Wednesday, October 1, 2008

BOOK REVIEW:1945: The War That Never Ended.

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Gregor Dallas. 1945: The War That Never Ended. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. xx + 739 pp. $40.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-10980-1.

Reviewed by Timothy L. Schroer
Published on H-German (November, 2006)

Stalin against the World

The cold war's end opened the prospect that historians might write its history in a manner less disturbed by the passions and political commitments that it had stirred. Some may have hoped that with the aid of hindsight and newly available evidence, a more detached examination of the period might lead to new understanding. Gregor Dallas takes a different approach. He offers a passionate indictment of what he describes as the Soviet Union's war against the West, stretching from the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 through the 1950s.

This sprawling, popularly pitched work argues that the "war that never ended" was waged by Stalin and the Soviet Union against the non-communist world. The so-called "alliance" between the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States against the Third Reich, Dallas insists, was a fiction. In reality, from at least 1939 onward Stalin fought a war to spread Soviet influence and he had no real alliance with the British or Americans. Dallas maintains that the cold war began far earlier than 1947.

The book, which is based mainly on readings in published works, highlights the important points of conflict among the Big Three during the war. The Soviet failure to support the Warsaw uprising in 1944 stands out as a salient case. The closing months of combat in Europe witnessed, in Dallas's retelling, the fateful jockeying for postwar position through the movements of armies in Europe. The book casts Stalin as the villain of the piece. Charles de Gaulle, Dallas writes, would eventually learn that "a bargain with the Communist world leadership was a bargain with the devil" (p. 321). Elsewhere Dallas observes that "Stalin's system had its prototype in Hell" (p. 270). Dallas vigorously indicts those in the United States and western Europe who, whether because of blindness, dishonesty or a desire to minimize friction in the alliance, attempted to brush under the rug the crimes committed by the Soviet regime.

The book, despite its title, is not structured as a chronology of events of the year 1945. It begins with the Battle of Berlin, but then moves back in time to 1944 and describes in some detail the liberation of Paris and the Warsaw uprising, as well as the movements of armies in 1944. It is a bit surprising to read in a book titled 1945 that August 18 and 19, 1944, represented "the moment that would determine the shape of post-war Europe" (p. xvii). After bringing the story through May 8, 1945, the work devotes comparatively little attention to the last half of the year before surveying developments in Europe during the first two decades of the cold war.

For H-German readers, the book's treatment of German history will be of greatest interest. The crimes of the Third Reich tend to recede into the background as the story of Stalin's war against the West takes prominence. Dallas generally finds the most important context in which to place Nazism's genocidal war to be the world of the Stalinist system.

Throughout the work Dallas emphasizes affinities between Nazis and communists. Nazism originated "as a mutation of Bolshevism" (p. 372) and he finds that, on balance, Stalin achieved a more totalitarian control over the Soviets than Hitler managed to obtain over the Germans. The book underscores the socialist character of National Socialism, arguing that "Goebbels took his role as propagandist for the National Socialist cause most seriously" (p. 363, emphasis in the original). Dallas describes the brief moment in the fall of 1932 when the Nazi Party and the German Communist Party both supported a strike by the Berlin transportation workers and asserts that once Hitler assumed the chancellorship he "turned on the Communists with a vengeance" (p. 376). An uninformed reader might come away from this brief section under the mistaken impression that the KPD had allied itself with the NSDAP during the Weimar Republic and then been double-crossed by Hitler in January 1933.

The framing of Nazism in the context of communism appears most strikingly in a section entitled "The Holocaust and the Gulag," which Dallas begins by contrasting the approximately 21,000 inmates in the Third Reich's concentration camps in 1939 with the at least 1.9 million victims of the Stalinist gulag at the same time (pp. 456-7). In the book's interpretation of the origins of the Holocaust, Stalin appears again as the arch-villain. "Probably the event decisive for the fate of the Jews was initiated not by Hitler," Dallas writes, "but by Stalin" (p. 466). According to the author, it was Stalin's deportation of the Volga Germans in September 1941 together with Hitler's growing pessimism about the prospect of crushing the Soviet Union that moved Hitler to decide "to exterminate the Jews of Europe in return" (p. 466). The incident described by Dallas is suggestive, but it is placed in the comparatively narrow context of Stalinism, without the fuller and more persuasive examination of the question offered by Christopher Browning in the light of other Nazi measures against Jews around Europe during those crucial weeks in the fall of 1941.[1]

The book does stress the murderous nature of the Third Reich. Hitler is described as "Berlin's Beelzebub" (p. 424) and Dallas observes that "one should never underestimate the Nazi propensity for killing" (p. 468). Nevertheless, in a work focusing on Stalin's misdeeds and picking up the story as the Red Army stood poised to enter the territory of the Reich, the suffering of the Germans stands out.

The writing appears to reflect an admirable desire to rise above the stodgy prose of many historians, but the work disappoints stylistically. Some of Dallas's similes are more striking for their inventiveness than their ability to improve the reader's grasp of the subject. Dallas writes, for example, "Like a wounded cat, which the westward-pointing peninsula resembled, Europe inhaled all the problems of the world, then exhaled them all out again" (p. 577). The book is also repetitive. We read, for example, a quotation from Goebbels's diary entry of March 30, 1945, noting that he doubted the predictions of astrologers, but was willing to exploit them for their propaganda value; the same quotation is then used again a mere three pages later (pp. 364, 367). A significant portion of the book's bulk is devoted to trivia. Dallas has an eye for irrelevant detail and the unrevealing anecdote. The reader is treated to considerable information on the weather. In a work of this size there are, perhaps inevitably, some errors. Dallas refers at one point to an "inter-ballistic missile system" (p. 606) and he dates the merger of the KPD and the SPD in the Soviet Zone to October 1945, not April 1946 (p. 591).

Dallas explores the areas of conflict among the Big Three in detail, but his interpretation fails to address important issues that bear on his argument that Stalin consistently waged a war against the non-communist world. To sustain that interpretation the book should have focused more attention than it does on the origins of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and Anglo-Soviet-U.S. relations from September 1939 to June 1941. In addition, given its thesis, the work does not adequately explain the important instances of cooperation among the Big Three. Much of the conflict between Stalin and the western allies in 1942 and 1943 concerned the opening of a second front in Europe, which the Soviets ardently sought. The study, which picks up the story in the summer of 1944, does not sufficiently address this point.

Perhaps because the work is intended for a general audience, Dallas does not engage extensively with the arguments of other historians concerning the origins of the cold war. A number of historians who have carefully examined the question have concluded that during the war and even through 1945 Stalin perceived potential benefits to be obtained from continued postwar cooperation with the British and the Americans.[2] Some evidence suggests that he was willing to compromise in some cases to obtain cooperation elsewhere in furthering Soviet interests, although certain points, such as the establishment of a friendly regime in Poland, were perceived as vital, non-negotiable Soviet interests.

Finally, the work is consistently weakened by a tendency to eschew nuance or qualification in favor of sweeping, provocative assertions. Dallas, for example, writes, "The war on the Eastern Front was as much a Russian civil war as it was a war between Germans and Russians" (p. 386). Here an interesting insight about the importance of divisions within Soviet society is pushed too far, because those conflicts did not rise to the level of the war of annihilation against the Soviet people launched by Hitler. Or, less importantly, but revealingly, Dallas describes Oliver Wendell Holmes as a "hero to this day of all American lawyers" (p. 413). The incontestable fact that Holmes was one of the most important and admired figures in American legal history is stretched into an assertion that is demonstrably false.

The problem extends to the crux of the book's argument, where Dallas insists that "the idea of a 'wartime alliance' had been the West's great illusion" (p. 595). Stalin's only "genuine ally" had in fact been Hitler (p. 597). Dallas presses the point too far. The Soviets, British and Americans were divided by rivalries and conflict, but they nevertheless joined together, as allies, to fight a common enemy. Allies ought not to be confused with friends. For any readers inclined to romanticize the wartime cooperation between the victors, this book will disabuse them of that error. The book provides a thorough, grim catalog of the sufferings of Europeans in 1945, which by no means came to an end on May 8, 1945, and many of which resulted from Stalinist crimes. The insights to be gained beyond these points, however, are disappointingly modest.


[1]. See Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), pp. 314-330.

[2]. See, e.g., Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 33; Norman M. Naimark, The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995); Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, Stalin's Cold War: Soviet Strategies in Europe, 1943 to 1956 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).


Vladimir Matveyev

Special to the Jewish Times MAY 08, 2005 Kiev, Ukraine

The upcoming celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II is bringing issues that long have roiled Ukrainian-Jewish relations to the surface.

In the center of the controversy are two wartime combat groups - the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Both fought for Ukrainian independence against both the Soviet Red Army and the Nazis during World War II.

According to many reports, these units also were responsible for killing Jews associated with the Bolshevik administration in Ukraine, although it is not believed that they specifically targeted Jews.

Earlier this year, Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko proposed a reconciliation between the members of those two groups and the Ukrainians who fought in the Red Army.

The idea was supported by some political parties in Ukraine. Backers included the moderate nationalist Ukrainian People's Party, which earlier had urged Yuschenko and Prime Minster Yulia Timoshenko to recognize the fighters from the two anti-Red Army groups as World War II veterans. That's the status already held by Red Army fighters.

The party, and some Ukrainian intellectuals who share this view, argue that this year in particular should be marked as well by what supporters call historical justice toward all Ukrainians who fought in World War II.

Yuschenko's idea was to have a street festival on Kiev's main avenue celebrating both the veterans of the Soviet army and their one-time enemies on May 9. That's Victory Day, which marks the German capitulation at the end of the war. The proposal met with fierce opposition from Red Army veterans, including Jews.

"The attempts to reconcile the veterans who fought for the Soviet army with UPA fighters is unreal, because we remember what the UPA did during the war," said Semyon Nezhensky, a retired Soviet army colonel and the leader of the Ukrainian Association of Jewish War Veterans. UPA are the Ukrainian-language initials of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

Red Army veterans' organizations still wield considerable clout in Ukraine, and many expected Yuschenko to trade in his original plan for a Victory Day military parade in Kiev commemorating the Red Army. That parade was supported by all the country's veterans' groups.

But last week Ukrainian officials said instead that there would be no military parade in Kiev this year.

In the meantime, a former UPA leader told a national television channel last month that his fellow veterans were not eager to celebrate Victory Day together with the Soviet veterans.

This problem - a heated issue in Ukraine generally - appears to be even more controversial for Jewish war veterans here.

Many elderly Jews have strong memories of what happened during and after World War II, when Ukrainian anti-Bolshevik forces formed during the Nazi occupation of 1941 to 1944 wreaked violence on Russians and Jews in Ukraine's western regions. Many Ukrainians blamed non-Ukrainians, including Jews, for what they saw as their role in bringing communism to this part of Ukraine, which was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939.

For many Jews, distinctions between those who collaborated with the Nazis and those who fought for an independent Ukraine are beside the point.

"I cannot support the idea of reconciliation with UPA fighters," said Evadiy Rubalsky, 87, who was a Red Army soldier during World War II.

"Collaborationists killed 11 members of my own family in Babi Yar: my mother, sister and other relatives," the pensioner from Kiev said, referring to the site of a Nazi massacre in the Ukrainian capital.

Some experts agree that the scale of mass killings of Jews could have been smaller had the Nazis not been helped by local collaborators, many of whom filled the ranks of Nazi-subordinated auxiliary units.

Another Jewish war veteran was similarly outraged by the idea of reconciliation.

"Now they want us, Soviet veterans, to apologize for what they consider as a fight against independent Ukraine. But they do not want to apologize themselves for their crimes against the people of different nationalities during and after the war," Boris Komsky said. Komsky, another Red Army veteran, is now editor of Shofar, a Jewish magazine in Lvov in western Ukraine.

But some Jewish veterans say a distinction should be made between those Ukrainians who fought for nationalist combat organizations and those who fought alongside the Germans, most notably in the SS division called Galicina and in two Nazi-subordinated combat units, Roland and Nachtigal, that filled its ranks with Ukrainians.

These latter forces are believed to have taken part in special operations against Ukrainian civil population, including Jews.

Giliary Lapitzky, a veteran Jewish activist, said that though "it would be impossible for Soviet veterans to shake hands with OUN-UPA veterans," they could still be given veteran status. They did not fight on the side of the Nazis, and they did not participate in Nazi-led killing of civilians to the same extent as the Ukrainian SS men.

At least one local government has joined the fray.

Recently the Lvov regional council asked Yuschenko to recognize UPA as a legitimate World War II army. "UPA is the only army in the world that fought during World War II against the two occupation forces simultaneously, against the [German] fascists and the Bolsheviks," the statement by the council reads.

In parts of western Ukraine, the anti-Bolshevik nationalist combat units continued their guerilla warfare, including the killing of Jewish Bolsheviks, until 1953.

The Lvov council also sent an appeal to the Supreme Court requesting that it speed up the revision of the bill that provides social service benefits to displaced rehabilitated Ukrainians. Under the council's proposal, OUN and UPA fighters, many of whom were tried in Stalin's USSR after the war and served sentences for their wartime activities, would qualify.

A leading lawmaker told JTA that the bill is being debated in Parliament. "Common language" on that matter should be found, Gennady Udovenko, head of the parliament Committee on Human Rights and National Minorities, said.

But many people disagree with Udovenko, saying that such a law would betray the memory of those who gave their lives to liberate Ukraine from the Nazis.

"Despite a few conflicts" with the Nazis, "Ukrainian nationalists sided with the Nazis during World War II, and were supporting Hitler again by 1944," a Jewish lawyer, Grigory Ginzburg, said.

A compromise may be in the works that would allow some pro-Ukrainian fighters - those who didn't wear the German army uniform and who never took part in any of the German-led punitive expeditions against civilians - to be rehabilitated. But, some say, time may provide a better solution.

"I disapprove the possibility of rehabilitation of UPA fighters in general but I'm ready to recognize some of them," said Yona Elkind, 81, a retired Soviet navy colonel.

He added, "Theoretically a peace is better than war, but the idea of making peace between UPA fighters and Soviet veterans is simply unreal, because we were enemies.

"Better leave it as it is. In two generations the problem will be resolved by itself."