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Reinventing World War II

The announcement on 17 April of a suspected involvement of Russian intelligence in an explosion in a private Czech ammunition depot seven years ago has led to a dramatic deterioration in relations between Prague and Moscow. Russophobia, which has been rather latent in the past, has become more and more evident over the past year and has even led to large demonstrations against the supposedly Russia-friendly Czech president Miloš Zeman since 17 April. This prompted the former president of the Czech Social Democratic Party and later Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek to remind his compatriots with an article on the history of the end of the Second World War on 9 May 1945 how grateful the country should be that Hitler’s troops were defeated by the Red Army in Stalingrad and Kurks in extremely losing battles – and how it would have happened if Hitler’s troops had remained victorious.

“On the 76th Liberation of the Republic in May 1945”

“On 8 and 9 May, European countries will celebrate the 76th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Most countries celebrate the anniversary of the end of the war (in memory of the declaration of surrender in Reims, France) on May 8, the Russians on May 9. On May 9, 1945, the formal surrender of the German High Command was signed in Berlin by the highest representatives of the German Armed Forces, Marshal Keitel and General Jodl.

The leading figure on the allied side in the surrender was Stalin’s Deputy in the Soviet high command, the “architect” of the overwhelming military victories of the Red army during the war, Marshal Georgy Zhukov. The Russians thus made it clear for all time (of course in recognition of their then Western Allies) who was the main winner of the Second European War. It is appropriate to commemorate such an anniversary and occasion. And because I think that an article I wrote about this topic a year ago (for the 75th anniversary) is as accurate as I could not have written it better, I am now publishing it again a year later.

The struggle for the interpretation of the results of the Second World War

I cannot remember that in the last thirty years of our now democratic state there have been such attempts to misinterpret the causes and results of the Second World War, as is the case today.

There are several reasons for this. There is no point discussing them all too much, I will just mention some of them. A certain section of the so-called Czech political elite, I mean the traditional Czech right and the new party of the “pirates”, conceals their complete lack of political program with belated anti-communism and anti-Russian attitudes. These people simply have nothing else to offer. Therefore, they look for external enemies, evil empires, etc., and transfer historical events to present-day conditions. But the world has changed in the meantime. On the other hand, a young generation of historians has emerged who project their ideological ideas and prejudices into the analysis of historical events. And thirdly, in our country there is practically no more influential medium that offers historians and political scientists with differing interpretations and insights space and opportunity for publication in their scientific analysis.

It is clear to most objective observers, politicians, historians and political scientists internationally that Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany caused the Second World War with their policy of aggression and expansion. Germany has paid for this active terrible past with the loss of at least ten million people, the soldiers, but also among the civilian population, and also with the destruction of the unlimited, high property values in Germany.

The Soviet Union had been at war with Germany since June 1941. Nazi Germany, together with its allies, overran the Soviet Union on a front stretching from the Finnish border in the north to the Black Sea in the south. The Soviet Union lost 27 million lives in this war. Of these, “only” 12 million were soldiers, mostly very young people, who represented the future of their country, however despicable the regime under which they lived at the time. Stalin, however, was an ally of the Western democracies from the first moment when the Soviet Union was militarily attacked by Hitler. Among them was first and foremost a fighting and isolated Great Britain. The old anti-communist Churchill, then British Prime Minister, rejoiced that he finally had a capable ally. This was in a situation in which all of Britain’s continental allies, not least France, had collapsed. From June 1940, Hitler effectively had all of Western and Central Europe under his control.

In early December 1941, the USA was brutally invaded by Japan in Pearl Harbour. As a result, the war shifted to another continent and became a real world war. Soon after, Germany declared war on the United States on a grand scale. Nevertheless, Hitler must have been clear that the economic potential of the United States of America was many times greater than that of Germany. Germany played a different game. Germany expected that Japan, as part of its obligations under the 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, would take military action against the Soviet Union in the Primorye region in the extreme southeast in order to bring the Soviet Union to its knees while the German armies faced Moscow and encircled Leningrad. However, the Japanese army was already heavily tied up, especially in China, where it had both soldiers and state-of-the-art military equipment, and where bloody battles were also fought. 

Incidentally, even after more than seventy-five years, this distant battlefield is still almost unknown to Europeans. Most of us have no idea that up to 20 million Chinese have died fighting the Japanese. China, as well as the Soviet Union, suffered immeasurable economic damage through the battles of the World War. However, the Japanese made a serious strategic mistake with their operations in China. They did not have enough potential to control the major centers of this country, which at that time had 550 million inhabitants, and at the same time to pursue an expansion of warfare in Indochina, Indonesia, the Philippines and other areas. It was therefore positive for the outcome of the war in Europe that under these circumstances Japan did not dare to attack the Soviet Union, while four million of its troops were already bound in China. Certainly, if Moscow had fallen, the Japanese would also have been encouraged to attack the Soviet Union. But because they could not risk this attack, and because the military collapse of the Chinese Kuomintang and the Chinese Communists in the Far Eastern theatres of war did not take place as expected, the Japanese could not help the Germans. Thus Marshal Zhukov and Stalin were able to transfer fresh and excellently armed and trained Siberian divisions to Moscow for help.

In December 1941, a major Russian counteroffensive led to the first defeat of the German ground forces in the war. Later in the war, however, after the overwhelming defeats in the first phase of the war in 1941 and 1942, the Russians won phenomenally in the Battle of Stalingrad and the tank battle of Kursk, and managed to defend the second largest center of the country, Leningrad, at enormous human and material costs. From mid-1943, i.e. from the turning point of the Battle of Kursk and after the fall of Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy and the subsequent occupation of Italy by the Germans, it was only a matter of time before Germany was defeated. The Soviet armies moved inexorably westward, also because in 1942 the Soviet Union had overtaken Germany for the first time in the scale of its war production. This was a tremendous effort, for it was preceded by a shift in the centre of gravity of industrial production and production facilities from the west of the Soviet country to Siberia and Central Asia – with all the workers and their families.

Russian women also played an important role in warfare. In no other army in the world were there so many female soldiers as in the Red Army. In addition, Soviet women often worked under unbearable conditions in the war industry and for food security also in agriculture. The armies of the Western Allies gradually destroyed the resistance of the Germans and Italians in North Africa. They invaded Sicily and southern Italy. In June 1944, the gigantic invasion of Normandy finally took place. This Allied invasion was the largest war operation of its kind in the history of mankind. It enabled the focus of the fighting to be shifted to France, and within a few months of the liberation of France, the troops of the Western Allies reached the German border. The end of the Second World War in Europe was approaching.

The war effectively ended with the Soviet taking of Berlin in April and May 1945. In besieged Berlin, the Soviet soldiers had to fight from house to house, where the fierce Nazis and especially the SS offered incredible resistance. On 8 May 1945, the German leadership signed the unconditional surrender with the Allies in Reims. The following day, in the presence of Marshal Keitel and General Yodl and Marshal Zhukov, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Soviet armies and chief strategist of the Soviet Army, this act was repeated directly in Berlin. In view of this final capitulation in Berlin, the Soviet Union, as the main victor, also bore the brunt of the war. This is because the fighting on the Eastern Front in its brutality, relentlessness and intransigence surpassed anything seen elsewhere during the war. Especially considering that, as a result of Hitler’s “Scorched earth policy,” the Soviet Union had lost all the major industrial centers of the pre-war period in the war-affected areas west of the Urals as a result of Nazi destruction. Also the brutality of the German army, especially the soldiers of the SS, but also the UPA fighters (in Ukraine) towards the civilian population was not really known in Europe.

In Asia, especially in China, however, the Japanese troops behaved similarly. Thus, after the capture of Nanking, not only the 30,000 captured Kuomintang soldiers, but also tens of thousands of defenseless civilians were slaughtered in often extremely brutal ways (there is talk of up to 300,000 victims of the Japanese terror). And tens of thousands of Chinese women were raped during the six-week rampage by Japanese soldiers in Nanking.

Czechoslovakia lost 365’000 of its citizens, mainly Jews, in the Second World War. These casualties are comparable to those of much larger countries such as France (562,000 dead), the USA (419,000 dead) and Great Britain (450,000 dead).

Today’s Russia is understandably proud of its achievements in World War II, as it rightly considers itself the main winner of this war. That is why the Russians are very sensitive to the fact that in some countries their contribution to the victory over the criminal Nazi regime in the Second World War is being questioned today. It is embarrassing to compare Stalin’s regime with the Nazi regime, as some politicians and ideologized historians are trying to do today. Stalin was an ally of the West. And for our country (i.e. the Czech Republic) the communist regime did not achieve what the broad layers of the Czech and Slovak population had hoped for after the war, but there was no genocide of the Slavic population. If the Nazis had won the war, the genocide of the Jews in Europe would have been completed. It would then be up to the genocide of the German disposable Parts of the Slavic peoples came. Some of these peoples, including the Czechs and Slovaks, would have been expelled from Central Europe to new settlements in Siberia or Central Asia. Part of them would have been Germanized and part would have been liquidated.

It is good for all our historical revisionists to be aware of this before they come to their final political assessment.