might profit enormously, staying on the sidelines until its weight could be added decisively to the scales.73 As Molotov would explain to a party member in 1940, long war between Germany and the British and French would trigger revolutions and civil wars in which the Soviets would intervene militarily. A decisive victory “somewhere near the Rhine” would permanently establish communist rule across Europe.74 

The final steps had not been taken yet. On August 12, the Soviets informed the German Foreign Ministry that they were willing to begin talks of a political nature, provided they could be held in Moscow.75 Hitler was amenable, driven above all by the desire to reach an agreement before he invaded Poland. On August 13, the Polish government ordered a partial mobilization of its army, further increasing Hitler’s sense of urgency.76

On August 14, Ribbentrop communicated to the Soviets his request for a personal meeting with Stalin to discuss “the restoration of German-Soviet friendship, and where appropriate, to resolve territorial issues in Eastern Europe together.”77 Molotov indicated his approval during a meeting with Schulenberg the following day, presenting a few key items that should be included in negotiations.78 

On August 19, Molotov provided the Germans with a Soviet draft of a nonaggression pact.79 It included five brief articles, roughly based upon the 1926 Treaty of Berlin, which in turn had been an extension of the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo. There were two unusual terms. First, the draft treaty did not include a section that rendered the treaty null and void in the event Germany or the Soviet Union committed aggression against a third country, language that had been included in all other Soviet nonaggression treaties to that point.80 Second, it stated that the pact would be valid only if it included a special secret protocol covering key points in foreign policy between the two states.81 The Germans interpreted these terms to indicate Soviet interest in the partition of Poland and other possible territorial agreements besides. However, before they could turn to the Soviet draft treaty, Molotov insisted that a credit deal be finalized.82 Urged on by the German Foreign Ministry, Schnurre and a Soviet envoy signed the delayed trade agreement in Berlin after midnight that day. The final agreement included a low-interest credit worth 200 million Reichsmarks (USD 80 million) to be used by the USSR to purchase German machine tools and weapons.83 In exchange, the USSR would export 180 million Reichsmarks’ worth of Soviet raw materials over two years, with shipments to begin immediately.84 Given the interest rates, the German concession to sell weapons, and uneven value of the deal, it was clear Stalin had won the negotiations.85 The raw material exports listed, while substantial, were hardly at the level of German expectations needed to maintain an extended war against Great Britain.86 

On the afternoon of August 20, dismayed by breaking news of the Soviet-German economic agreement, the French delegation in Moscow agreed to a major Soviet demand: that the Red Army be allowed to cross Polish and Romanian territory in the event of a German invasion.87 They did so without the consent of their Polish and Romanian allies, both of whom were concerned that such an agreement would result in permanent Soviet occupation. Although the Soviets claimed this was key to any military arrangement, Stalin had already decided: he had agreed to political discussions with the Germans nine days earlier and already provided the Germans with the draft text of a treaty that strongly hinted at the partition of Poland. Given the course of events, it seems probable that Stalin had inclined toward a German pact since May and had only allowed the British and French delegations to visit Moscow to get better terms from the Germans. In any case, on August 21, Stalin temporarily suspended negotiations with Great Britain and France. Immediately afterward, he sent his lead negotiator in those talks, Kliment Voroshilov, on a duck-hunting expedition to halt any attempts to recommence the process.88 The same day, Stalin ordered the Soviet Foreign Ministry to give Ambassador Schulenberg an official memorandum on further negotiations. 

Now just days from his planned invasion, Hitler sent a personal cable to Stalin, writing that he considered it “urgently necessary to clarify questions connected with it [the political talks] as soon as possible,” and urging Stalin to accept a visit from German foreign minister Ribbentrop, who would be delegated full powers to sign an agreement.89 At 8:30 p.m. on the evening of August 21, Hitler learned that Stalin had authorized Ribbentrop to arrive on August 23. He declared, “Now I have the world in my pocket!” and immediately ordered champagne to be broken out.90 The next morning, Hitler spoke to his senior military leadership, outlining his plans for war against Poland. He told Germany’s military leaders that “because we have sources of supply in Eastern Europe,” there was now limited danger from the Western powers.91 Bolstered by an out-of-touch Ribbentrop, he was confident that agreements already made with Italy, Japan, and now the Soviet Union would deter any British or French military interventions, he would finally have his short victorious war. Amateur “peace feelers” from London behind the scenes also strongly suggested that the British and French lacked the will to go to war.92 A final measure of reassurance arrived when a British diplomat delivered a fresh offer from Chamberlain to negotiate over Poland, hinting that the British guarantee to Poland was not, in fact, ironclad.93 But with the renewal of Rapallo imminent, Hitler was ready to start his war and would not allow any peace talks or concessions to divert him from that aim. On the evening of August 22, Ribbentrop boarded Hitler’s personal Condor aircraft and departed for Moscow.


The sequence of events following the Munich Agreement:

1. The Sudetenland became part of Germany following the Munich Agreement (October 1938).

2. Poland annexes Zaolzie, an area with a Polish plurality, over which the two countries had fought a war in 1919 (October 1938).

3. Border areas (southern third of Slovakia and southern Carpathian Ruthenia) with Hungarian minorities became part of Hungary per the First Vienna Award (November 1938).

4. On 15 March 1939, during the German invasion of the remaining Czech territories, Hungary annexes the remainder of Carpathian Ruthenia (which had been autonomous since October 1938).

5. Germany establishes the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia with a puppet government on 16 March 1939.

6. On 14 March 1939, a pro-Hitler Catholic-fascist government declares the Slovak Republic as an Axis client state.


Part One:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part One

Part Two:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Two

Part Three:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Three

Part Four:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Four

Part Five:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Five

Part Six:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Six

Part Seven:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Seven

Part Eight:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Eight

Part Nine:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Nine

Part Ten:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Ten

Part Twelve:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Twelve

Part Thirteen:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Thirteen

Part Fourteen:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Fourteen

Part Fifteen:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Fifteen


Apart from the archival documents listed in the footnotes following is a list of published sources that have been used:

1. “Treaty of Mutual Assistance between the Czechoslovak Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” May 16, 1935, League of Nations Treaty Series Volume 159 (1935), 1–3. Available digitally at; see also Anna M. Cienciala, “The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939: When Did Stalin Decide to Align with Hitler, and Was Poland the Culprit?,” in Ideology, Politics, and Diplomacy in East-Central Europe, ed. M. B. B. Biskupski (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2003), 175.

2. See, for instance, Lukes, Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler; Hugh Ragsdale, “Soviet Military Preparations and Policy in the Munich Crisis: New Evidence,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, 47:2 (1999), 210–226; Jiri Hochman, The Soviet Union and the Failure of Collective Security, 1934–1938 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Zara Steiner, “The Soviet Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and the Czechoslovakian Crisis in 1938: New Material from the Soviet Archives,” The Historical Journal, 42:3 (Sep. 1999), 751–779.

3. Ragsdale, “Soviet Military Preparations and Policy in the Munich Crisis: New Evidence,” 226; David Stone, A Military History of Russia, 189–190; Erickson, The Soviet High Command, 503.

4. Steiner, “The Soviet Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and the Czechoslovakian Crisis in 1938,” 752.

5. There has long been an intense debate over which state took the initiative and when Stalin decided upon an arrangement with Hitler. Roberts long defended a late date, suggesting Stalin’s decision was made only in desperation in August and arguing that “Soviet-German contacts in May–June 1939 are of limited significance.” He further suggests that Astakhov and other Soviet figures may have acted independently when they approached their German counterparts in the spring of 1939. Roberts, The Unholy Alliance, 144. Of course, initiative of that sort seems unlikely in a Soviet system that was still in the process of murdering hundreds of its diplomats. Fleischhauer suggests that the decision made in mid-August to partner with Hitler was a “logical way out of a hopelessly narrow set of possible Soviet foreign policy options,” a conundrum created by French and British intransigence in the August negotiations. Ingeborg Fleischhauer, “Soviet Foreign Policy and the Origins of the Hitler-Stalin Pact,” in From Peace to War, ed. Bernd Wegner, 45. True, but French and British “intransigence” vis-à-vis a Soviet Union, in part a reaction to the bloody purges, had become clear well before August 1939, as had alternative Soviet approaches. Watt sees Soviet demarches in May 1939 as in earnest, opening “the long road to the Nazi-Soviet pact.” Watt, How War Came, 254. Weinberg agrees, thinking that a Soviet decision was largely made between March and May, with tentative steps initiated by Moscow: “If the earliest hints . . . all came from the Soviet side, this may have been because the Russian government was better informed about German intentions than the other way around.” Weinberg, Starting World War II, 1937–1939, 568. Historian of Russia Jonathan Haslam argues that Stalin actively pursued relations with Western powers and Germany from 1933 onward, likely deciding on partnership with the latter following the Polish Guarantee. Jonathan Haslam, “SovietGerman Relations and the Origins of the Second World War: The Jury Is Still Out,” Journal of Modern History, 69:4 (December 1997), 785–797, 791. Anna Cienciala goes even farther, suggesting that “Stalin always preferred a pact with Germany.” Cienciala, “The Nazi Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939,” 153. The evidence presented here suggests that Stalin repeatedly tried to restore good relations with Germany in the 1930s, in part as a product of Soviet economic and military dependence on Germany; that he feared the formation of an anti-Soviet coalition; and that he believed by the spring of 1939 that he could get far more from a partnership with Germany than he could with France or Great Britain. The latter depended in part on the history of collaboration, and part on the prospect of a war in Western Europe that would weaken all the states involved and give the USSR a chance to continue to improve its military.

6. Edward E. Ericson III, Feeding the German Eagle: Soviet Economic Aid to Nazi Germany, 1933–1941 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999), 187 (Table 1.1).

7. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 30

8. No. 619, DGFP, D: I, 912.

9. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 28.

10. Ibid., 30.

11. “Zamestitelyu predsedatelya soveta narodnykh komissarov SSSR, Tov. Mikoyanu” [To Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Comrade Mikoyan], 28 January 1939, RGVA, f. 33987, op. 3s, d. 1237 (1), l. 43.

12. For more details of the trade negotiations, see Nos. 481–485, 488–495, 613, 620–631, ADAP, D:4.

13. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 34.

14. Ibid., 36. By contrast, Ribbentrop claimed in his memoirs, written rapidly shortly before his execution in 1946, that the entire idea of collaboration with the Soviets had been his idea, and that the idea had come to him following Stalin’s speech of March 10, which stated that “Russia did not intend to ‘pull the chestnuts out of the fire’ to please certain capitalist Powers.” Given that the German Foreign Ministry broke off trade talks the following day, this was obviously untrue. Joachim von Ribbentrop, The Ribbentrop Memoirs, trans. Oliver Watson (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1954), 108.

15. Weinberg, The Road to War, 534.

16. Fest, Hitler, 570–571; Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power: 1933–1939 (New York: Penguin, 2005), 682.

17. Weinberg, Starting World War Two, 1937–1939, 539.

18. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, 683.

19. Weinberg, Starting World War Two, 1937–1939, 539.

20. Neville Chamberlain, “Speech by the Prime Minister at Birmingham on March 17, 1939,” 17 March 1939, The British War Bluebook. Digitized at

21. Robertson, Hitler’s Pre-war Policy and Military Plans, 167.

22. Weinberg, Starting World War Two, 1937-1939, 537–538.

23. Ibid., 542.

24. G. Bruce Strang, “Once More unto the Breach: Britain’s Guarantee to Poland, March 1939,” Journal of Contemporary History, 31:4 (Oct., 1996), 721–752.

25. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 616.

26. Strang, “Britain’s Guarantee to Poland,” 738.

27. Rolf-Dieter Müller, Enemy in the East, 148.

28. Fest, Hitler, 578.

29. Robertson, Hitler’s Pre-war Policy and Military Plans, 165.

30. No. 192, No. 193, DGFP, D: VIII, 207–212, cited by Maiolo, Cry Havoc, 273.

31. Tooze, Wages of Destruction, 316. Behind closed doors, Hitler expressed great frustrations with the slowdown in rearmament and the drive for autarky: “The Four Year Plan has failed and we are finished if we do not achieve victory in the coming war.”

32. Maiolo, Cry Havoc, 268.

33. Watt, How War Came, 239.

34. Ingeborg Fleischhauer, Der Pakt: Hitler, Stalin und die Initiative der deutschen Diplomatie, 1938–1939 [The Pact: Hitler, Stalin and the German Diplomatic Initiative, 1938–1939] (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1990), 118.

35. Robertson, Hitler’s Pre-war Policy and Military Plans, 167; Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 617.

36. Cienciala, “The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939,” 171; “Memorandum by the State Secretary in the German Foreign Office (Weizsäcker),” in Nazi-Soviet Relations 1939–1941: Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939–1941: Documents from the Archives of the German Foreign Office (hereafter NSR), eds. Raymond James Sontag and James Stuart Beddie (Washington DC: US Department of State, 1948), 1. For the Soviet side of this approach, see “Telegramma polnomochnogo prestavitelia SSSR v Germanii A. F. Merekalova v narodnyi komissariat inostrannykh del SSSR” [Telegram from the Ambassador Representative of the USSR in Germany A. F. Merekalov to the Soviet People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs], 18 April 1939, in God krizisa: 1938–1939, Tom II, Dokumenty i materiali [Year of Crisis 1938–1939, Volume II, Documents and Materials] (Moscow: Ministry of Foreign Affairs USSR, 1990), 389.

37. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 622.

38. The Maisky Diaries, 179.

39. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 623.

40. The Maisky Diaries, 179.

41. Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics, Conversations with Felix Chuev, ed. Albert Resis (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993), 8.

42. Resis, “The Fall of Litvinov,” 35.

43. Cienciala, “The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939,” 173, citing Andrei Gromyko.

44. No. 1, in Die Beziehungen zwischen Deutschland und der Sowjetunion, 1939–1941: Dokumente des Auswärtigen Amtes (hereafter BZDS) [Relations between Germany and the Soviet Union, 1939–1941: Documents from the German Foreign Office], ed. Alfred Seidel (Tübingen: H. Laupp’sche Buchhandlung, 1949), 1–2.

45. Cienciala, “The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939,” 174; BZDS, No. 2, No. 3, 2–3. See also Resis, “The Fall of Litvinov,” 35.

46. Astakhov, “Pismo vremmenogo poverennogo v delakh SSSR v Germanii G. A. Astakhova zamestiteliu narodnogo komissara inostrannykh del SSSR V. P. Potemkinu” [Letter from the Chargé-d’Affaires of the USSR in Germany G. A. Astakhov to the Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the USSR V. P. Potemkin], God krizisa, Tom I, 457–458.

47. Anthony Read and David Fisher, The Deadly Embrace: Hitler, Stalin and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939–1941 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988), 75.

48. Köstring, General Ernst Köstring, 32 quoted in Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 45.

49. Fleischhauer, Der Pakt, 176-183. Fleischhauer argues that much of the impetus for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that resulted in the prospect being brought to Hitler’s attention came from senior diplomats in the German Foreign Ministry like Ambassador Schulenberg, Karl Schnurre, and Gustav Hilger—the Ostpolitik faction who believed A partnership in the East best guaranteed german security.

50. No. 5, BZDS, 5; No. 332, DGFP, D: VI, 429.

51. No. 5, BZDS, 5–6.

52. “Memorandum by the German Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Schulenburg),” 20 May 1939, NSR,5.

53. “Zapisbesedy narodnogo komissara inostrannykh del SSSR B. M. Molotova s poslom Germanii v SSSR F. Shulenburgom” [Record of a Conversation between the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs V. M. Molotov and the Ambassador of Germany F. Schulenberg], 20 May 1939, God krizisa, Tom I, 482–483.

54. “The German Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Schulenburg) to the State Secretary in the German Foreign Office (Weizsäcker),” 5 June 1939, NSR, 18.

55. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 46.

56. “Foreign Office Memorandum (Woermann),” 15 June 1939, NSR, 20.

57. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 46–47

58. “The German Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Schulenburg) to the German Foreign Office,” 3 July 1939, NSR, 28.

59. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 49. 

60. Ibid., 49. 

61. Ibid., 54.

62. Watt, How War Came, 426–428, 480.

63. Ibid., 231.

64. “The German Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Schulenberg) to the German Foreign Office,” 4 August 1939, NSR, 39, quoted in Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 54.

65. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 57.

66. Robertson, Hitler’s Pre-war Policy and Military Plans, 177.

67. Fest, Hitler, 585.

68. Moorhouse, The Devils’ Alliance, 20–21.

69. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 657.

70. Walter Duranty, “The Enigma of Germany and Russia: The pact made by Hitler and Stalin explained in terms of their personalities by a close observer of the Russian experiment and the European scene,” New York Times, 3 September 1939, 1.

71. German diplomat Johnnie von Herwarth wrote that there was “near unanimity amongst the Western embassies in Moscow that summer that Stalin had a higher regard for the Germans than for the other Western powers, and that he certainly trusted them more.” Moorhouse, The Devils’ Alliance, 23.

72. Stalin made this clear in a conversation with Georgi Dimitrov in September 1939: “A war is on between two groups of capitalist countries (poor and rich as regards colonies, raw materials, and so forth) for the redivision of the world, for the domination of the world. We see nothing wrong in their having a good hard fight and weakening each other. It would be fine if at the hands of Germany the position of the richest capitalist countries (especially England) were shaken. Hitler, without understanding it or desiring it, is shaking and undermining the capitalist system. . . . We preferred agreements with the so-called democratic countries and therefore conducted negotiations. But the English and French wanted us for farmhands [v bastrakakh] and at no cost! We, of course, would not go for being farmhands, still less for getting nothing in return.” Georgi Dimitrov, The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov, 1933–1949, ed. Ivo Banac (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 115–116.

73. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 673.

74. Moorhouse, The Devils’ Alliance, 15.

75. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 659.

76. “Zapisbesedy narodnogo komissara inostrannykh del SSSR V. M. Molotova s poslom Germanii v SSSR F. Shulenburgom” [Record of the Conversation between the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR V. M. Molotov and the Ambassador of Germany in the USSR F. Schulenberg,” 17 August 1939, in Dokumenty vneshnei politiki, 1939 god (hereafter DVP) [Foreign Policy Documents, 1939] (Moscow: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 1992), available digitally through Militera: Voennaia literatura, 609.

77. BZDS, No. 33, 56–58, 57.

78. Memorandum by the German Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Schulenburg), 16 August 1939, NSR, 53. “Pamiatnaia zapiska vruchennaia V. M. Molotovu F. Schulenbergom 15 avgusta 1939 g.” [Aide-Memoire Given to Vyacheslav Molotov by F. Schulenberg on August 15, 1939], 15 August 1939, in God krizisa, Tom II, 232–233.

79. “Zapisbesedy narodnogo komissara inostrannykh del SSSR B. M. Molotova s poslom Germanii v SSSR F Shulenburgom” [Record of a Conversation between the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs V. M. Molotov and the Ambassador of Germany F. Schulenberg], 19 August 1939, in God krizisa, Tom II, 274–278.

80. Cienciala, “The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939,” 207.

81. “The German Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Schulenburg) to the German Foreign Office,” 19 August 1939, NSR, 63–65.

82. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 659. 

83. “Foreign Office Memorandum: The German-Soviet Trade Agreement,” 29 August 1939, NSR, 83–85. 84. This was in addition to 420 million Reichsmarks of ongoing trade and outstanding credit payments owed by the USSR.

85. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 61.

86. Geoffrey Roberts, The Unholy Alliance: Stalin’s Pact with Hitler (London: I. B. Tauris, 1989), 176.

87. Cienciala, “The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939,” 209.

88. Moorhouse, The Devils’ Alliance, 24; Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 661.

89. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 660.

90. Hilger and Meyer, The Incompatible Allies, 300; Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 662.

91. Ericson, Feeding the German Eagle, 58.

92. Watt, How War Came, 406–407.

93. Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 662; Watt, How War Came, 542.


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